After last night’s festivities, the ride was tough, I was dehydrated with a sore throat and ears and I had 111km to go.
As I left the hostel, I met Tell, a Brazilian cyclist and I showed him how to use Google maps without chewing up his data, and we cycled together for about 5km, then my maps died. He headed back to the hostel (he wasn’t leaving Maastricht yet) and I cycled 30km to Aachen to sort out my maps. I was told there was a big cathedral there, so I looked for it and hoped to find an information centre or WiFi hotspot nearby. It turns out Aachen Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe, consecrated by the Pope in 805. Since then, they’ve added a choir hall, chapels and steeples to accommodate the masses of people who made pilgrimages here. If I had a safe place to store my bike and possessions, it would have been great to explore the inside too.
This photo captures the mix of different building styles and below I’ve included photos from other angles.
Shortly after, I was back on my way, but I was really struggling, firstly there were hills, which is quite a shock after cycling in the Netherlands. Then there was the headwind, it was directly against me and I was cycling along open fields, with nothing to block the wind. I could also regularly see trains running alongside me, presumably going directly to Cologne. I could have quit, I thought about it, but I decided that cycling when I really don’t want to be cycling, is a lesson in disguise. It will make me stronger, just like those punishing rides in Bulgaria when I wanted to quit so badly. Once I decided I was going to finish the ride, it was much easier, mentally at least, physically it hurt like hell.
It was really nice cycling into Cologne, there were lots of parks and my hostel was near the cathedral, next to swish hotels like the Hilton. I was so relieved to see my hostel (1-star according to Google) and I was stoked to be sleeping in a non bunk bed for a change.
I was so glad to be off the bike, showered and in my pajamas, it had been more than eight hours since I left Maastricht and I was delirious from my success today and probably dehydration. I had dinner at the bar next door, which was rubbish and usually when I’m hungry everything tastes good. I didn’t really care, I just ate, found an internet café to load my Strava results and went to bed.
The next morning I went to check out Cologne Cathedral, a two minute walk from the hostel. It’s massive, so I’ve included pictures for the front, side and back.
I was still hungry after my measly breakfast of coffee and leftover muesli bars and found a little organic market near my walking tour meeting point. The bread man was delicious and I’m glad the guy told me the pipe wasn’t edible, otherwise I might have tried to eat it too.
The walking tour was really good, there were only six of us, so we chatted and had a good time. It was interesting to walk around the city, it looked brand new because 90% of the inner city was destroyed in WWII and they worked quickly to rebuild and repopulate the city (about a million people today). Occasionally there are parts of 1000 year old Roman walls still standing, or in this case, an old gate was rebuilt with the same stones after it was destroyed.
There’s a big student population here, which brings a vibrant nightlife and an appetite for art. Each year, the city buys art and displays it somewhere in the city for everyone to enjoy (or not enjoy, depending on your taste).
We stopped halfway for a break on a coffeeshop, where the owners got all their furniture from an old church.
Our next stop was the city hall, which has a cheeky story, on the attached tower, there are dozens of statues, the funny one being the statue of Frederick II. He was the archbishop of Cologne, but was known to call the labourers “people who poop in gutters”. The tradesman got the last laugh, placing a special statue just above him.
Our tour ended at the Hohenzollern Bridge, where over 1200 trains pass each day. It’s right next to the cathedral, and back when the trains ran on coal, the pollution blackened the cathedral over time. Afterwards we went to one of the best bakeries in town, Bastian, and sat in the sun to be enjoy our treats.
The next place was very dark, the EL-DE museum was the prison for the Secret Police during WWII. 30,000 people were held here and interrogated, many of them tortured and executed. Some were activists against the Nazis, while others were imprisoned for no reason. There were etchings on the walls, as people counted down the days, drew pictures or scratched their names. The messages have been translated and compiled into a book as well. It was a grim place to see but incredible that it remained intact despite the rest of the city being destroyed by the war.
We left the museum and parted ways, I headed back to the hostel and fetch my bike, I forgot to check this morning if it remained chained up after I left it out last night. It was still there, so I cycled to the botanic gardens, about 2-3km away. The gardens were beautiful and I wished I had brought a book to read or at least a pillow for a nap.
I went back to have some dinner, a hot and spicy soup from a nice Chinese restaurant near the hostel. It was very soothing, as I felt myself feeling a bit ill. The people in the beds on either side of me in the dorm were both coughing like crazy last night, so I’ve been bracing myself for the impending sickness. It’s okay, I have my final ride tomorrow and it’s really short, so I should be able to make it one more day.