As quite a bit of the trip was at a conference, I didn't do much to report on until I was freed up time wise at 3pm on the Saturday. I noticed that there was a small Christmas market where the conference was (well, away from the tourist areas) and had a little poke around it before heading back to central Köln. It was in a shopping centre, had about 15 stalls and mainly had cheaper, but very nice quality goods, mainly concentrating on Christmas decorations and edibles like nuts and Aachener Printen. I came away with a few bags of the latter for the office.
On getting back to Köln, I got changed and decided to have a quick scan around the markets there, there was a large and very crowded one around the Dom, a smaller one which was a bit less crowded down by the Heumarkt and had an ice rink and another crowded one around the Neumarkt. By this time, I was frozen and headed back via tram to the hotel for a nice warm.
Normally, I'd go out in Köln on a Saturday evening, there's a nice selection of "bear" bars I quite like in one area. However, three things mitigated against this. I was quite tired, it was -5 outside and falling and at the moment I can't drink alcohol due to a course of medication. So I popped around the corner to the Gästatte Dominikaner and had Bratwurst, potatoes and sauerkraut whilst sipping a diet Coke and looking at all the people enjoying lovely glasses of Kolsch. After that, I went back to the hotel and played a bit of EU III with the latest patch.
Sunday was cloudy and cold. My original intention had been to go to Wuppertal and explore the Schwebebahn there. However, with the weather not looking brilliant for photography and needing to get some Christmas shopping done, I proceeded to go out on a series of short shopping raids followed by a nice warm either back at the hotel or with a cup of coffee somewhere.
Over the next six hours, I mainly concentrated on the market by the Dom and purchased a number of goodies. The prices are slightly inflated there for the prime position and the number of tourists, but are pretty comparable to say the excellent Christmas Market in Birmingham. The goods at the Dom are generally of a very high quality and I bought several presents there for friends. The food stalls also cover a fairly wide range of foods, although I noticed that compared to last year, the selection was more Germanic. Lunch was a Wild Boar Roll, pricey at 8€, but very well filled with fresh Wild Boar off the spit and very tasty.
The longest search was for a Monopoly set, a friend collects them and Germany has very good game shops. As it was a Sunday before Christmas, a large number of shops were open and eventually I located a shop with a number of unusual Monopoly sets.
The evening was spent quietly, with no beer to be drunk, I settled in with a excellent book (Death in Breslau by Marek Krajewski) and popped out to the local Maredo around the corner for a steak and salad. Maredo is a chain found throughout Germany, it's usually pretty decent, there was one a very short distance away from the hotel - which is helpful in the freezing temperatures.
To quickly review the hotel, I have stayed in the Hilton Cologne about 12 times over the years. It's very well situated near the Dom and the Hauptbahnhof. The rooms are very modern, although if you want a larger room, I suggest booking the deluxe rooms - which are very large. It has one of the best buffet breakfast in Germany, and whilst I wasn't on a breakfast rate, I did treat myself on the Sunday and it hasn't had any "enhancements" to it, still a very good selection of hot and cold dishes. Check-in was very good as was check-out, although there was a slight error with the bill which was quickly resolved.
Next: Trains (with pictures)