German Christmas Markets


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!

Good Times!

 

 

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A Feasting Weekend

With a year of “domestication” under my belt, I am finally finding my groove in the kitchen.  I was so excited about hosting NYE dinner and trying out some new recipes.  Beef tenderloin, cheesy mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus with artichoke hearts hit the spot to bid farewell to 2010 with a few friends.

Beef tenderloin with Maker's Mark marinade

Mashed by hand with love

 

Roasting artichoke hearts

Artichokes marinating

Roasted veggie delight

Voilà, dinner is served!

 

In additional to the  traditional midnight champagne toast, the Dutch also enjoy oliebollens (oil balls)  or appelflappens (similar to apple fritters).  Throughout the day, there were pop-up stands in front of every shop and bakery selling fresh made oliebollens and appelflappens.  Since G doesn’t like fruity pastries, I had the appelflappens alllll to myself for my New Year’s Day breakfast.  Super Lekker!

 

After nearly a two hour bike ride down the Amstel River and back through Amstelveen, we were starved and ready for the obligatory New Year’s Day grub. Despite G and I are not frequent cabbage eaters, every good southerner knows that black eyed peas + cabbage + pork is a must for starting off the new year (and side of leftover mashed potatoes hits the spot as well!).

A toast to luck, prosperity and progress in 2011

On Sunday, we lightened it up and made our first batch of udon noodle soup.  It turned out well, but will need to add some heat to give it more kick for next time.  We love the spicy food!

Click here for Food Network’s Bourbon Beef Tenderloin recipe.  Send me a comment or email if you would like any of the others.  After all of this feasting, it’s definitely time for some exercising.  Hope your New Year started off with some good eats as well!  Eet Smakelijk!

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar !

Happy 2011!!!  G and I wish you a happy and healthy 2011!

The annual celebration of the Oud en Nieuw is practically a global party.  This was our 3rd year to ring in the New Year in Amsterdam.  Over the last two years, we braved the cold and the crowds in de Dam (Dam Square) and Museumplein (Museum Square).  But this year we had a few friends over for dinner then trekked up to the roof to enjoy the city wide fireworks and I think it was our best Dutch NYE.  Sparklers in one hand and champagne in the other, we counted down to midnight several hours before our family and friends in the States.   The first hour of the New Year was a spectacular fireworks display illuminating every corner of the Amsterdam sky.  Fireworks surrounded us and it seemed like it was our own personal show.

Click here for more photos.

Dinner is almost ready

Eet Smakelijk!

One Hundred Eighty Three…

Days.  With the start of a new month, I realized I only have 6 months until my Dutch residence permit expires.  Time is flying faster than I can keep up.  I’ve been here just a tad over 6 months and now only have 6 months left.  Wow.  At least the days are getting longer and the temperatures milder…so I need to get out and soak up as much of The Netherlands (and the rest of EU) since the clock is ticking.

If anyone has figured out the magic formula for slowing time down, I will pay a pretty penny for it.

Nov - My new bike

December

Jan - It never stopped snowing

Feb - Carnaval in Maastricht

March - Tulips are in bloom

April - Boat rides through the canals

May - Windmills at Zaanse Schans

Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day)

Netherlands flags wave in the wind

Last night (May 4th) was Dodenherdenking (Remembrance of the Dead) and 2 minutes of silence were observed at 8pm in honor of those who have died in war or peacekeeping missions since WWII.  Thousands of people (including the Queen) filled Dam Square for the annual ceremony at the National Monument.  Sadly, last nights ceremonies were interrupted by panic and chaos due to a screaming man while the silence was being observed.  Click here for the full story.  Fortunately, G & I were at the gym and not in the middle of the chaos.  We did take pause at 8pm with the rest of the gym and respectfully observed silence in honor of those who have fallen.

