10 Days Free and Easy Europe Tour (2017) – Day 6 Berlin to Cologne

Last Morning at Suite Novotel Berlin

We entered the second half of our Europe Tour beginning from Vienna eventually terminating in Amsterdam. Having spent two nights in Berlin, we would be travelling on to Cologne. Actually, our original intention was to head straight to Holland but the journey would be a little too long on the train. So a convenient stopover would be Cologne along the way to Rotterdam.

This morning, instead of making tea and coffee in our room, we went to the lobby to get our coffee and tea from the facility provided by Suite Novotel Berlin Hotel for guests who prefer a quick fix breakfast. Those little snacks available on the table were good too. So with coffee and tea back in our room with more snacks we bought the day before, our simple breakfast was taken care of.

Our train to Cologne was 1.34 pm so we still had the morning to explore Berlin one more time near our hotel. As such, after packing up, we left Suite Novotel Berlin to explore some parts of the neighbourhood nearby where we missed when we first arrived two days ago. It was a very good day this morning with clear blue skies. The day before was cloudy and so cold even during summer.

Exploring Neighbourhood Near Suite Novotel Berlin

This time, we headed south of the hotel and checked out the quiet neighbourhood. It was really quiet and we hardly met anyone on the street. After roaming the streets, we headed back north towards Checkpoint Charlie. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum wasn’t open when we arrived.

We then turned right to explore further east from Checkpoint Charlie. It was a leisurely walk. Modern and old buildings in the vicinity were pretty interesting and the streets were orderly and clean. However, we came across a drunkard shouting at two young Caucasians probably in German which we could not understand. Some cafes were in the process of opening and we saw staff preparing tables and arranging chairs.

Having roamed around this side of the neighbourhood we returned to Checkpoint Charlie. Tour buses were seen on the road waiting for action for the day. There were a few visitors this time when we were back to this place of interest. The American GIs were manning the checkpoint on the street with the American flag noticeably at half mast like the previous day joining UK in the solidarity mourning the victims during the recent terrorist attack in Manchester.

It was however, still very early to return to our hotel to check out for departure to Cologne. So we walked over to the Berlin Mall where we had a great dinner at the foodcourt when we first arrived Berlin. We hoped to eat there again before leaving for Cologne. Unfortunately when we reached the mall, the shops and foodcourt were not open yet. It was still too early. The good thing about visiting the mall was to allow us to sit and rest a while and also used the free wifi in the mall.

Lunch at Checkpoint Charlie

So with no lunch at the mall, we decided to return to Checkpoint Charlie. There are more food options at this tourist attraction area. Earlier when we were there, we saw some restaurants getting ready to serve lunch. Back at Checkpoint Charlie, the area was getting busier. Some shops were already open.

After checking out some restaurants, we went into an Italian restaurant across the street from the museum. So we were the first customers in the empty restaurant. We ordered pizza and pasta and had a quick lunch and then returned to Suite Novotel Berlin Hotel.

It was good time for us to freshen up before leaving Berlin. Using public toilets in Europe would cost one Euro each time. So we were glad to take a shower and use the toilets before leaving Berlin. Once we were ready, we went to the lobby and checked out of this very conveniently located Suite Novotel Berlin Hotel. Our stay here was great and suit our purpose during this Berlin visit.

Heading to Berlin Main Train Station

Heading over to S Anhalter Station was a breeze with one of the entrances just across the street corner from the hotel. Going to Berlin Hbf would be quite easy, just three stops away changing train at Branden-burger Tor where the Berlin Gate is located. Entering the station, we went to the ticketing machine to purchase our tickets. We were smarter this time buying only a short trip ticket costing only 1.70 Euro each. When we first arrived Berlin, we overpaid and bought a 2.80 Euro ticket instead.

Our train came shortly after waiting a short while at the platform. Two stations later, we alighted at Branden-burger Tor to change train to Berlin Hbf, just a station away. We were however, prevented from doing so by security personnel at the platform. We didn’t know what was happening so we went up to street level to find another entrance to connect our trip to Berlin Hbf.

