Category Archives: Travel

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 6 – Bonn and Königswinter

Final full day in Germany, and we are once again making good use of the recent 9€ for a month of travel initiative. We have had some pretty bad train issues this week, but given what we are paying for them it’s not like we can complain too much. In that vein, our original train to Bonn ended up so late that we ended catching the next one in the schedule. In the grand scheme of things, no big deal but wouldn’t have rushed my breakfast otherwise. 

One thing that immediately dawned on me was just how small Bonn is. On the map where things look far apart, it is only like 15 minutes tops. So a very short hop from the station took us to our first destination, the Bonn Minster. Its currently covered in scaffolding as it has been for years, but this is part of a massive restoration which barred entry access for three years. Thankfully, it is now open. 

This is one of the oldest churches in Germany with some parts hitting 1000 years old at some point this century. It also has an incredibly beautiful choir and apse (yes I am trying to learn the terminology) which photography is unable to do justice to. But still we try because I want to be able to remember how lovely it was. 

The first of the rain arrived as we entered the cloister. This would become a theme of the day with the weather being highly changeable and unpredictable – sometimes in the space if descending a staircase or going in and out of a store. 

You know, like the Haribo store. I know that by going in here and getting merchandise (and only three bags of sweets, please clap) means I can no longer completely side-eye the M&M store in Leicester Square. Although, in my defense, at least Haribo is German and its not like I made a special trip just for a Haribo keychain. 

With Goldbears and gummy frogs bought and in my new Haribo bear bag, we headed to the Poppelsdorff Palace… to find that this too was covered in scaffolding. This time, completely covered so you couldn’t even go into the courtyard and have a shifty. Such a shame because, when you Google it, the palace is beautiful. 

Not going to lie, I felt a little defeated by all the scaffolding – but that was cured by a full tour of the Botanical Gardens. The outside gardens were nice enough, with a lot of water lilies and the sounds of frogs making their presence known. The real joy, however, was to be found in the hot house. 

 

This was one of the final rooms we entered and it had a double whammy of beauty. First there’s the corpse flower. The corpse flower of Bonn botanical garden has made news over the years as a record breaker. Looking at it, I think we struck lucky as it looks like it will fully bloom very soon and we got to see it right before it starts unfurling it’s petals and then… smells like a dead body. 

Also in this room were the largest water lilies I have ever seen. Apparently one of these is a night bloomer, so it makes sense that the flowers were closed. But wow, as someone who is now trying to grow their own water lilies, one of these suckers is about the same size as my actual pond. 

After this it was a bit if a walking tour of the general Bonn Central area. We saw the Sterntor, an old city gate – the third I have seen on this trip. Unlike the other two this has been mildly integrated into the surrounding area, which is great to see as it helps to give this old piece of architecture a new lease of life. 

We had a look at the outside of Beethoven’s birthplace, which was closed (but at 10€ entry, we’d never have gone in). Then we popped into the Holy Name church, which is a beautiful small church I haven’t seen mentioned online as a place to look around. I loved what they did with the blue and columns. It’s a simple idea, but very well executed. 

It was then lunchtime and, luckily for us, there was a market going in the market square. There were so many options to be had, but I wanted something I wouldn’t get in London and haven’t had on this trip. The Hungarian langos stall was, therefore, perfect. I haven’t had one of these since I was in Vienna and this time I was able to have some toppings. I went with their special, which had garlic butter, sour cream, cheese, red pepper and paprika. It was gorgeous and made me think just how much of a hit this would be in the UK. 

That was it for Bonn, so we boarded a tram (or light railway) its hard to know what to call it, to make the 40 minute journey south to the town of Konigswinter. Its very much one of those towns that feels like it scrapes by 10 months of the year and then makes all its bread in the summer. I say this as someone who would have liked to have been able to spend time in the actual town, especially when the weather wasn’t varying between sunshine and torrential rain. 

We were here to go a up the Drachenfels, a mountain that has inspired the likes of Beethoven, Wagner and even Turner. This is where the dragon from the Nibelungen legend is from and it has some pretty spectacular views of the Rhine and the surrounding countryside. The best of these are at the top of the peak where the old castle ruins are, but we where there when the rain was at its height. Whilst there is some poetry in being in such a place of legend as the weather is this grey…  I want nice photos. 

