I am always a bit suspicious of my abilities to get to grips with local transport systems when abroad. The purchase of tickets to start with, can be an impenetrable maze, let alone what you do with the tickets once you've got them. Do you get them punched in the little machines on the trams and train coaches or not? Sometimes it seems yes and sometimes no, but like the unfathomable game of Mornington Crescent played on "Just A Minute" it's impossible to know which is when! And then there's the question of whether what you've bought actually covers the journey you wish to make or have you misunderstood the instructions and in fact only got a valid ticket for about two stops? And what happens if someone comes along to inspect the tickets and they're wrong but you have no ability to explain in the relevant language that you had no intention of avoiding payment? It makes me nervous, I have to say, so it was with some trepidation that today we embarked on the U-bahn-come-tram system to go from Köln to Bonn.
My friend is more gung-ho about foreign ticket machines and the like and came up with a ticket which looked businesslike and hopefully would cover us against all eventualities. There was no machine in which to get it punched so we didn't. Despite my reservations, using the local transport is a great way to see more of a place - the U-bahn (or underground system) in Cologne runs partly underground and partly overground, where it transmogrifies itself into a tram without pausing for breath. Clever. Would that we had cottoned on to a system that linked underground trains and overground buses in the UK.
Of the two available possibilities according to the map, we chose the U16 line which runs south out of Cologne along the Rhine, through the industrial hinterland on the outskirts of the city and out into the countryside again, before reaching Bonn. My geography and sense of direction is very hazy at the best of times but travelling out like this helped me to get better overall bearings and a sense of Cologne as a place in a wider context rather than an isolated spot, which is always a risk when you just turn up in the centre of somewhere for a few days.
Bonn is delightful - no longer at the centre of government but still with a sense of being more than just Le Carré's "A Small Town In Germany". With rested feet from trundling out on the U-bahn for about an hour - another good reason to use it! - Mrs T and friend went shopping!
And when I had acquired enough bags to make me concerned that I might not be able to squeeze them into my luggage, we had visited Beethoven's house and made a de rigeur stop for Käsekuchen (again!), we found the Bonn Münster dedicated to Saints Cassius and Florentius.
Various versions of the story of these two saints abound but the likeliest one is that they were a couple of Roman soldiers, who didn't like being told what to do with their Christian faith and put two fingers up at the idea of being told to sacrifice to the emperor. Unfortunately, as was the Roman way with people who didn't toe the line with the emperor's wishes, they were put to death and are buried under the Münster and are the patron saints of Bonn.
As luck would have it, this is their patronal week so the whole crypt was lit with candles and you could even descend some steep stone stairs through a pair of bronze doors in the floor, opened only once a year, to a little shrine in the lower crypt where the saints are actually buried. I am not especially claustrophobic but boy, was I glad to get up the stairs again and find the bronze doors still open!
The upper crypt and indeed the whole church was one of those places that have something indefinable about them. You don't get it in all churches by any means and I've been in a lot. Some are very beautiful and the architecture is wonderful but there's nothing more. Some, and it's not always predictable which they will be, just have a sense of presence and something more. Perhaps it's because it's what T S Eliot calls "a place where prayer has been valid" and where it is still very much alive. The church dates from around the 4th C AD which means that "prayer has been valid" there for 1700 years and all the evidence is that it's very much used and loved today as a place of prayer and spiritual refreshment. Perhaps it's no wonder it has such a tangible presence of holiness about it.
More on Mrs T's shopping and a little give-away for some of you kind souls who have stopped by my ramblings and so kindly joined in the conversation tomorrow.