Sunday, January 5, 2014

December's Adventure: Day 4, Cologne

Cologne, or Köln, was our destination on our fourth day of vacation. We arrived in the early afternoon and unloaded the car at our hotel, the Alt Deutz. I then needed to park the car so we dropped it off at the Luxness arena around the block.

Later on, I'll write a more detailed review of the hotel. It was old but clean with some interesting accents, such as what I termed "dead Muppet carpet" (the pattern looked like Muppet fur) and super steep stairs (seriously, the handrail was vertical in one spot!). We actually found the hotel comfortable and strangely charming for all its budget-friendly quirks.

We then headed out for lunch and found a Mexican restaurant just a few blocks away. I hate to turn down the opportunity to eat Mexican food as it's my favorite thing. I am always guardedly optimistic that it'll be good. Unfortunately, the offerings in Germany are usually just "okay."

Our meal at Cafe Especial in Cologne was the best Mexican food I've had in Germany so far so it was a success! It wasn't perfect, but Mexico is far away so I'm okay with that. I'll write more in a review later, too, but we liked the rustic interior with wooden floors and a huge open seating area. Service was standard and the food was good (though not authentic...more like German TexMex -- GerTMex?).

Following the meal, we walked west to downtown. I was pleased to see that our hotel was only a 15 minute walk to the Cathedral (Dom). What I did not think was so cool was that people littered the Hohenzollernbrücke on the way with tons of the love locks. It's supposed to symbolize unbreakable love when a couple puts a lock on the bridge and throws the key into the river. To me, it symbolizes immaturity; vandalism of public property; and littering (and the possibility of harm to wildlife in the form of keys thrown into the river). The locks actually damage the bridge, causing it to rust faster. Removing the locks is also damaging too. I'm sure there are far better ways to show one's devotion.
Not cool.

Egads, someone is insecure!
When we reached the Dom, or Cathedral, we walked through the Christmas Market there. It was lovely, especially with the Dom as a backdrop! Even though it was a weeknight, it was still quite busy.

My cousins mentioned that it was their wedding anniversary. I guess I also must clarify when I use the term "cousins," lest people thing that two blood relatives married each other! My cousin by blood is D, the wife. Her husband M is my cousin by marriage :)

They hadn't made any particular plans for celebrating, so I decided that I'd buy them wine and some nice things to eat. We lucked out; there was a Galeria Kaufhof in Cologne. Galeria is a department store with many offerings. The bigger stores include a gourmet food section. We lucked out doubly because the Cologne store had a huge and lovely section in the basement. We oohed and aahed over all the delicious things and ultimately chose some delicious chocolates, French soft cheeses (thankfully not stinky!), crackers, and two bottles of wine from the Pfalz (where I live).

As we were leaving with the delicious treats, we checked out the store windows, which were amazing. An entire animated Christmas wonderland had been set up. There were many Steiff teddy bears and other animals. Someone posted a Youtube video with a previous year's display here. We were fascinated by the display and looked at it for quite some time. It was both magical...and a little bit sinister, but not like the bloody gnomes in the window in Strasbourg. I think that when anything inanimate, even a cute teddy bear, gets animated/mechanized, it can be slightly creepy. Either way, though, it was a fascinating display that must have taken quite a bit of work to put together.

See? It's a line of monkeys jabbing a carrot into the face of a woodland creature. I'm not sure why.

We returned to the Dom and decided to have the little anniversary party in the small park in front of the Dom. We didn't have any proper cups, let alone wine glasses, for the wine we bought but made do instead with two glühwein mugs for my cousins and an empty water bottle for me. To serve the cheese, we put its wrapper on a park bench and used a plastic spoon I had thought to save from an earlier meal. The chocolates did not need any special handling.Thank goodness none of us were high maintenance!

It was a wonderful feast and we giggled quite a bit about our elaborate table setting. Of course, the two bottles of wine we drank also contributed to the giggling! I thank German laws that allow for public consumption of alcohol in a responsible manner. I also thank Galeria for the great selection of gourmet stuff that tasted great and surprisingly didn't break the bank. Ahh, the benefits of living in Europe!

Our delicious feast, served in such a fancy way.

We were ready to traipse back to the hotel after our lovely meal but I wanted to stop by the Hauptbahnhof to visit the ladies' room first. Let me tell you -- that bahnhof is like a MAZE! My goodness. I am sooo glad that I really paid attention to where I was going and also naturally have decent navigation skills. When my cousins were waiting for me, I actually exited through a different door to the WC than where I came in so I didn't see them. I knew that there were two entrances but got disoriented. I then had to navigate basically in a square to find them. The surprise they showed when I popped up behind them was hilarious. Seriously, though, pay attention in that train station. 

We made it back to the hotel with no problems (though probably not in a perfectly straight line, by any means). I had super steep, dead Muppet stairs to climb to get to my room so I sent my cousins a Facebook message to let them know that I made it to my room safely. It had been a really fun, silly night.

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