Day 120 -125, Cologne & Laacher See, May 9th – 14th 2012

Tea 121: THE MYSTERY PU ERH TEA all the way from Tallinn!, drunk in Cologne.

Tea 125: Fruit Tea, Bockhaus Laacher See, Laacher Sea, Eifel

The past few days have been a bit of a mixture really.  My 120th day, May 9th, involved me returning to a bike shop I had visited the day before.  There had been a bike there that I had liked the look of, but it wasn’t ready to be ridden, so I returned on this day to give it a spin.  Needless to say it seemed like a good ride. I gave it a going over and then left the shop, still strongly considering it. Trying to figure out what I would need as well as the bike and trying to see if I could get a deal.  The way back I decided to pay another visit to the Melaten graveyard.  I hadn’t given it SO much attention the day before.  There had been a funeral going on, and even though the place is absolutely huge and they probably weren’t aware of my presence, I still felt a little weird about being  tourist in such a situation.  This time I stumbled upon some interesting graves, including one of a really well detailed and ‘life-size’ (?) grim-reaper.  There are some other really amazingly crafted gravestones and sculptural pieces here, so if you are interested in these things I would say it is well worth the visit.  There are so many trees that it would probably be ok in any weather except maybe the heaviest rainfall.

Day 121, I decided to head back to the Dom (cathedral) today, this time with my camera’s memory card safely installed!  I went via the city centre where I was researching tents and compasses for consideration in my potential bike adventure.  The day started out a little cloudy with the odd bit of rain, but it brightened up later in the day.  I took Regina’s bike with me too, to try and figure out whether my yearning for bike travel was founded in anything. It seems it is…

The Dom looked quite good against the grey sky, it’s moody blackened facade contrasting quite nicely with the pale grey.  I wonder if they will ever try to clean it?  I hope not.

After that I took the bike down to the river bank and followed the Rhein for a little while.  There I discovered a chocolate museum.  Despite the temptation to pay the entrance, I decided to just visit the shop instead.  The museum looks like it’s basically run by Lindt, so I’m pretty sure they couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know… The shop was pretty good though, and I might pay it another visit before I leave Cologne.  For some weird reason, opposite the museum, on the river, is a huge representation of Noah’s Ark!  Proclaiming to be Europe’s first Bible story theme park, the place looks mental, a huge Orangutan hangs out of the front, whilst Noah and his son are carved out of wood at the entrance. An impressively bizarre thing.

A little further along the river I tried to use my gallery map to find a photography museum, but failed, so I headed back towards home, I stopped off at a little bakery and bought a ‘Musli‘.  Basically a bit like granola, a huge circle of oats, seeds and dried fruits dipped in dark chocolate.  It was great!  I munched it down pretty eagerly and headed back to the flat.

That evening I at long last tried the 12 year old mystery Pu Erh that I had been given such a long time ago in Tallinn, Estonia.  The taste was really great, smooth, almost sweet and, for a Pu Erh, surprisingly delicate. From my experience of these teas so far I think they older they get the smoother and more refreshing they become.

The 11th, and I have to say one thing only, after all the umming and ahhing, the procrastination and trepidation, I finally made the decision to buy the bike…!!!

The 12th.  Tomorrow will be Regina’s birthday.  So today was spent preparing stuff for the next days barbeque and park party. We did some shopping, some cooking, Regina went and met a close friend in the evening and to see a gig and I did some work at the apartment and then met another of her friends, Boris, who had come from Berlin to see Regina for her birthday.  When he arrived that evening we both went into town and met up with Regina after the gig. We planned to go into a bar called KGB bar, though this is a new name, it was formerly HoteLux.  The place was completely full of people though, we could barely put a foot through the door.  So we went for another place, the first choice was one that appears to have shut down inbetween Regina being away and coming back, so we ended up in a bar opposite.  This was totally busy too, but a good atmosphere.  I was wondering where all these people had come from, the city seems much busier and fuller at night time!  After a drink there we headed to another place, a quieter one, where we could get a seat and have some good chat.  On the way home we stopped at a place for Falafel, and I must say that this one totally beats any of the Falafel I had in Berlin!

