Speed travelling in Europe - 3000 miles, 14 days, 12 cities, 2 lakes

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Day 3 - Munich

And so to the home of beer festivals... Munich (Munchen)! I was surprised by this capital of Bavaria... I had always imagined a kind of tented city, full of endless barrels of beer, enourmous glass drinking mugs & continuous bavarian singing! In reality, Munich is really only like this during the beer festival period in October... the Oktoberfest.

When we there it came across as a much more austere place... many seriously grand buildings lining neat wide streets. The people seem to take themselves quite seriously as well... we were told this by several young Germans who lived in Munich but were not from there originally. Certainly, many of the older generation we met seemed a tad pompous... not at all like the jovial beer swilling bavarians we imagined.

There were plenty of highlights though... to look at we liked the grand old Renaissance church of St Michael with its strangely missing spire and the grand Ludwigstrasse boulevard designed by Leo von Klenze. Other notable attractions included the pretty EnglischerGarten (of course!) and the Trojan horse in Konigsplatz. Finally, be sure to head on down to the Viktualienmarkt with its distinctive totem pole and sample local sausages & salamis from the market stalls whilst washing it down with several steins of beer!

Home for the night was the Hotel Antares on Amalienstrasse, a good budget choice just on the northern tip of the inner ringroad around the city. Best bit though was the nearby Soul Kitchen restaurant... a nice change of cuisine if you have had enough of sausage!

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Day 2 - Cologne

No rest for the wicked and after a quick coffee & delicious apfelstrudel in a downtown cafe, it was on to Cologne. The 200km journey takes you briefly into the Netherlands and then onto the German border and my chance to finally drive a car on a motorway in Germany! Having always wanted to sample the autobahn with no speed limits, I was a bit disconcerted to see speed restriction signs at first.... but these are only on certain sections and I was soon flooring it and topping 100 miles per hour! Unfortunately for me (although Rachel was relieved, I think) you can only go so fast in a Ford Focus Diesel before it starts to object. Enviously I watched as powerful BMWs and Mercedes breezed past us with ease, leaving me feel like Jeremy Clarkson driving a tractor! Disconcertingly, I noticed many of these drivers were on mobile phones... chatting away at 130mph+ with just one hand on the wheel! Madness!!!

Thank heaven for Satnav... before we know it our trusty Tomtom has guided us without fuss into the centre of Cologne and the gothic cathedral which towers over us. The cathedral (or Koelner Dom) surely is an impressive site but sadly suffers from its central location and is rather blackened in parts from the effects of pollution. Like many such buldings in Europe there was a fair amount of scaffolding up for restoration work and I should imagine that this work never really stops. Nevertheless, an awe-inspiring building, inside and out.

Hats off to the Germans... they are very well organised sometimes. Cologne's city centre tourist information office has an electronic hotel booking system whereby hotels can let them know about any lastminute vacancies they have at very attractive prices. The tourist office just takes a small commission for the service so everyone wins. If only all cities had such an efficient system!  We ended up in the Konigshof (or koenigshof) hotel which is right in the heart of town, just a few paces from the cathedral. 95Euros for a super 3 star bedroom with a very respectable breakfast included and a tiny bar downstairs where the very friendly barman filled us in on the colourful history of the hotel which often had celebrtity guests staying because of the nearby radio station.

Not to be missed in Cologne is the locally brewed beer known as Kolsch. It's more of an ale than a lager and is seved nice and cold in small thin glasses. We tried it (well, several actually!) at the  Brauhause Fruh which is one of many traditional brewery & beer hall establishments in the city. These places also do excellent value for money food if you want something to soak up the beer!

Cologne is a great city to just wander around in because it is fairly compact and the huge Rhine river running through the city makes it hard to get lost for long. The city also hosts many trade shows and I was here a few years ago for Photokina which is a massive trade fair featuring all the latest photographic and imaging products.

One final thing... we spent a whole day in Cologne and left not knowing anything about Eau de Cologne... DOH! So for anyone who is interested, here is the Wikipedia definition... Eau de Cologne is a spirit-citrus perfume launched in Cologne in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina (1685-1766), an Italian perfumer from Santa Maria Maggiore Valle Vigezzo, Italy.

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