The lights simply sang against the soft, velvety night and I wandered underneath a canopy of sparks, grinning up into the heavens, weaving in and out of merry revellers, heading towards the central Christmas tree. We joined the crowd around the tree, the pinnacle of the shining canopy of lights, and pressed around the bandstand beneath, listening for the sounds of Christmas songs sung by a trio. We danced, swept along by the hustle and bustle, and it seemed as if everyone was smiling and absorbed, shining, swept away in Christmas and music, cold air and warm hearts.
This was my favourite moment. Under the tent of lights, if felt as if nothing could go wrong here. Even if it rained, I believed those little electric stars would keep us dry and warm.
Simply magical is right.
As the singing came to end, we departed the cathedral market. We were pretty weary as we'd both been up since 4:00am so we sauntered through the market-lined streets markets before stopping at a restaurant for a curry and a sit down in the warm. Because it has been ever such a long time since we'd had a meal.
Finally we headed for our youth hostel around half nine and we were ready for bed by half ten. Because we are party people. But actually this worked for us both and meant we could get up at a reasonable hour and catch the markets as they opened. With only 24 hours in Cologne, we wanted to make the most of it.
We slumbered away with an 8-bed dorm to ourselves and had such a good sleep! We were up at eight, had tea at nine and then walked through the Sunday morning city listening to bells ring, catching glimpses of stalls starting to show signs of life, mingling and strolling with the fresh-faced early morning crowd. It was a different atmosphere from the night before: one full of promise for a new day and we were determined to squeeze every drop of Christmas out of those last few hours.
Our breakfast cup of tea had not been in vain: firstly a very tiny breakfast leaves lots of stomach space for market morsels, and secondly we had dug out the map and had a very clear idea of the places we wanted to hit again.
To whit, potatoes. Kartoffels galore. Fried please. And a badge for my camp blanket as this was a guiding trip after all, and I had spotted some pretty lacy snowflakes the day before.
We arrived back at Cologne cathedral and walked round it, admiring its towering gothic presence. We wandered to the main bridge across the Rhine. Many padlocks adorned its railings and indeed there were stalls on the market that were selling engraved locks for you to add your own.
I'll be honest: I think the locks-on-bridges thing has become pretty commercial.
At eleven, we approached the cathedral market again for our final couple of hours in the city. Armed with our food-and-knick-knacks game plan, we made a beeline for potatoes.
They were every bit as glorious as I remembered. Even thinking about them now, I miss those crispy, deep-fried slabs of carbs. They were hot in the chill morning air, and even a touch of drizzle couldn't dampen my enjoyment.
We huddled around a little table enjoying our treat and declaring breakfast a roaring success. Then we plunged back into the little market lanes to spend our final pennies. I picked out some lovely lace snowflakes: one for my tree, one for my parents' and one for my camp blanket. I also found a very pretty wooden one. It was lovely to have a little memento to go home with, especially something for my camp blanket.
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. Because almost an hour had passed since breakfast and obviously we needed to fill up for the journey home (very practical).
Debbie finally managed to procure a metre of meat: a flame grilled skewer of roasted meat that she had been trying to find since we arrived. The barbecue smelled amazing and the crowd gathered round meant that meat-on-a-stick was a popular choice.
However, there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted. It might be my last chance after all.
By the end of lunch, we had scaled the lofty heights of Peak Christmas.
And also Peak potato. I love kartoffel.
We finished with a free sample of cinnamon biscuits, freshly warmed from the microwave (which I assume is how they are traditionally made) and we had some gluhwein. Just in order to keep our fingers warm, obvs.
We trailed back around the cathedral, happy, Christmassy and full to the brim and then some of the festive spirit. It had been a wonderful weekend and we rode the trains back to London peacefully, nibbling our purchases, reminiscing about our favourite moments, catching 40 winks, talking away...and of course, planning a future Christmas getaway.
I absolutely loved taking Christmas photos in Cologne. It was magical, and I wish I'd managed to capture even more of how it felt. I’m also very excited to be heading off to Luxembourg later this month for another Christmas market jaunt with Debbie. Given that our first trip out was such a roaring success, it seemed daft not to repeat the experience.
Oh, and we’ve recruited three more Guide leaders to come with us. It looks set to be a lovely trip!
P.S. This post is part of a series I'm writing throughout December in response to Shimelle's scrapbooking class, Journal Your Christmas. By blogging each day, I hope to savour each and every lovely moment of the most wonderful time of the year, and have some great memories to look back on.
PPS Are there any Christmas markets in Europe you would recommend?