Köln: Christmas Central

We had an amazing, though quick, weekend in Köln. Because people kept speaking to me in German, thinking I was German, I feel like now I can call the city the German name and not Cologne or Colonia. Lots of names for just one city. Also, lots worth writing about.

We got into the city late late on Thursday night, after realizing we had forgotten to call and confirm our Station Hostel reservation. Dumb system in this century–they don’t take credit cards, so if you don’t call before noon on the day of your arrival, they cancel your reservation. We were lucky, as we called once on the ground at the Weeze airport (at midnight) and they had two beds left in a 5-bed room. Maybe not quite as comfortable as the private 2 bed room we’d reserved, but cheaper. Felt badly waking up our anonymous roommates at 3 a.m., but welcome to hostel living.

Generally, I am a bit too ambitious when I travel. Or so I’ve been told. The pace is OK for me, as I love museums, love taking pictures, love trying local foods and doing most of the tourist things (but never those damn open top buses. I draw the line). But since we had such a short time, there was no way we’d see all. So I only scanned Rick Steves through Amazon Reader for a few minutes, only glanced at Lonely Planet, and we didn’t step inside a single museum. Instead, spent almost the entirety of Friday just leisurely strolling, eating, and drinking glühwein. We’ve got the mugs to prove it.

The markets were great–and we didn’t even see all of them! Amazing to see how many traditions we share with the Germans, or how many we’ve inherited, more likely. It finally felt like the Christmas I’m accustomed to.

Within the markets, the stalls were just brimming with cool, old-fashioned metal toys and wooden and glass tree ornaments. It was such a relief to know some form of traditional, mostly plastic-less and PS3-free Christmas still exists, if only in a traditional market bubble. But people seemed to be buying the presents for their kids, and German children were out en masse at the ice skating rink. I was initially quite gung-ho about the whole skating thing, but after watching one young German girl take her first step onto the ice, only to fall and completely soak her pants, I asked Pat just one question. “Did you bring more than one pair of pants?” His “no” pretty much sealed the deal. It’s one thing to ask a Spanish guy to abandon his country for colder climes, but quite another to risk him spending the weekend with wet pants. Spanish people are such cold weather wusses. It just seemed cruel.

So on we proceeded to another market and more food. The markets were lovely, the music nice, but what I will remember are the smells. Oh, the smells! (funny how Cologne smells really good–ha ha) In addition to the traditional German food that found its way to our happy stomachs (bratwurst, spaetzle, brezels/pretzels, currywurst, and don’t forget our favorite drink glühwein), we also were sure to eat some amazing kebab, which one might argue is typical German food now just as tacos are typical American food. At any rate, it was scrumptious and we gave MezzoMix, a Coke/Fanta drink, the thumbs up. I was disappointed to not have any space left in my stomach for the ethnic food options available, both in the streets and in the markets, as Spain is seriously lacking in international cuisine. Chinese food is about it–and the fried rice has chunks of jamón serrano. Next time, I guess.

Friday night we asked the front desk guy at the hostel for bar suggestions and he sent us across the bridge, not far but clearly outside of tourist land. We were the only non-Germans in a small and smoky bar called Durst (German for thirst) and caught the tail end of a live music set–a guy playing guitar and making up a strange Elvis Christmas song. Durst was about as big as the living room of my little house on Arthur Ave, so he was standing on the bar, a few steps away from the taps. Bummed we couldn’t hear more, but have no fear: a No Fear pinball machine was there, circa 1995. I’m not sure I’ve played since then and it showed. Had a couple of pints of local Kölsch, a Czech Budveiser or two, and called it a night.

Saturday morning consisted of a tour of the cathedral, lead by the punk rock, purple haired Yvonne. Never thought I’d see the day when a tour guide in a Catholic church was carrying a bag with “666” pins, but I respected her spunk. She was an excellent guide (ok, Rick Steves moment…) and taught us a lot about the history, both recent and not-so-recent, of the cathedral and the city. We stared for a while at the new Richter window and thought a bit about adding something so modern to such a traditional building. It’s something that Spain does really well–putting a modern, stainless steel sculpture in an 8th century castle and somehow making it work. Personally, I felt it fit quite nicely, perhaps because he took the colors from all of the pre-existing windows, but interesting that the Archbishop said something to the effect of “it looks like it belongs in a mosque.” Something to debate, anyway…

After the hour long tour, we had time to buy some postcards, wolf down a last kebab, and hit the bus, to head to the airport in Weeze, to fly to Sevilla, to take a bus to the train station, to take a train to Córdoba, to catch a taxi home. But I’m young, they tell me, and found it absolutely worth it. If only I can have more weekends like this one in the near future. I’ll be scanning the RyanAir website in the upcoming weeks.

Check out a slideshow of images of the weekend.

And here’s a sort of poor quality video attempting to show how huge the Dom is. I’ve been told that that guy in the lower right corner at 0:08 looks like my dad. Cast your vote in comments.

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