December 5 - Donuts

Our alarms jolted us awake at 09:00.  We had to depart by 10:00, so we got up quickly, got cleaned up, and then headed out.  We departed the Airbnb at 09:59.  It was just a short walk to the train station.  Once there, Crystal did everything in German and got our tickets.  There was a note on our tickets about some issue between Koblenz and Cologne, which we tried to translate to no avail.  It was entirely too hot on the train, but there wasn’t much we could do once we took off our coats, as it wasn’t like we could take off our long underwear from under the rest of our clothes.  

Perhaps because it was a Sunday, there was no ticket guy.  Also perhaps because it was a Sunday, there was just one other person on our floor of our car.  We could hear his music, from his headphones, from several rows away - it was that quiet on the train.  While there was no ticket guy, there was a snacks guy, however, who lugged the snack cart up the stairs somehow.  Outside, we could see a number of camping spots along the river, all of which were empty right now, but probably busy during the summer.  We checked the depth of the river, and saw that on average, it is only 8 feet deep, so no wonder the ships have a very specific shape to them.

We arrived in Koblenz around noon, and found out that the train we were going to take to Koln was canceled, so we decided to get on the 12:47 train instead.  We didn’t have a ton of time, but we had some, so we went to the ATM for some cash, and also got snacks and train wine.  Our platform was Gleis 104, which was odd since all of the other platforms were single digits.  We found 104, as it appeared at the end of platform with 4, with a track that ended literally right there.  So for once, Justin was 100% sure he wouldn’t be facing backwards when the train started moving.

Compared with the train we were supposed to take, we were on a local train, with lots of stops, which was a little annoying but not too bad.  The views of the river were pretty nice.  We went through Bonn, which had only two stops, which seemed incredible given that it was formerly the capital of West Germany.  Just 1.5 stops from Cologne, we came to a complete stop for an unstated reason, and just stayed there for a while.  As we were stopped, other trains went flying by.  This was very annoying, particularly since no one said what the issue was.  We finally arrived right after 15:00, which coincidentally was the check-in time for our Airbnb.  The train station was right next to a huge Cathedral, the Cologne Cathedral.   Crystal surmised it is even taller than St Stephen’s in Vienna (and she is correct, 515 feet to 446 feet).

The train station is just north of Cologne Cathedral, and our Airbnb was just a couple blocks south of the Cathedral.  On the short walk from the train station to our place, we noted a Christmas Market just on the south side of Cathedral, and another one just to the southeast of that.  Our place was just a block or two away from all the people, on a quiet street.  We had no issues getting the keys, but we couldn’t get into the unit right away, as we weren’t turning the knob when we activated the fob.  The unit was huge, almost surely bigger than our condo in San Diego.  The interior had an eclectic style, with lots of bright colors, random splashes of paint, and interesting light formations.  There was an outdoor deck off of the master bath, but it wasn’t like we were going to use that in December.

We put our stuff down, and Crystal wished her dad a Happy 70th Birthday (we were supposed to be in Salzburg today with him, if things had worked out as we'd planned), then went out to explore the city.  Our first stop was at the market by the Cathedral.  It was absolutely packed, with tons of people.  Also, there was no guarantee that everyone was vaccinated.  There were no entrance requirements this time; instead each individual stand would check people.  This seemed inefficient to us, but perhaps there was no way to fence off the whole area.  We kept looking for some sort of punsch, but couldn’t really find anything.  We were beginning to wonder if this was just an Austrian thing.  In some places, especially around the musician stage, there were too many people.  We would’ve thought this even if there wasn’t a pandemic.

The weather didn’t seem as cold as Trier, but perhaps we were just getting used to it.  We meandered a couple blocks to the southeast, back towards our Airbnb, to check out another market.  This was a bit bigger, with nice lighting on the trees, and plenty of decorations around the market.  But the food and drink stalls seemed to be the same 4-6 places over and over, and none of them were jumping out at us.  We made a brief pit stop at the Airbnb, as Justin’s back was bothering him.  He did some stretching and lying flat, and then went out again.

We went to the market around the corner from our place.  It had an ice skating rink, and also something akin to curling.  The market, in the Heumarkt location, was long and thin, and there was a crush of people in a couple spots.  After getting away from the crowds, we went along the river for a bit, taking a look at the various restaurants.  When we got up by the Ludwig Museum and the Cathedral, we turned west and saw the east and north sides of the Cathedral.  A little west of the Cathedral we turned south and walked along one of the main shopping streets, Hohe Strasse.  Interestingly, there were donut shops everywhere, and we couldn’t figure out what the backstory on that is.

Eventually we headed west, and after 15 minutes or so, we saw another Christmas Market, the Angel Market, set at the Neumarkt.  This was way less crowded, with more spacing between chalets, and also more variety in what was being sold.  We found one place with white gluhwein (red wine is far more common) and also an apple punch with gin.  The punsch was really good.  For dinner, Crystal got meat on a stick (marinated chicken pieces) and Justin got a kasewurst (akin to the cheesy sausage at Bitzinger, but not on that level).  Aside from all the masks, this was more or less on par with our 2018 and 2019 experiences.  We walked back east along a different route, and actually found our place without even needing to look at the map.  In the Airbnb, Justin turned on the VPN on his computer, but could not trick YouTubeTV into thinking he was in the United States.  He could trick, however, and watched a bit of the “Witching Hour” (the fourth quarter of the early games, on RedZone) before he fell asleep.

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