Once again I was off on an river cruise adventure to the Christmas Markets. The itinerary is actually the same as one I did in the summer. This was to be my market trip with my sister Emma. We had booked last year and the water levels were too low for the ships to maneuver, so that trip was cancelled. This year Emma had emergency surgery the week before our departure. Having lost more than half the blood in her body, she was unable to travel. Emma is fine now, but it took many weeks of recovery.
We didn’t take the travel insurance so I went ahead rather than lose the money. Emma got nothing back, although she could book the air miles for a future trip within one year. So, give serious consideration the next time you book travel. My other take-away from this experience is that to some men, women traveling alone are considered fair game. I did not appreciate the advances of married men, who knew I was married, but were not deterred. Just be prepared. It was a new experience for me.
Our travel started in Cologne, Germany, most famous for its beautiful Cathedral. The first night we were not docked close to the city, so I decided a nap was in order after the long overnight flight; I can not sleep on planes. The next morning I woke ready to go. They had moved the boat at midnight and we were now docked along the Rhine about a half hour’s walk from the church.
We took a bus in. Once again it is raining just like my last visit to Cologne during the summer. One day I am going to see this city in the sunshine. We started with a tour of the Cathedral, declared a World Heritage Site in 1996. Construction on the Cathedral began in 1248, but halted in 1473. Work did not resume until the 1840s. The Cathedral was completed according to the original medieval plan in 1880. Today, it is the country’s “most visited landmark” receiving an average of 20,000 visitors each day.
Cologne Cathedral is “the tallest twin-spired church in the world…and the third tallest church in the world. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires.” Architecture aside, the Cathedral is most famous for a very special work of art, the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is said to contain the remains of the three wise men. The “relics were acquired by Frederick Barbarossa at the conquest of Milan in 1164. The shrine takes the form a large reliquary in the shape of a basilican church, made of bronze and silver, gilded and ornamented with architectonic details, figurative sculpture, enamels and gemstones. The shrine was opened in 1864 and was found to contain bones and garments.”
The Cathedral’s tall interior pillars are a marvel, but I was enchanted by the church’s beautiful stained glass, marble and decorated floor, and one particular painted ceiling.
The Cathedrals’s twin spires were a landmark for the Allied forces during WWII and fourteen arial bombs struck the Cathedral during the war. Although heavily damaged, the Cathedral remained standing in a city that was almost completed destroyed. It was particularly special to visit the Cathedral during Advent. We saw the reverse side of one the churches famous altar screens depicting the annunciation. The other holiday touches were subtle, but the advent wreath, nativity scene, and the refractory made the timing of this visit noteworthy.
After the Cathedral, we toured some of the area nearby and our guide pointed out some of the area museums we might want to visit in our free time. In particular, we saw part of the discovered Roman ruins in the archeological museum. Gnomes are also a symbol of the city and we went by the fountain that depicts the legend. Afterwards, she gave us the layout of three of the nearby Christmas Markets. I did a little looking and then headed back to the ship for lunch with the tour group.
After lunch, I rode the shuttle back to the city to take another look at the various markets the guide had pointed out to us. The Cathedral market was what I expected, but it was the others nearby that I really enjoyed. Near the town hall was a charming market decorated with gnomes throughout. In route I even found an office conference space decorated as if the gnomes had taken it over.
Further on was a section of the market with even more food and drink outlets. This one also included a large skating rink around a monument and curling lanes outside a brew stand. The curling was very popular.
I wasn’t hungry at all, but the market included such enticing treats that I decided I would get something. I like savory over sweet, so a tried this wonderful melted cheese on bread. The server placed a large block of cheese under heat, when the top was melted he spread it onto a fresh baguette. Then you could add whatever you wanted-sweet or savory-as the topping. I went with the bacon. It was fabulous!
I went to a far point and then walked back to our meeting place for the bus. It was cold and more rain was threatening so I wanted to take the shuttle back rather than walk back alone. I noticed all the wood carvings scattered about as I made my way to the Cathedral. There was definitely more food booths proportionately than I remember from previous Christmas market visits.
I arrived at the bus stop early and ran into a few people from the ship. We waited a long time and finally gave up and walked back. The estimated 15 walk took closer to 30 minutes. Good thing I was fortified with that baguette with cheese and bacon. My feet were tired and it was probably a little tougher because we had already been walking around all day. I did make some new friends during the walk and got back in time to hear at least some of the cruise briefing. Then there was just enough time for a nap before dinner. And so the adventure begins…