I've finished the first part of my holiday, in Köln (Cologne), Germany. The weather was pretty good (I even got a bit sunburnt!) and I had a great time being a tourist with my friend Iris. Unfortunately we didn't make it to the Netherlands or Belgium or anywhere else, but we did take a boat trip down the Rhine to a pretty little town called Linz. (I am at my Grandma's house with no access to the net right now, so I apologise for the lack of links).
Some random observations:
· Everything is pink, thanks to T-Mobile advertising
· Water is very expensive -- € 3.20 (about US$4) for a bottle of water
· The ticket machines in the Bonn train station have an incredibly bad user-interface
· Visa is definitely not everywhere we wanted to be
· Public transport in and around Cologne is very good
· The Dom cathedral is very impressive
· I wish I'd kept up my German studies from High School
· I walked more in three days than I had in the previous three years ;-)
I think I've been spoilt by living in the USA, where credit cards are accepted just about everywhere. Iris and I ran out of cash, so we had to have coffee at Starbucks (of all places!) on one day despite the fact that we wanted to go to a local shop. We also had fun trying to scrape together enough cash for a ride across the Rhine on a cable-car; we must have looked like poor Uni students or back-packers, crouched on the floor pooling together our loose change for the € 6.60 we needed for two one-way tickets. Luckily we found an ATM so we could get some lunch afterwards ;-)
I'm also nearing the end of my stay in Dover, England with my grandma and my mum. Yesterday we went to Canterbury and saw the famous (think Archbishop) Cathedral, which appeared to be in much better shape than the Dom in Cologne (might have something to do with the fact that entrance to the Dom is free whilst the Canterbury Cathedral is not), but I think it was smaller. I'm not a religious person myself, but it is amazing to see what people have built for the (proverbial) Love of God. There is so much detail in the cathedrals -- in the stone work, the wood work, and the stained glass windows -- and the buildings are so enormous and elaborately constructed that you wonder how they ever managed to build them hundreds of years ago without any modern equipment. It would probably also be prohibitively expensive to build anything like that these days... assuming you could even find people with the right skills for the job, of course. We have our huge sky-scrapers these days, but what will people look back on in 500 years' time and say in awe: "Wow, I can't believe they built something so impressive and so beautiful with such primitive tools!"?
Today we stayed a bit closer to home and walked around the Dover castle, one of the strongest in the whole of Western Europe (according to one of the postcards I sent). I couldn't believe how good the weather was -- clear blue skies, nice and warm -- although apparently it will rain again after we leave tomorrow ;-). Luckily my trusty REI hat has kept the sun off my face so I don't have too much of a British Tan (== sunburn). The castle was full of several groups of children of various ages, some of them English and some of them French (presumably on day trips from across the Channel). Although they were noisy, they didn't appear to actually be causing any trouble ;-)
Well.... that's enough randomness for one day. Tomorrow it is off to Australia for two weeks (with a 21-hour flight via Singapore!) and I should be able to actually upload this blog using the wireless network at Heathrow.
Have fun at work! (Ha ha ha)
P.S. Wireless access at Heathrow is expensive! In the US you can typically get a 24 hour lease for around $10; in Heathrow it's 5 GBP (about $8 USD?) for one hour!