From here, it was downhill to the current Drachenberg Castle. It only dates from the 1880s and is very much what happens when a rich German banker wishes to make his own broadly authentic castle. On the outside it looks like something you’d find in a Disney park, with its almost pink colouring and the perfectly positioned gothic turrets. On the inside though… 

… it is gorgeous. So much of what is here now is restored or made based on the original rooms (it’s had a really tumultuous history and had huge sections destroyed by artillery fire in World War Two) and a huge amount of kudos should be given to the continued work that makes this like the kind of castle King Ludwig had he been on some anti-psychotics. The rooms take the lessons learned from so many other palaces and goes very ostentatious without going too over the top with the decoration. It’s also been built with electricity in mind, which is an interesting touch. 

My favourite room was, without question, the Art Hall. This is one of those rooms that was basically destroyed in the 1940s and has only started looking like its old self in the last decade. Some of the amazing pieces of stained glass (each themed famous figures in various fields including explorers, composers and heads if state) are dated from 2020-21, so it’s a good thing we never got to go here pre-pandemic. There are still a number of windows to be replaced and I hopetey are able to secure those funds so that its complete before the centennial of its destruction. 

The grounds themselves are also lovely to walk around and, somehow, we managed to exit the castle building with there being beautiful sunshine so hot it was visibly making water vapor from they wet roads. It also made large sections smell like walking through a steaming cup of jasmine tea. 

You can walk around to get more lovely views of the valley, but it’s the Venus terrace that I liked the most. It’s another of the more recent renovations and is one of the best places to view the castle itself in the context of the manicured gardens. I can only imagine how even more beautiful this area is going to become in the coming decade. Might be a place to come back to in like 15-20 years to see it further along the renovation work, although it looks pretty near done at the moment. 

As we left the castle, the heavens let lose torrential rain again to te point where where was some thunder to scare the reptiles. Okay, getting a bit ahead of myself there. Just down the road from the castle is the Nibellungenhalle – a round hall that is set up to celebrate the Nibelungen story as well as the Wagner opera on the story. It’s a pretty simple set up with Wagner playing, a series of paintings depicting the story and some sort of flying pig font in the centre I was unable to figure out. But hey, this ticket gives you access to three attractions, whether you like it or not as they are connected. 

So after the hall comes the Dragon Cave. Essentially a long and winding “cave path” that leads you to the dragon. And a cute dragon at that. It was full rain at this point and thanks to the slightly cramped conditions, the umbrellas weren’t working to their maximum effectiveness. 

After this you enter a reptile zoo – the connection between these three attractions is tenuous but it is there – where we walked in as she was getting ready to start their feeding. As in, all the padlocks to all the reptiles were unlocked and they were expecting food. As someone who has been to a lot of reptile houses, I have never seen snakes moving this fast. If the open padlock wasn’t still keeping the doors shut…  well there are a number of snakes of various sizes who were clearly trying their best to get out and find the food. This place also had a very vocal and hungry caiman who upon seeing me, swam towards my end if the enclosure and just stared at me. It was a bizarre experience that felt like something out a 1950s B-movie.

And that was it for Konigswinter. The weather was still wet as we got back into Cologne so we didn’t want to venture too far in search of food. I managed to find a place close to the hotel that specialised in flammkuchen, a hipstery place that actually experimented with flavours. So whilst my husband went semi-traditional, I went for one with camembert and cranberry on top and was not disappointed. 

So that’s the end of my exploration of the Cologne region and my first proper holiday since December 2019. The travel bug is back and eyeing up options for October. So I guess I’ll be back blogging once I am back from wherever I end up. If anything, this trip has reminded me of a few things, that pretty much everywhere I’ve been to has better food than the UK and that I need time out of the country so I can escape whatever political cluster fuck is occurring. Thank you Germany, I’ll be back soon

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 5 – Aachen

Next time I go to Germany, I really should check about bank holidays such as having the Monday after Pentecost off. I mean it’s the same in the Netherlands so it’s not like either my Dutch husband or myself were shocked by this, but it does make things that much more closed or infrequent. Lesson learned I guess. 

So with half the trains due to both engineering works and a Sunday timetable, we spent today in the nearby city of Aachen. As the city of Charlemagne, and the site of his burial and shrine, it is incredibly significant. Not that you would know it growing up in the UK where nothing related to him comes up in any sort of history class… because why would we learn things outside our borders. 

