And now for the extracurricular activities last week.
Cologne isn't the prettiest of cities but it has a rich history with lots of Roman stuff still being unearthed from the construction site of the new underground tram line, including beautiful mosaics and shrines.
The city got its name from the Romans: Colonia Agrippina, the colony of Agrippina. I'm not sure whether the Cologne people appreciate being founded and dedicated to the second wife of Emperor Claudius, whom she eventually murdered. But it may account for the rather freewheeling and fun-loving spirit that pervades the city. It's the centre of the annual Carnival festivities in the Rhineland and the nightlife was ravishingly good: the bars and clubs stay open very late and public transport, which allows you to take a beer on the tram, runs all night on the weekend.
I met up with Charles at a central bar, called Cox, a bar for "bears and butch men", which summed us up pretty much. It was full of black leather clad German blokes of all sizes and hair colours. Charles had already started chatting to a local, and soon we got a few guys joining in. I marveled at the sheer internationalism of the gay scene: here we were, a Belgian living in New Zealand, an American living in Denmark, an Irishman living in Spain and a Kuwaiti visiting his German boyfriend. If the world was run by gay men there would not be any wars.
After a few beers it was on to a cruise club across the road, which was also owned by the Cox bar people, and they named it Boners (no website). It has a large bar and backroom and a pretty broad dress code, including nothing. They run a great system of charging: you don't pay to get in but you have to buy two drinks or be charged an equivalent amount when you leave. It's very popular but not too crowded as to be stifling. The men seemed to me pretty sociable and keen to get it on with you. After making a lot of new friends in very dark corners we staggered home at 5am on the tram to our hostel.
I went to one sauna in Cologne, the appropriately named Badehaus (or Bath House), a massive complex conceived as a Roman villa, with a swimming pool between both ends of the complex. Both ends are also connected by an underground area where there is a maze and a steamroom and a beautifully massive spa pool complete with Roman-style mosaic. On the ground floors are a winebar, massage rooms and Finnish sauna. Upstairs are resting cubicles. Its sheer size warrants the need for a lot of punters to attend before it feels cozy, and you do walk enormous distances. There are no video rooms as such, only tiny seating areas around video monitors, which is a negative point. It's very much a place for the pretty people although there were men of all ages there. On the hour, one of the attendants bangs a gong summoning everybody to the sauna box where he proceeds with wafting around a large towel so everybody gets throughly scorched by the heat. I had experienced this service before in the Black Forest, and it is not for the faint of heart. The entry price of 19 euros is also heart-stopping!
Bonn is a small provincial city on the Rhine River with a long history too. It's rather pretty with its narrow pedestrianised city centre streets, university and Beethoven culture. And it's incredibly rich too by looking at just one indicator: it has two (two!) Bang & Olufsen shops. There isn't an incredible lot gay-wise. A local neighbourhood pub called Bobo's in the Jozefstrasse. A nice enough venue, very sociable and full of people who know each other. Great beer too, of course.
Around the corner from Bobo's is the sex cinema, in a basement attached to a groundfloor sex shop on Berliner Freiheit (there is a back entrance for all of you who don't want to be seen entering a sex shop on the main thoroughfare). It's a rather spartan affair in two underground rooms, one for hetero and one for homo movies, but there was a lot of traffic in between (perhaps it is true there are a lot of bisexuals in the world!). Enjoying the films is an arduous affair: the benches are wooden only, so bring a cushion. There is a backroom in the homo section. It costs 6 euros for an all day pass and it does have the feel of a dayroom for many men whose wives had gone shopping.
I had a 7 hour stopover in Hong Kong on the way back to New Zealand so enough time to take the Airport Express into town (at $18 and 100kph a far better bargain than the dreadful Airport Bus affair in Auckland) and try out the local sauna just off the Central Escalator on Hong Kong Island. It's called the CE and housed in a tiny building, as everything is in HK. Very warm and welcoming hospitality and a lot of international punters, which made up for the smallness of the venue. It just forces you to be sociable. Small steamroom, minuscule sauna box but well laid out, two shower areas and making use of all space available. Free internet too. I got to meet a Costa Rican, a Singaporean and a German I had earlier met in the Badehaus. Talk about the world being a small place!