30.06.2017 - 02.07.2017
After a couple of long weekend trips in May (Las Vegas for a Hoover Dam tour, Cirque du Soleil shows, and a weekend full of wondering what draws people to Las Vegas because I would prefer never to go back; and Chicago to visit my friends Sam and Paul, experience a Cubs game, go to the Skydeck and Fields Museum, and taste the best deep dish pizza in Chicago at Pequods), I was ready for a longer trip.
In the fall, Le Tour de France (TDF) announced the Grand Depart (first stage) would be in Düsseldorf. My friend Anna (see 2013 euro trip blog: http://lsto90.travellerspoint.com/) moved to Dusseldorf in 2015 for a 3 year international rotation with KPMG. Growing up, I watched the TDF every July with my dad. I would wake up on weekend mornings to those two old British dudes providing commentary on Versus (previously HLN, later NBC Sports). Thus, the TDF has been on my bucket list for years.
The stars aligned that the TDF started in Düsseldorf, Anna could provide me free lodging in Düsseldorf, and it was over 4th of July weekend which meant I had a day off from work. Done and done. Booked a ticket, and here I am in Europe.
I arrived in Düsseldorf on Friday afternoon. Düsseldorf is in northwest Germany on the Rhine, near Belgium and Amsterdam. It's a big business hub, but it is not much of a tourist destination. We walked around the Alstadt (old town) which has cute cobblestone streets and old buildings. I met some of Anna's friends who work at a shop in the Alstadt, bought some TDF swag, and stopped at Uerige, one of the many local breweries. Dusseldorf is known for altbier which is a darker beer, kind of tasted like Shiner.
We ate dinner at Frankenheim (another brewery) where I got schnitzel (when in Germany, right?). Then we wandered around and passed one of my company's (Hines) new developments named Carlsquartier which looks like a fancy office building near the swanky shopping district.
Saturday, we drove 30 minutes to Cologne. The main attraction in Cologne is the giant cathedral built in the 1200s. It was rainy and cloudy all day, so I decided not to climb the bell tower. My view would have been of clouds which would not have been worth the exercise.
Since it was rainy, we vetoed the walking tour of Cologne and went to the Fragrance Museum. Yes, cologne (the perfume) was created in Cologne. Farina House was the first cologne producer, established in 1709. They didn't have an English tour, so we got a brief overview of cologne's history and smelled the original fragrance.
Then we headed to the Schokoladen Museum (Lindt chocolate museum). Anna and I visited a chocolate museum in Belgium and weren't impressed, but the Cologne museum was much better. It was in a nice new building on the Rhine. Admission included 3 pieces of chocolate. They had a full Lindt assembly line in the museum which reminded me of that episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel work at a candy factory, can't wrap the candies quickly enough, and resort to eating them. The process is now all automated so no I Love Lucy moments.
We grabbed pizza by the cathedral and had kolsch beer which Cologne is known for making. We returned to Düsseldorf , picking up Anna's friend en route, and made our way to the TDF route. There was a TDF festival going on with different sports demonstrations and free TDF signs and flags. One company was handing out gummy bears and rubber duckies. They ran out of rubber duckies, so I got a giant handful of Haribo gummy bears. I didn't complain.
The Grand Depart was a time trial. The 196 riders rode a 14 km route through the city averaging 16.5 minutes. They started 3 minutes apart, so it took a few hours. We watched about 1.5 hours of the time trial, and we quickly learned that the car following the rider had a sign with the rider's name and nationality on it which made it fun knowing who we were cheering for during the .25 seconds they rode pass us.
We grabbed coffee afterward, and then stumbled upon another part of the course where we saw Chris Froome, winner of the last three tours, zoom by before we headed to Sushi Shop for dinner. Fun fact: Düsseldorf has a high concentration of Japanese people. Many Japanese businesses have headquarters in Tokyo. In fact, at some point in the 1980s, the city declared they had the highest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan. All of that to say, Düsseldorf has good Japanese food.
We went to Berg Platz where we ate apple strudel at Schwan (another brewery), and then we listened to the band playing in the plaza as part of the TDF festivities. Anna said it takes a lot of alcohol for Germans to dance. The alcohol must have been flowing because everyone there was dancing.
Sunday, we went to Anna's church which was right off the stage 2 course. Stage 2 was a 203 km ride from Dusseldorf to Liege, Belgium. We waited a while, and then saw the 4 leaders (one was American Taylor Phinney) who had broken away speed by. A few minutes later, the peloton followed which was very cool to watch. We grabbed lunch and headed to the airport where the Eurowings employee asked if I own a gun since I am from Texas (answer: no). On to the next part of my trip: Budapest.