Cologne tastes as good as it smells

Cologne, Germany, that is. I had read a few weeks ago that Cologne hosts the absolute best Christmas markets in Europe, so why not kick off the holidays by taking a mini-vacation there? We just spent the weekend in this awesome little city. It was a glorious, gluttonous frenzy for us as 1) We love food and 2) the markets were full of it. Oh, and we love the holidays! It definitely got us into the spirit.

We started it off right by taking the Bahn train from Amsterdam to Köln (as it’s properly spelled) on Friday morning (after a glorious Thanksgiving, see previous post). In about two and a half relaxing hours, we were there. For about half the price and half the hassle of flying, it was a nice change from all our previous airborne trips within Europe. Over the next couple of days, we did a ton of eating, drinking and sight-seeing. Here is a quick recap:

Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral: This is the big, famous market on the Dom Square. It was so festive! With the famous cathedral as the backdrop and adorable red tents, it was impossible not to be excited for the holidays. Great food and gift ideas, but also HUGE crowds. Like, people breathing on your food everywhere you turn. However, it made for good people watching. Here are some samples of what we ate:

Angels Market: Our favorite. We accidentally stumbled upon this one while roaming the streets the first night. It was the most beautiful by far; at night the trees were lit up with paper stars. So magical! Here we had our fair share of Glühwein, a hot spiced wine that we occasionally enhanced with rum. Delicious. This is also the location of best food of the weekend: smoked salmon sandwiches got a unanimous vote (from all 2 of us) as top food. I honestly could have eaten this a dozen more times throughout the weekend.

Home of the Gnomes: This one was cute, but definitely geared toward the kiddies. We didn’t mind strolling past all the intricately decorated gnome huts or ice-skating rink with hot Glühwein or spiked apple cider in our hands though.

Cologne Harbor Christmas Market: Our least favorite. Hah. How could I say that about a Christmas market? Where is my Christmas cheer? Oh that’s right, I left it at the other three where I had already consumed my weight in Glühwein and bratwurst. Also, it was the least scenic and the least crowded. Not surprisingly, this led to a mediocre visit. I think our opinion was also influenced by the fact that we had not sat down all day and were already full from all the other 1,000 vendors we had hit up at other markets. Is there such a thing as Christmas market overload? I’m starting to think so.

Museum Ludwig: A great art museum right next to the Dom. Decent galleries of Andy Warhol and Picasso. The best exhibit was a temporary photo collection of Picasso throughout his life. He seemed like a cool dude!

My favorite piece:

Documentation Centre and Gestapo Prison: Whenever I travel, I try to do at least one historical site and this was high up there on the Lonely Planet suggestions for Cologne. I had no idea how sad and horrifying it would be. The prison in the basement is still intact and you can see the inmates’ scrawlings on the walls. You also learn about the rise of National Socialism, how the movement swept Germany, and the German side of World War Two. Wow. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for my life of freedom and comfort. Seriously, being in a place like this makes you stop and think – Wow, I have it so good. I suppose that is the intention in preserving a site like this though. We left with renewed gratitude for our lives.

That’s all, folks! We did a lot with a little, no? In three days, we did not sit for one meal. Or drink. Or anything. Even breakfast was grabbed from a bakery on the go. It. Was. Exhausting. I highly recommend being more prepared than I was and bring very, very, very, VERY comfortable shoes. Even if you think stacked heel boots are usually pretty comfortable, even if you have multiple Dr. Scholl’s inserts, don’t risk it unless you know you can walk for miles. Don’t ask Jaro how much I whined complained calmly discussed my aching feet every night. “Sore” subject for both of us. Ba-dump-ching! Yeah, that’s right, pun intended. I am my father’s daughter.

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The Three Moscow-teers

I have to admit, I’m fairly proud of myself for coming up with that one. It couldn’t be more fitting! Our three pals from Moscow (all of whom are originally from Chicago) escaped the Russian tundra and came for a visit this past weekend. It. Was. Great. We had only met them upon our visit to Moscow a few weeks ago, but we bonded instantly over our expat commonalities (and Chicago roots). Sam, Cristina and Liz quickly became dear friends.

They arrived late on Thursday, so we didn’t get going on the tour de Amsterdam until Friday. As you will see, this trip largely revolved around something very important: FOOD. After stopping in our corner bakery for some seriously fresh pastries, we hustled over to the Anne Frank Huis, since the girls planned ahead and bought time slot tickets online. No, I still haven’t been because we are waiting for our permanent residency cards to get the Amsterdam museum membership. It takes forever to get those dam cards! Pun intended. 🙂 Anyway, our Moscow-teers said it was a completely emotional and moving experience. I just finished reading Anne Frank’s Diary for about the hundredth time, so I can’t wait to get in there.

I met back up with them afterward and we strolled through the Jordaan neighborhood, which is a maze of canal-lined streets filled with boutiques and cafes. Did I mention the weather was perfect? Well, it was. We then treated ourselves to lunch at my favorite spot, De Duvel.  It was a true “ladies who lunch” complete with wine and mayo fries. I know, what a combination. After a quick reprieve at our apartment, we got back out there and wandered down one of my favorite streets, Utretchsestraat. It’s another one that, yes, is filled with boutiques, cafes and pubs. Jaro came to meet us for a drink and then we squeezed into a place I’ve been wanting to try for awhile: Pata Negra. It has a Michelin star and now I know why! Delicious tapas and sangria. Followed that with the obligatory quick sprint through the Red Light District and ended the night at a bar in the Old South area.

Saturday rolled around and after a lazy morning, we walked through the Albert Cuyp Market (er’eyday I’m shufflin’):

Then, we went to the museum district to take such tourist photos:

Cristina and I followed that up with a quick bite o’ herring! This place was actually pretty good, so I’ll happily take future guests here to give it a try:

Everyone else withheld since we were heading to another food venue anyway. We took a canal cruise around the city (complete with local beverages) and hopped off at the Jordaan, where we went to the Noordermarkt, a farmer’s market that we knew our visitors would adore. We all stocked up on tons of treats. Birthday boy scarfed down this fresh-off-the-bone ham sandwich:

Was it Jaro that ate it or his mustache? We may never know.

After more strolling around streets that look like this:

and this:

we headed back to our place to get ready for Jaro’s birthday dinner at one of our favorite Indian African Middle Eastern restaurants, Bazar! It’s right in the hood. We all gorged and basically had to come home and just… sit. And groan. Happy birthday?

Sunday! Jaro’s real birthday! The Moscow-teers had tickets to Van Gough (again, we are waiting), so we met up with them after. With our food barely digested from the night before, we headed to Spang Makandra, an Indonesian restaurant, for birthday lunch and launched into food coma #2 for the weekend. Ginger beer and 4 sampler meals will do that to you. 

What a great weekend. It was so nice to have people here to help celebrate Jaro’s birthday. It was also validating for me to show people around and watch them fall in love with this beautiful city. Life is good.