WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY SEVEN Schluß. This is the end. The time has come for me to end my seven-part series on the wonders of Köln, or, as they say in westernised Germany, “the time has come for me to end my seven-part series on the wonders of Köln”. Anyone who has been to Köln before or who is familiar with the city from any vague glance at a travel book should know that there is one major part of the Kölnisch landscape that I have neglected to mention. That major part is, of course, the majestic museum to the memory of the inventor of Eau de Cologne, which basks triumphant on the corner of the cathedral square. So I think it is only fitting that I end my series of accounts by not writing about that at all, and writing about the second most major part of the Kölnisch landscape instead – the Hohenzollernbrücke. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to cross this monument on the final day of my travel diary in a frantic search for an U-Bahn station that wasn’t undergoing repairs, and dank Gott for it – it is sublime. In the simplest of terms, this is a large bridge composed of several steel arches that straddles the Rhine just as it passes the Köln cathedral, and it features both train tracks and walkways for pedestrians. As a piece of engineering alone it is not particularly attractive, especially when compared to the sleek genius of the bridges in places like Düsseldorf, and it is surrounded by four statues of famous German leaders on horseback which include, to my moderate bafflement, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Even though the view is pleasant and it is readily accessible, there is nothing physically outstanding about it; but the real magic lies...

WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY SIX The layout of commercial Köln is very simple. There are two shopping streets, Hohe Straße and Schildergasse Straße. That is all. Well, alright, I exaggerate a little, but almost every shop you could need here can be found at some point along both of those streets and there really is very little point in meandering off somewhere else, at least for the purposes of throwing away your hard-earned cash (though there are a few elaborate fountains in the Old Quarter that invite that sort of thing as well). The two aforementioned streets have a range of German and international shops, everything from Currywurst emporiums to Accessorize. There are even two H&M stores on the same promenade. The Apple store – because let’s be real, we all already know that there is one – has gouged out the innards of a classic-looking 19th-century building and features more hovering attendants than customers, ready to swarm you as soon as you put a foot over the threshold and jabber at you in what is probably seriously cool, hip Deutsch. There are multiple shoe shops lining the length of Schildergasse Straße, which for your convenience are all exactly the same (“Kämpgen”). And most significantly of all, there on the corner of the whacking big Neumarkt-Galerie (a word which here means “huge shopping centre that is 75% Primark with a few other outlets”) – there lies Mayersche, the enormous bookshop that I have been waiting for for the last 5 days. When I say enormous, I mean it. It is three stories tall. The second floor has a dedicated reading corner with a long table and chairs. There is a café and a piano on the top floor for the more uninhibited visitor (and believe me, they are common)....

WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY FIVE There are a small number of things in the world that possess the power to really make you realise just how minuscule a place you occupy in the big old universe. Köln Cathedral is one of these things. It towers above the rest of the city, its spires always visible in some distant direction wherever you are, unless they are shrouded in fog like a heavenly gate. Standing before it in Köln’s main plaza, you cannot even see the top, though you are still as awed as ever. The doors alone are immense, deep-set in spectacular mullions like the eyes of a monstrous hermit crab. Poised beside them like an unofficial ticket-dispensing machine is a priest with a touch of the circus magician about him, dressed in a sweeping red robe, and probably carrying a small wooden box to collect “voluntary” donations for the cathedral. But even if he does sidle into your path and smile a few coins out of your purse, you will soon see that he does so with good reason; for the interior of the Dom is a beautiful, beautiful place. The nave is high and arched, and at ground level you walk between blocks and blocks of pews, separated only by tall ribbed pillars, candlesticks and the occasional lost foreigner. Tour guides squeeze between the mobs of visitors while frantically wafting the flimsiest of signs above their heads, hoping that the rest of their group are bobbing along behind them. The looming stained-glass windows of the cathedral seem to cycle through more artistic periods in a few square metres than a full art gallery does in three floors; there is everything from the flat and simple archaic designs to the more modern, deep, bright works to one...

WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY FOUR So there’s this thing on the continent called “history”. The Americanised west should try it sometime. Köln, like most long-standing European cities, has an Old Quarter, and furthermore, an Old Quarter that is respected and protected. I mentioned before how the city centre has been overrun and ruined by multinational corporations and western fast-food empires, in some strange spiritual sequel to the rampages of Visigoths and Vandals in the 5th century. Until now I believed that that American Invasion was a big messy thing that came at a heavy cost to the region’s history, but, as I’ve recently discovered, it just means that all the history you could ever need has been neatly parcelled up and tucked into one small district in typical orderly German fashion. Here in Köln’s Old Quarter they’ve got it right. Here in Köln’s Old Quarter there is no great push towards industrialisation, no craze for erecting useless empty skyscrapers, no gnawing addiction to historical bulldozing. Here in Köln’s Old Quarter they understand the value of their past and they embrace it with open arms instead of wrecking balls, and their admirable care for their common cultural history is nowhere more obvious than in the very heart of the riverside Altstadt. South-east of the Dom, well out of range of the quarantined zones that contain such festering diseases as McDonald’s and Accessorize, lies this charming sprawling district of cobbled sidestreets and crooked buildings, packed with all manner of quirky shops, artistic ideas, excellent eateries and pompous pigeons. A soft scent of fresh baking bubbles through the alleyways, shafts of light peep around corners and through the most interesting of nooks, and there is an overall sense of tranquility and secretive magic that I had always believed was unique...

WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY THREE While I have previously mentioned that Köln is massive, I must clarify that for all its massiveness it is also dense, sort of like a big bar of gold, or Donald Trump’s head. Quite a lot of tourist attractions have been neatly packed into the one convenient Fußgängerzone – such as the cathedral, the shopping quarters and an assortment of museums – and this is rather fortunate, because public transport services are absolutely abysmal. For the last two days I braved the city on foot, which was tolerable at the time but left me exhausted and had incapacitated my right leg by this morning. I felt as though my ankle had been glued to the ground while the rest of me was bungee-jumping off a cliff. I woke early this morning with the deep determination to limp posthaste to the Hauptbahnhof and seek an elusive map of public transport zones. The precise reason for my waking early was a failing in my apartment’s air conditioning unit which necessitated repairs by a cohort of workmen who looked distinctly like a geriatric edition of the Super Mario Bros. The air conditioning flaw itself was barely noticeable, but the true hardship was that the repairs simply had to be performed at 8 o’clock in the morning, requiring me to be out of bed at 7 and out the door within the hour. While the average German day would start at about 6:30 anyway, this sort of timeframe is nightmarish to a holidaying student in summertime, who would rather cling to his bed like a sloth to a tree. Nonetheless I did what I had to do, and, as I later discovered, Mario did indeed repair the air conditioning to a high standard. To return to...

WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY TWO The morning of the second day of any holiday abroad is a tiny golden window in which you firmly believe you are a god. Having made it through the various circles of the hellish first day and come out the other side intact, you are convinced you can do anything. You are utterly familiar with your surroundings. You are a compass on legs when it comes to the navigation of sidestreets. You have become fluent in the language overnight, you are suddenly one of the place’s leading culinary experts, and you are ready to give the best guided tour that any confused newcomer has ever had the misfortune of experiencing. You are invincible. This window of invincibility lasts for roughly 45 seconds once you step out of range of the hotel. My plan today was a very simple one – explore Köln’s Ludwig Museum, find a bookshop that I’d seen the previous day, and hunt down a satisfying dinner somewhere in between. Ultimately I succeeded in every aspect, but not without a great deal of trouble. All of which made the day much more interesting than I had anticipated. The first issue was the weather, and its headwrecking changeability. Backtracking on its promises (meteorologically-speaking) with more fiendish enthusiasm than the Labour Party, it was sunny, raining, dull and sunny again within the space of about 20 minutes. I lost a good deal of time from the start of my excursion frantically switching outfits like a bad actor in a one-man play. Once I settled on an eccentric fashion of light shirt plus substantial rainjacket, I chugged towards the cathedral, the centrepoint at which my awareness of the whole city is anchored. On the way I was questioned by another tourist in search...

WILLKOMMEN IN KÖLN: A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY by Cian Morey...

