Friday, October 01, 2004

GERMANY Day02//08.May.04 - Of Leather Pants, Pickpockets & Pork: Cologne

A relaxing (well, itinerary-wise) day was in store for me and mom today. We won't be tagging along dad to his drupa convention at Dusseldorf and will be exploring the very city where we had lodged for the night. Cologne (or Koln) is the fourth largest city in Germany, and definitely a bigger town in comparison with Dusseldorf. Its claim to fame is the UNESCO-protected Gothic cathedral that took over 600 years (start: 1248, end: 1880) to complete.

For travellers to Cologne, the Cathedral is a must-see. We were no different from your regular digital camera wielding tourist, hence before we got down to the serious business of shopping, we did a quick run through of the cathedral. Truth be told, I didn't pay too much attention to this cathedral. We were already at the tail-end of this particular trip and I have lost count of the number of monuments of worship I have visited. Yours truly was displaying apathy towards stained glass windows, carved choir stalls and church organs. Definite symptoms of cathedral-OD.

We exited the gloomy interior out to the bustling street thronged with shoppers. It was, literally and figuratively, a breath of fresh air for me. The streets around the cathedral were lined with shops and eateries. Cologne town was a pedestrian mall at its finest. The sight of shopping bags and cacophony of bargain hunters activated our dormant shopping instinct. Whoever was it that said men were hunters, and women were gatherers? S/He should see the gentler sex sniffing out on a good bargain! Mom went for the kill first. Her first prey was a (cow-derived) leather bag. You could say that Aigner, the German household fashion brand, got to it first! Mom's shopping rule of thumb was, when in Germany, buy German product.

Such a successful start has only whetted our appetite for more. We happily trudge down the crowded streets looking for more bargains. We quickly came to realise that the exchange rate was a crippling disadvantage, especially when it came to buying clothes. Fortunately, we came upon a shop specialising in leather and mom fulfilled her desire for a leather jacket, while I surveyed the stacks of leather pants with glee. The store assistant was very helpful and recommended a pair of pants that I have only dreamt of owning. Simple, no details, front-zipped, no pockets, boot-cut. The leather was very soft and supple. He explained that it was made of Italian lamb skin, which is touted to be one of the best material. Of course Teutonic pride demanded that he also extolled the virtue of German cows as being the best in its class, for cow hide that is.

All in all, we headed back to our hotel pretty pleased with our purchases. Enroute, the four of us (Mom & I were accompanied by Uncle William & Auntie Annie) were approached by a trio of scruffy-looking gypsies. One of them was holding a magazine and appeared to be begging for money. Uncle William and I managed to side-step and evade these women. While mom and Auntie Annie were held back trying to dodge them. Uncle William and I were about 5 metres in front when he quickly turned back to caution mom and Auntie Annie. At that moment, he saw that one gypsy's grubby hand had retrived Auntie Annie's purse from her handbag. At the top of his lungs, Uncle William yelled "PICKPOCKET!!!" and bounded (never have I more rightfully nor aptly used this word) towards his wife and swiftly grab hold of the purse which the startled gypsy had dropped. The gypsy woman had the nerve to point an accusing finger at Uncle William while muttering in her gibberish language.

So dear readers, I can not stress enough how important it is to be vigilant whilst travelling in Europe, or any part of the world for that matter. Pickpockets are often assisted by accomplices and use distraction as a method in their modus operandi. With our experience we had three such persons using the magazine on the pretext of begging, when in fact it was to be used as a shield for their wily maneuver.

That night, at a popular local restaurant, over a dinner table groaning with trays of pork knuckles, sausages and sauerkraut, we regaled the rest with tales of Uncle William's quick wit and reflexes. However, the only reflexes that the hero of the day was partaking was the sinking of his teeth into the German specialty and the puckering of his mouth in contentment.


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