Cologne, Active Discovery Style

Sometimes, true. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The laundromat looked like something out of a David Lynch film – lots of crimson reds combined with a thuddingly mechanical soundtrack created by dozens of dryers rotating in unison. Just when I think Mr. Roque is going to roll out of nowhere carrying some lint, we’re pulled further along on our off-the-beaten-path exploration of Cologne, Germany.

It’s all part of today’s Active Discovery tour of Cologne that Avalon Waterways will be rolling out in 2018 on its Active Discovery on the Rhine voyages from Amsterdam to Frankfurt (Wiesbaden) or reverse.

If David Lynch had a laundromat, it would look a lot like this one in Cologne, Germany. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Before we could arrive in Cologne and tour one of its most off-the-beaten-path, hipster-y neighbourhoods, however, we had to spend a morning sailing southbound along the legendary Rhine River aboard the 166-guest Avalon Expression.

I was up early in order to photograph Avalon Expression’s public rooms. I’ve been enormously impressed with the ship and Avalon so far. Public rooms are contemporary and well-designed. They’re spacious and inviting, but never seem to be overly-crowded. Unlike other river cruise ships, everyone can find a seat in the Lounge for lectures or casual lunch; standing is only necessary if you want it to be.

Let’s take a look at Avalon Expression on this beautifully sunny morning on the Rhine:

Up on deck early this morning as we sailed the Rhine…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…proved to be perfect for picture-taking opportunities. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In the cozy main lounge aboard Avalon Expression…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…seating for all. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

An early-riser’s continental breakfast is offered here each morning. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Pick a table, any table! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Reception. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Daily newspapers can be found here each morning – and I like that Avalon still offers this nice touch onboard its river cruise vessels. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Another favorite area: the gorgeous aft-facing Club Lounge, all the way aft on Deck 3. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The skies darkened as Avalon Expression pulled into Cologne shortly after 4pm, and the first drops of rain were just beginning as we boarded our min-bus for our Cologne Off the Beaten Path excursion. It was so “off-the-beaten-path” that our bus driver had to repeatedly ask our guide for directions. Unimpressed with his answers, he eventually relied on his GPS to take us to a local neighbourhood – one of Cologne’s most-desirable addresses for hipsters and trendsetters.

This fabulous, two-hour long walking tour was conducted at a relaxed pace, though you should still be fairly mobile if you want to get in on it in 2018 when it is featured on Avalon’s Active Discovery on the Rhine voyages.

Sailing into Cologne on a stormy afternoon…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…within sight of the city’s famous Dom, or Cathedral. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In addition to the Lynchian laundromat mentioned at the start of this article, we walked past shops selling mid-century furniture, clever paper goods in English and German, and dozens of bars, cafes, barbershops and pop-up art studios. On the nondescript buildings were murals of a creepy Ronald McDonald lookalike; and of Germany’s Angela Merkel engaged in a passionate kiss with the leader of the opposition – someone she may have to come to an agreement with to avoid a coalition government in the upcoming election.

We were the only tourists around, and our guide purposely didn’t carry an umbrella or the ubiquitous “lollypop” sign that so signifies river cruise passengers.

Our walking tour through a local neighbourhood in Cologne was punctuated with unexpected adventures. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Like Angela Merkel embraced in a passionate cartoon kiss with the leader of the opposition. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Or Ronald McDonald, looking vaguely threatening. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

And then there was this fabulous library in the park… Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Here, we met the real people of Cologne – friendly, energetic Germans not overwhelmed by the crush of tourists coming off the Rhine. At one barbershop (that proudly defined itself as “Male Only”), we stopped to photograph a sign in the window that asked ladies to move along when the two young twentysomething barbers behind the window stood beside their chair and started mugging for photos.

The same was true elsewhere. Bar patrons stopped and watched as we entered our final stop – a local bierhalle where Cologne’s regional specialty beer, Kolsch, was served up in tiny 25cl pint glasses. This is not Bavaria – you won’t find the gigantic steins here. Instead, this is how a true resident of Köln drinks their beer.

Inside a men-only-barber in Cologne…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…staff gamely pose for pictures through the glass. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’m hoping Avalon introduces a bit of free time into this excursion for next season. The walking tour was lovely, but I would have enjoyed the opportunity to buy something from the cheeky stationary store, and a bit more free time in the beer hall. As it was, we managed to browbeat our guide into letting us try a local specialty, mett – literally raw hamburger meat served with raw onions, on a bun –  which we washed liberally down with kolsch.

By the time we left the beer hall, it was pouring rain. The darkened streets of Cologne made the city by the Rhine look even more gray and cold than it already was, and I elected to return to the warmth of the Avalon Expression which waited, lights ablaze, at the end of the river cruise docking area near the city’s famous Dom, or Cathedral.

Our local tour continued through the streets and alleys…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to a local beer hall. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Dinners aboard Avalon Expression have become an event worth looking forward to. The quality of food served onboard is exceptionally high, and the ship’s main dining room has an air of intimacy thanks to an elegant divider partition that runs along the centerline of the ship.

Afterwards, it was time to retreat to the Lounge for a nightcap before turning in for the night. Maybe it’s just this sailing, but Avalon Expression’s nightlife is more active than other river cruises I’ve taken in recent months. Guests were still in the Lounge at 11pm when I left to return to my cozy Panorama Suite all the way aft on Deck 3.

I shut off the lights and opened the curtains, watching in total darkness as my suite became a virtual window to the world. A high-speed train raced past in the distance, and a small village came up and fell astern. That’s the beautiful thing about river cruises: there’s always something to see right outside your window – even at night.

Thanks to its Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Window, Avalon’s ships showcase that world beyond the glass in a way that other lines simply don’t.

Avalon Expression, docked in Cologne on a rainy evening. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Expression continues tomorrow, with a hike and wine tasting in Rudesheim, Germany.  Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Avalon's Magnificent Europe - Amsterdam to Nuremberg

September 12, 2017Amsterdam, NetherlandsEmbark Avalon Expressionin Amsterdam
September 13Amsterdam, NetherlandsCulinary Walking tour in Amsterdam's Jordaan district; Dutch Painting Class
September 14Cologne, GermanyCologne Off the Beaten Path
September 15Rudesheim, GermanyHiking and Wine Tasting
September 16Miltenberg, GermanyHiking and local flavours excursion
September 17Wurzburg, GermanyHike to Marienberg Fortress
September 18Bamberg, GermanyCity cycling tour & Rauchbier tasting
September 19, 2017Nuremberg, GermanyDisembark Avalon Expression

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