So, yo've been wearing Stetson for all these years, and now you want to go to the birthplace of cologne: Cologne, Germany. You may not find a cologne manufacturing facility, but there are a few places to visit. Well, maybe a couple.
We took the train. Maybe you can fly in, but you'll likely be coming from Amsterdam or Berlin or somewhere else, so plan on the train. We did take a boat on our way out of Cologne, so boats likely also travel into the city, so you could take one of those, too. Remember that the Germans call the city Koln, so don't let that confuse you. If you are coming from Amsterdam (as we did), don't act nervous about what you might have brought in to Germany with your luggage, unless, of course, you are smuggling something, which is not recommended. Understandably, the German border agents are watching for items you might have found to be legal in the Netherlands. Avoid crossing the border with drugs, drug paraphernalia, or ladies of ill repute. If you got a tattoo in Amsterdam, we believe that is legal.
Where to Stay
Cologne had the sweetest hostel we stayed at in all of Europe. Of course, we only stayed at four hostels, so don't get too excited. The place was better than many of the hotels we chose, however, and at about half the cost. If we'd been there during the high-season (assuming there is a high-season in Cologne), we would have shared our room with others, but since the place was relatively empty, we got a nice room all to ourselves. I'll look for the name of the place, but it's like two blocks from the big church. The hostel had a nice little meeting area where we bought cheap (but good) beer. Be aware, however, that if you drink dark beer until one in the morning and have a boat to catch at seven, you should set an alarm.
If you happen to run into a smooth-talking English guy who drinks the same beer all night while the American girls (and guys) marvel at the cheap beer, tell him Brian and Casey say hi. He likely is not there, since we met him 1999, but you never know, and in our world, he's always there.
What to See
Well, I might not be the right person to ask on this one. The tall church was the tallest building in Europe for a couple hundred years. It was closed when we got into town. The downtown area looked nice, with some modern shops on typical European streets. All of these shops were also closed when we arrived late. We walked around and saw a few people on the streets, but we seemed to have missed the real feel of the city, so we ducked into a local bar. Actually, the bar was cool because it wasn't touristy at all, and nobody even spoke English, which was surprising to us, since we'd heard how people in Germany all know English. Anyhow, we ordered a few local beers (with the help of a local who might have taken a year of English in middle school) and then we headed back to the hostel for some really cheap beer and fairly entertaining conversation.
What to Eat
If you plan on drinking beer all night because you're in Germany, get some nachos or something. I think we ordered multiple microwaved pretzels, or at least there were some pretzels present. Honestly, when you stay in a town overnight and don't get there until after dinner, not much can be said of local dining.
So I talked enough about the hostel. The church is something to see, but really, after seeing churches in Paris and London, we didn't think we missed much by not getting in. The gem has to be the boat ride, if done correctly. We, however, did not do it correctly. As previously mentioned, we overslept a bit and missed the early hydrofoil and had to settle for the party cruiser. We were in no mood for partying, and the Rhine in late September is cold. We put on every article of clothing we had with us to stay somewhat not-freezing. Now, had we taken the right boat and gotten to Manheim by dinner time, the whole experience would have been wonderful. As it is, we did get to see the Rhine, the wine along the Rhine, the bridges over the Rhine, and the blasted clouds over us. Basically, the train runs along the same route as the river, so any town you choose to stop at will also have a train station. Beware of intercity trains, however, because they're nearly as slow as the boat.
What to Avoid
Avoid the party boat unless you want to bring a few friends and finish a mini keg. Avoid buying overpriced food or drinks on the boat, as well, unless you're on the slow boat and fear you'll need food to make it to the next town. Avoid taking the intercity trains after taking the slow boat, especially if you need to get to Manheim before the hostel there closes. Avoid getting back on the train in Manheim and then getting off the train at a stop just outside of the city that only has passenger pick-up during the day. Avoid trying to walk through the small town near Manheim to find the city. Avoid believing that every sound you hear at two in the morning is neo-Nazis who hate Americans and like to spray paint railroad stations. Avoid not sleeping on the bench just because of a fear of neo-Nazis. And last, avoid getting angry with your best friend for the minor scheduling glitch, especially if you might need help defending yourself against the neo-Nazis.