Monday, January 2, 2012

Cologne? That smells nice!

On Wednesday before Christmas I found out that Friday was the last night of the Christmas markets in Germany. So at the very last minute, Elliot and I booked a cheap hotel and jumped on a Friday train headed towards Cologne, Germany.

After the 4-hr train ride, we arrived around 4pm. Coming into Cologne by train offers a dramatic entrance to the city with the view of the Rhine River and the enormous cathedral in the background. We checked into our hotel and then hit the markets. I think there were about 8 or 9 Christmas markets scattered all over the city; I thought we'd get to 2 or 3, max.
The first market we stumbled upon was in front of the massive Gothic cathedral, which took 600 years to build starting in the 13th century. It's the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, towering over the city at 157m (515') tall.

The first market was just ok. A little touristy and slightly corny. The lights and decor were lovely, though. We got our first glass of glühwein--hot wine mulled with spices and topped off with a little rum. Delish!

We walked to the second market and this one was much better! All the vendors were in these adorable little houses; it was like an après-ski party. Our stomachs were growling for some good ol' German food and everything looked amazing. We started with sharing a potato pancake, topped with fried green onions. Really nice. Went perfect with the glühwein, too. We also sampled some sausage, cured meats, cheese, and jam, and checked out all some of the non-food vendors too. Loads of handmade wool, slippers, gloves, jewelry, candles, etc. Then we shared a ham sandwich that was sooooo good.

At this second market, I noticed everyone with glühwein had awesome mugs that I didn't get at the first station. It turns out you pay a deposit on the mug and when you return it, you get your money back. Great idea and efficient! Those Germans.

The third market was also lovely. Lots of lights and decoration! Elliot and I agreed that Christmas lights add much-needed luminance to a very dark, winter season--something we hadn't noticed before moving to a place that gets dark at 4pm and light at 9am. That's a long, dark night! At this market, we sampled their waffles with cream. Yum. Then we actually got to one more market before midnight. It was great!

In the morning, our hotel had an incredible spread for breakfast. And so we ate. Again. Around 10am, we headed out for some sight-seeing. Cologne (also known as Köln) dates back to Roman times, around 38 BC. It was also devastated in WWII, similar to Rotterdam. We walked along the ring road from the northern end of the city to southern and passed through several charming neighborhoods. My favorite was the Belgisches Viertel, or Belgian Quartier. Tons of cute boutiques and restaurants. 

cool bike lanes!

We ended up at the cathedral once again and went inside to admire the biggest church in northern Europe. This thing is massive! Rick Steves writes about this cathedral for 27 pages in his Germany guide book.

Well, that was Cologne--in 24 hours! Great city, I can't wait to come back...maybe for Carnivale?


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