I’ve decided to break up my writings to prevent one massive post, so we’ll start with the first stop of my trip, Amsterdam. Or, more properly, Cologne. I scheduled my train ride to Amsterdam with a 2 hour stop in Cologne, Germany, so that I could see the massive gothic cathedral there. I had had several people tell me about how incredible it was, and given that it is literally right across the street from the train station, and I had to go through Cologne anyways, I figured I’d seize the opportunity to see it.
No one was kidding when they said it was right across the street from the train station. As you leave your train, you can see the two massive ornate gothic spires jutting up into the skies through the windows in the train station. You come to the main entrance/exit of the train station, and the entire view out the glass front is taken up by a tremendous grey stone monstrosity–the Dom, German for cathedral. You walk across the short square in front of it and up some steps, around to the entrance. You walk through the standard gothic ornately carved entryway and into the cathedral itself. I immediately broke to the right to climb one of the towers, since they closed earlier than the rest of the cathedral, and I was cutting things close. I got it for the 1 euro student price, and proceeded to march for about 20 minutes up a narrow, winding staircase, with stone stairs that had divots worn into them from the tens of thousands of people climbing them over the centuries. The thing that impressed me the most was the detail present–you’d be climbing this staircase and look out some tiny slit window, and see some part of the cathedral that is almost never seen, and certainly wouldn’t have needed to be done in the same detail as the lower parts that are regularly seen… And yet they were just as ornate. I finally came to the top, sweating and out of breath, and was rewarded with an incredible view of Cologne and the rest of the cathedral. After taking it in for about twenty minutes, I headed back down the stairs–harder than going up them–and proceeded to walk around the cathedral proper. Large parts of it were unfortunately closed, but I still greatly enjoyed it. I sat down on a pew, cocked my head upwards, and just took it all in. I was annoyed with all of the people taking flash photographs inside the cathedral–it isn’t going to work anyways in such a cavernous space, and it’s disrespectful, but nothing could take away from the awe that fills you when you see such a structure. I still think St. Peter’s in Rome was more impressive, but after seeing the Notre Dame later, I think the cathedral here in Cologne was much more impressive.
After gaping for a while, I headed back to the train station and got on my train for Amsterdam. It was supposed to be a short hop, but turned into a nightmare–the train broke down, we had to get a new one, then the conductor was late, then there was track construction that slowed us down and sent us halfway around the Netherlands to get to Amsterdam, all of which meaning that we ended up being two hours late. I met my cousin Katie in a bar outside the train station, and after catching up for a while and drinking a beer, we headed back to her place to crash.
The next morning, after waking and eating some breakfast, we headed off to rent me a bike. One of the first things that hits you about Amsterdam is the sheer number of bikes. Everyone goes everywhere on these old cruiser bikes. You’ll see an executive in a suit crusing next to a pothead. We then just started cruising around the town, having a good time. Amsterdam is surprisingly small, and extremely flat, so it’s no problem, and a lot of fun, to just cruise around taking in the sights. As we were riding, Katie pointed out to me points of interest, and explained to me some about Amsterdam. We soon were hungry, and stopped at a cafe for lunch and a beer. Then more cruising, followed by another cafe. We rode a bit more, this time interspersed with some walking, ate dinner in an Italian restaurant, then went to an improv comedy show where we met two of Katie’s friends, a frenchman and a spaniard. Unfortunately, I think much of the show was lost in translation for them, but no matter. We left and went to a jazz club to buy the frenchman a beer since he had paid our tab at the comedy show, refusing to let us pitch in even a euro. We walked into this incredibly cool hole in the wall jazz club, with a rather good group playing on stage. After a beer and some time hanging out, we all headed home to sleep.
The next morning, we essentially did more of the same, riding around Amsterdam some more, complete with a tour of the redlight district. We ate lunch in this very cool pancake house, a place with only 4 tables, up the steepest stairs I have ever climbed. The whole restaurant was one small room–kitchen included–but the food was excellent. The pancakes were almost a sort of crepe, with different toppings on them; mine had cheese, tomatoes, and bacon. We then returned my bike to the rental place, and I headed off to the train station to catch my train to Paris. Unfortunately I didn’t do any of the museums in Amsterdam, including the massive Rijksmuseum, but I still greatly enjoyed myself.