Anyway, aside from being the city of Charlemagne, Aachen has some significance to me as well. When I first started working on exam papers back in 2014, one of the first papers I was involved in was an ICT skills paper where Aachen was the central theme. So I have been weirdly looking forward to actually see the things from that paper in person. 

The walk from Aachen Central Station to the main area with all the historical joy was a bit far and windy (yes we took a few wrong turns) but we found our way and settled for some light breakfast in front of the Rathaus. Simple, but very nice to have to get you going. 

Rather than start at the Rathaus, we went north a bit to see one of the remaining original city gates, the Ponttor. It’s interesting to see how a city deals with these, like you see some (e.g. Freiburg or York) where they are integrated with the current buildings or exist as part of the original walls. But here, like in Cologne, it is very much standing alone an viewable at all angles. Shame we couldn’t go up, but probably wouldn’t have added too much I guess. 

We then made our way back to the Rathaus, at which time the weather had clearered up so much that, as we went up the staircase, I was able to take some really wonderful photos of the cathedral through the window. 

The interior of the Rathaus are grand and really reflect the status that the city, and therefore the mayors of the city enjoy. The red and white rooms downstairs were particularly beautiful and could have been plucked out of a noble’s palace. Going upstairs, we saw the coronation hall completely decked out with frescos honoring the deeds of Charlemagne. It’s a pretty beautiful hall, would love to be given an award here as they do every year. 

As it’s Pentecost, the cathedral was still closed for additional services. So, to keep ourselves occupied we went to the Treasury museum. Some of the stuff here is spellbinding. I talked yesterday about liking church art, well there was some things that went well beyond what I was expecting. 

Reliquaries have the chance to be spectacular as they try to be adequate vessels for the hair, bones or cloth fragments belonging to ‘saints’. Well, at least three of these amazing pieces have good provenance as they contain bones belonging to Charlemagne himself. Weird to look inside one of these gold artworks and think that you are face to face with a thousand year old king’s remains. 

Then it was time to go into the cathedral itself. Now yesterday I made some claims off the back of being a bit spoiled by Italian churches and maybe it’s a cultural thing that German ones don’t quite match up. First thing, I forgot about the rococo explosion of the Asamkirche in Munich. But also, I had forgotten that this was meant to be the better cathedral in terms of decoration (after all, Cologne Cathedral ran out of money during construction because it is so massive) 

The silver, blue and gold mosaic work in the aisles floored me when I first saw them, especially as they were glistening in the blazing sunlight. Then there was the golden artwork in the interior of the dome, again spectacular. Its a pity so many of the windows were blown out during World War Two though. As nice as these were, it would have been great to have seen the originals. 

Also here, at the front of they cathedral, is the Karsschein – Charlemagne’s current resting place. We’ll, for most of him anyway. Again, weird to have such an almost mythic figure just… there. I know I have seen the tombs of English kings and queens at Westminster Abbey, as well as Tutankhamen when I went to Egypt, but this feels a bit different. Maybe it’s the Saint thing I because I just saw his arm bones in a golden hand. 

For a late lunch we stayed and ate near the cathedral where we, once again, swapped dishes halfway through. This was a wurst place, and I am still not sick of these German sausages. First was the currywurst, which is something my husband is really enjoying whilst we’re over here. Then there was the Thuringer sausage with mashed potato and red cabbage. This was perfect fuel for, what would become, an unexpected hike. 

To end the day, we wanted to finish off at the Dreilanderpunkt – the tri-point where the borders of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. To get there was a bit of a bus journey followed by a half hour uphill hike through German forest. I was able to enjoy this a lot more on the way down, you know, when I was expecting a forest hike to be on the cards and could enjoy the trees and wild flowers. 

Things like this tri-point are why I love Europe and the EU so much. This would have been almost unthinkable 60 years ago, now here you can skip a circle and be in three countries in a couple of seconds. Now this is nowhere near the only border meeting like this in Europe, but it is the most inspirational. 

Not content with just having the monument and flags, you have a full attraction here. On the Belgian area is a souvenir store, a frites stand and an observation tower (back to that in a moment). The German side is steep sloped forest… so there’s hiking trails and a restaurant where things are a bit more level as Germans are practical like that. The Dutch area is a full blown event with a maze, the parking lot, playground and so many food places – gotta love the Dutch and their entrepreneurial spirit. 

As we could, we had some frites in the Belgian area. I mean, I’ve been to three countries in one day. I deserve some fries. We then went up the observation tower, to truly get the scope of being able to see into three different nations as you move around the top floor. Like… this isn’t like seeing three different words, there is not a lot of clues which direction you are looking in – except for part of the German side being quite heavily industrialised. 

