The following day after getting into Aachen, Germany, I woke up super early to catch a BlaBlaCar ride over to Cologne for a day trip. Considering that the two cities are not very far from each other (an hour away), I thought that I might as well check out another big German city and its Christmas markets (also heard that Cologne’s is one of the biggest out there, so why not?).
Any case, I headed out 6h40, taking the carpool over and arriving at the Cologne main train station around 7h30. Still was dark outside, so I decided to hang out inside of the station, bustling with tourists and people getting to work, until it got lighter to go out and explore.
Around 8h30, I headed out, and upon stepping out of the train station, the Cologne Cathedral loomed right in front of me- it was incredible! I went inside of the cathedral to check out the nave and what else it had to offer; again, it was still early, so there weren’t a lot of people inside, which made it a quiet, peaceful experience.
I also wanted to climb the cathedral to get the city views, but the tower didn’t open until 9h00, so I just wandered around the neighborhood nearby until it was opening time. Cost 2 euros to go up, which wasn’t bad. Lots of flights of stairs (533 steps, I’m told!), which was tiring, but within 15 to 20 minutes, I was at the top, enjoying the views all to myself in the early morning. Was quite nippy at the top, but the lovely look at the buildings, the streets, and the Rhine River were worth the climb.
Afterwards, I descended the flight of stairs, exiting the cathedral and heading off to check out the other sights and sounds of Cologne. Walked over to the Altermarkt, a small, cute plaza with narrow, colorful houses that remind me of those in Gamla Stan in Stockholm. There was a Christmas market in that square, but since it was still early, things were not open yet.
Went over to the Rathaus, but couldn’t really go through because there was some kind of police force/wedding reception going on there (interesting…), but in any case, I wandered around a bit some more before heading over to Peters Brauhaus, a well-known brewery restaurant that served the famous Kölsch beer, local to the city. Got lunch there, ordering Kölsch along with Himmel un Ääd, which translates to “Heaven and Earth” and consists of black pudding (blutwurst), mashed potatoes and apple sauce. Usually, I don’t like beer, much less carbonated, bubbly drinks, but even though the Kölsch beer was uber bubbly, I acknowledged that it was a pretty good, crisp drink and I respected that. The food itself was hearty and tasty; I wasn’t put off by the black pudding, actually, since it didn’t taste much different from pig’s blood cake commonly found in Chinese dishes, which I grew up eating and love. It was a filling and inexpensive lunch, and I was glad to have treated myself a bit to some good, German food.
I finished lunch and headed out to check out the Hohenzollern Bridge, a railway bridge that also lets pedestrians walk on it and allow them to put love locks on it, just like the bridges in Paris. I saw tons of locks of all shapes and sizes and colors while strolling along the bridge. Crossed over and got the iconic view of the bridge along with the cathedral in the background, as well as the tranquil scene of the Rhine River, with long, tour boats passing on it. Perfect for a photo opportunity!
I crossed the bridge again back to where I had started, and then proceeded to walk for a while along the quay over to the Schokoladenmuseum, or the “chocolate museum.” I’d been interested in seeing what it was all about, just because I’m a chocoholic. Paid 6,50 euros for admission, then spent the early afternoon touring through the different exhibitions, from ones talking about where chocolate comes from (cacao beans) to the history of chocolate trade from the Americas and Africa to European consumerism and also to how it is made in the factory (with the whole process for us to see). Definitely a fun museum to check out, but at the end I did find it to be rather gimmicky and touristy; I don’t think it was entirely worth 6,50 euros to visit. All the same, it certainly brought out the sweet tooth in me, and even though I didn’t stay to dine in the museum cafe afterwards (admittedly, those chocolate cakes and confections were very enticing…), I enjoyed myself!
Exited the museum, and I made my way back slowly to the cathedral. I returned to the train station just next to it to use the Wifi and see if the BlaBlaCar driver who I’d booked to go back to Aachen with had responded to my texts on where we were to meet for the carpool. I should’ve known that I wouldn’t receive an answer, just because she hadn’t responded to me a couple of days ago, but in my stubborn mind, I continued to message her to inquire about it, still with no response. Mind you, it was getting late, and I’d already paid her through the website, and the only other option to get back to Aachen was, well, by train. Which would be my last-ditch effort, albeit expensive.
Any case, I decided to check out the Christmas market next to the cathedral in the early evening, when it was dark and the lights came on, as I waited for my BlaBlaCar driver to respond to me. Headed over to the market and really enjoyed weaving through the crowds under this really cool lights-tent that made it truly magical. A band was playing somewhere within earshot, singing popular, tradition Christmas songs and otherwise keeping everyone in good spirits. I bought myself spätzle (a German/Austrian egg noodle dish with cheese. Think a fancier, more-European mac n’ cheese) and of course, mulled wine to warm my spirits. It’d been a while since I had spätzle and having it again really made me happy; it’s the ultimate comfort food!
Close to 18h00, I headed back to the train station to see if the BlaBlaCar driver texted me back. Nope. With that said, I gave up, buying the pricey train ticket to get back to Aachen. I did, however, demanded a refund on the BlaBlaCar website, which I ended up receiving a few days later, thank goodness, but man, that put a real wrench in my travels. Not a huge one, but an annoying one. Any case, I took the train back, arriving around 20h00 in Aachen and returning to my hostel to crash for the rest of the night.
Overall, Cologne was definitely a much larger city than Aachen; my analogy is that, if Aachen is to the size of Rouen in Normandy, then Cologne is that of Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Cologne with all of its things to see and do, but when it came to the Christmas markets, I much preferred Aachen’s, just because Cologne’s were too spread out everywhere to feel tight-knit and communal. Still lovely, but in the end, Aachen’s local feel won me over.
…and that is about it for my visit to Germany over the holidays! However, the fun doesn’t end yet, since for the second half of vacation, I traveled over to Spain. Stay tuned for the next part of my adventures, as I make my way over to Madrid, Spain! Until then. 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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