Rainy, chilly (lower 50s?) day. I was up early again, don't know why. We were entering Cologne as I opened my drapes. “Shore excursion” (as opposed to“City tour” started at nine in a light rain. Again, I had no jacket. I'd brought one of those plastic “emergency ponchos” figuring it might keep me a bit warmer as well as dry, but gave up on it. (You know those plastic covers they give you at the dry cleaners? Same thing, basically, with two holes for the arms.) So just went with a long-sleeved shirt and my umbrella.
Cologne was badly damaged during the war...up to 96 percent destroyed...and while they tried to rebuild the older parts of the city in the same style, there are a lot of obviously newer-style buildings mixed in. The result is rather drab, though the rain might have had a lot to do with it. Hurried to the Cathedral, a massive structure which also probably looks a lot better in the sunshine. The interior is also massive and, of course given the weather outside, dark. I love how people assume that the flash from their little camera will illuminate the entire interior (I think the logical range is 10 feet). Lovely stained glass windows, of course.
I left the tour in the cathedral and returned the five blocks or so to the ship to pick up my damaged suitcase and take it to the chain department store from which I'd bought it in Wertzberg. The lobby desk had looked up and written down the address on a map, and the street is the main shopping street, running directly off from the cathedral. So found the street with no problem, but finding a single building with an address was impossible. I stopped at an open-front sandwich shop and asked, handing the woman the map. She refused to even look at it. “Not here” she said, indicating her shop. Well, lady, I had rather assumed that. I moved on and spotted a policeman standing in front of another shop, did the same asking-if-he-knew-where-this-was routine. He didn't look at the map either, and said “Ask inside.” Gee, thanks, officer. Too much trouble for you to point in one direction or the other? Went inside. No help. Continued on. Asked a girl working at the front of a women's clothing store if she could tell me. She looked at the map and said “That way, then go right.” No idea of how far “that way” or exactly where to “go right,” since the street stretched out to the horizon. Finally found a street that veered off at an angle and noticed the store at the end. So far so good.
To the store, which is huge, was pointed in the general direction of the luggage department, which of course was at the far back corner. Lots of suitcases on slightly-raised platforms. I saw a smaller version of the one I had, but none the same size. I asked the girl at the service desk for the department if I could exchange my broken case, and gave her the receipt. “Yes,” she said, then went back to what she was doing. So I bumbled around trying to find a match for my damaged suitcase and finally found a similar size. The one I bought was 139 euros marked down to 59. The one I found was 139 euros but said nothing about being marked down. I returned to the service desk, handed her my receipt again, she scanned the new one, said nothing about price, printed me a new receipt, and I was on my way. I think someone opening a charm school in Cologne could make a fortune.
At lunch, I had one of my little “waves of revelation,” and was suddenly exquisitely aware of just how lucky I am. Here I was, face-in-a-crowd Roger Margason from Rockford, Illinois, sitting in the upper salon of a beautiful river cruise ship eating cream of cauliflower soup and an exotic pastry with a cream sauce, listening to a pianist play “Sentimental Journey” while surrounded by people who have far more money than I can even dream of having. Sigh.
6:29 leaving the repair yard an hour or so late. People who spent the day in Cologne are undoubtedly rather unhappy. Dinner will be thrown off schedule, and we were to receive a briefing at 6:45 on leaving the ship in Amsterdam. Well, it'll all work out.
And another wave of...something swept over me as I was walking down the corridor to ask a question of the desk in the lobby. Barbra Streisand was singing “People”...a song I always and strongly associate with my first days in Chicago and my time with Norm, without whose generosity this trip would not have been possible. Thank you, Norm. It should be you taking this trip.
Dorien will be posting frequent blogs and photos while on his current European River Cruise. To see the photos, scroll down past the blog. You're also invited to check out his website at www.doriengrey.com.