Put your seatbelts on, this is a long one.

At the time we left Amsterdam on Tuesday, the sun was setting as our train headed South to Germany. We pulled into the station around 11 at night at a deserted platform. When we stepped outside into Cologne (or Koln, as it is spelled and pronounced by Germans), a dark, marvelous cathedral loomed over us.

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The shadows played off the spindling spires with gargoyles adorned over windows and entryways. We later learned that it took over 600 years to build. There aren’t many corners in Cologne you can stand at without spotting a spire from the Cathedral—lovingly referred to as Dom.

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We hopped on the underground, rode it one station up to a neighborhood called Neumarkt and transfered to another tram that was supposed to take us to Rudolfplatz. Running on fumes, our exhaustion caused us to get on the tram going the opposite way of our hostel. At a graffitti-riddled station, we waited for the tram to return from the other direction to go back to where we began.

When we got off the tram, a couple who spoke a little English (we must’ve looked lost) directed us to our hostel. It’s a true luxury to have helpful people wherever we go.

By the time we made it to The Meininger Hostel, it was well past one in the morning. We were staying in an 8-bed mixed dorm room, a layout we have yet to see, so in the pitch dark it was nearly impossible to find a few empty beds.

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Everyone else in our room was in for the night. And by everyone else we mean a bunch of men. When we got settled in our beds (Cori was in a bottom bunk with a Belgium man on the top bunk and Jordan was in a top bunk with an African man in the bottom bunk) all you could hear were snores coming from the six other beds. Perfect.

The Belgian woke up and exclaimed something in German, it sounded like “shut up” but everything in the German language is intimidating. Honestly should have checked the sheets. Scared the shit out of both of us. We couldn’t laugh about the incident until the next morning though, because we were afraid of being shushed if we whispered anything across the room to each other.

In the morning, we headed to a small cafe down the street for brunch. It was our first true test of our language barrier. It was a tough one to master. Germans serve all their water as soda water, so you have to be very clear when ordering water. Twice, as hard as we tried, we ordered soda water instead of regular water. Their regular water tastes like dish soap. Lucky for us, beer is cheaper anyway.

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We spent most of the day wandering around the streets. Since we never figured out exactly how the ticket system worked, we continued to hop on and off trams and the underground without paying. We basically went everywhere in Germany for free so far…by accident. From there on out, our morning conversations always began with, “Do you want to walk or scam the tram?”

We took a boat tour on the Rhine, that was an hour round trip, expecting to see some castles. Although the riverbanks of Cologne is beautiful and marked by old estates, churches and statues, it wasn’t what we were quite expecting. We came to Cologne expecting to see castles, only to realize we were about an hour too North of them.

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We headed back to our hostel through the outdoor shopping district—a pedestrian-only area. It was an ideal place to people watch and enjoy street music and performers. One girl was singing, or belting, Adele. Not very impressive in a German accent.

When we arrived, we finally met some of our roommates in the daylight. One man, we didn’t bother to catch his name, we quickly learned was the king of elaborate lies and oversharing. We realized this after just a few minutes of meeting him. He told us he is divorced and has a ten year old. He also said he was in NATO, played on a basketball team (he was shorter than both of us) and his team was sponsored by a club in Cologne, where he spent all day partying. And partying. And partying. To paint you a picture, he sported jorts, an Ed Hardy shirt, brown shoes and black socks.

The other roommate, who we later learned to be Trent, was from Australia on a 3-month backpacking excursion. He gave us a desperate get-me-out-of-this- conversation look. The no-named German (who was violently sucking down an alcoholic beverage) was trying to convince Trent to come to “his” club to meet women and get wasted. Trent kept reminding him that he was gay and that meeting women and going to a club was not a night he had in mind. So we all silently agreed to sneak out in “shifts” and grab dinner.

Trent went outside “for a smoke”, Jordan left next to “check for wi-fi” and before Cori could leave, no-name German went into the lobby, only to see Jordan and Trent sitting outside having a beer. We were so lucky to have met Trent when we did, he was one of the sweetest guys we’ve met so far and was just as excited as us to meet someone new.