That was it for the day, we made our way back to Cologne and grabbed some sandwiches for dinner. Like we’d eaten a lot today, so some nice sandwiches are just the way to finish off. Tomorrow, I will be completing my ABC of NW Germany as we hop a train and see what it is like in Bonn. 

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 4 – Cologne’s Churches and Museums

So, the day of thunderstorms that has been predicted for the last week may have been greatly overstated. Not a complaint as such, because it’s better to see a city when it isn’t tipping it down all day. Although, to be fair, there were some incredible downpours that threatened to derail a few things. But it all worked out as we completely wore out the shoe leather on this full day in Cologne. 

Breakfast was a roll from the Kamps in the train station. I know this is going to probably make some Germans cringe, but I am a sucker for a Kaiser roll no matter what it in it. The fact that it was fleischwurst just sealed the deal. As I ate this outside the currently shut museum of Roman-Germanic artifacts, I couldn’t help but think that I would be happy to have this for breakfast everyday. 

I mention this museum as being closed as, on another visit, this would have been our first proper destination. Instead, we boarded the light railway to where part of the collection is being held in light of the museums refurbishment: the Belgian House. 

The collection here is a fraction of what the main museum has. For one thing it has none of the column fragments that you can see in the closed museum. Still though, this is a good stop-gap and allows for some of the things to still be enjoyed such as some brilliant glasswork and a rather ominous depiction of Medusa. I mean, thanks to this I learned that the name Cologne dates back to Roman times – as it is a corruption of their word for colony. Cool, right? Definitely something to include the next time I make a quiz for the work newsletter. 

Our next destination was, luckily enough, opposite us: The Schnutgen Museum. This museum, partially housed in the old church of St Cecilia, specialises in medieval religious artwork. That alone, for me anyway, is interesting enough. However, it is the they are displayed in this museum that really gives them a new life. 

Stained glass windows especially shine here as they are brilliantly back lit and at eye level. There is also an selection of impressive wood and stonework. A piece depicting the raising of Lazarus is especially haunting, as are the many smaller pieces depicting the danse macabre. It was a little bit weird that, alongside this, was a temporary exhibition about a graffiti artist from Geneva. Like…  talk about opposites colliding. We’re not even talking really complex pieces of street art, like vague doodles of skeletons mostly. I prefer.my skeletons medieval, carved and as a memento mori. 

It was starting to rain a bit now, plus we had a little time to kill before the churches were set to allow onlookers in (given it was a Sunday and these are working buildings). So a quick lunch at Merzeich it was. As the husband had salami for his breakfast roll, I couldn’t not have a salami pretzel roll for lunch. By golly I love the food of my ancestral land. 

Next on the list was a visit to the Great St. Martin church. This is one of three places of worship on the list for today. It is fairly typical on the inside, although there are a lot of good examples of mosaic work to be found on the floor. Also, if you pay 1€, you can go downstairs to see the remaining foundations of the Roman temple that used to be here. 

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 95/100Sight: Cologne Cathedral
Location: Cologne, Germany
Position: #297

Now it was time for the big dog: Cologne Cathedral. The towering black outside (which I was later informed was not dirt, but how the sandstone has reacted to acid rain) can be seen from anywhere in the city and, the closer you get, the more imposing it is. It was a bit of a queue to get in and, once inside it was absolutely heaving. 

We may have chosen a bad day given the number of people inside. Didn’t help that there were tourists taking selfies next to shrines and religious artwork, including one which had someone praying nearby. Like, these are places of worship and, whether or not you believe, there are people there who do and… like have some respect. Never saw it this bad, even in Notre Dame before the fire. 

As someone who has seen a lot of churches and cathedrals in their lifetime, I have to admit that Cologne Cathedral on the inside left me a little cold. Like it was really grand with beautiful stained glass from different eras, had stunning pillars and some exquisite pieces of artwork. But, the outside alone makes you think the insides are going to be less reliant on the architectural grandeur and have something a bit more ornate. I sound like such a church snob, I know, but I guess this is what happens when your formative experiences in Catholic churches are those found in Italy. There’s a very different feel to it. 

We dropped some things of at the hotel before making our way to St Ursula’s, the final church of the day. Sadly though, whilst technically open, the interior gates were closed so all we could do was have a sneaky peek at the insides. They were fine. Nothing compared to the spire that has a literal crown on it. 

