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Xmas on the Rhine: Bon Voyage!

Gingerbread. Christmas Cookies. Hot Chocolate.  That’s what we had for lunch today . . . snacks . . . and tea.

It’s late afternoon and rapidly getting dark. Now we are watching the pastry chefs demonstrate cookie-making techniques and share their recipes. We are also learning how to make the aforementioned gluhwein – but I am not paying attention. I have decided I don’t even like the smell of the gluhwein.

Goodies galore.

Goodies galore.

We deserve all these treats after walking around Cologne all day. It stayed cloudy, but only drizzled a bit midday (during which we hid out in a cafe with a luscious hot chocolate), so we were very lucky. This morning’s walking tour took us through Altstadt (Old Town), and by some excavations of the old Roman city and original synagogue, as well as the Cathedral. A major port in Roman days, this is now the fourth largest city in Germany and the capital of the Rhineland. Almost all of the city was destroyed in WWII, but the cathedral was spared and survived largely intact. To preserve the beautiful glass windows, they were all removed at the start of the war and stored underground.

Koln was one of the primary destinations for religious pilgrims; the relics of the three Magi put the city on the map along with Jerusalem and Santiago de Compestela. The Cathedral was built over centuries (a la the one in Pillars of the Earth) from 1248 until completion in 1880, specifically to house the famous relics. They are in a solid gold, three-part coffin still on prominent display today.

Those of us who speak English call the city Cologne, which is actually the French name for Koln; this is indeed where the term cologne comes from. A wonderful example of re-branding occurred when a liquor-maker found his product outlawed and decided to turn it into a perfume. One can only imagine what the odors in the city were like when wearing liquor was a good thing.

We found our way back to our favorite market – the Alter Markt and saw another portion in Heumarkt, geared towards children, with an ice rink and small Ferris wheel. There must be some sort of school holiday in Europe because there were many groups of young children around today, including groups speaking French and English.

We circled back to the Rhine and made a brief visit to the newest market, which is by the chocolate Museum along the Harbour. Hafen Markt has replaced the Medieval Market of years past and may not have been the best business decision; it was certainly not very Christmassy. We then made the lengthy walk along the Rhine back to our ship. I popped back out to see the last of the Cologne Xmas Markets – the Floating Christmas Market on the MS Wappen von Koln. An odd combination of vintage, Christmas and craft items, it is the only market that charges admission (€2 for UNICEF) and the first time I fell victim to the claustrophobic feeling when you enter a way-too-warm enclosure wearing a lot of clothing. I didn’t stay long.

Off to hear some more lovely piano melodies, hear a port talk about Koblenz and dinner. We
actually sail tonight – a rare occurrence on this voyage!

Xmas Markets on the Rhine

Welcome to Koln.

Welcome to Koln.

Are You Ready for Some Xmas!

We headed off to Germany with the Rhine River at its lowest level in decades. A few days before our trip we got word about the river conditions and reviewed our options. River traffic will not be able to make it all the way up or down the river, so at the very least, we will need to change ships at some point. Deciding to go for it, we have arrived in Cologne. We flew into Frankfurt on the huge Lufthansa 380 and hopped a quick train down to Koln, the largest city in the Rhineland.

Although not being covered in the U.S., the Rhine is so low that there are sandbars in places and the water is less than four feet in others. Never a deep river under normal circumstances, a severe drought and no snow in the Alps has created the current situation. One particularly unsettling consequence is the revelation of unexploded ordnance from WWII strewn along the riverbed. Of significant note, is an “enormous” RAF bomb and two smaller bombs (at least one from the USA) embedded in the mud near Koblenz. The Germans plan to evacuate about ½ of that city (45,000) including hospitals, a jail and the train station, in order to diffuse the larger bomb this weekend.

We have come in a day ahead of our Uniworld River Cruise; now settling into our lovely hotel, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, in the center of the city and organizing our attack on the first of the Christmas Markets. Cologne has seven.

We started with the closest ~ the Weihnachtsmarkt am Kolner Dom (Cathedral Christmas Market). This market was festive and colorful, but did not really feature any distinctive merchandise. My favorite part was the plentiful food stalls and all their associated fragrances – licorice, gingerbread, warm pretzels, giant potato pancakes frying, nuts, chocolate, gluhwein; all in all, an amazing and wonderful assault on the olfactory senses.

But the best part of the day was yet to come . . . we wandered on over to the Alter Markt near the Old Town and were instantly transported back in time. Old fashioned wooden stalls, pine greens everywhere, woodland carvings, staff in period-costumes and beautiful lights and decor ~ all under the watchful gaze of the cute Koln Gnomes.

Back to the Excelsior for afternoon high tea – our chosen alternative for dinner tonight (did I mention we ate a cheese pretzel at the market?) A wonderful way to end the day ~ stuffing ourselves with all those wonderful goodies.

By the way, it’s really cold, our long-coats and gloves are perfect!