Friday, December 26, 2008

In the air, there's a feeling of Christmas

To immerse ourselves in the Christmas spirit, my sister, two friends of mine, and I took an extended weekend trip into Germany to visit a few Christmas markets. Nothing says Christmas better than food, hot chocolate, decorated Christmas stands, more food, Germany, and Christmas music being played as you wander around the markets, only to be topped off with even more food.

On Saturday we were on the road by 10:30 and made our first stop in Valkenburg, which is just within the Dutch border. Valkenburg is a tiny town famous for it's caves. The caves were made centuries ago as the rock was quarried out of the underground. In WWII it was used as a bomb shelter and today it's not only a tourist attraction, but is where they hold their annual Christmas markets. The market wasn't as impressive as I was expecting, but the caves themselves were quite neat to see.

Around 4pm we left for Aachen, Germany, about a 30 minute drive away. After checking into our hostel we spent the rest of our evening basking in the spirit of Christmas. The town was decked with Christmas ornaments, decorations and cheer. It appeared as though the markets never ended... what a shopper's delight!

The next morning we started off on the road right after a quick breakfast, to head for Koln (Cologne) to go to church. The Hertz navigation system lead us on quite the adventure the entire trip, but especially that morning. We drove in circles for about 20 minutes trying to find exactly where the church was to no avail. In the end we went to church in Bonn, where half the members are English speaking. Member after member invited us to their ward Christmas lunch right after church, to which we naturally obliged.

During lunch we were told to check out the medieval market in Siegburg on our way back to Koln. Our attention was immediately caught by a game of mouse roulette. We spent many suspenseful minutes waiting for people to bet on which archway the mouse would enter once placed on in the roulette board. Once all the bets were placed, the dealer brought out the mouse. (Which brought a quick shiver down my spine, due to recent events). The end turned out to be very anti-climactic. As soon as the furry thing was placed inside the game board he didn't even bother to circle around once. No more than 1.5 seconds went by before the mouse entered an archway, and the game was over. Worst of all, the winner didn't even get the money... he got a tiny toy mouse instead. Glad I didn't waste my money on that game.

An hour or so later we left for Koln, dropped our luggage in our hotel room and headed towards the city center. Driving over the bridge at night gives the most amazing view of the skyline, with it's gothic church being the crowning jewel. The church, which took about 600 years to build, was absolutely amazing. We spent the evening watching mass, not understanding a word, in the enormous building.

The next day we met up with more friends from Amsterdam in Koln. We all spent the first few hours of the day visiting one market to another. When it comes to variety and creativity, Koln, by far, has the best markets out of all the ones we visited. Each of the 7 markets in the city had entirely different themes and atmosphere. A gnome market, angel market, Grimm Brothers market, and the list goes on. Plus, Koln houses the Lindt chocolate factory. Now, what's better than that??

In the evening we drove up to Essen where our hostel room was booked. We had about 30 minutes to see the markets in the tiny town before they closed for the evening. The city was much newer, which didn't provide as nice an atmosphere while walking around the market as the other cities we had visited. But, that aside, it did have one thing going for it: a food stand that served fruit with melted German chocolate drizzled on top.

The final day was spent in Dusseldorf. All the Dutch rave over the markets there, so I was expecting something much better than what we found. Dusseldorf is quite a modern city, which didn't provide as great a backdrop. And although there were 6 markets, they were all quite tiny. Needless to say, I wasn't too impressed. But then again, nothing says Christmas better than a giant Christmas pyramid... which did make our trip complete!

Thinking about it, I'm sure all of us spent more money on food than we did anything else. Good thing cars don't have weight limits...
Yep, there's nothing better to put you in the Christmas spirit than by visiting the markets in Germany. This is one tradition I'm planning on keeping! Anyone want to join me next year?

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