At first sight, Cologne felt a bit dull and grundgy. Even the hippest area such as Belgian quarter lacks a bit of that typical charm of an European old town. German people are known to be rigid in their way of life and I couldn’t help wondering whether that stifles creativity and dulls the city a bit. One highlight of the city was the unexpected abundance and variety of authentic Asian restaurants ... even more so than non-German European options.
As the most known site in Cologne, the cathedral is the biggest of its kind I have ever visited. In addition to its impressive scale, its distinctive black color is what makes it famous. I thought the color might have come from a big fire it survived but it turned out that the industrial revolution was the main culprit. Coal heating and steam engines significantly increased the sulphur content in the air in the mid-19th century. The sandstone, which most of the building is made from, reacted with the sulphuric acid in the air/rain and turns into a dark grey color.
Entrance to the cathedral is free but there are also English guided tours daily at 1030 and 230 for €8.
Had dinner at this Chinese restaurant near the hotel ... the food was pretty authentic and the price was a bargain! It definitely hit the spot after a whole week of european food.
Public transit is supposed to be pretty good in Cologne so I got a 1-day kolncard (€9) from the tourist info office across from the cathedral entrance for my day 2. My first destination is the Chocolate Museum. Google map tells me I should take Bus #133 and it seemed to be a pretty straightforward ride. However, it took me 20 mins to find the bus stop of #133 at Breslauer Platz, which is a huge station with trams, trains, buses, subways all converge here. I struggled to find someone on the street who could understand English and help me with the direction. Eventually I found my way - most bus stops are actually located behind Gunnewig Kommerz Hotel and the bus stop for #133 is actually on Goldbasse road.
The museum is interesting but maybe an hour is more than enough to spend here. I learnt a lot about coca tree and beans and live demonstration of chocolate making (free tasting too).
I found this shanghainese restaurant called Shanghai Kuche by accident. They had very authentic shanghainese dishes! I ordered 荠菜鲜肉馄饨(dumplings) and 萝卜丝火腿酥饼(daikon bacon pancakes).
I tried to go to Hellers Volksgarten beer garden (in the park next to a lake) but the door was closed and there is a sign saying welcome back in may! So I walked around the park and enjoyed some early spring blooms.
Dined at a popular local German/Greek restaurant (it was difficult to get a reservation). After a few meals of Asian cuisine, it was time to experience the local food. Food was pretty good overall ... very tasty sauce but the meats are on the chewy side.
If you travel solo to any European city, I highly recommend doing one of those free walk tours (free to join but tips are expected). Great way to get to know the city through a local guide and make some new friends who might also be traveling solo. I went on this 2.5-hour Freewalk Cologne Tour and had a cheerful Cologne native as our guide. She was really good and gave a lot of historical stories and personal takes.