11 December, 2011

Weekendje Weg - Christmas Markets, Cologne

I can’t believe that it’s December already?  Where did this year go?

We’ve just come home from our very last Weekendje Weg for the year.  That makes it twelve, yes twelve planned trips abroad this year, one a month (actually it worked out to be more, but we’ll stick to twelve for the purposes of this post) every month since January.  Needless to say, I’m pretty chuffed with the achievement.

This month is Christmas Market month in Germany and it’s basically compulsory that we visit at least one every year.  In the past we have been to Muenster, Essen and Aachen, and this year we decided to brave Cologne.  So did the rest of the free world, apparently.

Getting to Cologne was a breeze.  Couple of hours on the freeway and traffic (for a change) was quite reasonable, plus the weather was perfect.  We found a park within minutes and were in amongst it almost straight away.

What I hadn’t counted on was the crowds.  Obviously I expected the city to be busy, it’s the lead up to Christmas after all, but oh my goodness.  There was a couple of protest groups on the Dom square and just getting into the market at the Dom was a nightmare.  Shoving, pushing, shuffling, and just general antisocial behaviour.  Before I had even looked at a stall I was fed up.

We took some time out by visiting the Dom.  The Cologne cathedral is reportedly the tallest gothic structure in the world and wow!  I had to crane my neck to see the top, and couldn’t fit it all into one frame on my camera.  And inside, it was just as impressive.  Although it was almost as busy in there as it was outside in the Christmas markets!  Still, well worth the visit.  Next time I’ll make sure I go in January when it’s very cold and on a Monday.  Just to appreciate it better!

The Cologne Cathedral.  Massive.

Couldn't even get half of it in the frame!
Purely by coincidence a big group of my friends were also visiting Cologne for the Christmas Markets, so we had big plans to meet up somewhere, but after being shoved around at the third market (as they’re dotted all over the city centre) I had had enough.  I shouted at a French guy who took the levels of crowd etiquette too far and realised that it was time to go. We never did find a place to rendezvous, but I'm sure they had a fabulous time!

We decided to head back to our hotel in Neuss for some relaxation time and brave the Christmas market there later in the evening instead.  We booked a room at the Mecure Hotel in Neuss via our new favourite booking site, hotelspecials.nl for the princely sum of 59 euros for two including breakfast.  I like to reflect on how we’ve progressed this year, beginning in Ghent at a Formule 1 Hotel and ending in Neuss in a Mecure.

The hotel itself was really comfortable.  We were in a bed that was actually one bed, rather than two pushed together (which is something very common in Germany and the Netherlands I find) and although the room was small, it wasn’t Barcelona small and it had all the necessary trimmings.  Breakfast was fabulous, with a huge selection of food on offer.  I managed to gorge myself, as usual!

In the evening we headed into Neuss, which incidentally claims the title of “Germany’s oldest city,” as it’s built on a former Roman settlement to have some dinner and check out the Christmas market there.  The market was so much more civilised.  There were less stalls though, but more food.  And the people were all really enjoying their gluhwein and the live music.  The scene fit the definition of “Gezellig” in my eyes perfectly.  

We ate at the Haus am Markt, which was very busy and the food and service was really very good.  Even though it seemed to be booked out (Christmas parties), they managed to squeeze us in without any trouble  The table next to us all ordered steaks (out with Grandma, who was most likely paying the bill!) that looked so good my mouth watered.  I’m now counting the days until I have my baby, just so I can have a mammouth piece of steak with a glass of Coonawarra Cabernet.  I could have ordered steak, but I couldn’t face ruining it by having it served well done.

So, back to the Christmas market, and the entire point of this particular weekendje weg.  What did I think, really?  Well, Cologne is much too big and there are just too many tourists there for my liking.  I find at smaller markets (like Muenster or Essen), the crowds are mostly German, and incredibly polite.  There is sometimes a bit of pushing, but it’s usually just at the entrances and exits.  Inside, everyone knows the rules (stay to the right, don’t push and don’t stop without stepping out of the way a bit first).  However, at Cologne it was one big free-for-all and really not enjoyable for me.  I enjoyed it so little, I did not spend one cent.  Nothing (lunch and gluhwein for Maarten doesn’t count, obviously).

If I decide to go back to a market next Christmas, it will most definitely be to a smaller city.  Maybe back to Aachen (my favourite German city).  Or perhaps we’ll brave Dortmund (with Europe’s tallest Christmas tree).  It’s even more likely that I’ll be chained to the house with a nine month old child...!

Have you been to the German Christmas markets in Cologne or somewhere else?  What did you think?  Where’s a location that you would recommend?

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