(fyi, that word^ was one of the two things I said while visiting Germany, the other being danke schön. Thankfully, it got me around places, and thankfully, the Germans speak English, anyway, so no room for miscommunication! Saved that for Spain, but that’s another story…).
During my stay in Aachen, I also made a day trip over to Cologne, which is an hour away by car. With that said, I woke up super early (6h00) to get ready and make my way over to the train station where I met up with my BlaBlaCar driver to make the morning commute over to Cologne, arriving at the main train station where he dropped me off around 7h45. Since it was super dark (the sun hadn’t risen yet), I decided to wait around inside of the station to wait until the sun rose (at 8h30) to head out and explore the city.
As soon as it got light outside, I went outside of the train station, and upon exiting, I was greeted by the Cologne Cathedral, towering right above me in all of its Gothic splendor. Entered it, and spent some time inside admiring the towering nave and silence, since it was still early for people to visit.
I was also interested in climbing the cathedral to the top for the city views, since I love a good view and would climb towers just to see it from up above. However, the tower didn’t open until 9h00, so I hung around the Christmas market next to the cathedral (wasn’t open yet, since it was still early) and later I headed into the cathedral tower where I paid 2 euros to climb the exactly 533 steps (as I’m told) up to the top. The climb was tiring and took about 20 minutes, but the views were stunning once I made it. Again, it was early in the morning, so there was no one at the top, so I got to enjoy the nippy, but beautiful views of the buildings, cathedral, and the Rhine River below. Super nice.
I went down afterwards and left to explore the rest of the city. Wandered through Alter Markt, a square near the Rhine River with cute, colorful Renaissance houses along the sides. There was also a Christmas market taking place, but again it wasn’t open yet because it was still early. Nevertheless, I was very charmed by the houses, which somehow reminded me of that of Gamla Stan’s in Stockholm, Sweden, which I’d visited four years before.
Also tried to see the Rathaus (town hall) of Cologne, but I couldn’t actually get through into it, because I’d happened to stumble upon some sort of police force/wedding ceremony there- apparently, the chief of the police force was getting married, with him and his wife all dressed up for the occasion. So I didn’t get to visit the Rathaus, but it wasn’t a big deal.
Around lunchtime, I headed over to Peters Brauhaus which is situated near Alter Markt. I’d heard that it was one of the most famous brewery restaurants in the city, and so I was really keen on trying some of their local dishes, let alone good German food.
With that said, I went in around 11h00 and started it off by ordering Kölsch, which is a beer specifically made in Cologne, and then Himmel un Ääd, which translates to “Heaven and Earth” and is essentially a plate of mashed potatoes and applesauce (sort of like latkes and applesauce during Hanukkah) served alongside with blutwurst, or black pudding. I actually hadn’t had black pudding before, and so me being an adventurous eater, I was interested in giving it a try, and I actually found it quite tasty! I can imagine many people being put off by the fact that it’s made from pig’s blood, but personally, that doesn’t faze me, since I’ve grown up eating (and loving) pig’s blood cake from my Taiwanese household, so having the German version was a novel, delicious experience. The Kölsch wasn’t too bad, and even though I don’t really like beer, I respect the fact that its super-crispy, bubbly texture was an indicator of it being a well-crafted beer, so I guess it was good in that way.
The lunch ended up being quite filling and not very expensive (under 12 euros!). Full and happy, I left the restaurant and took a short stroll along the quay right outside of it, before heading up to cross over the Hohenzollern Bridge, the main bridge that serves railway connections, to the other side of the Rhine River. On the pedestrian side of the bridge, there were a million love locks that adorned the fence, just like the iconic ones in Paris along the Seine- there’s just too many lovebirds in the world to fit them all!
Crossed over the bridge to get the famous view that is shown on almost all of the postcards of Cologne, with the Hohenzollern Bridge off to the side with views of the Rhine River and the cathedral in the background. You can bet that I snapped photo after photo of the same scenery, just to get the best one, and I also asked a Chinese family to take a photo of me with the background. Granted, it’s a popular, touristy spot, but I can see why with the views!
I crossed the bridge again back to the side that I was originally on, and walked along the quay over to the Schokoladenmuseum, or the “chocolate museum.” For me, having a voracious sweet tooth, I was curious in checking it out! Admission was around 6,50 euros with the “student discount,” and for the next hour or two, I went through the extensive exhibitions that displayed things like the components of the cacao bean that’s used to make chocolate, how it’s harvested and produced in the factories, and its history in relation to African/South American and European trade. All of it was quite fascinating, but in the end, I did feel like it was a bit too gimmicky and touristy to be worth 6,50 euros. All the same, it was a fun experience.
I left the museum and ended up heading all the way back to the cathedral, then making a stop inside the train station to use the Wifi and see if the BlaBlaCar with whom I was suppose to head back to Aachen in the evening had responded to my messages on where to meet for being picked up. However, there was no response and I started to panic, since it was starting to get late and I’d already paid for the ride- my thoughts were if I could even get back at all, and if I was getting cheated of my money from this driver. All the same, I decided to give it some more time, sending another message and heading out again to head across the city to St. Gereon’s Basilica, which I’d seen from photos online that it had stunning stained-glass windows inside. Multi-colored and each uniquely-shaped, they certainly didn’t disappoint when I entered, and I was happy to have made the trip over to check them out.
Returned to the cathedral (again, it’s a natural draw, being so close to the train station and in the heart of the city), where I visited the Christmas market next to it. It was already getting dark around 16h30(!), and so I took advantage of it to experience the market lights and winter atmosphere at night. As you saw from the first photo in this post, the cathedral’s Christmas market was essentially covered under a tent of lights, which gave everything under it– the stalls, the food, the Christmas tree–a magical, surreal charm to it. I fell in love with it, as I felt as if I was a little kid again during the holidays. Of course, I had some more mulled wine, as well as got spätzle, which is an egg noodle dish with cheese originally from Germany and Austria, and what I consider a “classier mac n’ cheese.” It’d been a long while since I last had it, and I was so happy to have gotten it again, because it was absolutely delicious. Having hot food and drink on an otherwise chilly winter night just warmed my heart (and my stomach)!
Finally, I returned to the train station to check to see if the BlaBlaCar driver had messaged me for details. No response. At that point, I gave up, knowing that she wasn’t going to come. I ended up reporting the no-show to the company, which ended up refunding me a week later, thank goodness. Granted, it was only 6 euros, but still, it’s money…I caved in and bought a train ticket back to Aachen (close to 20 euros, which is quite pricey) and took it back, arriving around 20h00 and returning to the hostel where I turned in for the rest of the night.
Altogether, I enjoyed Cologne, having spent a long, tiring twelve hours there. It’s definitely a big city, the fourth biggest one in Germany, actually. As I’d wrote in my previous travel post, if Aachen is to the size of Rouen, then Cologne is to that of Paris- it was just so big. Still, I was able to see everything that I wanted to see in one day, and while the Christmas markets were less centralized than the one in Aachen, the decorations and atmosphere were utterly magical.
…and that is it for my trip to Germany this past vacances de Noël: although it was a brief weekend, I saw a lot, ate a lot, and pretty much had a good time discovering more of the country. It has inspired me to visit other places besides Berlin and Munich (two cities which I’ve been to before), and perhaps one day I’ll go (Heidelberg has, interestingly, been on my list for a while now).
More on my holidays to come soon! Next time, I’ll be taking you to the other side of Europe, heading over to warmer climates in Madrid, Spain! Until then. 🙂