Monday, December 3, 2012

Cologne's Christmas Markets

We're just back from a great break in Cologne to visit it's world famous Christmas Markets. Every year the city centre of Cologne comes alive with the majic of Christmas, when the markets open their gates on the last Monday before Advent. Christmas music, arts, crafts and toys along with some great food and drink help to create a wonderful atmosphere in which to explore the markets and the city. We joined our good friend Elke to explore all that the city has to offer as Christmas approaches. We took the opportunity to visit the visiting David Hockney exhibition, the afternoon before at Cologne's Ludwig Museum before hitting the markets the following morning. The Ludwig Museum is easy to find as its located right behind the Cathedral which is hard to miss.

First piece of advice, wrap up warm and wear some comfortable shoes as the markets are spread all round the city, so whether you're there for a day or a couple of days you will cover some kms. The Catehdral Christmas Market has perhaps the most impressive backdrop to its 150 wooden stalls. The markets open at 11am, so try and get there early, as the day progresses the city gets busier and its not so easy to see all that the stalls have to offer.

Perhaps the prettiest of the markets is the one on the Alter Markt in front of Cologne's town hall. Young children will really enjoy this market, with its nostagic children's roundabout and many toy stalls. Right in the centre of the city's Altstadt, this is one market not to miss.

Cologne's oldest Christmas Market, Markt Der Engel (Angel's Market) is held on the Neumarkt, the city centre market in the shopping district.

At the entrance to the Market of Fairytales you'll find one of the largest Santa Claus that I've ever come across which makes him a very popular photo opportunity as you'll see below.

If you don't get a chance to visit Cologne during the period of the Christmas markets, its still a great destination for a short city break with lots to do and see, check out for more information on the city. Below are some more images of Cologne....

If you fancy visiting Cologne's Christmas Markets in the run up to Christmas 2012, they are open until the 23rd December from 11am to 9pm, extended to 10pm on Friday and Saturday. So if your thinking about Christmas Shopping its not a bad place to go, enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Five images of what you'll find in the Netherlands

Having lived in the Netherlands for the last 6 years we've managed to see quite a lot of what the country has to offer. It's know for being flat and that is true, but escape from the motorways and you'll see that there is a lot to do and see, so much more than just Amsterdam.

Referred to as the Garden of Europe, Keukenhof is situated near Lisse and is the world's largest flower garden. According to the official websire for the Keukenhof Park, approximately 7,000,000 (seven million) flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares. The blend of colours is amazing, a real treat for flower lovers, photographers and tourists from all round the globe.

Ask many people what they think of when asked about the Netherlands and more often than not, you'll hear the word windmills. If this is what you want to see, then you need to head for Zaanse Schans, which is the heart of the Zaan region. This area has typical Zaan houses, buildings and of course windmills. On a windy day, you'll be able to see the windmills working.

Zaanse Schans

So whats next after bulbs & windmills? Its gotta be cheese and in particular Edam cheese. If you visit Zaanse Schans, you'll find that you are only a stones throw away from the home of the famous Edam Cheese. During the months of July & August you can visit the cheesemarket and see how they are sold. Edam is a really pretty town, very relaxed, where you can visit the Edams Museum and enjoy the many historical buildings in the town.

downtown Edam
So, we've covered bulbs, windmills, cheese...what now? Perhaps one of the most famous exports and equally famous Dutch brands is of course Heineken, especially now that James Bond has added it to his list if favoured beverages. You'll find the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam. Why "experience" and not museum? Easy answer, because four levels of interactive expereiences in this former brewery will plunge you into the world of Heineken. See it, hear it, smell it and finally taste it.

Heineken Experience, Amsterdam
Finally, we come to canals & bicycles, the connection between the two? Well, this is a bit weak but when cleaning the canals, one of the most found items in the canals are bikes. Bikes in the Netherlands are a form of transport as the country is covered with bike lanes which reduce the hazards faced by cyclists in most countries. A word of warning, when you visit the Netherlands, watch out for cyclists, especially in Amsterdam as they won't stop if you step out in front of them.

beautiful Delft
To read some more about the cities or places in this post, simply click on the following links; KeukenhofZaanse SchansEdamAmsterdam and Delft

Monday, November 26, 2012

Five of our favourite Markets

Here are five of our favourite markets from Chile, Spain, Vietnam and Germany, selling a mix of food & handcraft. All which give you a sense of what the countries are about and add to your experience when you visit them and the cities where they are located.

In 1817, Bernado O'Higgins, the then ruler of Chile ordered the building of a purpose built food, fruit and fish marketplace which lead to the construction of the Mercado Central, in Santiago.  A drive to exploit the tourist potential of the Mercado has led to a partial loss of its original use. Today you'll find sevarel restaurants in the Market's main hall offering exactly what visitor's want: simple and authentic Chilean dishes with an emphasis on freshness. The stalls around the central hall offer an unrivalled and impressive selection of fruit, vegetables and fish, making this a true "foodie" heaven. We ate at the Mercado twice during our stay, both times at Augusto's restaurant in the main hall. Without doubt the best known restaurant in the Mercado

Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile

Moving away from food and in particular seafood, another great market to visit whilst in Santiago selling traditional Chilean Handcraft in the Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos. You'll find this wonderful country style market in Las Condes, located next to the San Vincente Ferrer Church. It is well worth a visit, lots to see in a very relaxed atmosphere with a couple of bars/restaurants to take a break,. Below are some more shots which I hope will show you why this lovely location is well worth a visit.

A visit to Valencia is imcomplete without spending some time in the city's Mercado Central, situated in a huge iron, glass and tile Art Nouveau building. It opened in 1928 and is one of the largest and most attractive markets in Europe. Every morning around 350 stalls are filled with an amazing variety of food. We had a great time taking in all that the market had on display and left wishing that we had something similar near to where we live, sadly we don't. The Mercado Central is a great showcase for the very best in Spanish food, here are some images which will hopefully whet your appetites....

Mercado Central, Valencia

Whilst we were in Vietnam, in 2009 we visited the city of Hoi An and spent a couple of days there exploring. Hoi An's market is a blaze of colour and noise with an incredible array of fresh fruit, vegtables, meat and flowers. 

Moving away from food, our list of favourite markets takes a more festive direction as we approach the end of 2012 and the Christmas period. Traditional Christmas Markets have been common on mainland Europe for decades and their success has led to them appearing further afield too. One of the first we visited together was in the city of Aachen, the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, 65 km (40 mi) west of Cologne. Aachen really comes to life at the end of November, when the Christmas Market opens. For me this is the best time to go there, you can visit the Cathedral whilst sampling the unique atmosphere of a German Christmas Market. People travel from far and wide to visit Aachen at this time of year, so it can get very busy as the day progresses.

In December last year, we visited the magnificent city of Vienna and had a great long weekend enjoying the city's historic architecture as well as its impressive Christmas markets. Our next Chistmas Market trip will be to the city of Cologne, so watch out for some images from this trip coming soon.