Friday, September 24, 2004

Koln, Germany--Day 237

Today Elizabeth and I headed straight to the Koln Zoo. Luckily the Zoo is on the S-Bahn line and we were able to take public transportation directly to the zoo. We had bought a transportation pass the night before and were not entirely sure if our ticket was still valid the next day since we had forgotten to validate it the night before. Just as we were going to get on the first tram that pulled up we noticed ticket checkers get on and because we were not exactly sure about our ticket, we decided to wait for the next tram.

We eventually got to the zoo and bought our tickets. The day was a little chilly and it started to drizzle on and off while we were there. But we found the four hippos--Jenny, Afro, Albert and Kiwanga. Yes, a hippo named Afro! Too good to be true.

What also was too good to be true was that the keeper came out of the hippo house just as we walked up and Elizabeth was able to talk to him in German about the project so that we could get their names. He told us about them (with Elizabeth translating back to me) and was able to point out who was who. The other great thing was that as we walked up the hippos took this opportunity for three of them to get out of the water and walk around outside of the pool, making it a perfect chance to take the pictures. I was so excited and as Elizabeth chatted with the keeper, I took pictures.

Albert, the biggest of the four, stayed in the water but I was able to get some great pictures of him doing his own thing. We thanked the keeper as he went back to what he was doing before we stopped him and promised him that we would check out the new Elephant Haus which had just opened not even a week ago.

Once all four hippos made it back into the water, we left and spent some time watching the sea lions for a bit and dodging the rain by getting hot chocolate. When the rain stopped, we went and looked at the new Elephant Haus which, ironically, is a "green" building--the type of eco-friendly architecture that Elizabeth is so fond of. It had a roof garden and everything. We walked around and took pictures of the building before heading back out of the zoo, stopping at several other animals on our way, including the massive community of monkeys which were quite a site to watch.

We stopped at the gift shop and gathered some information about the design of the Elephant Haus and were on our way back into Koln. We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the Dom (one of the biggest cathedrals in Germany--supposedly the sarcophagus behind the altar contains the remains of the Three Kings...) and climbed the 500+ stairs up the South Tower to get a view over Koln. Not only did you have to climb up a huge spiral staircase (and in huge I mean long--the stairs were not all that big) but once you thought you just were about there, you had to climb this massive iron staircase that basically went around in a square fashion, straight up in this huge room. Definitely not something for those with fear of heights. It was a lot of work, but we eventually made it to the top. The view was amazing (with that many stairs it really should be!) and we stayed up at the top, checking out green rooftops of course and trying to find where our hotel was.

We walked back down--which is almost even more than a challenge going up. Not only are you trying to go down fast which makes you incredibly dizzy from the spiral staircase, but you have to deal with the people passing you on their way up and with people who are barreling down the stairs faster than you are, which can be quite something when two huge men are basically on your back the entire time.

But our shaky legs got us down and I have to admit I was relieved to make it! We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Koln which is a really nice little city. It is where Eau de Cologne was first made (Koln in English is Cologne). Everything in Koln is actually relatively close to everything which makes it completely confusing for Elizabeth and I for some reason. I guess we assume that things are farther distances than they really are, and this just has thrown our whole sense of direction and distance off. But we do eventually figure things out and end up at our destination more determined than we set out, but also a lot later than we had hoped. We spent the rest of the evening out on the town making some friends along the way...