The next day, a Sunday, was another beautiful one. We went down for breakfast and were greeted by an astonishingly large buffet. Just as we were concluding our meal, D and T popped into the breakfast room. How do they do that??
We decided to check out the palace situated at the center of the wheel that is Karlsruhe--concentric streets connected by spoke streets running towards the palace. The grounds behind the palace were taken up by a lovely park. Shortly after arriving I realized there was a mini-train, and by gum if I didn't make it my mission to be on it. Once it opened for the day I went to buy tickets. The guy sized us up and told me he'd give me a group discount if I kept my friends in line. As if we were a bunch of hoodlum kids! Well, we WERE the only ones on the train without children, so naturally we must be up to no good. In reality, I just like me a mini-train.
This was no ordinary mini-train; it was wood-fired. As we cruised around, I waved to almost everyone we passed (except those tanning), and people responded with mostly blank stares. D and T took all this in with good grace, and didn't immediately conclude that I was insane, which was nice. Upon exiting, I wanted to pitch a fit and make them go around again, but sense got the better of me.
We then visited a fountain that contained polyp-like sculptural rock formations protruding from the ground. Water was mostly cascading down the sides of it, and walking between the polyps, like a cleaner shrimp out for its daily constitutional, provided a refreshing respite from the sun due to the light precipitation falling within. We continued on our stroll until we reached a playground. There was a zipwire we all had a go on, and I took too long a spin on a barfinator, causing me some serious queasiness. There was a small pool with an island in the center, and kids were paddling around on rafts using large sticks that seemed to have been collected from the nearby forest. Kids love water, and they all looked like they were having a good time. Our litigious American society has largely caused such pastimes to to disappear, sadly.
Once we milked all the enjoyment out of the palace grounds, we crossed it off our list, said "Done!", and went to have some sausage sandwiches. We sauntered our way back to the train station for the ride back to Cologne, taking our time and getting some ice cream on the way (I got a pretzel, which was called a "brezel", one "t" away from the French spelling). D and T saw us to our train, and then went to spend the afternoon at the zoo. We, on the other hand, had a rather dull 3-hour ride ahead of us.
About a half hour into the ride things started to get interesting. Instead of the more direct north-south route that we took on the way there, we began following the west bank of the Rhine. At first this was merely pleasant, because it was different than the ride down, but then we began seeing large castles dotting the hillsides of the opposite bank. Lots and lots of castles. Some were in a state of disrepair, but others were in good upkeep and appeared to be in use. It was pretty amazing to think that that many royals lived in such close proximity to one another at one time--perhaps they were all part of a large extended family or something. It was a hot day, and sunny on our side, so we had the window open and the shade down, and everytime a train came by going the opposite way, the window would snap shut. After about the fifth time of reopening it, Jack gave up with a shrug. You think you know wind currents until something like this happens.
We got to Cologne in the early evening, checked into our hotel, and set about getting our bearings and finding something to eat. Cologne has very few surviving buildings from the pre-WWII era, so aside from the cathedral there's not much to see charm-wise. But the town is nice anyway, people are friendly and used to tourists, and they put out a decent beer called Kölsch. We found ourselves a lovely spot on a terrace close to the river, had a nice meal, and continued meandering through the streets. Once the sun started setting, we positioned ourselves on the opposite bank of the Rhine to catch the light dying behind the cathedral, and took a lot of blurry pictures.
The next day, after a breakfast that left a lot to be desired compared with the previous day's feast, we checked out and promised ourselves that we would make the most of the day before heading back. The first stop was the cathedral. The tower had just opened for the day and we decided to make the climb. It was indeed a climb. There were none of the stopping off points like in the Bruges tower until you got to the belfry. Lawdy, it was a haul. At the next stop there was a lovely kiosk built into the center of the tower, which at this height was open to the air. I assume that it was staffed to assist any visitors who were feeling faint, but I imagine it would be an odd place to work, so far removed from your colleagues. You'd have to be in pretty good shape, as well. Maybe there was a secret elevator behind one of the unmarked doors we passed on the way up. From there, a short staircase led us to the top. There were great views of the city and the river, and there was a LOT of graffiti. We saw an American family encouraging their children to write on the church. What is up with that?
On our way back down there were a lot more people huffing their way up than there was a half hour before, so we congratulated ourselves for our decision (which was in reality pretty much happenstance) to go up early, before the heat set in. The interior of the church, as T had warned us, was nothing special, just extremely big.
Our next stop was an hour-long cruise on the river. This was a steal at under €7. The tinny, inaudible tape recording in several languages put a damper on the educational aspect of the cruise, so we mostly just sat there and baked under the midday sun. The lowlight of the tour was the "beach" on the bank that was entirely given over to old nude sunbathers. The highlight was...well, there was no highlight, really. It was just nice to be out there enjoying the sun and breeze and stuff. And there was an interesting mushroom-shaped building on the bank at one point, perhaps a closed revolving restaurant. I waved to people on shore.
Then came lunch: a delicious sausage platter for both of us while sitting by an open doorway in a shady restaurant. It was nice to hear the German burble around us as we ate our tubed meats and drank Kölsch from tiny glasses. I later discovered that the 0.2 liter glasses are the traditional size for serving Kölsch. You end up ordering a lot of beer this way, especially on a warm day. But such is life. You've gotta go with the flow.
Cologne had a lot of churches that were lovingly refurbished to their original appearance after the war, so we looked at some of those. We wandered in the old but renovated city hall (which features a statue graphically mooning passersby below from a squatting position) and watched an older couple exiting after having been married, grinning goofily and surrounded by family.
That was about it, really.