In Germany, you are allowed to drink and walk on the streets, so we ducked down a side alley to finish our beers and wandered around to find somewhere to eat. We settled on a local pizzeria. Since it was crowded, we had to share a table with a group of people. We asked if they spoke English (in our botched German) and they said, “yes, a bit,” (every German says, “Yes, a bit”, but then they speak fluent English). We learned that their names were Felix, Andre, Sarah and Ronald (roll the “R” and throw an “f” in there- that’s how it sounds). Felix and Andre are in a relationship and the pizza place was run by a gay manager. Apparently Cologne is the second gay capital of Germany, followed by Berlin.

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We spent all dinner talking to them. They were a little older than us and lived about 5 kilometers down the road. Andre is earning his Ph.D in economics and Felix is a real estate agent. We talked about Germany, our visit so far, where we were headed and the places they’ve visited. After London, we really didn’t have time to meet new people, so Trent, Andre and Felix were a breath of fresh air.

Andre and Felix insisted on taking the three of us out to the gay bars and bought us their favorite drinks, mojitos and Kolsch (a beer brewed in Koln).

After an hour at the gay bar, we went to a Andre’s favorite club, “Loom”. They played a lot of songs we recognized, such as “Don’t Wake Me Up” by Chris Brown, “Scream and Shout” by Brittney Spears (Andre’s favorite song), among others. Everyone there was mouthing the songs word for word, even though they were in English. When the clock struck three (we had to catch a train at 7:45), we exchanged emails and said goodbye (Germans kiss each other on both cheeks to say goodbye).

When our day in Cologne began, we weren’t expecting anything exciting. But making friends and having someone take us out and show us around made our night in Cologne one of our favorites so far. (Thanks boys!!)

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In the morning, we departed early to catch a train to the sleepy town of Kolbenz and took a boat down the Rhine River past all the castles to a town called Mainz.

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The low hum of the boat, the lull of the river and the church bells ringking in every town we passed was just what we needed after the past few days. The sun even came out to say hello as we made the last few stops on the riverbanks of the Rhine.

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The river is dotted with gothic castles and lined with farms, fruit plantations and vineyards that climb all the way to the top of the hills, looking like someone took a giant quilt and gently laid it over Rhineland.

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We drifted through towns called Boppard, St. Goar and Bacharach. The towns were the kind of cute that you wanted to pick off the hillside and put it in your pocket. Rows of houses lined cobblestoned streets, with church towers and clocks rising above the treetops. It left us lusting for whatever laid beyond the crest of the hills. The only thing that stopped us from jumping ship was the drizzling rain that would have met us a half step off the boat.

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So we’re a week in and so far:

– We’ve worn the same outfit practically the whole time (the weather hasn’t been the best, so we’ve resorted to our one pair of jeans and rain jacket most of the time)
– Cori has tripped 13 times, Jordan has tripped 6. (It was 5 to 1 for a long time with Jordan losing and then out of nowhere Cori more than tripled her count in Koln…must have been something in the water)
– We keep speaking Spanish to people…Jordan said “Si” instead of Yes to the guys checking us in at our hostel…Also, the way Germans say yes is Ja, and it sounds like they’re saying “Ya or Yeah” in an annoyed tone.
– Cori put her hands together and bowed to someone to say thank you. (WTF)
– Between the two of us we’ve had 20 coffees.
– We’ve gone through two packages of cracker sandwiches.
– Fallen asleep on 4 trains.
– Snorted laughing 5 times…loudly
– We’ve showered 4 times, and have done laundry once…mostly because of Cori’s bloody nose
– We’ve made exactly 3 friends (We are going to count them as friends if we’ve exchanged information with the intention of keeping in touch or sending one another photos)
– We’ve already taken 667 photos…don’t worry we have been editing and deleting as we go. Only the best ones will make it back home with us.
– We both pulled a muscle in the arch of our left foot on the same day in London….it still hurts.
– 1 Claritin (It’s the only one Cori had, but Jordan’s allergies have been a nightmare, so it was such a blessing when Cori found it in one of her pockets..)
– We’ve each had about 16 beers (9 new ones we haven’t had before this trip…5 of those were in London), a rum and coke, a mint mojito, a glass of Chardonnay…and probably not nearly enough water.

One regret: We are already so sick of having our second bag. So we are slowly downsizing, trying to squeeze everything into just our backpacks. We may ship some stuff home, it’s just heavy and inconvenient to have a second bag.

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Always craving spontaneity (and more friends!) And some damn sunshine!!,
C&J

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