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On Saturday, and for the second year in a row, I visited the Cologne Christmas Market. Last year we arrived at the Weihnachtsmarkt with no expectations and were delighted by the intimate, festive atmosphere.
Visitors are never more than a few seconds away from another market stall full of charming gift ideas, delicious food, or steaming gluehwein.
My favourite memory was purchasing fresh mistletoe and carrying it around like a bridesmaid.
This year I arrived ravenous, camera in hand. Within minutes I was scarfing down reibekuchen. I also sampled waffles, caramelized almonds, pretzels, and non-alcoholic apfelpunch.
Sadly I had to resist the delectable smell of glühwein, available for purchase in festive mugs. But the little baby snug against my chest more than made up for it.
Like last year, the cold contrasted perfectly with the soft glow of lights. Shuffling through the crowd, we saw brightly knit hats and scarves and lots of sturdy wooden toys.
Some stuffed animals could be heated up in the microwave for an even warmer cuddle.
One of my favourite stalls sold bird feeders carved into the shapes of owls, not to mention the meticulously arranged dried flowers, romantic candles, and hundreds of Christmas tree ornaments.
If the market itself wasn't enough to delight the senses, I just had to look up and see the Cologne Cathedral towering majestically overhead.
We wandered for hours and it seemed we would never tire of the experience.
We did venture from the crowded market square a couple times, first to view the interior of the cathedral, and next to the train station to change the baby (we had no luck finding facilities in the market).
Finally, we went to visit the love padlocks on the Hohenzollern Bridge, spanning the Rhino River. We stopped every few feet to admire another Lucchetti d'Amore on the chain-linked fence.
Without sounding too cheesy, visiting Cologne for the Christmas market feels like returning to the Christmases of my childhood.
With carollers, ice skating, and Christmas lights galore, it really captures the magic of the Christmas season.
Janelle Ward is a born and raised Minnesotan living in Leiden, the Netherlands. Nine years ago she came to Europe for a brief international experience. Along the way, having acquired a Spanish husband, a PhD and a little one, she has found that observing life outside her comfort zone is a true passion. Visit her blog post BlondebutBright.
Photo credit: Janelle Ward
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