It’s Epiphany! For some of you (like my nanay) it’s the day the Three Wise Men ended their journey in Bethlehem. The Christmas season has concluded and it’s time to take the tree down. For those of you in my beloved New Orleans, its Twelfth Night, y’all and the Carnival season has begun. Did your slice of king cake have a baby in it today? Ohhhh, how I miss the king cake!!! And if you’re in Amsterdam, it was another typical Dutch day biking around in the rain. While the baked good here are super lekker, it’s the land of licorice and stroopwafels so not a king cake in sight. And with the New Year holiday now behind us, the oliebollens and appelflappens stands left town with the holiday tourists.
As every holiday owns a unique tradition, Germany is THE place to go to experience the authentic Christmas Markets. My first visit to Germany was five years ago for a business trip. It was during the month of November and while the States where preparing for Thanksgiving, Germany was gearing up for their Christmas markets. Our client took us to dinner in a medieval town called Rothenburg. It sounds cheesy, but it was like I stepped into a European snow globe. With timber homes, cobblestone streets and beautiful decor, I felt like I traveled back in time by a few hundred years. Our client told us, “You should see it when the markets are here.” Sadly, I had to return to the States before I had that opportunity, but mentally added the German Christmas Markets to my Bucket/Travel List.
Five years later, I was finally going to cross it off the list. Or not. Well maybe. Or maybe not. Two weekends before Christmas, major snow storms were sweeping through Germany and travel by car or train was not looking very optimistic. We decided to make a game time decision on Saturday morning, but hotel choices were becoming scarce. On Saturday morning, the weather looked better and we were muti-tasking with showers, packing, and hotel searching. We buzzed our friends A&A and they were game to join our last minute excursion. With an overnight bag packed and a not-our-first-or-second-choice-but-you-have-availability-so-we’ll-take-it-room, we were off to Cologne.
The drive was pretty smooth until the outskirts of Cologne. Apparently I wasn’t the only one determined to hit the markets this weekend. It was such a tease as we were so close, but yet stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Our first mug of glühwein was well deserved. While it didn’t make the list of my Top 10 favorite drinks, it did mean we had finally arrived and the warm spiced wine ignited my Christmas spirit. Our first market stop was in the town center at the Cologne Cathedral. Here I made another mental note to return to Cologne and appreciate the history the city had to offer beyond the markets.
It was a bit of madness with thousands of people mashed into the city center. But we made our way around to eat, drink, shop, and eat and drink more. The next stop was the Alter Market where we found live Christmas music, gifts for our family, and a bier garten—for more, food, drink, and a thankfully a spot to sit down.
The next morning, we stopped at a few other markets in Cologne before driving to the town of Aachen. Not surprising, it was pretty crowded as well and after a few hours we all felt like pinballs bouncing around nonstop. The guys were shopped out and it was time to make the drive home.
When I lived in NYC, no one batted an eye if your day involved activities throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium are not much different…except for the fact you can say you were in three countries in one day rather than three states. We would be hungry for dinner long before we reached Amsterdam and agreed that a slight detour to Antwerp, Belgium was a perfect idea. G and I love the Kathedraalcafe just off the Grote Markt and after several bratwurst sandwiches; we were keen to some seafood. With happy bellies, we had a quick peek at the Christmas markets and then piled in the car for the trek home.
Special thanks to A&A for contributing photos. Click here to see a full slideshow. Tot Ziens!