Today, I finally decided to buy myself a new form of transport. Behold:
Between the delightfully old-fashioned swept-back handlebars and the dynamo that would not be out of place in an early 20th Century technology museum, I rather fell in love with this when I saw it among its fellows at the bicycle market in Cologne.
I was tipped off about the market; it travels around the city week by week, and is a veritable treasure trove of old bikes in various states of repair and various stages of sale, maintained by people of all ages who really love what they do. An older chap, complete with pungent cigarillo, immediately decided he would sell me a bike that day. He was undeterred by my lack of German, and chattered away happily about his charges while I picked out words to repeat back, nodded, smiled and hoped he wasn’t asking me a question. With the help of a translator, however, he did eventually make the sale. Turns out this one was very special because it had once been his (and if you’ll believe that, I’ve got some great investment opportunities for you with only a small pre-payment).
I haggled him down a bit, and then he sold me a lock as well, but only after he tried to get me to upscale to the most massive lock he could find as the one I’d chosen was the “one that housewives choose”. I was not discouraged by this attempt at igniting my latent masculine insecurity, however, as I was reminded of the discerning and valued judgement of the archetypical Hausfrau.
Excited, I pedalled off home through the sheets of maliciously-timed drizzle, pausing only to remember halfway up the street that I was supposed to be on the right side of the road. This corrected, I locked up my newest investment in the stairwell and decided I would wait for the rain to stop before exploring.
As it turned out, it was not far off sunset by the time I could go out for a ride. As you may have predicted: I got lost. I had some grand plans to cycle from my lodgings in the North to the Rhine, and managed this without issue. The path North looked far more interesting, as I’d not seen it before, and I trundled happily along before deciding a few kilometres later that as I didn’t know Cologne even had a shipyard (It does, and it’s called “Neil”), it was probably time to head home. I managed to get from the river into some identical-looking residential streets. From that point on I managed to see every single identical-looking residential street north of the main ring-road.
The centre of Cologne is reasonably easy to navigate, mainly because it takes the form of a spider’s web. You can work out where you are by the long circular roads going round, the many parks, and the straight roads branching out from the Altstadt (old town) in the very middle. Everything outside is, in comparison, a mess. I was lost somewhere in Nippes, which is a lot bigger than I thought it was. Google Maps (partially loaded thanks to the poor reception) thankfully guided me back, and thus I am not cycling around there still.
So I now have a bike. This is great, and means I can save money on the trams while getting fitter than I was (not a hard task) simply getting from A to B. Sure, my legs seem to hurt quite a bit and the back-pedalling to brake has been my undoing at far too many junctions, but these are problems solved with experience. The important thing is that Cologne just got a lot smaller, and more fun to get around in.
As a side note, I managed to see the world’s most determined Koelners in the park on the way to university yesterday. It being the second of February and sunny (although cold) was lovely, however I’m not sure I’d call it barbeque weather. It seems they disagreed. Many props to them, mad as they are.
Lastly, I am now based in a new flat, with all the moving completed today (it was two trips on the tube. Travelling light is brilliant). My place is now in the district of Ehrenfeld, and my new flatmates don’t speak a huge amount of English, which is nothing but a huge bonus for me. Hopefully Deutsch will be forthcoming. They seem great people, and are willing to teach me. Plus they have an N64 with Mario Kart on it, a language that transcends mere words.