The main purpose of this trip was a visit to see Borussia Dortmund play and experience the incredible atmosphere at their stadium, Signal Iduna Park. On the way I stayed overnight in Brussels, and on the way back in Cologne.
I’d passed through Brussels many times before en route to other destinations, but never spent any significant time there, other than a brief hour here and there between trains. It doesn’t have the best reputation as a tourist destination, suffering in comparison to the beautiful smaller cities of Bruges and Ghent. The iconic symbol of the city is a statue of a pissing baby, which doesn’t exactly scream “come and visit”. However I felt sure I could have some fun here, especially on a Saturday night.
And so it proved. The Eurostar from London was bang on time, and my Novotel hotel was only a few minutes walk from the Grand Palace. The entire trip was blessed with unseasonably good weather for late February, and I was able to sit outside cafes in a t-shirt, sipping the wonderful Belgian beer. As night fell the crowds came out and the bar scene was a lot of fun, especially in the narrow streets behind the palace- which include the famous Delirium Café. I chose one of the less explosive of their beers and soaked up the vibe in the alleyway outside.
Brussels seems to have a urine fetish. There are at least three pissing baby statues, and even one of a dog with its leg cocked which I stumbled upon on my meanderings. After a fun few hours in the bars I retired to my room in preparation for my 9.25am train to Dortmund.
I’d caught Thalys trains to Amsterdam before, but they also operate on the route to Cologne and Dusseldorf, which I’d done before on a German ICE train. After reaching Dusseldorf, a couple of trains a day carry on to Dortmund which was very handy for me. The journey to Cologne is pleasant, if rather flat, and from there the train passes through the industrial Rhine-Ruhr region. Not the prettiest train journey I’ve ever been on. But the sun was still shining as I reached Dortmund Hauptbahnhof and jumped on the metro to my hotel next to Westfalenpark on the outskirts of the city, a short walk from the stadium.
The Radisson Blu has a distinctly East German look from the outside, but was very swish inside and had a lovely pool which I made use of, before enjoying a currywurst and a beer in the bar. The match was at 6pm so I followed the crowds to the stadium as the sun set and the atmosphere built.
Even those who dislike football couldn’t have failed to be impressed with the matchday experience. There were flares, drums, megaphones and 81,019 people making a hell of a racket – especially the famed “Yellow Wall” (the huge stand where the most vociferous of supporters in their yellow and black shirts gather). The game itself was brilliant too – Dortmund won 3-2 but in truth it could have been 6-6. The best goal of the game was scored by a fellow Englishman, 18 year old Jadon Sancho. An unforgettable experience.
The hotel bar after the game was packed and great fun. After a few local Dortmunder beers I headed off to bed and awoke to another glorious morning. A brief dip in the pool to wake me up then it was off to Westfalenpark next door. It’s a beautiful park, with lakes, woodland, geese and carpets of crocus (crocuses? crocii? I’m not a botanist). It really was hard to believe it was February as I spent a couple of hours strolling around in the sun in an almost zen-like state.
Then it was back on the metro to Dortmund city centre, which is almost entirely uninspiring. We Brits must have done a hell of a lot of bombing here during the war. Aside from a couple of old churches it’s a sprawl of grey office blocks and shops. I found a nice café for lunch before heading to the station and my train to Cologne, which this time took a much greener route via Wuppertal.
This was my third visit to Cologne and it’s got a lot to offer – cafes alongside the river, the imposing gothic cathedral and the charming squares and streets of the old town. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening enjoying all the city had to offer, before returning to my hotel near the station and a lunchtime train home via Brussels the next day.