When I left Amsterdam, it was bittersweet. I fell in love with the place but was also ready for a new adventure, and the next country on my Europe tour was the most significant to me because of my heritage. I got on another train and headed for Cologne, Germany.
I initially planned to travel from Amsterdam to Berlin, but it would have taken me around 5 or 6 hours and Germany stopped their night train services – the ones where you sleep while you travel. I didn’t want to waste a whole part of a day going to Berlin and I had a friend from high school who did a similar solo Europe trip a few months before I did and she went to Cologne. It looked like a cool place to stop for a day and a night and it was only 2 hours and 40 minutes from Amsterdam.
Once I arrived in Cologne, I had to drop my bag off at my hostel, which was a few stops away on the subway. The walk to the hostel was very quiet, as it was a Sunday and not much was happening in the part of town which I was staying. I finally found my hostel and it was pretty small but I didn’t need any bells and whistles. Just a bed and a map, really. I wasn’t allowed in my room yet, so they let me put my backpack in their storage room and gave me the wi-fi password.
I went into the common room and logged into the wi-fi to look for a place to eat lunch and something to do. I saw the massive Gothic cathedral when I arrived – it was right next to the main train station – and I knew I wanted to take a look inside, as it’s the main attraction for most tourists. I overheard two other American guys talking about lunch options with the front desk staff and asked them what their plans were. They were ready to head out for lunch, just like I was, so we set off together.
Looking back now, I remember feeling so much more confident than I did those first few days of my solo trip. In Bruges, I talked to maybe three or four people in my hostel and I was also pretty shy when I first got to Amsterdam. By the second or third day in Amsterdam, I was used to making friends for a few hours or just striking up conversations with people I saw. The two guys in my hostel in Cologne were really cool and we ended up going to an Indian place for lunch.
I think they were also unsure of what to do in Cologne and they were also only staying for a day or two. We ended up walking back to the main station where the cathedral is, and it was a lot easier with food in my stomach and a much lighter load off my back. We went inside the Cologne Cathedral and were awed by how huge and intricate it was. We took pictures with it, but it was pretty impossible getting a picture with me and the full tower in the same shot.
Then, we went inside the nearby museum, the Roman-Germanic Museum. It had a lot of artifacts from archeological digs and the things in there were pretty cool to look at, but we mostly just goofed off and talked the whole time. Then we went past a cafe that had huge sundaes and I demanded that we stop so I could get my ice-cream fix. I got an enormous chocolate ice cream sundae and it was so refreshing after walking around in the heat.
After that, we went to the river bank to catch a glimpse of the Rhine. It was really nice just walking around, people watching on a warm summer day in Germany. I was so close to my roots, and I loved hearing German everywhere, after my months of practice.
I was still full from the Indian food we had, as well as the ice cream and I was getting pretty tired, so I headed back to the hostel and started planning for Berlin. I had been looking into bike tours for a while but didn’t want to reserve anything until I was closer to the date, but now that Berlin was only one night’s sleep away, I decided to book my bike tour. I only had one roommate and she was pretty quiet and nice – she told me she lived in Germany and was just in Cologne traveling.
I was so tired from all the planning and train travel and walking that I passed out around 8:30pm. I got some good rest and was ready to tackle Berlin the next morning.