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 6th 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?

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.

Off the Beaten Track in Boston

Almost anytime someone goes to Boston, they do the same things. And those are great things: the Freedom Trail, Chinatown, Little Italy, and the JFK library. There are good reasons that these are popular Boston activities and if you haven’t already done them, I highly recommend them. But, if you’ve been to Boston before and are looking for some fun, different activities, here are some to try.

For a different breakfast experience, we went to Clover, a plant based restaurant. Their cranberry, apple, maple oatmeal is awesome, as is their hibiscus iced tea. Ray also liked his veggie sandwich and coffee.

For a free museum that’s slightly on the geeky side, go to Massachusetts General Hospital. Their Museum of Medical History and Innovation will make you extremely grateful to be living in modern times. Here are a few highlights.

Many displays highlighted WWI medicine, like these sleeping bags used by WWI nurses.
A traveling pharmacy from when physicians made house calls.
Diagnosis has improved dramatically thanks to new tools.

One of my favorite exhibits (not shown, sorry) allows one to try and diagnose three patients using results from modern screening tests.

A sample trunk filled with a nursing jacket and bonnet. Considering what those WWI nurses endured, they deserved more serious hats than these little pill boxes.

Surgical tools from the 1800s. They would not have been this clean, either. The relationship between sterile surgery and survival had not yet been established.

Another fun but unexpected destination is the main library. The library has two buildings, the McKim building, a classical building with notable murals, including some by John Singer Sargeant.

The newer building, the Johnson building, is thoroughly modern, and boasts the latest in library services innovations for Boston residents.

Exterior of the old library building

A fun photo opportunity to take a pic of my son and his wife

Walking back, we were able to enjoy the Christmas lights in the Commons.

The Cartier cat is actually across from the commons but too cool to omit!

Finally, make a quick visit to see the adorable burro statue in front of the old city hall (now Ruth Chris). Believe it or not, placing this staue here was controversial as it was Italian and had nothing to do with the American Revolution to justify it being on the Freedom Trail. But finally, it found its place there, delighting all the children who visit. The bright spots on the statue testify to the many children who have petted the little burro.

Sweet Misnamed Treat

What would a stay at the Omni Parker House be like without trying their famous Parker House Boston cream pie? So we tried it! By the way, don’t get your taste buds set for a pie; that is definitely a misnomer. This is a fluffy light sponge cake filled with a thin layer of a light custard rather than the heavy custard associated with eclairs and donuts. There is also no crust, but there is a lovely chocolate topping.

For those who are interested in savoring this treat without traveling to Boston, you can have a 10-12 serving pie/cake shipped to you through Goldbelly for $89. We can verify that these are the original Boston cream pie from the Parker house as we saw crates of them being loaded onto a truck outside the restaurant. Hotel staff also confirmed that Goldbelly only uses their pies.

Old Town is Always New

Explora even looks fun from the outside

I love wandering around Old Town as there is always so much to experience, from shops to museums to live music to festivals.

The museums are exceptional. Explora is a hands on science exploratation place for children. It is so popular with adults that they also offer adult nights.

The Natural History Museum and Planetarium has fun and unusual shores in addition to all those cool dinosaur skeletons. A recent exhibit brought all of Leonardo day Vinci’s inventions to life by making full sized working models. It was extraordinary.

The Planetarium at the Natural History Museum.
A great reminder that Albuquerque is over three hundred years old.

Tiguex Park is a fun place for a picnic and includes some interesting public art.

If you’re interested in Zuni fetishes, New Mexico Bead and Fetish has a great collection.

They offer explanations for what each fetish means

And while you are in Old Town, stop in for some fun candy at Old Town Candy & Sweets.

In addition to great chocolates, they stock all sorts of unusual candies and lunch boxes

San Felipe de Neri is an iconic Southwestern church. It is also still actively used for services, including both traditional and vampire weddings.

Most weekends, this gazebo is filled with entertainers playing music or demonstrating tango.

The entrance to the Albuquerque art museum sculpture garden hints at the delights inside. Its a great place to relax with a coffee and a sketchbook.

A fun mosaic invites you into Old Town

Many of the Albuquerque Museum’s sculptures are in front of the facility.

A recent sculptural addition (about border crossing) in front of the museum needs to be seen from all sides to be fully appreciated.

Wouldn’t you like to wander through Old Town with me?