Düsseldorf, Germany

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It was 1 a.m., and we were standing outside in the cold with blankets wrapped around us. An hour earlier, after a nice, long, Jacuzzi tub bath, I had just finished the Divergent Series on my Kindle when I smelled smoke. While I had been soaking and reading the Frenchman had decided to turn the separate shower area of our room into his own private hammam. With his nose and eyes filled with steam, he denied smelling or seeing any smoke. After a few more sniffs, I opened the hallway door to look outside, and was swallowed in a grey haze. “Oh, why, yes, ma’am, we are having an emergency. You should come downstairs,” the receptionist told us when I frantically phone the lobby about the apparent fire. So with wet hair we wearily pulled on yesterday’s clothes, walking down the many flights of stairs from our room to the ground floor where our previous spa-induced zen quickly dissipated as we found ourselves surrounding by firetrucks, police officers, and flashing lights. A group of heavily-protected firefighters was preparing to enter the building to find the fire, the floor on which it was yet to be determined.

Later, as we stood outside wrapped in blankets donated by a nearby hotel, our hair turning to icicles, we kicked ourselves for having decided to spend our one night in Dusseldorf relaxing in our luxurious room instead of heading downtown to the “longest bar in the world” where all of the shopkeepers had earlier in the day encouraged us to go. Sometimes, however, a bathtub and comfy bed are too irresistible to pass up after having lived in temporary types of housing for the past year where having a shower head mounted to the wall instead of dangling limply from the water output or a bed frame with a tufted headboard instead of simply a mattress on the floor has been cause for cheers.

Plus, we were so full we would have needed to be rolled back to the city center: Upon arriving in Dusseldorf that morning following a short, sleepy train ride we had set off on a culinary adventure of Germany’s sixth largest city and capital of the area of North Rhine-Westphalia, the province across the border from us. Our first stop was in Dusseldorf’s most famous brewery, Zum Uerige, for traditional German pub food and bitter altbiere. Here, the beirgarten stretches across the block, with locals milling around and standing at tables while the beer keeps rapidly coming until they put their coasters on top, signaling defeat.

After a lunch of traditional pub food (think sausages and pea soup,) we embarked on a walking tour of the old city only to afterwards fill ourselves back up with hot chocolate (cinnamon for him and salted caramel for me) at the chocolatiere and cafe Gut & Gerne. By then, it was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining. Walking along the recently-constructed Rhine River promenade, which recently turned a busy highway into an underground, city-traversing passage topped by a city green space, we were lured to the crowds and the sounds of Kassematten where we found traditional Oktoberfest music, lederhosen, and litres of beer and where we had so much fun we visited again the next day. Then, of course, there was dinner at Robert’s Bistro, a popular choice for French food in the Medienhafen district of Dusseldorf where our hotel was located, and where we sat on communal benches outdoors, ate more than a kilo each of sea snails and tasted guinea fowl and fried kidneys. At least our full bellies kept us warm while we were forced out of our lovely room along the Rhine, a room where our entire wall of windows faced Medienhafen, the stunning architects’ delight of old warehouses and modern buildings designed by Frank Gehry, the same man who designed Prague’s dancing house.

Upon finally returning to our rooms after seeking sanctuary and warmth in a nearby hotel bar, we returned to our room, ducking through the hallways still full of smoke. Sunday, we woke late, luxuriating in the warm bed and hoping that after the night before check-out times would not be too strictly enforced. We headed to the Paintbox Malkasten for a classic, multi-hour, single-seating garden brunch in a beautiful setting, or, rather, what had previously been a stunning setting before major storms caused catastrophic damage to Dusseldorf’s park a few months before, leaving the park and many of its walking paths roped off with police tape for fear of falling branches. After brunch, we wandered the park and through the downtown before heading back along the Rhine to German’s highest tower, Der Rheinturm, for a sky-high cocktail with views of the city and one of Europe’s most important waterways. Below us, large barges full of stones, coal, and elderly tourists on river cruises slowly meandered past while on the bank opposite the city sheep grazed.

Despite the excitement of our night – which we later learned was due to a guest having candles in his room – we greatly enjoyed Dusseldorf and loved our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, whose room plan and view we found to be one of the best we have experienced in the last year of international travel and hotel stays. And we truly enjoyed the lively city and wharf areas so much that we are considering visiting again in February for Carnival as we learned on our tour that the city truly comes alive during the Carnival season, which begins November 11 at 11:11 a.m. and runs until the Lenten carnival is over, though we have heard that the Carnival in the nearby and staunch rival of Dusseldorf, Cologne, may be the better option.

Prost!

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