A Cathedral, Cologne and Chocolate in Köln.

The beautiful cathedral is a landmark that stands out even among the Christmas markets
It is hard to capture it in a viewfinder
The detailing is stunning

It’s almost unimaginable that this architectural masterpiece was started in 1248, long before modern building tools and equipment were available.

After being left unfinished in 1473 for hundreds of years it was finally completed in 1880. Now the most visited landmark in Germany, it survived bombing during World War II although it was badly damaged. Still, almost everything surrounding it was flattened, and it was restored in 1956. Since then, maintenance repairs are continual. The Cologne Cathedral has an extensive and interesting history.

Cologne also has a more fragrant history. Some might say that it is the birthplace of fragrance as eau de Cologne has been made here since 1709 by the Farina House. The house still has a small collection of scents, including ones based on astrological signs but it is most notable for hosting the Fragrance Museum.

Cologne shop and museum

The museum is only open on guided tours (currently 5 euros). While they are offered in several languages, reservations are a must. You can make them online or in person.

Cologne is also home to the classic German 4771 cologne.

Since around 1799, the spicy citrus notes of 4771 have delighted fragrance lovers. It still has a flagship store in Cologne.

The eye-catching “The Golden Bird” artwork atop the Cologne City Museum arrived in 1991. The museum itself is much older, as it is housed in a former armory from the 26th century.

Instead of “when pigs fly”, “when cars fly.”

There are lots of interesting museums in Cologne, from Roman artifacts to a mustard museum. I’d like to come back here and spend a week exploring, and museum hopping.

The mustard museum

One museum I took time to see was the Chocolate Museum, a well curated and informative museum for all ages. Yes, I got free samples. We also topped off our visit with hot chocolate in the Chocolate cage

Giant chocolate bears
Chocolate molds
The chocolate mascot guides kids to kid friendly displays
An early chocolate butter press
Modern high tech equipment
A chocolate fountain where the lady dipped wafers in warm chocolate for guests

They also had the option of purchasing a custom chocolate bar specifically for you. Yum. 45 minute wait for that–just enough time to drink a hot chocolate.

Another museum had a display of Oskar, the friendly policeman public relations art.

And of course there were multiple Christmas markets. The fun details were adorable.

A polar bear and his elf
Elves riding their own ski lift
Traditional market fronts
Lots of Christmas tents in front of chocolate museum

Strike Season in Germany

Our plans for today were derailed, literally, by a massive rail strike in Germany. We got to the rail station a few minutes before our train was due to depart and saw an alarming amount of multi hour delays popping up on the boards. What the heck?

The departure board filled with delays

A nice civil engineer who was also hoping to travel explained. “It’s the strike” she said. “It will end at 9 am but the trains, especially the international ones will be all snarled up till tomorrow.” She thought our local train to Cologne (Köln) might run somewhat on schedule so we waited awhile. But soon it became clear that we weren’t going anywhere today. It also explained why last night’s train was stuffed to overflowing. Germans knew the strike was likely, and were rushing to their destinations early.

It could possibly also explained the preponderance of extremely lackadaisical conductors on that train. They probably weren’t interested in conducting but merely being sure to get home before the strike started. It was only a four hour strike but affected such key personnel that the railways were totally immobilized.

So, we went to pull Euros from the ATM, and it didn’t work either. It had been locked when we used it the night before. Since it was Sunday in the states, we couldn’t call to straighten it out till the next day. I had U.S. dollars in cash, so we went to the bank. No account, no money exchange. So we asked the hotel if they exchanged money. No, but she arranged to go with us to her bank which would do the exchange through her account. We opted to try one more thing before making her leave her post to help us. We used another ATM card and withdrew enough Euros for the rest of the trip as we hadn’t called this bank to let them know we were traveling so it would probably be locked after one use.

So we aren’t going to go hungry and it’s another rainy day in Koblenz. So we had a nice hot lunch with beer and wandered around the Christmas market.

Sometimes, our travel “disasters” are really memorable, at least when they’re over. What are yours?

Travel Travails But Still Fun

Ray and I learned some lessons about German trains today. It wasn’t horrible but I want to pass on what we learned to other travelers so you don’t make our mistakes.

We were on our way to Heidelberg, when they announced the Stuttgart station. Whoops. That’s further along the train route than Heidelberg. We were at the right platform at the right time so we either forgot to check the side panel on the train to confirm our train number or Ray didn’t double-check the itinerary for that particular train to make sure it wasn’t an express. In either case, we went the right direction but didn’t stop at our city. It wasn’t a big deal. We got off in Stuttgart, did our research and were on a train that did stop in Heidelberg within about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I did not pick up a brand new Porsche while we were in Stuttgart.

Later, when we returned from Heidelberg at about 5 pm on a Sunday night (peak time), we didn’t have a seat for half the trip because having a pass or ticket guarantees one a ride on the train but not a seat. Seats are reserved separately. Normally, that’s not an issue but this was peak travel time and and an ice 1 style train (so lots of compartments, fewer seats, and most riders had reserved seats (a separate process.) So if you’re traveling on Friday or Sunday evening, it might be worth booking a seat on the train you’ll be using.

Despite those minor glitches, we had a great time in Heidelberg. Coming out of the railway station, there was an ocean of bikes. In the distance we could see a cool statue.

A closer view if the statue
Another wild statue in one of the squares

There were also done huge wall murals but I spotted them on the way back when we we’re getting drenched so I didn’t try got pictures.

Heidelberg was also decorated for the holidays

Not sure whether this is a cat or a bear. Still cute
Christmas roses were on sale everywhere
I especially liked these star lights against the steeples in the distance
So what’s unique about a hip hop hotel?
I thought the Coyote Cafe was in Santa Fe!
Lamy’s flagship store was not open on Sunday

But I got pics of the pens in their windows. Drool.

