This past weekend, we took a quick overnight jaunt up to Cologne. Five years ago, on our Beer and Cathedral Tour of Germany, it was our first stop. When we found out we were moving to Germany, it was pretty clear to both of us that we would have to visit Cologne again. And what better time to do it than during Christmas time with the Weihnachtsmarkt!? As an added bonus, we got to meet up with a fellow AST, her husband and kids!
We decided to take the train this time instead of driving. Aaron did some savvy computering with a coworker and got us a pretty decent deal on train tickets (he must teach me his ways, I love a good deal!). Instead of heading up Friday after work, we switched it up and headed to Cologne on Saturday morning. We left the Mannheim Hauptbahnhof around 8:30 and arrived in Cologne around 11. It was a nice ride up, especially since it was a regional train and followed the Rhine River. If you want to see some pretty German country side, this is a great way to do it. I counted no less than 6 castles, in varying conditions, along the way. There were also countless vineyards, some of which appeared to be completely vertical, so much so that it looked like it would be quite a challenge to harvest the grapes.
We had some time to explore the Weihnachtsmarkt before we met Jake and Sara and their two girls for dinner. As we were walking in front of the Dom (large cathedral in Cologne, check back in a few days to hear about all it!), we noticed that there was this train-car contraption doing Weihnachtmarkt tours. It was a hop-on hop-off and went to all four of the Weihnachtsmarkt in Cologne, and it only cost 8 euro per person. It started at the Dom, went to the Altstadt, continued on to the Chocolate Museum and then the Engel Weihnachtsmarkt before returning to the Dom.
Over the course of the day, we ended up visiting all four. I was hoping that one would be less busy than the others, but nope, they were all packed with people. So many people in fact it was hard to move, let alone shop. During our tour, we also decided to sample some of the food available. My favorite were the potato pancakes, called Reibekuchen. They are served either plain, with apple sauce, or, a marmalade of some sort. I opted for the marmalade. They were so tasty! Flammlachs (flame grilled salmon, a popular Finnish dish), are also pretty popular here. I'm usually picky about my salmon, but the Flammlachs have never failed to disappoint.
At one point on the tour, we noticed this place called the Bier Museum. Of course we had to check it out! Alas, it was not open, and we couldn't find opening hours posted anywhere. We headed on to another place that looked interesting - the Haxenhaus ("pork" shank house). We were pleasantly surprised to find an interesting, and nice, restaurant inside. They served kolsch beer of course, and traditional German food. We sat there for a couple of hours, enjoying the Kölsch (easily one of our favorite beer styles and one that will always be on tap at the Empty Shoe Brewery), and then met up with Sara, Jake and the girls. We decided to head back to the Hexenhaus for dinner to give them a taste of traditional German food. Both of Sara's girls seemed to like it! Fiona tried my Schweinhaxen and said it was good and Ava went to town her Dad's schweinhaxen bone. It was so cute!
After dinner, we headed back to the Weihnachtsmarkt to have a Glühwein. Again, there were a ton of people, and it had started to rain, which unfortunately didn't deter many people from staying. After we had enjoyed the Glühwein, and tried some Heisse Maroni (roasted chestnuts), we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Just in time too because we were both getting pretty cold.
The next day, we checked off another item on our bucket list: attend mass at the Dom - after which we climbed the tower. Check back to see pretty pictures of one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen!
As a side note, Merry Christmas, everyone! I can't believe it's almost Christmas and that means it's almost the end of the year. Where did 2014 go?! We have had many people ask us if we are headed back to the States for the holidays, but flights are just too expensive (close to 1500USD per person). But, we did find cheap flights to Ireland, so we are going there instead! We leave tomorrow (Christmas Eve, or Heiligenabend, if you're in Germany) morning. Christmas in Belfast and New Years in Dublin?! Yes please!
- Meghan -