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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Busting Boredom

For better or for worse, my job is only 12 hours of work each week. This definitely has its merits – I have lots of time to sleep in, workout, cook, and explore the place I am living.

As seen on an afternoon bike ride
As seen on an afternoon bike ride (forgive the glare!)

I’m not sure exactly how to put into words just how measly 12 hours a week is. At home, it might feel a little bit more substantial, because you have friends, and activities, and projects that you are working on. In a city where you have just arrived, don’t have language mastery, know very few people, and don’t know what is around to do in the first place, 12 hours is NOT a big enough time commitment. I am not made to sit around and watch Netflix all day, I just get sick of it.

Bike = best way to explore AND stay busy! Most worthwhile purchase ever
Bike = best way to explore AND stay busy! Most worthwhile purchase ever

When I first arrived, the time commitment didn’t feel so small because there is so much to do when you first get somewhere. Getting settled takes up a lot of your time. Between the bank, my cell phone, internet, IKEA, figuring out the bus system and the grocery store I was reasonably busy for the first two/two-and-a-half weeks. That time has ended. I have been killing a lot of time with activity, a workout in the morning, biking for around an hour during the day, and a yoga sesh at night. Unfortunately, my back started having spasms again and so I need to find some other way to use up my time.

Commence operation Bust Boredom!

Really, my number one priority with my free time is finishing my grad school applications. Honestly, I can only work on these for so long at a given time before I feel like I don’t even want to be a chemist anymore. So, I have been spending some time on them each day, and am slowly finishing them. This still leaves a lot of time. Thanks to the internet, I am in touch with other assistants in the region and have gone to a few things with some of them who live in the city (yayayaya speaking English and having a social life). Very very useful because all of the assistants also have not much to do and not many people to do them with, and are a similar age.

Lille 3000 is a cultural event happening throughout the Fall in Lille. I went to a parade/techno concert with some assistants outside the Opera House.
Lille 3000 is a cultural event happening throughout the Fall in Lille. I went to a parade/techno concert with some assistants outside the Opera House.
I went to the Lille Zoo (which is free!) with some British assistants
I went to the Lille Zoo (which is free!) with some British assistants
For a free zoo, I was impressed!
For a free zoo, I was impressed!

I also have enjoyed taking my bike out and seeing what I can find. Best done on a day with no rain and no plans, so when it takes 3 hours longer than you thought to find your way back, it doesn’t matter 😉 In Haubourdin, I found the cemetery. Off to the side, there is a German Military Cemetery from the German occupation in WWI.

“In this military cemetery lie 1000 German soldiers”
Individual graves
Individual graves
“September 8, 1984. For the Fortieth Anniversary of the liberation of Haubourdin, this Resistance Square is inaugurated in homage to all those who secretly fought for freedom.”

I have also explored various parts of Lille, researched restaurants, museums, attractions, etc. that I want to go to in Lille, and I have been going to lacrosse practices. Yes, there are lacrosse teams in France (who knew?!). There is only a men’s team in Lille, but they have a couple of women who practice with them so I have been going to that and enjoying having something to do. Fortunately the star drill doesn’t need translation.

Grand Place in Lille. Starting to see the grey skies.
Grand Place in Lille. Starting to see the grey skies.
Found a huge park (Parc de la Citadelle, Parc Zoologique) and then looked up and saw a large animal in the middle of it.
Found a huge park (Parc de la Citadelle, Parc Zoologique) and then looked up and saw a large animal in the middle of it.

Plans to stay busy:

  1. Take the train to a regional forest and hike!
  2. Take up knitting again
  3. Try to cook regional specialties at home
  4. Buy some French middle-reader books to practice reading at home
  5. See if any of the local colleges have chemistry/research seminars

A bientôt,

Amy