Cologne

I’m addicted to Christmas markets. Like addicted. And Germany is supposedly the place to be when it comes to Christmas markets.

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You know what one of the best things about living in Lille is? You can hop in a car and depending on the direction, you can go to five different countries within 3-4 hours (the Netherlands, Belgium, England, Luxembourg, and Germany). So whats a girl to do other than high tail it to Germany to partake in Christmas festivities?

Cologne has not one, but SEVEN Christmas markets scattered throughout the city. I only had one day there, because I went with a tour group that provided a there-and-back bus trip for only 35€ from Lille. This was great, because it meant we went straight there (whereas on the train, or a bus, you will have to make connections) and it was cheap! The one day limit did not prevent me from getting a lot done, however.

The number one priority of the day was obviously the Christmas markets, but Cologne also has the #1 most visited tourist attraction in Germany, the Cologne Cathedral, and several nice museums. I spent the morning getting a sense of the markets (i.e. deciding what to buy), then went to the cathedral and a museum, then returned to the best markets to buy some stuff and eat dinner.

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From the Cathedral market

Let me tell you, German Christmas markets are magic! The ones in Cologne had so many lights, decorations, good food, and general festive-ness.

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The Angel Market

Of the markets in Cologne, I went to 6 of the 7. I will say that the Christmas Avenue market was the worst of them all. My favorite was the St. Nicholas’ Village market, and then the Cologne Cathedral market, they had the best decor, vendors, and food.

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St. Nicholas’ Village market at night

So what exactly are Christmas markets all about? There are plenty of gifts to buy, but I think the most important part is the food! Drinks including coffee + hot chocolate (spiked or not), mulled wine, and beer (for Cologne, this means the local brew, Kolsch).  Food including local favorites and standard market finds. Various wursts (bratwurst, currywurst, etc.), crepes and waffles, roasted mushrooms, spatzle, kartoffelpuffer (a fried potatoe pancake served with applesauce), and flammkuchen (thin pizza type dish) can all be found.

The drinks all come in reusable mugs you have to pay a deposit on. Each market has a different mug, so I kept my favorite as a nice little souvenir. I also visited NINE different food booths in one day…. so many foods and so little time 😉

In terms of items that can be purchased, there are many different things being sold! Popular items were: wool/knitted clothes and accessories (great hats and gloves!), Christmas decorations and ornaments (especially nutcrackers), wooden goods, candles and candle holders, jewelry,  cookie cutters, toys, and regional food specialties.

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Outside of the markets, I toured the cathedral and the chocolate museum. Both were interesting and worth dealing with the crazy crowds! (Shoutout to Grandma May, at the chocolate museum, I watched them make the Lindt truffles you always give us!!)

All in all a great day, very scenic, very crowded, and very filling! I really want to visit Bavaria in southern Germany, and this just made me want to go more.

A bientôt,

Amy

 

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Amiens

This past Saturday, I took the regional train down to Amiens. Amiens is about halfway between Lille and Paris; the train ride was about an hour and very practical.

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Amiens is the capital of the Somme department within the Picardy region. In spite of this, it is a fairly small city. It has  been the site of several battles, and was occupied by both sides during both World Wars. Much of the city was destroyed during the German occupation of WWII, so many of the buildings are quite new, and the streets are wider than a lot of European cities.

I had a nice time! Amiens is a pretty place, with buildings that reminded me of France, Alsace, and Scandinavia. This was especially true for the St. Leu neighborhood, which was a great little area to just wander around in.

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Along the Somme

Amiens also had some great parks! I got so lucky with the weather! It is officially winter here and cold and wet. All the Frenchies complain about it, and make jokes about how horrible I must think France is (because of the weather in Nord-Pas-de-Calais) and no matter what I tell them, I cannot seem to convince them that it is the same weather as in Portland. Oh well. At least it doesn’t bother me. Anyway, it was cold but sunny on Saturday, so it was a great day to be walking through parks! Parc Saint Pierre was nice. I also walked through the Hortillonages, which is a large park with canals separating parcels of land used for various gardens. In the winter, you can’t do much other than wander on some paths, but when the weather is nicer you can talk boat tours through the canals and look at all the gardens.

There were also so many houses along the canals and along the Somme that had little bridges to get from the house, over the water, to the street! Each one had its own little dock and most people had canoes, etc. stored there. Who needs a driveway when you can have a bridge? 😉

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You can see one of the little bridges each house had in the top part of this picture.
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View from the path near the Hortillonnages

In the afternoon, I went to the Musée de Picardie, the regional museum in Amiens. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there, but I found out it is free entrance for students under 26. Free is free, so I went and had a look. I then went to the cathedral in Amiens, Notre Dame d’Amiens. It has the largest interior of any cathedral in the world and is twice the size of Notre Dame de Paris! It was huuuuuge!

It was actually too bad that I didn’t go there a week later, as there is a colored light display at 7 pm every night on the cathedral in December.

The rest of the day was spent shopping. Amiens has a fairly large Christmas market, so I wandered through the market, ate a beignet, had some vin chaud, and browsed. They have tons of lights, and played Christmas music throughout the market so it felt very festive.

All in all, it was a good day! I am hoping to take more day/weekend trips now that I am feeling really settled and comfortable in Lille.

A bientôt,

Amy