This next chapter of 2012 completely indulges my geeky/gamer side and my travel lust. August of 2012 took us to Koeln (or the Americanized version, Cologne), Germany for GamesCom!
GamesCom is the largest gaming convention in Europe and when I say “gaming”, I don’t mean Scrabble. It fills the majority of the Koeln convention center with game demos and displays, gaming equipment, gaming merchandise, schools featuring programs in game design and development, etc. In short, it is as much to do with the gaming universe as you can possibly imagine. It was intense!
My favorites from this year included Borderlands 2, StarCraft II, and FireFall. Unfortunately, I judged one game by its cover (and the length of its line, because sometimes size does matter) and missed out on Dishonored… which took the prize for Best Game that year and has received rave reviews since. Go figure. Aside from testing out new games, we got to preview a new Star Trek game that’s coming out in 3D, encountered several cosplayers (people in costume), and scored some free swag from the Razer stage!
|Diablo III, Demon Hunter|
Perhaps one of the best parts of our stay was our hotel. I would have to say that perhaps one of the key aspects – one of the make or break elements – of any vacation is the hotel. If you are pleasantly surprised or at least merely satisfied with your accommodations, it’s like getting an ‘A’ on your first test of the year. It gives you a solid, positive foundation for things. If you have a crappy hotel where there are bugs, or the water isn’t hot, or the bed is massively uncomfortable, etc., everything else in the trip has to be that much better to make up for it.
Our hotel was spectacular.
It wasn’t extravagant or particularly posh, but that staff was prepared. Extra, superbly multilingual, staff were on hand; all of them working together like parts of a well-oiled machine - and seemingly happy to be there! It was as if they all actually enjoyed, or at least didn't mind, their job. By our third day I began to wonder if management was slipping them little yellow pills full of happiness, because I thought surely one of them would have cracked by then. The hotel itself was also clean, well-situated, affordable, and comfortable. And had fabulous signage!
Above all, though, it was quiet. Several door handles were adorned with the provided “I’m at GamesCom!” hangers. There were children. People were up at all hours. The hotel was even on a busy street! But it was gloriously quiet. It was everything a convention-goer needed. Clearly, though – I’ve gotten off track.
After seeing as much as we possibly could at the convention, hubby and I headed out to explore the city. Now, I think it’s fair to say that Europe isn’t exactly known for its air-conditioning… and many will tell you that’s because it simply doesn’t get hot enough to warrant it. Superior engineering, a generally cooler climate, and the laid-back lifestyle of most Europeans mean that while it may get a bit uncomfortable at times, the summer heat is completely tolerable. Except… NO! It was in the 80’s, pushing 90*F (that’s pretty much 30*C and above) almost every day we were there! (It rained one day, I think it may have dropped to a balmy 79*F.) If you were not in air conditioning come mid-afternoon, your shoes were quickly becoming your own personal little swimming pools.
So we made one of our first exploratory stops in Koeln the Claudius Therme, a mineral bath. We discovered its enticing waters after stopping to have lunch there on our way to ride the gondola across the river (great view! Though beware those who are afraid of heights).
Lunch was nothing short of amazing – wonderfully fresh and delicious. The seat we took looked out over the mineral baths and the calming, cool-looking water simply called to us. We resolved to return... and were there the very next day, swim-suits in hand, and dripping with sweat because it was hotter than ever! Judging by the line, we weren’t the only ones who thought so either.
While the line did move fairly quickly, it felt excruciatingly slow. The people waiting in line to get in didn’t even look much different from those coming out! Only we were dripping with sweat and they had just showered. Once we finally made it, though… oh sweet heavens, it was worth every drop of sweat spent waiting. Anyone who’s not been to a thermal bath – you’re missing out! Go! Right now. Though be sure to check the dress code wherever you go – Europeans tend to be anything but shy about nudity.
The next morning we were up early to catch the train out to Bonn. It was highly recommended by a friend who used to live in the area, so we thought we’d head out and check out Beethoven’s old digs.
Some of you smart donkeys out there might be thinking “Didn’t Beethoven live in Austria?” and you would be correct. However, he was born in Bonn and lived there for quite some time. The house where he was born still stands and is now a museum. As a Beethoven fanboy, I found it vastly interesting and quite moving – hubby didn’t find it nearly as enjoyable. Ah, well. (Photos were not allowed indoors, just out front and from within the courtyard.)
Though Bonn has much to offer, our time was short. Back to Koeln! One of our first few days in the city, we had taken a trip downtown to kind of get the lay of the land and make note of some of the places we'd like to return to. We wandered around the beautiful downtown area for some time and explored the enormous and absolutely gorgeous gothic cathedral.
After our trip to Bonn, we returned here and made our way to the German-Roman Museum, the oldest parfumerie in the world, and (my personal favorite) the Lindt Chocolate Factory!! Lindt is certainly not my favorite chocolate in the world, but no chocoholic (might I just note that spell check has no problem with this word - I didn't realize it was a real term) would turn down a chance to tour a real live chocolate factory! So that's exactly what we did.
Oh, and they had a cafe...
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