I write this as I begin my 3 hours journey back to Utrecht, Netherlands from Cologne, Germany. The train cabin I board is a designated silent zone, so I need to do this quietly. Not that there is anyone to mind; the cabin is empty.
I was assigned to the Netherlands for work during the week, and as any travelling enthusiasts would in my shoes, I took a few days off to explore the region.
The largest town near my work place is Arnhem. This Dutch town is quiet, small and non-descript, and despite being a major transportation hub, it is not exactly the most popular place for tourists. Arnhem is most famous as a fierce battleground between the Allied forces and the Nazis during the World War II days, where the former suffered a major defeat. The failure to capture the bridge across the Rhine river (now named John Frost Bridge after a British soldier) caused the war to drag on, inadvertently prolonging the sufferings of all those who were involved. The John Frost bridge of today is sombre, quietly serving its duty for the many pedestrians crossing the Rhine river, the bloodshed images of it now a distant memory.
My next destination was Cologne, Germany. Cologne (or Köln) is a well known location nationwide, largely for the magnificent Cologne Cathedral (Dom), a massive sky-reaching architectural colossal which miraculously survived heavy bombings during World War II. The Dom, said to be the largest in the world by size, greets visitors arriving at the impressive main train station (hauptbahnhof) with its towering shadows. Located along the banks of the Rhine river, the many juxtapositions of the Cologne Dom is a photographer’s delight.
The rebuilt old town (Altstadt) of Cologne is also beautiful, its buildings painted with a palette of pale shades of blue, pink and yellow, a colour theme I noticed of German towns in the Rhine region. While exploring the dim streets at night, my ears brought me into a local jazz bar. Despite being thoroughly alone, the company of Kölsch (local brew beer), the music and the few broken banter with other drinkers meant that I wasn’t terribly lonely.
Using Cologne as my base, I was spoilt with choices as to how to spend my last day in the North Rhine-Westphalia region. Upon realising that the ticket I bought was a day pass, I made plans to visit 2 other places. I first arrived at Aachen, one of Germany’s most western town. Aachen, bound to top any alphabetical list, has a very charming old town, with the gorgeous cathedral its crown jewel. It was a great way to spend a few hours, but having been to many other European towns of similar descript, it didn’t keep my interest for long.
My last destination was Düsseldorf, host city of the 2011 Eurovision contest, and another city built along the Rhine river. Düsseldorf shares a friendly rivalry with near-by Cologne, but while the latter is casual and rustic, Düsseldorf is posh and trendy, known throughout the country for being a fashion forward city. Königsallee, a long street of up-market fashion outlet may be Düsseldorf, or indeed of Germany’s answer to Paris’ Champs–Élysées. As with Cologne’s Kölsch, the locals are immensely proud of their local beer (Altbier), of which I have had the fortune of sharing with loads of other like-minded people in the middle of this chilly fall weather.
As I am about to stop writing this, the train stops at a station which I am having trouble finding its name of. I recognise the blue and yellow train across the next platform, so we must be in the Netherlands now. This has been a short but interesting trip. Professionally, I am empowered by my capacity to walk into a foreign country, shake the hands of my counterparts and do business. Socially, I am continually enlightened by all the cultures, languages and sights I have been exposed
to. It is time like this I count my blessings.
The train has moved now. The station name reads ‘Deurne’.