DAY ONE Köln. As I write this, I sit by a window in a slightly cramped room on the highest floor of an inner-city apartment block, surrounded by a great many other inner-city apartment blocks, a baffling prevalence of the English language, and an overwhelming lack of lederhosen. Yes, this is Germany. Travel writing has never been a strong point of mine and I have written fewer diary entries in my life than Neanderthals have written on the walls of caves, but considering that I’m staying here for the next week I’ve decided to keep track of my experiences. Until now I have rambled from France to Finland and from Brussels to Barcelona, but I have not set a single foot in Germany. Thus I am blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a true outsider’s perspective, where everything here is new to me and I’m as impartial as I could hope to be. (I doubt that will last for long, but we’ll see what happens.) With these articles you can enjoy the enviable experience of witnessing one of the world’s most influential countries through the eyes of one of the world’s least influential people, a bumbling Irish student with absolutely no idea of what’s going on around him. Viel Spaß! The first thing that the average turbulent tourist will notice upon arrival in Köln (for the uninitiated, “Köln” is the official German name of what we English-speaking perfume connoisseurs would know as “Cologne”), is that it is big. Very big. In fact, all of Germany is massive, which you might think goes without saying, but honestly its massiveness is unmissable once you’re in it and simply has to be mentioned. It isn’t just the sheer landmass that’s enormous, but literally everything, from the heights of...

A GLOBETROTTER’S DIARY: A PREAMBLE by Cian Morey...

Dear readers, whoever and wherever you may be, It is one of the eternal curiosities about the Irish people that they always seem to be trying to get as far away as possible from their homeland. I like to think that our population here in the Emerald Isle has been perhaps genetically instilled with some great fascination, some powerful drive to travel the world and broaden their horizons in foreign cultures, and maybe even spread their own meagre wisdom. In the words of one of the twentieth century’s foremost philosophers, explorers and leading fictional characters, James T. Kirk, it is and has always been the destiny of the Irish to “seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldy go where no man has gone before”. There are Irish pubs in every major city, there is Irish literature on every good bookshelf, and there is an Irish twig of dubious authenticity on every good American President’s family tree. We have set forth in force in these last few centuries and we have just about conquered the world. Or maybe it’s just that we all really hate the rain here, which is as good a motive as any for getting the hell out. For whatever reason, we tend to find ourselves sprinkled across the globe as though God accidentally spilled us like coffee on his blueprints when he was putting together the Earth. Another talent of the Irish, apart from running away from Ireland, is writing. It is only natural then, in between booking the next sunshine holiday and experimenting valiantly with the local alcohol of whatever region we’ve thrown ourselves into, to attempt to combine our two natural gifts and produce some actual, legible “travel writing”. It may not be the most popular corner...

Amadáns Abroad by Cormac Larkin...

Hello readers, this week’s segment is domestic in origin for once. So back when I used to play loosehead prop for Ballincollig RFC’s U15 side, I was in the car with my coach and some team mates on the way to a match. Nothing unusual yet – it was just your average overcast Saturday morning – but as we neared Clonakilty what caught my eye? We were coming up to a junction with a left and right turn and a hill straight in front of us. There were two men working up on the hill, but that wasn’t the strange thing. Now I’d like to point out the absence of any form of infrastructure on this hill, so it was very surprising to see none other than a “men at work” sign in the middle of the field! I mean there was nothing there to warn: there weren’t any houses nearby or livestock either, just two lads digging a hole and a bright orange warning sign! I know it does good and all, but health and safety is going too far these days I think. That’s all for now:...

Amadáns Abroad by Cormac Larkin...

Hello again readers. This week’s anecdote also comes from my most recent trip to Gran Canaria, but holds its genesis in a previous one. It all began last Easter when my parents and I discovered the local jamonal, a specialist ham and wine shop similar to a deli. We were greeted by a highly knowledgeable staff member who knew all about the products, from the fine Rioja wines to the Pata Negra ham costing €150 per kg. The man himself was very refined and cultured. But alas, times must have gotten tougher between my visits, as on my return at Christmas what did I see? Only the same guy busking with a cello, that’s what! It was a stark contrast to what I’d seen at Easter, and he even had the same t-shirt embroidered with the logo of the jamonal. Now I know there’s the old saying about “playing your violin” but this truly took the biscuit. That’s all for this week....

Amadáns Abroad by Cormac Larkin...

This is a new series of humorous anecdotes from our resident globetrotter, Cormac. I’ll recount the things I’ve seen and heard on my travels and write them for your bemusement,  starting with this gem from when I was away at Christmas. So I’m walking to the beach in Puerto de Mogán in Gran Canaria, and what do I see? On my way from the Marina, just next to the bridge I see an elderly man sitting on the side of the pavement with a nasal cannula and an oxygen tank beside him. Poor guy, you might think. But what was he doing while this was happening? He was smoking a big fat Havana, that’s what! This fogey there with his emphysema and then puffing away! Like something out of Harry Hill it was! I’d say it “took my breath away” but that’s probably a bit insensitive. That’s all for now, there’ll be a new one soon....