Pages

Google+ Followers

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Christmas in Cologne, Germany.

Day 1

We had a stupidly early start this morning but Santa was there with two of his elves (the rest were still in bed), serving hot punch and waving us off for our week in Germany over Christmas.


At 5:45am we were on the road for Dover and I was hoping to make it in time to get on the earlier ferry. After a stop at motorway services for a 'splash and dash', we did make it to port early and were sailing across the channel 1 hour earlier than scheduled. The English Channel was a little choppy today with a bit of a swell and many of our passengers were feeling the effects. I, on the other hand, had a very good breakfast and slept until until we had docked at Calais, waking up feeling as bright as a button and ready for the 4 1/2hr drive to Cologne. 

We had two comfort stops on the journey, more for my benefit than anyone else's. After my alarm going off at 3:15 this morning, I wanted to keep the journey as easy as possible for myself, as well as everyone on board. We had a very clear and easy run across the motorways, then headed for the centre of cologne, which I don't mind admitting was probably the toughest drive I have ever done. I had not been into the centre of cologne before but I had been made aware of the many low bridges and one way road systems. I knew I had to approach our hotel from the North on the west side of the river in order to be able to drop off safely and unload luggage. It was dark. The road signs were poorly lit. I could see there were height restriction signs ahead of me but I could not read the height until I was committed to that route. I knew I had to turn right after crossing the river but I couldn't see the water. It was so dark. After a very slow and steady route through the city, I hadn't hit a bridge and had arrived at the hotel with all the passengers thinking I had been here before because I had made it look so easy. God only knows how that happened because 'easy' is not how I would have described it!

We checked into our hotel, the Maritim Hotel Koln, and the porters delivered the luggage. I had to take the coach away to park up and walk the mile back to the hotel.

When I walked into the front entrance of the hotel, I was very pleasantly surprised at what I saw. It is a very large, very classy looking hotel with shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars on the first two floors.


I checked in and made my way to my room, which is very spacious and I am very happy with.


I only had 20 minutes until I was expected at dinner with my group. So after a very quick wash I change I arrived in the restaurant where we were greeted with a drinks reception of champagne before a very tasty 3 course buffet dinner.

After dinner, with having had a bit of time to relax and having a full tummy, I was all of a sudden feeling incredibly tired. So I made my excuses and had the best nights sleep.

Day 2

After a very good nights sleep I showered and went to breakfast where there was champagne on the buffet. Seeing as I am not driving today I made the most of the opportunity and spoiled myself! 

My courier, Lorraine and I met the group after breakfast at 10:15 to hand out their tickets to the chocolate museum before I walked them the 400m to it.

The futuristic museum's complex, made of steel and glass, is situated right on the banks of the Rhine River, close to Cologne's Old Town. 

In its exhibition, you can learn about the history of chocolate, from the Mayan’s chocolate “drink of the gods” to today's commercial chocolates. You can stroll through the museum's greenhouse with its cocoa trees, and find out how the cocoa bean becomes a chocolate bar from start to finish in the museum's mini-production unit. You can also taste the chocolate from the chocolate fountain.


Our group had a free flow tour of the museum and had the rest of the day at leisure to explore the final day of the Christmas markets.

Every year, the city centre of Cologne is touched by the magic of the festivities in the run-up to Christmas. When the Christmas markets in Cologne open their gates on the last Monday before Advent, millions of visitors from around the world delight at the goods on sale at the quaintly designed huts (or "Buden").


Christmas music, arts and crafts, toys, Christmas decorations and the scent of the Christmas bakeries create a wonderful atmosphere. It is not just children's eyes that light up when pewter pourers, wreath binders and glassblowers demonstrate their art, and the aroma of mulled wine, hot chestnuts and gingerbread fills the air.


Lorraine and I had a very enjoyable afternoon, wandering around the market and enjoying the gluwein before heading back to the hotel for a cheeky afternoon nap to try and catch up on some sleep before dinner.

Once again, we had a very enjoyable meal before relaxing in the piano bar. I could very easily get used to this standard of living!!


Day 3

We had another leisurely breakfast this morning with, yes you've guessed it, more champagne, before we all met our local guide André, at 11am for a city walking tour. He gave a very interesting, informative tour of the city and I very much enjoyed looking at his peachy little bottom!

Cologne (Köln) offers seemingly endless attractions, led by its famous cathedral whose filigree twin spires dominate the skyline. It’s regularly voted the country’s single most popular tourist attraction. The city’s museum landscape is especially strong when it comes to art but also has something in store for fans of chocolate, sports and even Roman history. Its people are well known for their liberalism and joie de vivre and it’s easy to have a good time right along with them year-round in the beer halls of the Altstadt (old town) or during the springtime Carnival.

Cologne is like a 3-D textbook on history and architecture. Drifting about town you’ll stumble upon an ancient Roman wall, medieval churches galore, nondescript postwar buildings, avant-garde structures and even a new postmodern quarter right on the Rhine. Germany’s fourth-largest city was founded by the Romans in 38 BC and given the lofty name Colonia Claudia Ara Aggripinensium. It grew into a major trading centre, a tradition it solidified in the Middle Ages and continues to uphold today.


