Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Cologne has tons of good restaurants and it's not expensive. I didn't think I would like the food, but boy was I wrong! I loved it all -- and there is a wide variety, plus some friendly setups. As in many pubs, diners share tables -- that's one reason this town is such an easy place to strike up conversations with strangers. Two of my favorite places were:
Fr�h, just a couple of blocks from the Cologne Dom, is probably the most popular brewery/restaurant in the city. It serves great local dishes, ranging from Rievkooche (grated potato cakes) to Halver Hahn (half a chicken). Brauhaus Fruh, Am Hof 12-14, Cologne; tel.: 49-0221-26 13 0.
If you don't want a typical restaurant, try Taku. Located in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, it features Asian delicacies. The best part (besides its location) is the design of the restaurant. It's in the basement so it lacks windows, but when guests first walk in they pass over a glass-covered river with live koi swimming below. Diners reach their tables by crossing over a frosted-glass illuminated bridge. It's all very chic, the service is excellent and the food is quite tasty. Taku, Trankgasse 1-5/Domplatz,50667 K�ln; tel.: 49-(0)-221-270-39-09.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Cologne has tons of good restaurants and it�s not expensive. I didn�t think I would like the food, but boy was I wrong! I loved it all -- and there is a wide variety, plus some friendly setups. As in many pubs, diners share tables -- that�s one reason this town is such an easy place to strike up conversations with strangers. Two of my favorite places were:
Fruh, just a couple of blocks from the Cologne Dom, is probably the most popular brewery/restaurant in the city. It serves great local dishes, ranging from Rievkooche (grated potato cakes) to Halver Hahn (half a chicken). Brauhaus Fruh, Am Hof 12-14, Cologne; tel.: 49-0221-26 13 0.
If you don�t want a typical restaurant, try Taku. Located in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, it features Asian delicacies. The best part (besides its location) is the design of the restaurant. It�s in the basement so it lacks windows, but when guests first walk in they pass over a glass-covered river with live koi swimming below. Diners reach their tables by crossing over a frosted-glass illuminated bridge. It�s all very chic, the service is excellent and the food is quite tasty. Taku, Trankgasse 1-5/Domplatz,50667 Koln; tel.: 49-(0)-221-270-39-09.
BREWERY PUB TOUR
Even if, like me, you�re not a beer drinker, be sure to take a Kolsch pub tour -- or at least stick your head in one of the historic breweries. Kolsch beer -- which can be traced back to the 15th century -- is a light, top-fermenting brew that can only be created in the city. It is served by traditional Cologne waiters called Kobes, and comes in tall, skinny glasses that keeps the beer fresh and cold. The price of a beer is between E1.20 ($1.50) and E1.55 ($2), depending on whether you�re in a tourist area or not. For more information on the Kolsch Tour (E141 for 2.5 hours) or other places to visit, stop at the Koln tourist office near the Cologne Dom. Tourist Office, Unter Fettenhennen 19, Koln; tel.: 49-(0)-221-23388. For more click HERE.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
EXCELSIOR HOTEL ERNST
Cologne has over 250 hotels and 25,000 beds, so finding a place to sleep should not be a problem. I stayed at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, conveniently located across the street from the Cologne Dom. This 5-star, 152-room hotel has been in business since 1863. All rooms are decorated with precious antiquities, rich fabrics and beautiful paintings. I was fortunate to score the Excelsior Suite for one night. When I walked through the double door marble hallway entrance I felt like a movie star. The living room was most impressive. The view of the Dom was incredible � breathtaking, actually. In addition, it was a bright, warm room, with comfortable furniture and a plasma flat screen TV. There was also a large desk so I could get some work done. (Wireless internet is available, but it's free only in the 24-hour business center.) The walk-in closet was bigger than some hotel rooms I've seen. Outside the bedroom was a completely complimentary mini-bar �that's one mini-bar you don't feel guilty raiding.
The bed consisted of two mattresses pushed together to form a king. I never understood why many European hotels have two mattresses in rooms that everyone knows will be occupied by couples. I always thought it was because they could make twin beds up for non-couples -- but I realized when I pulled up the twin-size (not king-size) blanket that the idea is for couples to sleep better at night. If your partner tosses and turns, you don't feel it in either the mattress or covers. How clever is that? A bathroom that I wouldn't mind being trapped in was as luxurious as it gets. In fact, it too was large. There was wall-to-wall marble; a shower with two built-in marble seats; strong water pressure; relaxing soft lights � and it doubles as a steam room. To top it off, the whirlpool bath's outer wall was made of thick glass, giving a sexy fish tank affect. The expensive Bvlgari toiletries will make great stocking stuffers. After a good night's sleep, a sophisticated breakfast is included in the rates, which range from E 245.00 ($310) to E 1,850.00 ($2,342.20). Excelsior Hotel Ernst, Trankgasse 1-5/Domplatz,50667 K�ln; tel.: 49-(0)-221-270-32-20. For more click HERE.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Cologne was founded by the Romans in 50 A.D., making it one of Germany's oldest cities. Its Roman name was Colonia Claudia Are Agrippinensium. In 310 Constantine built a bridge over the Rhine. During World War II the city suffered major damage and casualties. The city lost 95 percent of its population (mostly to rural areas). But as soon as the war ended, Cologne quickly rebounded.
