Friday, September 30, 2011

Day 14: Cologne (Sept 30)

Here's the Flickr link to today's pictures.

This turned out to be almost a day off for me, I ended up doing not very much and it was nice. I had learned my ticket lesson already and had booked a reservation on the Amsterdam to Cologne train on the day I got to Amsterdam. The train leaving Amsterdam was about 15 minutes delayed, and stopped in Utrecht, Basel (last stop in the Netherlands), Arnem (now 20 minutes), Dinslaken, Oberhausen, Duisburg, Dusseldorf (now 40 minutes), and finally Koln.

I even remembered to copy the directions on how to get from the train station to the European Space Agency's Astronaut training center (the EAC, or European Astronaut Centre). They support training for the ESA Columbus module on the International Space Station as well as the Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV, plus ATV flight controller training. Some friends from work connected me with the training manager there and I got to see the simulators and flight controller trainers - concepts and practices that I'm intimately familiar with. Seeing all that reminded me of how much I miss working in the space program. I ran into upcoming ISS crewmember Andre de Kuipers and saw him and Suni Williams in a training class. The EAC was the only reason I came to Cologne,

The tour lasted from around 1-3, and so by the time I got back to the train station I had about 6 hours to kill. I saw a 1-hour bus tour that was leaving so I hopped on that, then walked around the Koln Dom. This medieval church is literally right next to the train station, such that when you walk out of the station you're looking at this monstrous Gothic church which they said is the 3rd largest in the world. It was started in the 1300s and stopped in the 1600s then picked up again a couple hundred years later. Unfortunately my timing was bad and the church was closed for a pilgrimage all weekend - this is where the relics of the Three Holy Kings are (the ones who came to see baby Jesus), supposedly their bodies. So I couldn't climb the tower or even take a tour of the church, though I stood in the back and listened to the choir and organ music. So for the next 3 hours or so, I just idly wandered the area, grabbing a Kolsch beer and finally settling down for a plate of Schnitzel with mushroom sauce and fries.

The train to Copenhagen left at 22:28. The sign said that the train was also going to Prague, Warsaw, and Moscow, which didn't make any sense until I found out that the train cars actually separate at various points. So when you get on the overnight you need to make sure you're in the right car! The ticket-checker is helpful about that. My car was a 4-person sleeper, I was assigned one of the bottom bunks. This was a second-class bunk, the first-class is a single bed with a lock on the door for privacy. It was also a lot more expensive, as even though I have a rail pass that makes trains free, there's a supplement for sleepers. We turned out the lights around midnight and I went right to sleep - that's an impressive feat on a train. One of the top bunks had a guy who didn't speak much English and didn't even wait for the lights to go out to go to sleep, and the other top bunk was free until the train stopped somewhere at 12:30 and a girl got in. I never heard her or the other top bunk guy leave when the train stopped around 6am somewhere, but I slept through the night.

Here's the Flickr link to today's pictures.

(Originally posted 10/5/11 at 2:09am, Berlin)

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