After our tour, we had the rest of the day free. After a walk to check the coach and give it a quick clean we headed back to the beer halls of the old town. We got talking to 3 Dutch people who had been in the city for a one night stay to visit the Christmas markets and get into the festive mood. We spent the afternoon chatting with them and had a lot of fun before returning to the hotel. 


I noticed that no one was in the pool so I took advantage of that and the sauna before getting ready for our German buffet dinner. I had Roast Goose which was absolutely delicious! We spent the rest of the evening socialising with our passengers in the Piano Bar. I was sat enjoying the good company and the flowing wine when all of a sudden, the lady on the table next to me screamed, threw her drink in the air and jumped out of her seat and stood on the table, because a mouse had just ran past her foot! I couldn't help laughing! The waitress rushed over to see what the problem was and did not seem surprised that we had seen a mouse and eventually said "yes, the mouse is a problem of the house!" After another enjoyable evening, I went to bed and had a really good nights sleep.

Christmas Day

We had a late, leisurely breakfast this morning, once again with champagne, before going to get dressed for lunch.

Lorraine and I arrived at the restaurant early because our company has provided Christmas crackers and Christmas presents for our guests, so we just had to spend a minute putting crackers on the tables and hide the presents so we could hand them out at the lunch table. Our people started to arrive and some had got into the spirit with their Christmas hats.


Our company had requested a Roast Turkey dinner with stuffing. I can never quite understand why they do this. It is my opinion that if you go to Germany for Christmas, it is to embrace the German traditions and to experience the way which they do Christmas, including the food. However, the turkey was very nice but the stuffing was weird! Germans don't eat stuffing and in previous years we have had it served up with the Christmas pudding because they just don't know what to do with it! Luckily this year, the stuffing was actually inside the turkey but it was not what we would recognise to be stuffing! I can't even describe what is was, but it was quite revolting!! Other than that, the meal was very nice. After lunch, a group of us went to the Bellevue restaurant, on the fifth floor overlooking the city, for a social glass of wine. I went for a relax in the jacuzzi before we had to start eating again at this evenings dinner. We really didn't need any more food! It was an enjoyable evening though.

Boxing Day

Today I am happy to be getting back behind the wheel. We have our guide, André, joining us again today. Once again it was a long leisurely breakfast before I had to walk the mile up the river to where the coach was parked. I was back at the hotel to collect our passengers at 11am. André gave us a quick city tour of Cologne on board the coach, mostly to show off the city skyline, before we made our way to Maria Laach.

Maria Laach Abbey is a Benedictine abbey in northwestern Germany. Picturesquely located on the wooded shores of a crater lake, Maria Laach's abbey church is a beautiful and important example of German Romanesque architecture.


The Abbey of Maria Laach was founded in 1093 by the Count Palatine of the Rhine Heinrich II (d.1095) and his wife Adelheid (1100). They were unable to have children and donated what would have been spent on a dowry on the foundation of a monastery across the lake from their castle. The founding document read:

The foundation was accepted and overseen by the Archbishop of Trier and the first monks came from the monastery of St. Maximin near Trier. Built on the west side of the lake now known as the Laacher See, the monastery became known as the Abbatia ad Lacum, "Lake Abbey."


In 1112, Count Palatine Siegfried of Ballenstedt, stepson of Heinrich, gave the monastery to Affligem Abbey in modern-day Belgium. Laach monastery became a Priory and its 40 monks were led by Prior Gilbert of Affligem from 1127. In 1138, Laach became an independent abbey with Gilbert as its first abbot.

Laach Abbey was dissolved on August 6, 1802, as part of the "Secularization" of all lands west of the Rhine under Napoleon. The abbey became the property of the occupying French, and then the Prussian state in 1815. Most of the monastic buildings were sold to private owners. The monastic buildings were badly damaged by arson in 1855, but the church was spared.


Benedictine monks from Beuron Abbey acquired the monastery in 1892 and in 1893 Maria Laach attained abbey status once again. The church of Maria Laach is widely considered a masterpiece of German Romanesque architecture. Its relatively short length and multitude of towers and turrets give it the appearance of a fairy-tale fortress, which is further accentuated by its scenic lakeside setting.

The Abbey is just north of Koblenz, so from here we had the opportunity of a scenic drive along the bank of the Rhine to Königswinter, where we were booked in for afternoon tea at our sister hotel. We arrived to quite an impressive spread of sandwiches and cakes, and the way in which everyone was going for the food, you'd have thought they hadn't been fed for a week!

After copious amounts of tea, we got back on board the coach and made our way back towards Cologne, travelling through the centre of Bonn so that André could show us some points of interest. Personally, I think Bonn is the most boring city tour I have ever done! It is all about how they 'used to be' or 'used to have'. So there is a lot of history there, but nothing to physically be seen. 