Up on the street at the Berlin Gate, we were swamped with visitors we had not experienced the previous two occasions when we were here. Security was very tight with armed police and soldiers on the streets. We saw armored vehicles as well. Men in black suits with dark glasses were on the streets watching as crowds lined the streets. The crowds were exuberant and cheering along the streets as well. Several black vehicles drove past and after asking around what was happening, we were told the former US President Obama was visiting.

There wasn’t any other entrance to connect us to Berlin Hbf. We went back down to the platform to enquire and were advised to continue our train journey to Fried-richstr Station and then change another train to Berlin Hbf. Good thing we had sufficient time to prepare for such contingencies. We arrived Berlin Main Train Station in good time at 1 pm, still had half an hour to spare to take our time to the platform.

Berlin Main Train Station

Berlin Main Train Station was very busy and the complex was massive with so many levels connecting the metro stations to the railway station. There were plenty of shops and restaurants here. We didn’t explore the station with our luggage with us. Signage was clear and we found the platform for our train ICE 858 without much trouble.

On the platform, we checked which car we were supposed to be sitting from a huge information panel located in the middle of the platform. We then waited patiently at the section for the car where we were supposed to board the train. This saved us a lot of time and trouble having to board the wrong car and make our way through different train cabins to locate our seats. We didn’t pay to reserve our seats and we didn’t want to sit separately so some homework was needed to ensure a pleasant train journey.

Our train came and we boarded and got ourselves unreserved seats without any problem. So it was time to settle down for the four and a half hours ride. The ride was pleasant and uneventful. We arrived Cologne Main Train Station on time at 6.09 pm. The cost for our train ticket bought online much earlier was just 19 Euro each. Our previous transfers from Vienna to Prague and then from Prague to Berlin was by Student Agency Bus costing only 12 Euro and 15 Euro respectively which were pretty economical.

Domstern Hotel in Cologne

After exiting Cologne Train Station, we walked ahead and located Domstern Hotel not far from the train station. It was an easy walk less than 5 minutes on the left of the station and then headed up to Domstrabe. The only gentleman on duty handed us the room key as he was expecting us because we were probably the last to check in for the day. He assured us this room was very good for the three of us

We went to the room and found we were given what we thought was a princess room. The room has a soft pink theme with a double bed in the main room and a smaller room inside with a single bed along the wall. Our son was a little amused but we didn’t feel any discomfort as this was the only room available to sleep three persons. Other room would be smaller for two.

The room wasn’t furnished in modern style but very clean and sufficiently comfortable. Those who prefer old world charm might like this type of furnishing. A tiny TV was part of the furnishing on a corner wall. It wasn’t really useful for us anyway as most TV programs were not in English. The toilet was clean as well with a nice bathtub in the bathroom. Wifi worked fine and we were pretty happy to have this room for a night before heading to Rotterdam the next morning.

Dinner at Gastatte Restaurant

It was close to 7 pm now and about time for dinner. Back to the lobby, we consulted the nice gentleman on duty. We were surprised Cologne was a little quiet when we arrived a moment ago. We were told it was a bank’s holiday and all the shops in the city were closed. So we asked him to recommend a local restaurant for dinner. He gave us very detailed information on a few restaurants nearby.

So we left Hotel Domstern, turned left and walked further up the street. We found the recommended restaurant without trouble in about 5 minutes walk. The name of this local restaurant is Gaststatte. The restaurant was packed with locals having a great time, a little noisy as well with their hearty conversation and laughter during meal time.

We were led to an empty table and given English menu as well. We placed our order and our food came shortly after. Unlike the very dry and salty western meals we had in Vienna a few days back, the food were surprisingly very tasty, greatly exceeded our expectation. The cost for the dinner was very reasonable too. It was a great dinner indeed. We might be the only tourists there that evening. It was a wonderful recommendation from the hotel staff.

Cologne Cathedral

After the nice dinner, we walked back down the street towards the train station. Although the shops would be closed, we still could explore the old city. We walked past a lovely church building before reaching the train station. The vicinity outside the train station was peaceful and quiet. We entered and train station and walked through and exited over the other side.

