Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Sian Travels | Cologne

Late November as a Birthday present from my Parents I set off on my 38th flight of the year to Germany. I've been to Germany twice before once to Dusseldorf and once to Frankfurt. I met some lovely Germany friends while travelling Australia earlier in the year who both lived in Cologne and upon hearing wonderful things about their Christmas Markets I knew it was somewhere I needed to tick off my ever growing bucket list. I boarded a flight late on a Thursday night, and was met by my friend Alina's Dad who was wearing a Hard Rock Cafe Dublin T-shirt so I could spot him at arrivals! We drove to Alina's apartment and suddenly the weekend was here! Alina surprised me with a Cologne Advent Calendar and a Phantasialand ticket! We had planned to go on Saturday, but this really escalated my excitement - I'm still very much a big kid!

By the time we caught up and laughed looking back at old photo's from Australia we went to bed to get a good night sleep. Poor Alina remembered how much of a horrible morning person I am, but enticed me out of bed with a gorgeous breakfast spread. The first stop on our German adventure was the Haribo factory, which naturally I loved. I picked up some sweets for my mum, and then obviously filled up a bag for myself too. It lasted me over a week and it cost less than €3! After getting our sugar fix, we went into Bonn and sampled their Christmas Market and I indulged in a Hot Chocolate and a Bratwurst and started really getting into the Christmas Spirit.  (Check out some pics on my Instagram: @Bowfabulous). We then went to Alina's Village Christmas Market (and my favourite market of the trip) for some dinner and I indulged a little bit more - when on holiday's eh? Alina is in a Dance Group and I watched them practice on the Friday night in preparation for their show on Sunday. 
We were both exhausted on Friday and ended and both slept like babies in anticipation for Phantasialand. We arrived nice and early and meet up with our friend Marion who I met in Australia as well. We had an amazing day catching up, eating good food and then with the girls helping me clean sick off my scarf after vomiting on a children's rollercoaster...not one of my finer moments I will admit. Not ever being defeated I ploughed through and went on more rides and we laughed until we cried when we went on the water ride. I have never laughed so much in my entire life. We all got drenched, but we got an amazing keepsake photo. I've really and truly made such wonderful friends this year. Even though I've never been poorer, 2015 have made my life richer in so many ways it's hard to explain. With darkness setting in, we made our way home for a quick costume change as Alina was taking me to a local party that night. German folk love a good costume party, something I can wholly get on board with and rocked my best Kitty Cat impression. It was the start of Carnival and we watched local dance groups, got horrendously drunk on prosecco and I even managed to get the Prince of Carnival's medallion - obviously my Irish charm won him over. All jokes aside It's a great honour and I'll definitely keep it safe. 

After a fantastic night, it was definitely time for me to retire to bed. German hospitality is so generous and it's of course incredibly rude to keep turning down Prosecco ;) so off a Bavarian girl and a  Kitty Cat headed home. Waking up with a sore head, but again Alina gave me a fantastic breakfast feast and I began to feel a little bit more normal. Today was an exciting day for Alina it was her Dance Groups show. It was so wonderful to watch it and to mix with her family and friends. I was really immersed into German culture and was welcomed in with open arms. We were treated to all the cake you could possibly eat as well as a fantastic show. Alina did us all proud! After the show, Alina's friends, her family and I went and had some traditional German food. I opted for the Schnitzel and friends and it was delicious. German food by nature is very heavy, but this meal was well needed and it really hit the spot. It was then back to watch a girly movie, eat our weight in food and then fall asleep ready to see the beautiful Cologne City. 
First things first, the Cologne Landmark -  the Dome, which is the gorgeous Cologne Cathedral. Alina and I climbed 533 steps to the very top. Alina has sworn she's never doing it again and I can see why. Being reasonably fit it was still a challenge, but you do get a pretty nice panoramic view of the city. After climbing the equivalent of Everest (slight exaggeration) we decided our thirst needed quenching and hopped on a cute train tour of the numerous Christmas Markets (Cologne has 4). After falling for a sailor and picking up some Christmas decorations, we hot footed it to one of the many beverage stands of the first Christmas market! Now it's no secret I'm fond of a Hot Chocolate but mix it with Amaretto and MY GOD  you have a good combo. It's what I'll be drinking all Christmas, the only problem is that it does go down a little too easy. After doing some more Shopping we went and meet Marion again for a bite to eat. They  took me to a traditional German restaurant to keep me going for the rest of the day. I had a beef dish that although was rich, it was absolutely delicious. 

German Christmass Markets are truly magical. The Christmas spirit really kicked off for me after Germany. You can't help but feel pleasantly overwhelmed by everything. The twinkling lights, the cute gifts, the abundance of foods and just the atmosphere. We made a pact to go and get a drink in each of the Christmas Markets and soak up the atmosphere in each one. They suggested ice-skating but I hate it with a passion. The only time I'll ever put on a pair of ice skates again is when I finally get to see New York at Christmas and I'm skating at the Rockefeller centre. Alina encouraged me now to try another drink, sceptical because of my newest love affair with hot chocolate and amaretto I was reluctant, but gave in and tried a white hot chocolate and Baileys and Oh My was it good! It's sweeter, but it was delicious. We continued walking around and simply enjoying each others company and laughing over all our mischevious adventures down under! It's so lovely catching up with your travel buddies!
Cologne is such a lovely city - it's really walkable and although it seems excessive to have four Christmas markets in one city, it's easy to get to them all by foot. We were so lucky with the weather and it was dry and sunny for the most part of the day. We all know I'm fond of taking photo's and it's so much easier to capture the place when it's not lashing down rain. I brought along my DSLR Nikon D3100 (which is nearly 3 years old and I still love it dearly!) In terms of travelling it's not really the best as it is heavy and at time when I was on my trip earlier in the year, I opted for my point and shoot camera or my iPhone instead of carrying it around. My next big adventure (South and Central America) I will invest in a camera with fantastic quality that doesn't weigh a tonne! If anyone has any recommendations feel free to shoot them my way! Anyway slightly off topic there - back to Cologne. Cologne is such a charming city. I was instantly sucked in and I knew almost instantaneously that it would be one of many trips to this gorgeous city. 

As the sun began to set, Cologne became more and more magical. We wandered back into the main square in search of food and festivities. The bright lights drew us in and we were soon engulfed into a magical fairy tale land. The Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking at night and while the Christmas markets are undoubtedly lovely during the day when the sun begins to set the lights really take your breath away. I was at the Frankfurt Christmas market a few years ago, and although lovely I have to say the Cologne market definitely has more of an edge. With stalls selling homemade gifts and Christmas decorations for reasonable prices it's not hard to see why. My impressions of Frankfurt were how expensive it was. Granted I was in College, but even still for the crap that they were selling you'd expect the prices to be a lot lower. Cologne, however had wonderful market stalls and I even managed to pick up a few lovely gifts. Food was cheap, drink was cheaper and of course the company was superb.
Phew so there you have it. If you're looking for a wonderful place to go next Christmas for a nice weekend away I couldn't recommend Cologne more. With Flights as low as €20 with Ryanair you'd be mad not to go. I stayed with friends so I can't comment on accommodation prices but sure with the likes of Air BnB you're bound to get a great deal. Prices are definitely cheaper than Dublin so you can eat and drink to your hearts content - isn't that what holidays are for anyway?

Overall I had such a fantastic 4 days. My friend Alina and her family and friends gave me the warmest of welcomes. I was embraced into German culture and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will 100% be back - perhaps even for Karneval 2016 in February... until then Cologne ;)
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