Today (May 5th) is Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) that marks the end of occupation by Nazi Germany.  It is celebrated by the Dutch every year; however, only observed as an official holiday every 5 years.  The Netherlands was liberated by a mostly Canadian troop with some assistance from the British, American, and French forces.  On May 5th, 1945, an agreement was reached with the German troops in a town called Wageningen which is approximately 90km southeast of Amsterdam.

During our Easter trip to Reims, France, we visited the Surrender Museum (officially known as the Musee de la Reddition German Surrender).  A must see museum even if you are not a war buff!  It is not just another WWII museum, it is THE room where WWII ended.  While this day is officially May 7th, 1945, I thought fitting to include in today’s post.  (Not to mention I haven’t posted anything from our Easter trip to France…yet!)

Left wall in War Room

Center Wall in War Room

Center and Right wall of War Room

The War Room of General Eisenhower occupied a small part of a technical college in Reims centre and remains intact with the original furniture in place and the war maps on the walls.  On May 7th, 1945 at 2.41am the Allied Forces ended WWII by obtaining an unconditional surrender of the Third Reich’s armed forces one week after Hitler’s suicide.  It was pretty amazing to stand in a room and imagine all the activity that once took place…without the convenience of mobile phones, computers, or the internet.  If you are ever in Reims, take a break from the champagne tasting and check out the Surrender Museum.

War Maps

Remains of a tail fin from a fighter aircraft

Museum displays

Of course today is also Cinco de Mayo…so we end the day with a margarita at Los Pilones.

Los Pilones on Kerkstraat

Koninginnedag!!! (Queen’s Day)

Grab a boat, a beer, and something orange and you are ready for the national Dutch holiday that is a cross between the debauchery of Mardi Gras and country pride associated with the Fourth of July.  Koninginnedag celebrates the Queen’s Birthday in The Netherlands.  The current Queen Beatrix’s birthday is actually in January, but she chose to keep the holiday on her mother’s birthday, April 30th, which makes for pleasant outdoor celebrations.

Plastic animals for sale

Can you land the ring on the bottle?

The day starts very early in the morning as it is the one day of the year anyone has rights to vrijmarkt(free market) to make a few extra euros–commonly know in the states as a garage/rummage/yard sale.  Early birds may happen upon some worthwhile finds, but the majority of the stuff appears to be junk that sat in a box gathering dust since last year’s Koninginnedag.  You can also sell perishable items such as baked goods or bottled water; however, alcohol is off-limits unless you have a license.  Other than selling items, the Dutch creatively craft games in an effort to consume the euro coins you have reserved in your pocket to pay for the use of restrooms as you trek all over the city while consuming beer.

Judd, Geo, & Keely

If you are a lucky soul who owns a boat, you will have friends appear from the woodworks.  The canals are filled with orange clad revelers floating along in boats and barges.  So why orange when the county’s colors are red, white, and blue?  Orange is the color of the Dutch Royal Family. The lineage of the current dynasty — the House of Oranje-Nassau — dates back to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange).  If you are a futbol fan (soccer) and plan to watch the World Cup this year, you will see the Dutch in orange and black for their home jersey and red/white/blue for their away jersey.

Canal boats in Jordaan

Rach & Keely in Jordaan

My friend Keely and her friend Judd came to visit from the states.  We spent Koninginnedag roaming all over Amsterdam to soak up the celebration and give our guests the “highlights of Amsterdam” tour.  Oud Zuid to Vondelpark to Museumplein. Skirt the edge of Leidseplein to the Jordaan, wander the Canal Belt and Nine Streets towards Dam Square, a quick walk through the Red Light District and arrive at Nieuwmarkt.

Click this foto for a video of the ride

With the sun setting later and later, it is now 9p without realizing it…and still a 3.5k walk to get home!  Needless to say, we were not early risers on Saturday morning.  I had a fantastic Queen’s Day, but I think my heart still belongs to the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue and Carnival season.  CLICK HERE for a few more fotos from Queen’s Day in Amsterdam.