Hohe Strasse is a popular shopping district. In fact, last year it was named the number one shopping street in Germany, with over 17,145 visitors passing by per hour. That's a lot of shoppers! I walked down it too, but the only things I bought were delicious pretzels. Shopping actually plays a minor role in this city. The most famous attraction by far is the Cologne cathedral (also known just as the 'Dom'). Its towering spires (515 feet high) can be seen from almost anywhere. The Dom, located in the heart of the city, is Germany's most popular monument: over 6 million visitors a year. (Notre Dame in Paris greets just a million more guests.) One reason for this Gothic cathedral's popularity is because it is believed to house relics of the Three Wise Men. In addition, it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. The church was built in 1248 and completed 642 years later, in 1880. Though the church was bombed during WWII, it was not completely destroyed. It is now undergoing constant reconstruction. Surprisingly, this church is not even the oldest in Cologne: 12 nearby Romanesque churches are all older. Be sure to attend either daily mass, take a guided tour, or head up to the top for a bird's-eye view. Cologne Cathedral, open Monday � Sunday, 6 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.
Cologne has so many museums, I could not visit them all. My first choice was the Chocolate Museum. But I wanted to save the best for last, so I waited until the day I left. I learned the hard way that in Germany, all museums close on Mondays. Fortunately, early in my stay I visited the Roman-Germanic Museum. It's located in the heart of the city, right next to the Cologne Dom. The Roman Art includes mosaics with scenes from the world of Dionysus. There's a reconstructed tomb of the legionary Poblicius, and a large collection of Roman glass vessels and early medieval jewelry. Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Roncalliplatz 4, D-50667 Cologne; tel.: 49-221-221-22304. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. � 5 p.m. Admission: E 6.45 ($8.20). For more click HERE.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Guten Tag from Germany! Last week we left off in Sardegna, Italy after an amazing Costa Smeralda vacation (here's the link to the archives). This week we travel to western Germany, for some history and culture in Cologne. If you're up for good times, Kolsch beer and a 10- minute drive through three countries, then join us! If you're in a hurry or have ADD, don't worry; there's a 2-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's story.
Cologne (the two most common German spellings are Koln and Kolsch) is located on the River Rhine in the western part of the country. Yes, this is the city that gave its name to a men's fragrance, when Italian expatriate Johann Maria Farina (1685-1766) created a new smell and named it Eau de Cologne ("Water from Cologne") after his hometown. But Cologne has much more to offer than cologne. It is Germany's fourth largest city (after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich), covering 156 square miles on both sides of the Rhine River. In a population of just over a million, 20 percent are non-German. Migrants come from 185 nations; the most represented is Turkey. I was surprised by how diverse and laid back the residents are. I had no idea what I would find; my only previous German experience came in the late �90s, when my mom and I briefly visited Frankfurt (a two-hour drive from Cologne). Frankfurt is the opposite of Cologne. Everything in Frankfurt was modern, with lots of banks and so-so food. Not Cologne!
INTERESTING FACT: Did you know Germany has Europe's second largest population (after Russia)? Just over 82 million people live in this country, which is smaller than the state of Montana.
Cologne is an artsy town. There are hundreds of art galleries, and over 30 museums. Residents have a much different attitude than the rest of Germany. The locals are extroverted; they love to have a good time, especially while eating and drinking their famous Kolsch brewed beer (more on that later). Cologne has produced the most German songs, and locals love to share them. You're sure to hear them during Carnival -- the city' biggest party (over 1.5 million participants), which takes place seven weeks before Easter. Cologne also has a large gay population, and one of the world's largest gay parades. Plenty of young people live here; 44,000 students attend Cologne University, one of Europe's oldest schools.