It was a completely different scene altogether this side of the train station in front of the Cathedral. It was a busy place with many visitors loitering in front of the massive Cathedral. We visited this Cologne Cathedral a few years ago during the Christmas seasons. It was crowded back then and it was pretty much the same this time.

This Cathedral is rather famous. Architecturally, very massive and impressive and escaped damage during the second world war. The reflection of the setting sun on the cathedral was stunning. It was close to impossible to capture the entire structure below the steps of this huge Cathedral on camera. This was a nice place to hang out for a while. Different groups of visitors gathered out here under the shadow of this very impressive church building.

River Rhine in Cologne

Having taken enough pictures, we walked on towards the Rhine River. The city was pretty dead with all the business closed during the holiday. It was a pity we didn’t have a chance to do some shopping here in Cologne. The outdoor area was different with visitors hanging out along the riverfront.

It was already 8.30 pm. As it was summer, the river scene was still quite bright with buildings across the river reflecting glaringly the setting sun. We strolled along the river towards the Deutzer Bridge. It was a very nice walk along this side of Rhine River. The sight of the brightly lit scene across the river was very pretty too.

Once we reached Deutzer Bridge, we went up and walked along the bridge over to the other side of the riverbank. We stayed on a few sections of the bridge to take it the sights of the river life below and on both sides of the river. Road traffic on this bridge was very light but trains were still operating across the river.

Sunset Scene at Cologne River Rhine

Over the other side of the riverfront, more visitors were sitting around to watch the sunset scene. It was pretty fascinating. We watched the sun set behind the buildings across the Rhine River capturing pictures of the tiny orange sun at different spots. By now, it was no longer the fierce piercing sun during the day. It was a mild and gentle orange blob bidding goodbye for the day in Cologne. It was such an enjoyable experience to watch sunset in Cologne.

The Deutz Abbey under the reflection of the setting sun was a lovely sight. Nevertheless, it was quiet outside this small little church here, no where to match the famous Cathedral across the other side of the river. Many people were actually sitting on the steps of the riverfront enjoying the sunset moments catching up with family and friends.

Hohenzollern Bridge

Gradually walking along this side of the riverfront, we reached the Hohenzollern Bridge. This is another very famous bridge in Cologne. Adorning this side of the bridge is the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. It was a very stately statue on a pillar standing guard on this side of the bridge. A few years back when we were here during winter, we didn’t stay up here very long due to the cold and wet atmosphere.

This time, we could walk up and enjoy the bridge more thoroughly. This bridge was rather busy with many visitors walking on the bridge. Padlocks were fixed on to the railings on the bridge like we had witnessed on many bridges all over the world. Tremors could be felt on the bridge when trains passed along the bridge. This bridge was more lively and busier than the Deutzer Bridge we crossed earlier.

So we took in the sights as we crossed the Hohenzollern Bridge. It was a really great outing in the old city even though all the shops and businesses here were not open during the holiday. We walked past the famous Cologne Cathedral again as we made our way back to Domstern Hotel. The vicinity around the Cathedral was visibly quieter now after sunset. Visitors were few and scattered as the day was coming to a close.

Back to Domstern Hotel

We entered the train station and went into a convenience store. We bought water and snacks and then exited the station. It was an easy walk back to Domstern Hotel. The gentleman manning the hotel asked about our dinner. We told him his recommendation was great.

Back in our room, it was time to shower and get ready to hit the sack. We were not very tired actually but there wasn’t much left to do other than catching up with family and friends outside of Europe using the excellent wifi provided by the hotel. Our visit in Cologne was simply a stopover on the way to Rotterdam. Watching TV was not really an option in Europe as programs in English were very few other than news channels.

On hindsight had we known we would be arriving on a bank’s holiday, we might have headed straight to Rotterdam instead. Anyway, there was little regret as we had a wonderful dinner in a local restaurant and a great walk along the River Rhine to watch the beautiful sunset in Cologne. It was a very different experience compared to the previous visit during Christmas season a few years back. So we looked forward to our visit to Holland the next day as we retired for the day.

Continue to Day 7 ..

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