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The thing about Christmas markets is that they just make you thirsty… for more Christmas markets. We wanted to take a little European road trip so we flew from Tallinn to Frankfurt and rented a car to take us to the best markets in the world- Germany’s Christkindlmarkts. Greg did his research and chose Cologne because it has not one, not two, not five, but SEVEN individual markets.
The first time I rented a car in Germany I was traveling with my mom and my sister and we were so very fortunate to get a BMW wagon. My mother, who lived in Germany in the 70s, warned me about driving on the Autobahn- she was worried about those German drivers running me right over. Well one day on our trip we left Munich late (gee, I wonder whose fault that was. Debby.) for a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and I was forced to make up lost time so I just stayed in the fast lane and flashed my lights like the Germans did. The faster I went, the smoother the BMW drove. I had no idea how fast I was going, but it was fast enough that Mother soon turned her worries toward everyone else who might get in my way. It was exhilarating. We had already called ahead to let the tour guide know we were running late and when we got there he was impressed we had made it so quickly and asked how fast I had been driving. “I don’t know- 200 kph?” My sister verified “I saw her driving 190 kph myself.” Bruno, our lovely guide, informed me that was around 120 mph. I had no idea. That’s the beauty of a BMW, and one of my favorite memories.
This time, however, Greg and I went for the budget option- a tiny little Fiat that started to shimmy and shake if you got above 150 kph. Still, I tried to drive around 140 kph everywhere we went, which is close to 90 mph. At home, much to Greg’s chagrin, I keep the speedometer at an even 55 mph for the best fuel economy. But on the Autobahn… how can you possibly drive less than 80? If you like fast driving with other safe, courteous drivers, by all means get yourself to Germany. The roads are impeccable, the fast lanes wide open, and no matter how fast you drive, there’s always someone going faster. It’s fantastic.
Note to self: Hotels in Europe are quite strict on their 2:00p check-in policies. We got to Cologne with about an hour until check-in but I didn’t want to start exploring without putting on all my arctic gear, and I was exhausted after driving two whole hours from Frankfurt. Greg says “You’re a terrific driver, just a sleepy one.” So I napped in the car while Greg walked to a lovely park.
Our hotel was perfectly lovely and only €50/night for a private room with a private bath. We Warckens have really stepped it up on this trip. Side note: I found the room on priceline.com for €50/night. The same room on booking.com was €100/night. So I booked on priceline.com of course, going through topcashback.com OF COURSE, earning us 7% cash back. When we got the booking confirmation, it was through booking.com. You tell me.
After putting on my usual 12 layers we set right out to explore. The hotel was out of the city center, but only a ten minute walk to a train station, and a seven minute ride into Cologne’s main train station or “bahnhof” if you will. The receptionist told us it would be cheaper for us to buy a group ticket for the train as opposed to individual tickets and I’ll be derned- he was right. An individual all-day ticket was €8,10 and a group all-day ticket for up to five people was only €12,10. Something to keep in mind for future travels! That guy must’ve known who he was dealing with. Most likely because we sneaked treats out of his candy bowl every time we went past, then acted surprised every time there was candy there.
The only thing I knew about Cologne before we went was that they had Christmas markets of course, and an awesome cathedral. I love love love getting blown away by something I didn’t expect when I travel and I certainly didn’t expect the presence of that cathedral the moment we stepped out of the station.
Sometimes we drank, but mostly we ate. Side note, I bought Glühwein (hot wine) for €1,10, took one drink and dumped it into the nearest Christmas tree. BLECH. And that was the only time we bought alcohol on the entire trip.
The next day we started off with a little culture at the cathedral, which was fantastic. I think modern churches are a disgrace. Give me high ceilings, giant organs, and uncomfortable seats over sweat pants, coffee stand, and projectors anytime. A few flying buttresses never hurt anyone.
Guided tours were €8 apiece, so we went for the €1 self-guided tour instead, and paid another €3 apiece to climb up the south tower. After a total of 1,066 steps up and down my legs were like jelly. For two days. If you need a quick warm-up or work out in Cologne, you know where to go.
No one ever said a German doesn’t know how to party, and around Christmastime, those Germans really know how to party. I’ve never been to Oktoberfest in Deutschland so I can’t speak to that, but being part of the Weihnachtsmarkt crowds was so unbelievably fun, like nothing I’d ever experienced, and certainly nothing I’d ever experienced at another Christmas market. We highly recommend them. If nothing else, just for the frische reibekuchen mit apfelmus.