Final museum of the day: Wallraf-Richartz Museum. This is the oldest museum in Cologne and, over the three open floors, had some pretty varied pieces of artwork. What is really neat about this museum is that, on each floor, the rooms are arranged in some sort of chronology with a lot of interesting back story to explain how styles and fashions developed. 

Starting at the top was the Baroque collection, whose first room contained two amazing pieces – including a piece by Rubens depicting the myth of how the peacock for the eyes in their tail feathers. As the floor progressed, it started to go further into the type of art that I don’t like as much – mostly portraits and Baroque landscapes. However, it was so interesting to see how art moved from grand mythological paintings to those smaller pieces. 

The next floor down as Middle Ages art, which I would have had more time for if we hadn’t spent a lot of time at the Schnutgen Museum. It was interesting to see some of the more experimental pieces, like an odd one combining painting with sculpted heads, but for me the best floor was the final one containing 19th century art. 

I am a bit of a sucker for good Pointilist artwork, and there were some beautiful pieces by Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce on display. These were towards the end of the floor because, again, the museum was trying to explain how Pointilist and Impressionist art developed from the then status quo. We spent so much time on the bottom floor that we missed a major rainstorm and closed out the museum. 

As we saw some blue sky, we decided to make one final stop for the day: Cologne Triangle. Like with nearly all city trips I want to get a high up view, which for Cologne is this particular building. After riding an incredibly fast lift, you are greeted with the best view of the city landmarks – as they are all across the river from you. The way that the signs are, it sounds like on a super clear day you’d be able to see Bonn from up here…  but I remain unconvinced. Still though, this was the best way to finish off the day.

We made our way across the river via the Hohenzollernbrucke – their iconic bridge which has now become totally inundated with lovelocks. As I am not sure I’ll be crossing this bridge by train, I wanted to make sure to cross it somehow before leaving the city. 

It was getting late and we were getting hungry. We found ourselves near the town hall for dinner again and did my dream thing when dining out on holiday: both order different mains and swap halfway through. So as the rain began to beat down on the parasols, I started out with a half plate of käsespätzle before swapping over to an order of (literal translation) Heaven and Earth. In brief, this is mashed potato with fried onions, blood sausage and apple sauce. Both dishes worked surprisingly well together, like a full plate of either would have gotten samey – this way I never got bored of either. 

Dessert was another visit to Kamps at the station as it was to late to find somewhere that would do a bit of German cheesecake. I picked the apple cake whilst my husband had his eye on something literally translated as a ‘nut corner’ –  think of it as a chocolate and nut covered shortcrust pastry. Both really good and would go over well in the UK. 

As you can imagine, this was an exhausting day. But I can say that we did our best to see a lot of Cologne before we start to venture off to other cities on day trips to see what they have to offer.

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 3 – Cologne Zoo and Gardens

One thing I need to remember when on holiday is that I need breakfast and caffeine, else my depressive streak comes out. Sounds so first world considering here I am on holiday post-pandemic, but the bratwurst we had at the tapir hacienda helped to set me up for a nice, long and sunny day.

Since today was the final guaranteed day of blazing sunny weather, we moved a bunch of things around. This meant that today we explored Kolner Zoo and some of the city’s green spaces, all just two stops away from our very conveniently placed hotel. 

The first, and major, stop of the day was the city zoo. Going to zoos around the UK has been a way I’ve dealt with wanting to travel whilst still having the safety net of being in the same country – also they have an enclosure featuring probably my second favourite animal: tapirs. This maybe the first zoo that I’ve visited that truly gets why tapirs are special. I mean, they are one of three animals to have a named eatery (the other two named after flamingos and tigers) and they even have some tapir merchandise. 

However, good luck seeing tapirs who are not asleep. Which is what happened on the first, second and third visit to their enclosure. Oh well. Thankfully Kolner Zoo has plenty more to offer. 

Firstly, they have the largest elephant enclosure in Northern Europe. It really is something to behold as you can watch elephants being elephants. We were transfixed for a good while as a pair of adolescents play-wrestled in the water. Given all we know it could still stand to be bigger, but this is how zoos and breeding programs should be. 