The 13th arrived and Regina’s birthday!  We woke up fairly early and prepared some more food for the barbeque.  I was on vegetable parcels.  Courgette, tomato, peppers and mushroom in little foil packages with oil, cumin, and some mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Regina made some really amazing looking, smelling and tasting pizzas.  We then headed to a nearby park at around 2:30 and set up the stuff and people started to arrive from around 3.  The weather was really really amazing, the perfect day for the barbeque, as well as for a birthday.  We sat and chatted, cooked and drank until around 10pm.  The sky was clear the whole time and it stayed warm pretty late, though eventually the last few of us that remained got a bit chilly.

Day 125, Monday.  Regina had to wake up early again!  She normally has mondays off from work, but today was a leaving do for a colleague, so she had woken up early to cook yet more food (Coconut pancakes) and headed out.  She got back around 12:30 and we all (Regina, Boris and I) all headed out for a little jaunt into the countryside.  We went to a place called Laacher See, a large lake near to the city of Koblenz.  The weather was still perfect.  When we arrived we walked a little way to a restaurant called Bockhaus and had a little lunch.  I had a ‘German speciality’ called Toast Hawaii.  Basically ham and pineapple on toast and totally coated in cheese.  It was actually quite tasty and reminds me of when my mum puts a slice of pineapple on top of Gammon steaks (but with added cheese).  After that we walked for a while trying to find the edge of the lake, which we did when we eventually found the end of the huge caravan park that seems to have a bit of a monopoly over this part of the lake’s shoreline.  After that we headed back to Cologne, the sat-nav tooks us on a good route, that involved taking a ferry across the Rhein! As well as some lovely views of the hills, which are covered in vineyards, some of which seem so steep I don’t think harvesting can be the easiest job in the world, you’d probably need to pay me danger money!  In Cologne we dropped Boris off at the train station, me off by Regina’s bike (which she had left in the city centre on saturday night), she drove home and I cycled her bike back.  That evening she did yet MORE baking, raspberry tray bake cake thing.  It looked and smelt amazing!  But this was for her workmates to celebrate her birthday once again!


Day 20, Vantaa, January 29th 2012

Tea 20: Power Tea, Eeero’s House, Vantaa.

Today I finally did NOTHING!!  Yes, I’m sorry to say that today I had an exceedingly lazy day.  I woke up late, ate breakfast late, wandered to the shop, ate lunch late and just spent the day learning how to say thanks and hi in Estonian and browsing around on the internet, semi-planning the next stage of my trip.  Tomorrow I leave Finland for Estonia.  To Tallinn.  I’m quite excited about this next stage of my trip because not only do I have very little idea of what to expect, I am also staying with people I do not know.  This might put fear into some people, but thanks to the joy of couch surfing I’m mildly confident that it’ll all be ok…..fingers crossed, if there is an abrupt stop to my entries on here then you will all know why!!

The temperature today hasn’t gotten any better than in the above image, hovering menacingly around the -10’C mark, still, a good 6-8′ better than last night!  But then last night was my second and final Finnish Sauna experience.  Much the same as the last time, really hot and stuffy.  I seemed to find it a little harder to adjust myself to it this time.  But it was enjoyable, my skin feels fresher today certainly.  The beers and chocolate were good too!  I now feel that it might be wrong to have a sauna anywhere other than Finland, as it was my first experience, and I doubt I will find anyone who likes them quite as hot as Eeero does, last night was another mega-cooking 90’C-er!

So yes, today was a day of relaxing my legs, the miles they have walked in the past three weeks is anyones guess, but a clue would be LOTS!  And a day for preparing for the next leg, getting my washing sorted, making sure I know where my passport is, and the ticket for the ferry to Tallinn from Helsinki, and having a vague map / idea of where I need to go when I reach Tallinn.  I’ve not done it yet, but I think my next job might have to be tea research for my next destination!

Tea today was a Power Tea to at least give me a bit of pep for the evening, it’s strange not going out, but I think it was probably a good idea, I don’t think I have properly rested since I began traveling.  And I don’t know when my next opportunity will be. The Power Tea is good, I’ve not had any for a few days so it made a good change, the liquorice seems to be getting stronger.  And hopefully the ginger will be good for my immune system.

