The road to Cologne was the longest – distance-wise – of any of our weekend trips so far, but even the driving rain that followed us for over 200 kilometers on the way back did little to dampen our enjoyment of this little adventure.
We have read in many travel publications that German markets are unlike anywhere in Europe during Christmas. Because we knew that we had limited time, and our research suggested that Köln hosted several different markets all by itself, we decided to eschew touring different places, and instead concentrate on just one city.
The trip turned out almost perfect.
Almost, because the weather could certainly have been better. We hoped for snow, but nope, no chance of that. Rain forecast thankfully barely materialized, but it was sufficiently cold and windy to be less than pleasant. No matter, we spent parts of Friday and Sunday and almost all of Saturday strolling around bustling markets and festive streets.
Germans know how to celebrate Christmas, which my girls, now perpetually disappointed with the dullness of British celebrations, did not neglect to immediately notice. There are lights and decorations everywhere. Numerous Santa figurines greet customers at almost every shop. Lots of people – tourists, most likely, – wear Santa hats or reindeer antlers.
And the markets are just like we imagined them.
Wooden stalls sell all kinds of souvenirs, trinkets, jewelry, craftwork, toys, clothes, etc. Food stalls interspersed in between vend different combinations of sausages, potato pancakes, waffles, crèpes, pizza, ethnic dishes to satisfy any hunger. Right by food stalls are the ones vending hot fortified wine, glühwein, dispensed in souvenir clay mugs specific to each particular market (you can choose to return your mug for a refund, but very few people – except those who have more than one go at a time – do). There are carousels for the kids, occasional musical performances, and interesting stuff on display to occupy your attention for hours.
(Yes, the last sentence came from an avowed non-shopper. Market-browsing is so not about buying stuff!)
We managed to visit six different markets in various parts of the city center. Some of them stood out more than others.
The Dom market has the benefit of nestling against the monumental Cathedral on a wide square. It is seemingly the biggest and the busiest of them all.
The market on Rudolfplatz is, conversely, the smallest. But it is decorated with scenes from various fairy tales, some with moving figurines, which goes very well with children. The location – in front of the old city gate, Nahnentorburg, – gives it additional bona fides.
The Medieval market by the Chokoladenmuseum is the only one requiring an entrance fee, which at 2.50 per adult is entirely worth it. The stalls here house artisans who demonstrate their skills in making things traditional way. The food is also less modern, and quite tastier than standard offerings. There are plenty of performance on hand, from troubadours to hand-puppet shows.
The other places – Neumarkt, Heumarkt, Alter Markt – all offered interesting browsing possibilities. Which we exploited to the fullest, including carousel rides, food, several rounds of glühwein for adults (Natasha liked it, I not so much) and quite a number of trinkets and souvenirs.
We did take a break for a stop at the Köln Dom, which boasts one of the most vivid stainglass collection that I have ever seen. The city is also home to a dozen of beautiful Romanesque churches, but just like the first time that we had been here, we did not visit any. This time, by design.
The girls, though, managed to get in two swimming sessions at the pool in the hotel, and we had two dinners with the family of my old childhood friend who made Cologne their home years ago.
Mission perfectly accomplished. A fantastic trip!
Most of our market buys are now hanging on the New Year Tree that Natasha and the girls bought and decorated today…