Thanks to discount airlines like German Wings and HLX, Cologne is very affordable to reach. Airfares to and from European cities can be ridiculously low -- if you buy in advance. For those who don't like making connections from the U.S., Continental Airlines recently began nonstop service from Newark. Once you land, you'll find Cologne to be a great walking (or biking) city. It's laid out on a grid, is compact, and there are plenty of signs. If you don't feel like exercising, hop on the Stadtbahn (tram), part of an extensive light rail system. The trains (S-Bahn or U-Bahn) in Cologne costs from �1,30 ($1.65) to �2,20 ($2.80), there is a day ticket for �6 ($7.60) and a day ticket for five people for �9 ($11.40). You can even take the S-Bahn to and from the airport, for only �2.20 ($2.80). The trip to the center of the city takes just 15 minutes. Taxis, by contrast, cost about �25 ($32), and take longer in traffic.
For more click HERE.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Sunny summer days in Sardegna makes people lazy -- at least, it did for me and everyone I came across. All anyone wanted to do was relax, drink, eat delicious food and swim in the warm blue Tyrrhenian Sea. What a way to spend your vacation.
HLX TO COLOGNE
Rather than fly back to London, I took Olbia's other low-fare carrier HLX (Hapag-Lloyd Express), which serves Cologne, Germany. Checking in with HLX could not have been any easier, and going through security could have not been quicker. There was no line, and no one made me take my shoes off or my computer out of my bag. Instead of purchasing drinks and food on the plane, I bought a delicious mozzarella and tomato panini in the airport for $3. HLX does not assign seating, so Anabel and I had to check in early to get early boarding cards. It turned out that didn't matter, because they loaded every passenger on two buses that departed and arrived at the same time. The ones who boarded last were the first to get off the buses and onto the plane, but it didn't matter because Anabel and I still found seats together on the 737-800 series plane. Flight time was only 1 hour and 40 minutes, and because we came from an EU country I didn't have to go through customs.
INTERNATIONAL CELL PHONE
Many people ask me what phone service I use when I am abroad. When I travel I always bring my international (GSM ) cellular phone with me. Most U.S. cell phone companies don't even have GSM tri-band phones, and the ones that do (T-Mobile) charge way too much for incoming and outgoing calls. Instead of paying their high rates, save money and get your own GSM phone. It's not expensive, and there are a couple of options (renting is one). But before I leave the country I get the local SIM chip (Subscriber Information Module) for the place I'm headed to. The SIM chip gets inserted into the phone, and serves as the brain (it contains such information as the cell phone number, voice mail and call logs). The SIM gives me a local number, so no one needs to dial long distance. Best of all, when my friends and family back home call, it's free. That's right: All incoming calls are free in most countries! Another huge plus is that when I call them, it costs me at least half what a U.S. cell company would charge. Of course, I travel with my laptop, and try to use Skype (more info on Skype) as much as possible. Still, it's nice to be able to access home just a phone call away wherever I am. A number of cell companies provide these phones, but I use Cellular Abroad. I wholeheartedly recommend them -- and even talked them into offering a $10 discount to all JohnnyJet.com visitors. Be sure to mention Johnny Jet when ordering over the phone (1-800-287-3020) or online (CellularAbroad.com).
For more click HERE.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Most restaurants in Costa Smeralda are outrageously expensive. They're also outrageously delicious (Giovanni's is the best), but in Italy you don't have to pay a lot for good food. However, in Costa Smeralda those places are difficult for tourists to find because they are off the beaten path. One such place is La Vecchia Costa (tel.: tel. 39-07899-8688). It's inland, and is known as the best pizza place in the area. It's also the cheapest (a margharita cost just �uro 3.50 [$4.50], which is why you'll find a line of locals out the door. La Vecchia Costa also serves Terre Brune Carignano del Sulcis, Sardegna's best wine -- which can only be found on the island -- for just �uro 29 ($37).
Another reasonable restaurant that does not require a lot of driving is Caf� Spinnaker. They too have excellent pizza and gelato. Caf� Spinnaker, Res. Alba Ruja - Liscia di Vacca - 07020 Porto Cervo; tel.: 39-0789-91226.
HOTEL CALA DI VOLPE
The 125-room Hotel Cala di Volpe is regarded as the best hotel in Costa Smeralda, and possibly all of Europe. In 2005 Cond� Nast Traveler magazine listed it as "One of the World's Best Places to Stay in Europe." Be sure to have plenty of credit left on your card, because this place costs $2,500 a night in the high season. Pulling up to the hotel with its traditional architecture and colored tiles, you feel like you're visiting a charming fishing village. If you can't manage to find a vacancy, at least have drinks on the patio overlooking Cala di Volpe Bay. When we were there we watched them set up an incredible ($1,000 a person) dinner buffet, at which Enrique Inglese performed by the Olympic-size saltwater swimming pool. Hotel Cala di Volpe, Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo 07020; tel.: 39-0789-976111. For more click HERE.