Cologne was a sudden choice for a two night mini-break, and we went with Cities Direct, as always – they can arrange a neat little bespoke package that zips into your budget. We knew little about the city but it’s an hour from Stansted and the right size to explore on foot.
The Flandrischer Hof proved a well-placed hotel, clean and courteous, with an outside breakfast area, though we had forgotten that Germany has no rules about smokers in eating areas. We found this both surprising (my friend said she associates Germany with perfect teeth, rude health and tennis) and unpleasant as it occurred wherever and whenever we ate outside.
The obvious place to head was the Dom, or cathedral, which draws the gaze with marvels of contrast. Its awe-inspiring bulk manages to look like lace, its daytime blackness becomes a night-time paleness, and it assumes a totally different shape and personality from different angles. Inside, the organ is suspended at a giddying height, like an exterior elevator on a skyscraper; the position of the organist didn’t bear thinking about.
Café Reichard, once discovered, was visited no less than three times – lured by the boudoir interior of pink velvet banquettes and silver table ware, we discovered that there is a sparkling-mirrored chocolate shop within, from which you can choose delectable ganaches to be borne in with your hot coffee. Later, on the outside terrace, we gulped (I can use no other word) ambrosian Limoncello Spritzers, stuffed with lime, mint and ice under the hot sun.
Beer is, of course, the local tipple, and is swung nonchalantly about in circular tiered trays by busy waiters. There is a wealth of restaurants and pubs – we headed for the river – and it’s worth exploring the smaller cobbled streets which often have quiet eating areas in gardens at the back. The cuisine tends to be heftily meat-based and portions large – vast pork knuckles abound – but the fish dishes we had were excellent and there is plenty of choice, though a high proportion of eateries are Italian.
Our Rhine cruise was not quite what we imagined – more a liner than the boat we had expected – but as a pleasant and relaxing way to see the surroundings for an hour (or longer, if you wish) it was hard to beat. Commentary was clear, the right volume and length, and more beer was on hand.
A final unlooked for moment was a wander leading to the church of Gross St Martin. On a whim we pushed the door and were instantly in another world – of light, of plain fittings, muted choral singing, pale stone and remarkable stained glass windows, black, grey and clear. We were unable to find the name of the artist – Francis Bacon meets Marc Chagall – but went in search of more, finding it in the Basilica of the Apostles. Look through the small chunky green lumps of glass inserted into the huge wooden doors within – another treat awaits.