Anyway, tomorrow is a travel day, so it may be another belated posting on Tuesday.  But it might not be….. WHO KNOWS?!??!?! Not me!  (it’s great!!)

p.s.  The first photograph below is a 30 second exposure taken from my bedroom window late last night.  The other two are from Helsinki that I haven’t posted yet.


Day 14, Helsinki / Suomenlinna, January 23rd 2012

Tea 14:  Thyolo, théhuone, Helsinki.

Today I headed to the islands of Suomenlinna.  This is a short boat journey, which if you have a travel-card like me, is included, so is basically free.  The island are an old fortress, which began life in 1748, when the Swedish, who at that time ruled over current day Finland, built it to defend themselves against Russian expansion.  Suomenlinna played a key role in many disputes, swapping hands time and again, until 1918 when it became part of newly independent, Finland.  It is now an UNESCO world heritage site.  The island is quite pretty, the first impression was a little disappointing, the buildings on the first island are similar to those in the city, and quite close to the Swedish architecture in Stockholm.  As I headed further into the complex though things got more interesting, crossing a small bridge I entered the old port area, where currently a wooden Gunboat is being constructed.  This is based on the plans of architect F. H. Chapman.  The main aim of the project is to employ and train young people and to revive and maintain ancient ship-building skills.  They are certainly doing a good job on this project, the ship is still in a skeletal stage, but it looks as if it will be amazing when finished, it is huge!

After that I headed towards some even older looking bits of the fortress.  The complex is huge, and like a rabbit warren, it would be so easy to get totally lost in there if there weren’t maps dotted about.  The building is quite low, barely going over two stories for the most part, but the walls are really thick and, like I say, the labyrinthian quality must of made it an excellent defensive structure.  I headed towards the Kings Gate, basically the original main entrance / first stop off for any wannabe invader.  There are cannon of various ages, some from the earlier period of it’s history and some from the more recent conflict around 1918.  I spent around two hours on the island before my fingers began to get numb through my gloves, definitely the coldest day so far, the exposure of the island to the Baltic Sea and the fresh bout of snowfall all contributed to this.  I hopped back onto the ferry headed back to the mainland.

My mission now: TEA!  Of course.  I almost indulged in a hot chocolate instead, but my tea head was on and I wanted to go back to the shop that had been closed on Sunday, théhuone (Teahouse in Finnish).  I was greeted by a wall of amazing smelling teas.  The shop was inviting and warm.  A pair sat at one table and another lone soul like me at another, so I took a third.  The menu was extensive to say the least, I couldn’t read any of it except for the tea names, and country of origin.  I picked one and asked to smell it.  The smell was deep and reddish, exactly what I was looking for to warm me up, and to give me something different.  The tea was called Thyolo, I presume in further reference to it’s origin, Thyolo in Malawi.  Today I decided to take proper tasting notes, especially because it was a tea I definitely haven’t experienced before.  So here we go:  The tea was smooth and rounded in flavour, delicate in flavour, and no bitterness at all.  There was the slight hint of Rooibos and also a smell it took me ages to pin down, but I think it might have been the very tiniest hint of Passata (tomato puree).  It took me ages to think what it was, and I might still be wrong.  There was an edge of sweetness to the tea, mostly from the Rooibos tones, that refreshed the underside of my tongue along and a slight and pleasant lingering metallic note in there somewhere.  The tea was dark amber in colour, reminiscent of Golden Syrup.  The water was heated perfectly and the timing of the brewing was to perfection, thanks to a little egg-timer used my the assistant.  I also indulged in a delicious seeded Croissant with St Dalfour Black Cherry jam.  It was SOOOO good!  After my tea I chatted to the assistant for a while about tea and travel, she told me how, for her honeymoon, she and her husband travelled for five weeks down very much the same route as I am planning but in a Caravan, it has made me think more about using a different form of transport than the trains and buses I have planned so far…..


Day 11, Helsinki / Vantaa, January 20th 2012

Tea 11: Green Tea with Lemon, somewhere in the Baltic Sea, near Helsinki.

