Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas market

Recently I was teaching for my lovely friend Petra in Bonn.
For once I treated myself to some extra time before travelling home. Petra took me to several Christmas markets in Bonn and Cologne, and I can understand now, why coaches full of shoppers make their way to Germany at this time of year. Yes, we have Christmas markets, a relatively recent addition, but they are NOTHING like!
I don't know if you get a bit Bah Humbug! in the run up to Christmas, for me it feels as though there is way too much pressure to spend money. Maybe it is my age but it all can feel horribly commercial and lacking in, well, lacking something. So, here's how I got my festive mojo back.

Wrap yourself up warm and sniff the air, first, a heady mix of warm spiced wine; Ghluwein is served throughout the day to keep the frost from the extremities. every booth seems to have it's own special recipe.
Nom Nom Nom
Next, the sweet tempting scent of nuts roasting in caramel goo with just a hint of cinnamon. Underlying this, the rich flavourful smell of roasting meats, sausages and speciality potato fritters served up with orchard fresh apple sauce.

Now look around, it's dusk and hundreds of lights sparkle, in the trees above you, around the wooden stalls, and everywhere is beautifully, colourfully decorated. In all we visited five markets during my visit.
The highlights for me were candy stalls full of sweets half remembered from childhood, the many artisan stalls selling genuinely hand made and lovely gifts; the brush makers booth with hand made brushes for every conceivable chore from brushing snow to cleaning out a pipe and many I had never seen before; ranging in size from almost doll house scale to, dare you to try and lift it, giant size.

Glass decorations, how to choose!
But the most breathtaking, eye dazzling, I want one of each please booth, was the one selling blown glass Christmas decorations. Some I recognised from my grandmother's time, inherited and treasured, others were just amazing, birds and animals, and all in the rich vibrant colours of bohemian glass at its most wonderful. Right there in a dark cobbled street my heart simply sang with the magic of Christmas.
In Cologne every district has a market and we nearly visited them all. Petra and I discovered a mutual love and indeed stamina for continuous shopping.
I could have easily spent serious money at the vintage and antiques booths. I learned a lot about the many traditional foods, raisin breads and stollen, biscuits and savouries and about the long held traditions that make these markets so special.
Cologne with bells on!

I love 4711 Eau de Cologne, have used it since forever and don't much care if it seems old fashioned, I just love the refreshing scent. So it was great to visit the home of 4711 in a side street. Right on cue the clock chimed, toy soldiers on horseback emerged and the bells chimed out a Christmas carol, enchanting.
I also discovered their new range of scents bringing the brand right up to date, to become the go to perfumery for anyone in need of a gorgeous Cologne.
The Acqua Colonia range has delicious scents, Pink pepper and Grapefruit, Blood Orange and Basil, Mandarin and Cardomom and Lemon and Ginger. We smelled divine for the rest of the day!

The Nativity Window. The Dom, Cologne.
After a pause to munch through a bag of roasted chestnuts, it was a lovely break from the crowds to step inside the soaring space of the Dom, the twin spired Cathedral. The space is peaceful, awe inspiring in scale and the sun came out just as we were there, illuminating the stain glass windows. right above us, glowing and bright, the Nativity picked out in coloured glass to remind us all.

So, there it is, how Christmas should be celebrated with dear friends, good food, beautifully made crafts, and a rich sense of tradition that is completely heartwarming.
As I wrap up the treats I brought home for everyone, ready to go under the tree, this year it really does feel good to be celebrating Christmas.