Carnival In Koln – Or Cologne
Cologne – which my German friends write Koln – is not a very popular place for American tourists to go, but I have always had a wonderful time there. It is especially cool during Carnival, which is around the same time as Mardi Gras in New Orleans, so February. To be perfectly honest, it really is cold, but the city is very old, and there are neat touristy things to do, as well as just enjoy the craziness that is Carnival.
Cologne is the fourth-biggest city in Germany, so it is not small, but it feels spacious and not clustered. It does not really feel busy, I guess, which is what I like. It is considered a very gay city, so if you are gay or lesbian, this is a good place to come and be out and proud. It is an especially dramatic-looking city, and it is in much better shape than Berlin, which I think feels extremely miserable, and it is too dramatically depressingly artistic for me, or Frankfurt, which feels like a lot of other modern European cities, like Milan.
The most famous landmark in Cologne is the Cologne Cathedral, and it really is beautiful. It looks gothic and scary and beautiful, just like a church should be. It looks really stunning from the outside, or you can easily walk around inside for at least 30 minutes, just enjoying all of the really intricate little carvings. I am not religious, but I really loved being able to see this. There is the opportunity to go into the tower, but when we were there, it was a long wait and it cost some money, so I decided not to go. I heard that going up in the tower is pretty awesome, though. There is a gorgeous really modern colored, stained glass window that you can not miss, because it is one of the prettiest things you will ever see in your entire life.
If you come to visit around December, you can enjoy some REALLY beautiful Christmas markets in Cologne, and one of them is right at the bottom of the Cologne Cathedral, which has to be one of the cutest things I have ever seen in my entire life.
Carnival is a week long party in Germany, and each day has its own theme, so one day is for girls, and they get to walk around and cut ties off of men (fun!). I know so many Americans think that Germans are uptight or boring, but that is definitely not true of Southern and Western Germans, who are truly party people.
One nice touristy thing to do in Cologne is to go to the Hohenzollern Bridge, which is walking distance from anywhere you might be. It is a nice bridge for architectural reasons, but it is really famous for having padlocks all over it, now. I think that only started in 2008, but there are lots of them. I bought a lock a few days before, and locked it right up on the bridge with my husband. It feels good, knowing a little celebration of our love is right there, in Germany.
I went to the Botanical Gardens Flora during the summer, once, and it was SO gorgeous. I would probably not be that impressed by it during the winter, when everything is pretty frozen and dead, but during the summer it is something very special.
The Chocolate Museum is Cologne is exactly as wonderful as you would think it would be. It is positioned right above a chocolate factory, and the smells when you walk up will make your heart swell with happiness. Do not expect to get a lot of free chocolate, though! You get just a single wafer, and you can dip it once into a chocolate fountain. That is IT!
But you can see all sorts of really cool chocolate sculptures, as well as neat art that has been on chocolates. Germany actually makes really amazing chocolate – Austria and Belgium are more famous for it, but Germany is right next door. They have all kinds of information at the museum, like information on cocoa and the history of chocolate, and you will come away knowing more about chocolate than you possibly imagined.
Hohe Strasse is a cool place to head to go to nice boutique shops that you will be impressed by, if you are a big shopper. There are neat, unique small shops with clothes and little knick knacks that you will not find anywhere else. Pick up gifts for people, and they will appreciate that when you were on vacation, you thought of them.
I absolutely can not talk about any place in Germany without recommending some food. I LOVE German food. It is saucy and juicy and delicious! Germany is probably most famous for sausage and soft pretzels, and these are made perfectly in Cologne. Do not forget to get yummy mustard to dip both your sausages and your soft pretzels in – the mustard is VERY important.
Also, one of my favorite dishes in the entire world is spaetzle, which is a sort of potato pasta in little spindles, and I love it in a creamy mushroom sauce. What most people do not know about, though, are German dumplings. Go into a pub style place and ask if they have potato dumplings. Some places have them frozen, which is not terrible, but it is not as good as if they are made fresh. You get some meat, usually beef, and one big dumpling or a few smaller dumplings, and everything is covered in a really tasty salty gravy. If I had to compare it to something in America, I would say chicken and dumplings, but American dumplings are made out of flour, and the German ones are made out of potatoes, so the German ones are a LOT more moist and delicious, to me. They look almost wet, even without the gravy.
And of course, there is German Chocolate Cake! Bakeries are great in Germany, and you can get a slice of the famous dessert at most of them. Keep in mind that most water Germans like to drink is “with gas” which means that it is carbonated. If you want water without gas, say that, specifically. And just like with most places in Europe, there is no free water available at restaurants, so if you ask for tap water, they will probably just say no to you. You can say you want flat water, or water with no carbonation. Still, sometimes I would be brought fizzy water, and it makes me honestly just want to gag.
Being in Cologne means that you are also one hour away from a great town called Koblenz, which I really love. It is the spot where two major waterways clash into each other, and it is a really adorable little town. It is not even close to as big as Cologne, but it still has that very old world feeling, and I find it a very relaxing place to be. In Koplenz, at the very top of the town is a big castle that you can go explore, and it is definitely worth a visit just to be able to be inside of a fortress like that.
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