Far too early the next morning I awoke at about 4:00 a.m. in Brussels and there was no way I was getting back to sleep. Damn jet lag. Plus, I was hungry so I merely got dressed and as quietly as possible snuck out of our apartment at about 4:30 a.m.
I was very surprised to see that the street in front of our apartment, the Rue des Palais, was bristling with activity at such an early hour. Apparently Brussels is a bit of a party town but I was in search of food and a few blocks down the road I found a kabob house perfect for my needs, Well fed it was time to return to the family.
Kimberly and Kari would leave us that day for a quick side trip to Amsterdam. Nenita and Somaya and I would more fully explore the great city of Brussels. We strolled through the nearby streets mostly parallel to Rue des Palais and we eventually came upon The Grand Place. Wow! What a vision and essentially the epicenter of commercial Brussels. The predominant architecture is 18th century, maybe even older and totally beautiful. Then there are endless shops including an abundance of chocolate stores offering some of this world’s finest and and a plethora of fine waffle shops as well. Of course there are souvenir shops, watch shops, clothing stores and so much more — all very appealing. There are even horse and buggy rides available.
But turn around and walk the opposite direction and you will pass the Brussels Opera House and eventually arrive at a very modern department store. Brussels has just about everything and all with style and class. But the time was rapidly approaching when we would have to depart marvelous Brussels. Sad to be leaving but thrilled to have had the experience it was indeed time to move on. After more than seven decades of ignoring my German heritage it was time to visit the origin of half of my human existence — Germany, so soon we we would set off for Cologne, Germany.
Due primarily to our horrible train boarding experience in London we arrived at the Brussels train station three hours ahead of the scheduled departure time only to whisk through the rather cursory security screening process and then to move onto the platform there to sit in cold and wet discomfort for nearly three hours, Another passenger said that we also needed to purchase assigned seating before departure or we ran the risk of being made even more miserable, by being forced to stand during our trip to Cologne.
Happily I was able to secure assigned seating only moments before boarding. There are actually several different train operators in Europe and to our experience this one, ICE, was the only one that did not provide assigned seating with the initial ticket purchase. It is also the only train ever to provide this genuinely disgusting experience. After visiting the toilet and completing my urination I reached into the space where the toilet paper was to get some paper to blow my nose, What I got were two clumps of used toilet paper. Yes, truly disgusting. Do I really need to say it? Okay I shall. ICE does NOT receive a rave review from me.
However they did get us from Brussels to Cologne, Germany on time. We rolled into the main Cologne train station at exactly 8:15 p.m., and just ten minutes later we arrived at the amazing art’otel one of the most uniquely beautiful hotels on earth and superbly located directly on the banks of the Rhein river.
The art’otel is dominated by the magnificent work of artist SEO. Seo Soo-Kyoung born 1977 and known by the artist name SEO (세오), is a South Korean female contemporary artist who lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Her artist name comes from her family name Seo written in capital letters. Every wall displays her work, even the shower walls in each room. Step into the art’otel and you literally are stepping into an unending display of truly great art hence the name: art’otel.
But the art is not limited to the hotel walls, in its own way it also extends to the dining experience. From the art’otel’s unique menu we selected Erde und Ozean a/k/a Earth and Ocean giant prawns edamame Nage as well as an order of Spanferkel or suckling pig if you will, roasted pig belly and potato dumpling. The food was spectacular and the experience made even better by one man, Samet our server.
After a good night’s sleep in our richly comfortable beds we arose the next morning and began our day with a wonderful buffet breakfast that had pretty much anything you could imagine with every morsel delicious. After main menu items such as eggs and sausage [come on now we were in Germany so we just had to have sausage] along with fresh fruit and other culinary delights I capped it off with just one croissant and a double espresso. Now we were ready to get out and discover beautiful Cologne, Germany.
No set tours for this group we simply began walking along the banks of the Rhein river in the general direction of the main cathedral of Cologne. To our right was the Rhein with its steady stream of barges and tour boats. Across the river was a carnival with a massive Ferris wheel and other rides and attractions. To our left was a steady stream of charming hotels and eateries of various kinds, styles and sizes. But it was chilly and wet so eventually my beautiful bride Nenita and our most granddaughter Somaya elected to return to the art’otel as I forged ahead.
Soon I arrived at the eye popping edifice known as the Cathedral. Frankly the weather discouraged me from completely encircling the Cathedral but what I did see was totally captivating and the next day I would see even more. But for now it was time to begin my walk back to the art’otel.
The route back was a block or two inland from the shoreline and it too offered a steady stream of charming buildings most offering abundant options for food and drink. But I didn’t stop this day in part due to the weather but also because sadly we had to depart the art’otel after but one night.
Check out done we went next across the Rhein to the Leonardo Hotel about three miles from the Rhein on Waldecker Street in the Buchforst area of Cologne. The Leonardo Hotel is a rather stereotypical hotel with a pleasant lobby and comfortable rooms. They even had a heated indoor swimming pool and a gym, It was also just a wee off of the main tourist area, but that problem was easily and very inexpensively resolved with a nearby trolley that could and did quickly return us to the heart of Cologne.
The cost of the Leonardo was very reasonable, the staff was uniformly pleasant and the location if not exactly ideal was nonetheless acceptable so yes I would recommend the Leonardo Hotel should your travels ever take you to Cologne. It just isn’t the art’otel.
Then before you could say auf wiedersehen it was time to leave Cologne, Germany for Paris, France. This time we travelled Premier Class, something I highly recommend, Not only were the seats much more comfortable with abundant table space which allowed me to do things like write this article for example, we were also offered two meals and really good wine FREE, The ticket price difference is actually not huge but the comfort was vastly better so I highly recommend Premier Class train travel in Europe.
Our next train trip will be coming soon when we depart Paris and head for Reims and that trip will be First Class so I will then evaluate the value of that upgrade, But first I must immerse myself in everything Paris and I will be doing most of it accompanied by not the usual four but six beautiful ladies, Yeah I know it is a tough job but hey someone has to do it so I will find a way to struggle on. Just exactly how will this one old guy manage to contend with his stay in Paris, France, the city of lights and love and romance surrounded by five gorgeous women and one beautiful younger girl? Just make sure to come back for the next installment. I promise it will be pure joy.
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Photos by Ron Irwin
Top photo: Bubbles in Cologne
Ron Irwin was born in Chicago, Illinois a long time ago. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, became a trial lawyer, TV and radio host, CEO of a public company and once held an Emmy. He never won an Emmy he just held one. Ron has written and published twelve books. His most important book to date is “Live, Die, Live Again” in which Ron tells of his early life and his unexpected and very temporary death in 2012. That experience dramatically refocused his life and within the pages of that book Ron reveals how he achieved a much healthier life, ridding himself of Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Failure. Now Ron enjoys writing about many things including health topics, travel [he has circled the globe several times], adventure, culinary experiences and the world of performing art. Ron’s motto is “Live better, live longer and live stronger because it feels great and annoys others.” Contact the author.