when the train crossed the border from belgium into germany, i had to stop the reflex telling me i was in ohio. flat, farms, and industry. tasty. we got off in köln, and took a commuter train to düsseldorf. outside the train station we ran the gauntlet of german food stands, including pretzels, laughing in my face (i will eat you soon!). anyway, we took the city tram to our hotel and hauled the bags up 3 flights of stairs!
after getting settled, we got a map and hit the town. scanning the people on the street told me "we're not in france anymore." the people were pastie white, the hair was blunt and/or awful, the clothes...questionable, and the general appearance was less "put together" (aka, these people looked like me!).
anyway, the temperature was perfect and the day was still gorgeous. we walked through the lovely hofgarten park. great landscaping and feel to it, good job germany (though it would have been nice to not have had so much road noise...but i'll take it). we exited at the west end of the park and entered the altstadt (old town, in german). nice pedestrian area with pleasant buildings.
we found a mustard store on the main strip and went in to taste a few kinds: olives, chili, balsamic, etc. not too bad, but i like regular yellow mustard and dijon mustard. near the store was a chain bakery that sold pretzels. i wanted a snack before dinner and this was the only pretzel place id seen in a while so i got one...tasted like a chain: unmemorable, dry thing that resembles the item its supposed to be. better luck next time?
to relax before dinner, we headed further west toward the water, the rhine river where they have a big, paved promenade. a view of the grassy land on the other bank, several bridges, the city skyline, and people out enjoying the weather and beer in the riverside bars. great city atmosphere. there was again a bit of road noise, but everything else was so lovely it quickly became unnoticeable.
we located on the map the media harbor area where some of the famous city buildings are and headed south that way. perhaps the most famous building(s) is that designed by frank gehry. there are others of rivaling intrigue in the same area though. we found a great spot right on the water with shade trees and benches across the way. we sat and had a fantastically peaceful and relaxing half hour just enjoying life.
(frank gehry buildings; the building next to gehrys. the evening sun was reflecting off the water which was reflecting off the building. very cool.; dave on the düsseldorf promenade)
then we walked back along the river in search of dinner, but also people watching and soaking up more of the city. our dinner destination was in the alstadt, a place called zum schiffchen. we sat in the beer garden and had a great meal. now, to my (previous) mind, german food is dense, unhealthy, and for the last 27 years of my life something i avoided putting in my mouth. i dont think i can argue away the unhealthy (although, french food isnt healthy per se, it goes along with the lifestyle though. and germans too are an active, outdoorsy people) but from now on i will remove the "dense" and "to be avoided" tags.
(although, come on, "portion of lard?" that seems excessive. i like to disguise my lard a little bit by calling it "apple pie" or "refried beans.")
first of all FREE water (100 point bonus) and dave ordered a couple of alt beers (this is the regional speciality beer). for meals, dave ordered the braised beef "rhineland style" (der rheinische sauerbraten" nach altem hausrezept, in german) and i ordered the chicken with mushroom sauce and noodles (maispoulardenbrust mit kräutern gegrillt, in german). every item on our plates meshed perfectly well with every other thing. funny how that should be obvious, but i couldnt appreciate it until we tried them all together. yum yum yum. to round out the meal, we finished with the apple strudel. it looked and felt dense, but when you put it in your mouth it was awesome. pure apple flavor, not messed up with too much sugar. just warm, fruity, layered goodness.
(daves meal before (braised beef with raisins, almonds, stewed apples, and potato dumpling); and after; the apple strudel)
the meal was great, the ambiance was nice, and we didnt feel gross or stuffed afterward. the table behind us was also...interesting. dave overheard them asking the waiter (in english) about the where to go in the area, how to ride the trains, what there is for entertainment around here, and...where they could find some girls...prostitutes. the waiter lowered his voice and mentioned a few streets they could explore. the guys replied and said "how much?" to which the waiter replied "from 50€ to..." and they started laughing.
on the way back to the hotel, we walked through the town market area, a shopping area, some little squares, a canal, some nice churches. cute, nice. we thought that while there was nothing particular that we were interested in specifically doing/seeing in this city, it was a great place to simply be. im glad i found a cheap flight from here, it was a nice resting place before heading back. i would definitely fly out of this city again (but german maps are horrid, note to self).
(the german models in the clothing window. edgy.)
back at the hotel, we ate the pierre marcolini chocolates we had bought in brussels. of the 8 chocolate regions, our verdict was: venezuela wins for dave and ghana wins for me. also, while the java region didnt seem to fit in with the other flavors (it tasted like a melty, toasted marshmallow rather than chocolate), i thought it was quite nice. good way to end an evening that was wonderful and memorable. nighty night.