Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dreaming of a white Christmas Market in Cologne

Our short trip to Germany two weeks ago to visit the country’s popular tourist attraction during the holiday season, the Christmas Markets (in Keulen), was probably the ultimate of all Christmas Markets I have ever seen and visited. It was dreamlike, the heavens snowed and everything was covered in immaculate white!
It was a bizarre yet enjoyable kind of experience really, starting with the mad snowfall the night before and waking up to ten centimeters of snow on the ground the next day. Thick snow was jacketing the highways, we saw cars and trucks slipping while some have stalled, others were stuck mercilessly on the shoulder. Ugh, the horrible traffic, the long hours spent inside the car driving at a slow sixty kilometers per hour on the no-speed limit autobahns of Germany. What else? Oh, we got lost too. We debated if K-Centrum stands for Koln Centrum or something else until it was too late to maneuver the vehicle to the K-Centrum exit lane which resulted to us missing the ‘right exit’, bummer, followed by a heated discussion and pouring over maps of South Germany, lol—enough of my Benelux navigator, I am getting a European-wide road navigator and a map of North Germany. Soon.

Booth stands in Heumarkt selling Christmas trinkets and food and drinks, one of the few fotos I took while there was still daylight.

Warm gluhwein (mulled wine) and chocomelk met slagroom (chocomilk with whipped cream). Foto on the right are huge bretzels.

There was a little carnival with a ferris wheel and skating rink in the Heumarkt. Middle foto, an outside bar with barrels as tables, and foto on the far right are gingerbread Christmas cookies decorated in coloured icing, a typical German thing... remember Hansel and Gretel of the Grimm Brothers tales?

Well we finally got to Cologne and we were starving. MadamE’s kids could have gobbled anything on sight when we stepped into the first Christmas Market stalls in Heumarkt. Quickly we treated ourselves with Deutsche fare and gluhwein while the kids had chocomelk. Dutchman regretted not taking chocomelk and swore next time he will stay away from gluhwein, or anything wine for that matter.

This is why I love bringing Dutchman to gatherings where alcohol is the main supply. He is and will always be my BOB. Bob is an acronym that means: Bewuste Onbeschonken Bestuurder, in other words, a driver without a trace of alcohol in his or her system. The police here in the Netherlands are very fond of taking spot controls on the roads (just before exiting to the highways) which usually happens during the whole month of December (hear: Christmas parties) and during Fridays all throughout the year when people go to bars for some borrel after work.

The imposing Dom Kolner in the background of the Christmas Markets by the cathedral's grounds. It was quite busy there as you can see.

We came upon this nativity stall made of bronze, on the foto are the three kings (or three magis, three wise men) - Did you know that you can find the relics of the three kings in the Dom cathedral? That's us taking a souvenir foto by the nativity stall. Mr. MadamE did not join us but Dutchman did.

One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, the gothic Dom Kolner (Cologne Cathedral), a UNESCO world heritage.

The front grounds of the Dom Cathedral, love the snow covered grounds, and then me and MadamE in the cafe restaurant having our tea and coffee. I look and feel a bit puffed up here--that's what winter does to me. I've since cut my hair, the other day, its now a bit shorter.

Here is a one-minute video that Dutchman took of the busy Christmas Market by the Dom Cathedral grounds. The lighted beautiful gezellig stalls, the snow covered grounds and the bells ringing in the background perfected the Christmas Market ambiance!

Anyway, we trolled the Christmas Markets a bit, checking out many stands and their interesting-exotic wares and goodies and buying some stuff here and there. Took a lot of pictures obviously and visited the Dom Kolner. There was a Eucharist service going on and two sacristans in white gowns with matching red sashes were strictly guarding the entrance where the pew starts. It looks like tourists are not invited for the Eucharistic celebration unless you can manage to convince them you are there to attend mass and not to take pictures.

Later, as expected the inevitable happened. Dutchman and MadamE’s daughters were having a snowball fight, lol. Ach children... unfortunately, this big kid of mine will stay as a kid forever. With the snowball fight and the hours spent strolling, we had enough of the bitter cold so we found a nice café restaurant and warmed ourselves with a nice cup of tea and coffee. Unlike in the Netherlands, in Germany and I noticed this also in most countries, they don’t serve cookies with your coffee and tea. Far be it to be served a warm drink in the Netherlands without a cookie! I am not joking.

We would have stayed longer in Cologne had the weather cooperated. The snow was lovely and magical but unfortunately it was the day when the heavens poured snow on Europe like a bag of flour into a bowl.

Time was running late and it was past 7PM so we decided to take our dinner. An enriching way of experiencing the Christmas Markets in Germany is eating out from the food stalls offering delicious German traditional fares and standing in the cold, with the snow falling down while huddled-knuckles freezing-together and munching on food like hundreds of Christmas Markets visitors do. Would have been nicer if there was a bonfire to complete the whole scene. We had those gigantic grilled meat on a stick for dinner. I am not a carnivore but I swear this one was yummy.

More fotos of the Christmas Markets in Cologne, on the left is a stage with table poles decorated with Christmas decors and its beer sponsor logo. Looks like there will be a play or music later that evening. On the right foto is a shop selling Christmas decors.

The grill house grilling meats on jumbo barbecue sticks. The beef was yummy. Next foto are bretzels again coated with chocoloate, cinnamon and almond nuts.

Dreamlike hazy images of Cologne's Christmas Markets.... I like these shots even though they are blurry.

More fotos here: Cologne Christmas Markets - Cologne, Germany

Then, we are huiswaarts...

The snow was picking up so we were glad we are back safe inside the car but after half an hour of driving we realized we were on a different highway moving towards a different town. Heated discussion ensued, of course, ugh what else and again pouring over not relevant maps my eyes glazed to no avail. We tanked halfway and a bright idea flashed before me—I sneaked over to the tank station shop and found the shelves and flipped through the maps on sale, hehe. So it looks like there is an exit farther down the highway going to Oberhausen. Wat een opluchting!

Indeed there was an exit. Seeing Oberhausen on the traffic board calm us all down, we can now sit tight with our seat belts on and enjoy the loooong ride back to the Netherlands on the snow clogged highways amidst the long-drawn-out traffic. Oberhausen is the biggest German city near the Dutch border nearby Arnhem (the fastest route to Utrecht).

Dutch father said we are crazy to have braved the drive to Germany and back that Sunday... but it was an adventure we will never forget and regret =)


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