With warm (ok lately more cold and rainy) spring days upon us and the promise of a gorgeous summer on the horizon, Dan and I packed up our suitcases again in pursuit of Switzerland’s famous alps, the azure blue waters of the Italian Lakes, and the lagooned canals of Venice.
It’s no surprise that Dan and I love to travel by train; far less hassle with queues and invasive body pat downs at airport security (on our return trip from Portugal I was actually asked to lift my shirt so my waistline could be inspected, not sure what they suspected I could be hiding in my bellybutton!), generous seats with vastly more elbow and leg room, no luggage restrictions so you can enjoy that bottle of wine or two you packed in your bag, and big windows to watch the gorgeous scenery zipping by. We are on a mission to see the best of Europe’s countryside via rail and there are so many scenic routes to choose from! Check out rail site Loco2 for some Pinterest worthy inspiration.
The moment I read about the scenic Swiss Bernina Express panoramic train route over the Swiss Alps from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy on my favorite rail travel resource seat61.com, we decided to build a two week rail holiday around that panoramic route, bookending the trip with some time in Germany and northern Italy making it our longest getaway thus far. Hopefully our dog Scooter will remember us when we come to collect him from the kennel!
Dan and I so enjoyed the Bavarian landscape on the trip we took with Dan’s parents over this past Christmas, that we decided to start our trip in Cologne and then make our way to Switzerland via the picturesque Rhine Valley.
I interrupt this blog post to provide you a public service announcement: Germany’s rail network Deutsche Bahn offers a ‘London Spezial’ fare with upgraded standard premier Eurostar tickets from London’s St. Pancras International to Brussels Midi along with a transfer to an ICE or Thalys regional train for your final Deutschland destination. Good way to save you a pretty penny!
After settling into our expansive standard premier (a first for us!) Eurostar seats and tucking into the included tea and croissant breakfast, we enjoyed another pleasant Eurostar crossing before transferring trains in Brussels to the high-speed ICE train that would ferry us to Cologne.
The train ride to Cologne afforded the expected views of the lush verdant Belgian countryside, dotted with pretty brick row homes tucked into the hills of the cites and charming farmhouses in between. Once we arrived in Cologne, we exited the train station and were immediately met with a stunning view of the Cologne Cathedral, and of course the impressive spire was partially covered in scaffolding. Scaffolding always seems to be the bane of our travel photography regardless of whether it is off-season or not; Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, Rome’s Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Baptistery, Venice’s Rialto Bridge, the list will likely continue on. Has that ever happened to you on your travels? Annoying, am I right?
Built between the 13th and 15th century, with the final construction restarted and finished in the 19th century, the Dom as its known, is renowned for its Gothic architecture and is the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and is supposedly Germany’s most visited landmark. It really does command quite a presence over the city.
After admiring the many stunning stained glass windows and high ceilings of the Dom, we headed west toward the water to cross the Hohenzollern bridge spanning the Rhine River. The chain linked guard rails of the bridge were loaded down with thousands of ‘love locks’ etched or inscribed with lovers’ initials and the date. We even found one dated back to 1967 although my guess is that is the year the couple first met versus when they placed the lock as the ‘love lock’ trend really only took off in the last decade. Dan and I had fixed a lock on the famous Pont des Arts bridge in Paris ourselves (which I just read on the news the other day are all being taken down due to structural concerns) while we were there on our first wedding anniversary trip and ever since we have seen locks on several other bridges from Portugal to the Netherlands. Ok enough about locks.
After crossing the bridge, we doubled back to walk along the river’s edge and grab an aperitif alfresco at one of the many bars and restaurants located in the Aldstat or Old Town. As it was a Saturday night in late spring with fairly decent weather, despite the lingering gray skies from the past week’s rain showers, the atmosphere along the riverside was lively and boisterous with diners filling up the tables at the outdoor cafes, revelers queued up for the partyfahrten river boats, and dozens of bachelor and bachelorette parties known in Germany as junggesellenabschied. The bachelor or bachelorette and their friends all dress up in matching shirts and carry around a big basket with small items such as lighters, condoms, and candy that the soon to be betrothed sells to passers-by to fund the evening’s celebration. Sounds PG enough.
When I asked Dan what he wanted to eat for dinner, he immediately replied with “I want weiner!” so off we went, continuing our meandering trek through the Aldstat, where we stumbled upon a noisy, crowded outdoor wine festival in the Heumarkt with a dozen pavilions hawking wine and weiners, surrounded by picnic tables packed with groups of friends enjoying the spring weather and festive atmosphere with buckets of wine. Dan and I grabbed the most amazing currywurst and soft pretzel from one of the stands, reminiscing about all the delicious schnitzel, spatzle, and pretzel we had enjoyed at the Christmas markets on our Bavaria trip.
Germany has quickly become one of my favorite food destinations in Europe. I mean how can you say no to reasonably priced obnoxiously huge glasses of Hefeweizen, weiner schnitzel, and bacon fried sauerkraut? I know I certainly can’t!
As the kickoff point of our great scenic rail holiday, the city of Cologne treated us well and gave us our Bavarian pretzel fix to boot. Sounds like a promising start to a good time!