We arrived back at the hotel at about 1715. I dropped everyone off and went to park up. On the walk back, I decided I would cross the river and have a look at the skyline which André was so keen to show off this morning and even in the dark, I could see why.


I arrived back at the hotel and had a bit of a mad dash to get myself ready for dinner. We had another enjoyable meal before moving through to the piano bar in search of the pet mouse. 

Day 6

I was indulging in champagne at breakfast again this morning before meeting the group for today's two visits. The weather was not very pleasant this morning. It was windy and trying to snow between the raindrops. The only good thing about today was that we only had a couple of short walks to get to where we were going.

After a walk across the square, feeling the the pied piper, we arrived at our first visit. Cologne Cathedral. We met our guide, Sylvia, and we were all given headsets in order to be able to hear Sylvia through her microphone.

There are big celebrations in Cologne this year because this is the 850th anniversary of the relics of the Three Wise Men being housed in the Cathedral, after they were stolen from the Italians. Sorry, I mean 'acquired'!

 Cologne Cathedral is a building of superlatives that is the centre and hallmark of this city on the Rhine. The cornerstone of this Gothic cathedral was laid on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on 15 August 1248. The previous building was apparently no longer deemed impressive enough to house the remains of the Three Wise Men, which Archbishop Rainald von Dassel had brought to Cologne from Milan after the latter city was conquered in 1164. Because of these relics, the cathedral became one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe. Its two massive towers have dominated the city’s skyline since their completion in 1880. At 157.38 metres, the northern tower is 7cm taller than the southern one.

Today the cathedral is Cologne’s second-tallest structure, surpassed only by the telecommunications tower. The cathedral covers almost 8,000 square metres of floor space and can hold more than 20,000 people. Due to the building’s impressive Gothic architecture, the shrine of the Three Wise Men, the outstanding stained-glass windows and the many other important works of art, UNESCO declared Cologne Cathedral a World Heritage Site in 1996.


The building of the Cathedral started in 1248 and was not completed until 1880. Cologne's medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, Cologne Cathedral eventually became unified as "a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value" and "a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe".


Behind the high altar, the Shrine of the Three Kings rises up; the relics of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar-the city patrons of Cologne-rest here alongside the relics of Saints Felix and Nabor and Saint Gregory of Spoleto. This impressive work of medieval gold craftsmanship surpasses all other shrines in the Western world in terms of size and grandeur.


The Shrine of the Three Kings is approximately 43 inches (110 cm) wide, 60 inches (153 cm) high, and 87 inches (220 cm) long. It is shaped like a basilicatwo sarcophagi stand next to each other, with the third sarcophagus resting on their roof ridges. The ends are completely covered, so there is no space visible between the sarcophagi. The basic structure is made of wood, with gold and silver overlay decorated with filigree, enamel, and over 1000 jewels and beads. The latter include a large number of cameos and intaglio pieces, some pre-Christian.


Our guide was exceptionally good and very cleverly worded topics which were a little controversial. She had given a very well informed, interesting tour and Sylvia is a guide I will recommend and request again.

After time for a quick coffee in the Dom Forum, we took the short walk to the Schnütgen Museum which is currently home to the exhibition of the Three Wise Men, which is the reason for our visit here and we have another guide to bring it to life for us.

The Museum Schnütgen is celebrating the 850th anniversary of the arrival of the remains of the Magi in Cologne with a large special exhibition. The exhibition will bring together ivories, sculptures, paintings, manuscripts and works of treasury art that offer an interesting interpretation of the subject and are artistically of especially high quality. These works were created between the 5th to 16th centuries and hail from various artistic regions such as Italy, Germany or France.

After our tour, I was all 'wise men'd out! We had the rest of the day to ourselves so Lorraine and I headed back to the skating rink where there were a few remaining market stalls and bars. We found a nice warm corner and sat enjoying gluwein and bratwurst. 


We returned to the hotel at about 4pm. I made use of the pool and the sauna before packing my case and dressing for dinner. I had an early night after tonight's dinner. Tomorrow was going to be a long day travelling home.

Day 7

There was a lot of snow on the ground on our journey back across to Calais. Not enough to slow us down or cause us a problem though. Everything this morning ran very smoothly. Luggage was delivered to me on time and loaded. All bills paid, keys handed in. We stopped at P&J's Chocolate Factory near Oostende and we arrived at Calais in good time. We got on the ferry we were booked on. I was sat on board ship eating my lunch when an announcement came over that we were delayed because 4 clandestines had managed to get on board ship. Police had caught 2 and were in pursuit of the other 2. We were half an hour late leaving dock but the captain put his foot down and made up a lot of time.

We had an easy journey up and around the M25 and onward home. Our company director was waiting at the depot to welcome us home. It had been a successful tour and I'd had a lot of fun over the week. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to having a few days off over New Year, my first New Year off for I can't remember how many years, so I have a lot of partying to catch up on!

Thank you all for following me through 2014, I hope you will all keep following through 2015. Happy New Year everyone! x