We arrived in Germany to rainy skies though it was intermittent. Still, it was chilly to start. The one thing that Viking does very well is to coordinate the tours with the ship's travel. By that I mean that often, the ship will dock briefly to unload the guests onto buses. Then, while the ship is going through the many, many (67 in all) locks, which takes time that is dependent upon the number of other boats that have to pass through them as well, the tourists are bussed to the town we will be touring and at the end of the tour or even some hours later, the ship has docked at a location we can walk to or take a short bus ride. It certainly gives us more time to see the various towns.
Cologne was and is an important and large German city of around one million inhabitants. During the ending days of WWII, it was heavily bombed by the allies, destroying nearly 50% of the city. As with many other German towns, this one decided to use the ancient plans to reconstruct the town as it was before the war. It's cathedral is the second highest/largest in the world next only to Notre Dame and its facade and interior are very reminiscent to that cathedral. The exterior was partially damaged in the war but has been restored. Still, because of the way in which the humidity/rain/weather impacts it, the exterior looks blackened and thus rather intimidating. The Gothic decoration, so intricate in design, is lost because of the blackness. And, the dreary day didn't help. Later, when the sun began to peek out, we walked back to the cathedral for some better photos of its facade.
The interior of the cathedral is awe-inspiring. The stained glass windows are magnificent and the bones of the magi (three kings) reputed to be buried there are encased in a golden vault in the front center of the nave. Gothic arches frame each aisle, their beautiful symmetry leading the way to the altar. "Swiss Guards", volunteers in crimson robes, stroll around making certain that the guides are not describing the interior to their charges. Apparently, there is a rule against giving a tour within the cathedral but the guides were permitted to tell us all about what we would see so, really, it was a more peaceful way to take in the hushed power of this place.
Cologne is a vibrant town boasting a good university and large, bustling shopping district. We went to the shopping district to purchase an additional "personal sized" bag for the trip home and the department store was big, sparkling and exciting with the latest in fashions and housewares available. Outside, on the shopping street, throngs of natives mixed with the tourists.
We decided to stop to sample the local Kolsche beer, made only in Cologne and served in a smaller, straight-sided glass by waiters in their traditional blue aprons and matching cardigans. The beer was delicious with a fresh, sparkling taste. Though there is a head, it dissipates quite quickly so, the waiters continue to fill your glass until you put the coaster on top to signal you have had enough. The waiters were robust, jolly men, joking and laughing with the patrons who seemed to know them well. It was a wonderful way to experience this town's signature beer and drinking experience.
Each town has its own legends and Cologne is no different. Here, the legend involves the industrious elves, who, in secret each night, finished all of the household chores that the housewives hadn't completed during the day. In the morning, the houses sparkled. No one questioned this until a nosy woman decided to stay up all night to catch the elves at their chores. In punishment, the elves stopped helping out and forever more, the work undone at the end of the day was still there the next morning. Now I know who to blame for the dishes in the sink....
Another colorful story involves the clocktower in the city hall and a building across from it in one of the town squares. In the clocktower, on the hour, a figure emerges and sticks his tongue out at those below. According to legend, this symbolizes the town council members' response to the demands of the local citizens. The citizens' response graces an opposing building as a boy takes his pants down to "do his business".
The walk back to the ship was quite lovely since the sun decided to shine making the temperature warmer. Along the waterfront across the river from our boat, a large ferris wheel turned in the sun and the rollercoaster's vivid colors mingled with the sound of children's laughter as they were spun and hurled around. It was comforting to see that fun is fun no matter where it is found.