On the morning of July 27th, the three of us made our way to the Central Station in Amsterdam to begin our train travel through Germany along the Rhine River. We caught the train at about 10:30. The 133-mile journey to Cologne lasted approximately three hours.
None of us had ever traveled by train before; therefore, it was a whole new experience for each of us to experience. We purchased Flexi Eurail Global Passes a few weeks before we left for our trip, which would allow us to travel 7 days within 30 days.
After activating our passes at Amsterdam Central the day before, we learned that you have to fill out the Pass each time you board a train and only when you are on the platform waiting for your specific train. If you do it ahead of time, you might miss the train, and then you can’t change it.
When you fill out the pass on the platform while you’re waiting for the train to arrive, it is necessary to include the date, the time of your boarding, and the final destination. If this isn’t all filled out correctly ahead of time, you can be kicked off the train. I found this out the hard way. I had forgotten to fill out the upper part of the pass with the day and month.
The Conductor came around to punch our tickets and noticed I hadn’t filled in the upper portion and started to lecture me, stating I needed to read the directions thoroughly and that he should make me get off the train! He was very stern and not very friendly to tourists.
Naturally, I apologized for my error while I explained this was the first time I had ever had a Eurail Pass. He wasn’t very sympathetic at all. Luckily, another passenger distracted him temporarily, and while he was attending to their needs, I quickly filled in the appropriate blank spots. When he and his assistant turned their attention back to me, the assistant asked for my pass again, and seeing that everything was in order, he punched the ticket and validated it. Phew! I didn’t make that mistake again!
One thing I also didn’t fully understand about the passes when I purchased them was that your pass just allows you to get on a train, but that doesn’t mean you get a seat to sit in! Unless you also buy a designated seat on the train (for an additional fee, of course), you could be standing for the length of your train ride! The additional fees are not cheap, either. When I was planning the trip, the cost of buying three Eurail passes versus renting a car seemed comparable, so I opted for the train since none of us had ever had the experience, and it could be fun.
Had I realized that I would have to pay additional fees to ensure we had a designated seat on each train, I don’t think I would have opted for the train after all. A lot of people I have talked to during my travels have stated that they really enjoy taking the train for numerous reasons, including the ability to relax and sit back while watching the landscapes pass by the window.
From what I experienced, sitting on a train and looking out the window does NOT offer what I had imagined. Instead of enjoying the passing landscape, I was looking at bushes and trees growing right next to the tracks most of the time. If it wasn’t bushes or trees obscuring the view, it was fences or backs of buildings. Often in city limits, the train was bordered by built-up dirt banks or went underground in a tunnel. I was very disappointed with the “view of the landscapes” aspect of the rail line. It left a lot to be desired most of the time.
I find that I much prefer the highway. I get to see the landscape around me on all sides. I get to see what’s in front of me, behind me and to either side of my seat! Besides, if I want, I can stop whenever I want to take a picture of a beautiful landscape, or I can take a little detour to drive down an interesting road if I feel like it. You sure can’t do that on a train!
Below is a rare example of the view I saw from the train as it whizzed by very quickly! I am surprised the photo didn’t come out blurry. As I stated earlier, most of the time, all I could see were scraggly bushes and trees growing along the tracks and passing by in a continuous blur!
It also takes about the same amount of time to drive the desired route as the train takes to go down the tracks, especially if it makes stops to let people on and off. I think I would have much-preferred driving and had the option to stop, take a stretch break, and take pictures whenever I felt like it. Besides, there were a lot of places I would have liked to have visited en route, but the train just went right past them!
The rail passes ended up costing a total of about $1,500 for all three of us. I could have rented a car for the 3 weeks we spent on the continent for about $400-$500 plus gas. In hindsight, renting a car would have been a lot cheaper and a whole lot more convenient. Also, I wouldn’t have had to sit on train platforms wasting time waiting for trains and having to deal with crowds of people while pulling carry-on luggage behind us on escalators and stairs. Lessons learned! Well, enough about the plusses and minuses of train travel, let’s get back to our adventures, shall we?
Before we boarded the train, we grabbed a yummy fresh croissant with ham and cheese in Amsterdam for our brunch. Once we boarded and ate our food, the girls, as usual, fell fast asleep again.
When we arrived at the Central Station in Cologne later that afternoon, we immediately headed on foot for the PathPoint Hostel, where we would be spending the night. It was only a couple of blocks away and a five-minute walk from the train station, which was extremely handy.
The entrance to the hostel looks kind of non-descript and institutional, but the old building it occupies originally had its front door around the corner on the other side of the building. Inscribed in the stones on the front of the old building, it says “Evangelisches Gemeindehaus,” which roughly translates to Evangelistic Church.
Like most hostels, the bunk beds were pretty standard. The dining room is where the central part of the church originally was and is quite spacious. They also had a pretty lovely self-catering kitchen that was well-stocked with cookware and implements and very nice to cook in.
We were only spending one night there before traveling on, so after we got our stuff situated, we headed back out in the direction of Central Station. On the other side of the train station was the famous Cologne Cathedral, a World Heritage site worth taking a look at!
The map below shows where the train station is, the location of the hostel, and the Cathedral. Very handy, indeed! The blue ‘splat’ on the map at the top is the hostel, the one in the middle is the train station and the Cathedral is literally across the square from the train station marked by the bottom blue splat.
Cologne Cathedral is a renowned monument and a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996 and attracts about 20,000 people each day. Germany boasts that it is the most visited landmark. The twin-spires are the tallest in Germany, and second in all of Europe after Ulm Minster and the third highest in the whole world. It’s pretty spectacular and strains your neck to look up at. It’s also quite tricky to fit into a photograph without being quite far back from it!
Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 but was halted in 1473, unfinished. Work did not restart until the 1840s when the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880.
According to Wikipedia, Cologne’s medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the “Three Kings” and fit its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, Cologne Cathedral eventually became unified as “a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value” and “a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe.”
It’s quite a sight to see and walk inside. The front of the building (below) with its twin spires is so ornate and full of detail.
When I walked inside and started looking around, I was amazed! It’s absolutely massive.
Everywhere one turns, something is interesting to look at; the windows, the statuary, the old pieces of the top of the church spires made so many millenniums ago!
We just had to find a place to sit for a moment to take it all in!
The organ alone was quite impressive. It is so massive and heavy, it had to be suspended from the top with wire cables to keep it in place!
And did I mention the impressive stained glass windows?!?
Afterward, we headed back outside and found it was raining, so we ducked under an overhang at the train station and sat admiring the outside of the cathedral and its gargoyles until the rain waned and finally stopped.
By the time we finished touring the cathedral, it was time to be thinking about dinner, so we walked back to the hostel, found the nearest grocery store to buy something to fix for ourselves in the self-catering kitchen and call it a day. Grace was quite impressed with the grocery section of Gluten-Free (or Gluten-Frei) items available, so we stocked up on a few essential items for our food bag for her!
We had another busy day the following day planned. We planned to get back on the train early in the morning to head further south about 70 miles to Bacharach – a quaint and well-preserved medieval town with a castle overlooking the Rhine river that we would get to spend the night in! Woo-hoo! We were very excited, to say the least! That, my dear readers, is a story for another day… until then!