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!

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Day 117 – 119, Cologne & Nijmegen, May 6th – 8th 2012

Tea 117, Ice Tea, Nijmegen

Tea 118, Apple Ginger, Cologne

Tea 119, Lavender & Camomile, Cologne

Day 117, Sunday.  Actually managed a trip to The Netherlands!  The day was spent with lazing about and walking the dog.  We cooked a very good coconut curry, with courgette and peppers and black Soya Bean noodles. Sehr Gut!  Then in the late afternoon we headed to a town in The Netherlands (which isn’t actually so far from Cologne) called Nijmegen.  The purpose of our trip?  To go and see a band that Regina really enjoys and had bought tickets for, called Dry The River.  The gig was good, the town very very small, but there was a good atmosphere and we got some good fries with satay sauce for our pre-gig snack.  Then at the gig I went for an extremely hardcore drink choice of an Ice-Tea with a nice slice of lemon and a stirring stick!  The gig was good fun.  The band played well.  Then we headed back to Cologne.

Day 118, Monday.  A bit of a disastrous day in terms of photos.  I walked all the way to the Dom, Cologne’s Cathedral, took my camera out of my bag, switched it on to find the lovely message of ‘No Card’…. BRILLIANT!  So absolutely no photos were taken on this day, including on the Agfa because I’d chosen to leave that at the flat instead of carrying it about.  Anyway, I obviously walked to the Dom, enjoying the sunshine, then around and to the Rhein.  I sat there for a while, mostly to eat a packet of onion rings (mmm a nice nutritious lunch!), and just to sit and contemplate stuff, as you do.

Dinner was mashed potato (white and Sweet varieties), onion gravy and these crazy ‘lupin fillets’.  They are made from the seeds/peas of the Lupin plant.  They tasted kind of cakey, but worked well with our home made onion gravy.

That evening me and Regina met up with a couple of her friends and we wandered around the town in the evening as the sun was going down, with a bottle of beer in hand and some chat. It was a fun evening.

Day 119, Tuesday, also the official end of WW2, or VE day.  A bit more success in terms of carrying my camera with me at least!  I visited Melaten, a large, neat and well kept cemetery.  I wandered around it for a while, there was a funeral happening in one part.  So this made me decide not to be around snapping photos for too long so I left and went back to the area we walked around the night before.  We had seen a bike shop there that sells second hand bikes too.  I checked a couple out and will head back tomorrow for a test ride of one they were in the middle of fixing up… we’ll see…

I came home for some lunch then headed back into town, though avoiding the demonstration that was meant to be happening at a nearby mosque… (I had been told that there might be some violence, especially from the right wingers)  I just explored the quieter areas a little bit using Regina’s bike.  It was good to use one again (though the seat is too low for me and so it wasn’t the most comfortable experience!)

The evening has seen me sit on the sofa and drink tea whilst Regina carries on unpacking boxes and sorting out her bookshelves!  I also sneakily fed the dog (Lumpi) some peanut butter…


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.