SNOW!  Proper Snow!  Helsinki is like I had sort of imagined it would be, but even more snowy, especially after the lack of snow in Copenhagen and Stockholm.  Apparently yesterday they had 20cm, and today they must of had the same again.  There is loads!!!  I’ve not seen so much since I was a kid skiing.

I woke up in my cabin at around 8am local time, 7am head time and 6am UK time.  I was lucky in that the cabin I had booked was a shared one, and so I could of had to share with other people, but the ship was quiet and I had the whole thing to myself!  Brilliant!  So after a fairly decent nights sleep I headed downstairs to the Promenade deck in search of tea.  I didn’t get my hopes up and was therefore not too disappointed when I was limited to a small Twinings selection.  How they manage to fit so many tannins into their tea I do not know, I’m starting to think when they say ‘Green Tea’ they just mean they picked the ones out of the black tea batch that stand out a little…. It did the job though and by the time I had drunk that and eaten the extremely dry and chewy cinnamon bun thing (trust me, a camel would have struggled), it was almost time to disembark.  I headed to the top deck and out into the cold air, where I was greeted by lots of lovely, snow-covered islands, even the back of the ship had a little covering.  Helsinki soon loomed up on me and it was time to get off.

I took the tram from the Olympia ferry terminal to the central station and met my friend Eeero, who is kindly hosting me for the next 10 days, outside of the station, after me having seen him, but not him me, outside of the Sokos hotel / department store and me chasing him around for a while.  We went and got my travelcard sorted and headed to his house in Vantaa, a little way north of Helsinki.  After dumping my stuff, meeting his wife and their new baby I headed out into the snow, really really thick snow, and back into the city centre where I filled myself up at a disgustingly satisfying Chinese Buffet and wandered around the city a little to get my bearings a little.  The river running through Helsinki is completely frozen over and a weird murky brown colour, which means I will not be testing my theory that you could easily walk across it, but nonetheless I’m pretty sure that water isn’t moving for a while.  I treated myself to a bar of soap and a wee in a department store and headed back to Eeero’s place.


Day 10, Stockholm, January 19th 2012

Tea 10: Power Te, Jessica and Tiffany’s apartment, Stockholm. (photo taken elsewhere)

My first belated post!  Sorry!  Yesterday and overnight was spent traveling or any of the other associated things, like waiting or sleeping or without internet.  So today’s post comes a little late, being as it is now tomorrow and today is yesterday.

Anyway, before I confuse myself any further, as I said, yesterday was a travel day.  I spent the morning packing, unpacking and repacking, losing things, finding things again and suchlike, so I don’t have great deal to say about Stockholm, other than I did take a quick visit to SKHLM, apparently Stockholm’s ‘capital of shopping’….. well, need I say more?  Apart from that that should be read with a degree of sarcasm in it’s tone.  This wasted about 30 minutes, including the time it took to walk there and back.  I ventured back to the flat and packed up again, had a quick bit of lunch and headed off on my way to the ferry port.  I took the T-banan to Ropsten and then three friendly assistants showed me where to get the bus to the terminal.  It was simple and easy, I arrived, paid for my ticket, waited about 45minutes, lost in the delights of Tallink Silja terminals number 1 attraction, the fish tank, and then boarded the boat, the ‘Silja Symphony’. A string quartet was setting up as I entered ‘The Promenade‘ deck.  After eventually figuring out which lift to take to get to my deck I found my cabin and dumped my stuff.

I did the usual wandering around to see what looked good on the boat.  Then headed outside as we began to leave the port.  And that was about that, I bought some iced tea (in a can) and some sweets and settled down.  The ship was pleasant enough, a Casino, a pub, a few restaurants and buffets, the usual really.  After a last minute emergency run to the shop before it closed for some chap-stick, I went to sleep, and woke up in Finland.

The tea that kept me going was the good old POWER TE!  I know I mentioned this days ago, but until now other teas have taken precedent, it is a very good tea though.  smooth and just the right amount of bitterness.  It also has liquorice pieces so it has that strange sweetness that hits the side of your tongue. It has also got Guarana and Gingko Biloba so it certainly does the job on those clouded headed mornings.  It is, actually, a brilliant tea.