And their website has great pics of the interior.

For my perfume loving friends, there was a perfume store. Closed on Sunday, of course.
Interesting mix of Christmas and woodsman chic
Ray needed this beer!
My delicious maultaschen (meat filled pockets) along with spicy potato salad
Ray had weiswurst (white sausage) and pretzels
Not sure what the deal is with moose’s but they’re everywhere we’ve been in Germany

So it was a great day; we learned a lot, and we made it back safely to our hotel. What more can one ask?

Train trip to Cochem

After a quick walk to the train station, we hopped on the first train to Cochem. Once on, we showed our 7-day rail pass to the conductor, who stamped it with a start date. He was supposed to check our passports as well but I guess we looked sufficiently foreign so he skipped that step.

Cochem is a picturesque town

A cute train for the children’s Christmas

Gnomes in the garden
High water marks for two horrible floods. Now flood protection prevents this sort of devastation.
Everything was decorated for Christmas
Gingerbread houses to go
Weird little figures on the fountain in the square
The squares (several) are all decorated

Waffles with fruit (in this case, cherries) and sherry whipped cream or ice cream are a big hit here. After trying one, they’re a big hit with us!
Ray had a pressed ham hock terrine and potatoes with his beer. It was served cold in a gelatin.
Hot cocoa is always nice on a rainy day
Goat milk cheese with red peppers and parsley on a thin cracker crust was my lunch choice
Interesting mosaic mural

After a day in the rain, we picked up wine and headed home.

A castle along the route home

We picked up wonderful fresh German bread and had a supper of Rhein spätlese wine and bread.

Pastry, Pens, and Pizza

Ray and I overslept and missed breakfast at our hotel. So we compensated by rolls and coffee at a nearby candy/cafe shop and cafe. The marmalade was great and the rolls were incredible. My coffee was a hot chocolate with espresso, drizzled with chocolate. The shop was a chocolate lover’s delight.

Lots of truffles in boxes, fancy pineapple shaped boxes, and more
Those cakes we’re enough to make one hungry even if you’d just eaten
Truffles, truffles, and more truffles

As part of the Christmas celebration, they made an ice rink with these little pelikans to help beginning skaters

More Christmas pictures
The pen and stationery store
Really nice staff. Pens were primarily Mont Blanc, Caran d’ache, Lamy, and Parker

Street food sausages and glühwein (hot mulled wine)
A bench made out of skateboards

We went back to the hotel for a while, and then, because it was raining pretty hard, went to an Italian restaurant a few doors down for pizza and beer. Their door had a master card logo on it but when we went to pay, they said no credit cards. Fortunately, we had euros. And the pizza was excellent.

Christmas in Koblenz

Not only are we in Germany for the Christmas markets, as these pictures attest, but we were here for a very important holiday recognizing Sinter Klass, a German version of Santa Clauss who arrives on December 6 and puts treats in the freshly polished shoes of little children. I’m not sure how the popularity of athletic shoes affects the custom, and my seat mate couldn’t tell me.

These little Christmas creatures intrigued me
Glüwein is a hot mulled wine. Great stuff!

Customized Christmas cookies
Saw this over the top formal dress in a shop window on the way back to our hotel and had to include it.

And now I’m off to bed.

Jet Lagged Fun in Koblenz

Lufthansa air was a class act. Also my seat mate and one of the stewards helped us practice our German. I didn’t manage to sleep on the plane, but despite that, we managed to successfully use the ticket machine and get the first train to Koblenz. It literally arrived as we walked to the platform.

Me looking silly on flight

Using the rail ticket machine. Google pay didn’t work there.

The rail machine had flags representing about 8 different languages so we really didn’t have to use the German screens but we did anyway.

One complication: the departure board didn’t show Koblenz. Fortunately, Google navigate did and with Google fi coverage we were able to find the correct train at the correct platform, and more importantly, get off at the correct station. On the train ride, it was still dark, as our plane arrived at 5 am, so we were able to see the Christmas lights in passing towns and reflected on the Rhein river.

It was still dark when we arrived in Koblenz but we bumbled our way to our lovely hotel, Hotel Brenner. This lovely family owned hotel showed us the best of European hospitality. If we had shown up early to an American hotel, they would check our bags and tell us to come back much later. Instead, this hotel graciously rushed to get our room cleaned, and allowed us to check in early.

After out tight quarters in Boston, we were thrilled to have this lovely, large room. The beds had little packets of Haribo gummy bear candies on them. I swore I was not going to sleep but I took a nap. Later, the manager offered us an even larger room since we were going to be here so long, but we said we were happy with this one.

A cute little dressing table and coffee service
The shower room. There’s a separate toilet room.
View from our room

After my nap, we went for a walk. It had rained earlier but was warm and cloudy this afternoon. Very pleasant. A pedestrian/bike underpass had these cute murals.

The Rhein
Fortress at Ehrenbreitstein
Schloss Koblenz (Koblenz castle)
The Rhein river area in Koblenz is a UNESCO site
Preussisches Regierunggebaude (Prussian Government building)
Cute restaurants and apartments with Riverside views
Cable cars only run on weekends off season
Cable car trestle
Doggy bag station
Beautiful out of season blooming tree
The Viking ship we saw was much bigger than I had imagined. It looked like the cabins had great views.
A strange lion image at the Ecke

Koblenz Eck with statue of Wilhem I.

Pieces of Berlin Wall
Deutche Kaiser, our restaurant for the afternoon.
The local beer, Koblenzer, is quite good
Ray had schnitzel with mushrooms
I had a vegetarian dish with apples, potatoes, and greens

We did quite a bit more but jet lag is claiming me again so I’ll tell you about zinterclaus tomorrow.