For any German-speaker, apologies but I can’t find the Umlaut for Koln.

A very long day on the trains started with the 0852 from Vienna’s West Bahnhof and ended at 1815 on the doorstep of the cathedral here, The Koln Dom. Quite a setting for a cathedral, right by a massive station; I reckon the station gets some benefits too! In any case, one of the most spectacular arrival points on the journey so far, which compensates a little for the delays en route. We found a hotel of the cheap and cheerful, clean but jaded variety just round the corner and got installed there before an early evening stroll around the Dom. Just about all we will do in this city on a very short stopover.

There’s a fashion for books that list the 100 things to do or see before you die. I’ve never read one, nor even picked one up in a bookshop while browsing. But if they don’t include this wonderful building then they are not be trusted with your remaining years! I don’t think I said it at the time but the Aya Sofia is another. What Aya Sofia has in overall scale, Koln Dom seems to have in one dimension only, height. It’s an incredibly tall building and, like the Aya Sofia, you only get a true sense of this when you go inside and look up and then look to the far end of the enormous nave and find that your eye is constantly drawn upwards to the unfeasibly high arches. There’s a combination here of grandeur and simplicity; it’s a joyous place and not at all austere, as if it’s business is more about man than any deity. Like the Aya Sofia, the audacity to conceive of building in these proportions is hard to grasp. And you gaze, enraptured by the elegance and the achingly beautiful stained glass that’s shedding shards of light across the western transept. Oh, boy, spectacular, awe-inspiring, all this and more but the words are difficult to find.

And an added bonus was that we coincided with the choir practice, in full swing and accompanied by the organ. What a sound. It kept the few visitors hushed, hoping to hear more. What that space does to the sound must be quite a challenge for musicians and choir leaders here – if one section has to change key the notes of the last bars are still resonating in the arches……..

Koln – don’t miss it, but watch the Italian restaurants. We drifted into the one that looked empty, eschewing the one with all the customers. Contrary, I know. The menu was limited, a bit pricey and the staff were just over the line of acceptable superciliousness, teeny bit too pompous. Plus, they kept saying “Enjoy” which himself finds very annoying (me too, by association). In any case, a small shared rocket salad and a couple of pasta parcel dishes with an admittedly tasty lobster sauce, with a glass of wine and a non-alkie beer for your truly, set us back more than the cost of our night’s accommodation at the Drei Konige (still no Umlaut) next door. Oh and that included a bottle of water (tap not available) and one of those rather irritating ‘amuse-bouche’ that does not amuse the bouche in the least. This one was a Gazpacho of water melon. I ask you – that’s just water melon with the pips squeezed out. Pretentious? I think so.

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