This zoo has a great variety of animals considering it isn’t even a capital. Most of the big cats you’d ever want to see, sun bears, sloths, hippos, orang-utan, capybara and a wide array of birds. I dont think I’ve seen so many birds in a zoo outside of an aviary. Not sure how I feel about it as it means flight feathers being clipped…but also aware how hypocritical this is given I have fewer misgivings about meerkats and otters. 

They also have okapi. I don’t think this animal gets near enough love, so here it is being its beautiful self. 

Anyway, we checked in on the tapirs a fourth and final time before leaving and… well reader my cheeks hurt from the smiling. We arrived the moment the keeper entered the enclosure and started to lay out food. So for the next 10 minutes I was just snapping photos, taking videos and just enjoying seeing these beautiful creatures have lunch. I could have been there longer but… I have a husband to think of and he had been more than accommodating with my tapir love. 

The zoo ticket also includes access to a separate building with an aquarium, reptile house and an insect house. Compared to the zoo itself, these suffer being separate as you expect them to be a bit more extensive than a typical zoo aquarium or reptile house tends to be. Still not too bad as an extra feature of the ticket, the aquarium having some cool fish like a very inquisitive porcupine fish. 

For a very late lunch, we quick marched to a nearby Rewe to get some baked goods and Mezzo Mix Zero to eat in the botanical gardens. So impressive was the haul that a garden worker, who noticed me pose them for the above picture, stopped his bicycle to comment that he was jealous of our lunch. About £6 for six bakery items and two 1 litre bottles of drink. I love the continent. 

If I lived in Cologne, I would be by the Botanical Gardens so often. For one thing they are free, which seems normal on the continent whereas the UK makes you pay for them. But also, on a warm summers day, they are the perfect place for a stroll. Even better when they have finished the works on a bunch of the plant houses. This initial visit was a flying one as something else on the itinerary was going to close in a few hours. 

That thing was the Rhein-Seilbahn – a scenic cable car that goes over the river and between two major green spaces. The queue to get on was a bit nuts, but it does allow for some good views of the Cologne skyline…  whilst also being a bit of a sweatbox when in direct sunlight. 

The cable car drops you off at the Rheinpark, which is a city park in the vein of London’s Green Park, except with a little train and a number of water features that can be played in when it is as hot as it was today. I can see this being a perfect picnic park – although the number of wedding photography sessions going on did confuse me a bit. 

Back over the river we went so we could finish off going around the botanical gardens. There was a really lovely part we came across that reminded me a bit of the gardens around Versailles. You had this large lily pond and next to it was some overgrown “ruin”. Very much like a fairy tale and beautifully done. 

It was getting well past dinner time and we were in need of a proper meal. So we walked in the shadow of the medieval gate on Eigelstein to find something filling and German. We found just the place and got one of the few remaining tables. I was close to ordering the sauerbraten, but that would have just been to check off an imagined list. So I went with the Krakauer with fried potatoes and sauerkraut. It was delicious and I have no regrets. 

Tomorrow will be interesting as it is Sunday in Germany (so a lot is closed) but also a day where the forecast is an all-day thunderstorm. We have postponed the original plan of going to Bonn and will instead remain in Cologne. If it gets too bad, at least the hotel is nearby. Hopefully we won’t have to resort to that. 

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 2 – Phantasialand

Hands up time. There was one big reason for Cologne ending up at the top of the list for this experiment in a post-COVID(ish) mini break. Their name is Phantasialand and I have been craving a visit to a theme park. Could I have gone local? Sure, but it is infinitely more fun this way. 

The trip there was pretty painless via a train and a shuttle bus. I am being very specific about this and will get back to that later. Much like our trip to Europa Park, we got there before the attractions got going, which allowed for a little bit of an explore before picking our first ride.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 18/25

The thing that is really striking about Phantasialand is just how all in they have gone for their theming. In terms of square footage, this isn’t too big a park and you can cross it in little over five minutes. However, there isn’t an inch in the themed areas where they haven’t tried to make it better. Whether that be a lamppost in a specific area looking like a robot frog or a bit of region specific vegetation. 

It’s also pretty cool how much some of their bigger rides form the scenery. When you are in the medieval themed mystery area, both of the area’s roller coasters are rattling around you as you look for a drink or a bathroom. This was especially cool in the steampunk Rookburgh area, where the rollercoaster just works as extra scenery. 

Rather than talk about the visit in chronological order, let’s continue with the themes. If you are looking for a part with an excellent selection of thrill rides, then Phantasialand is the park for you. Even the river rapids ride, usually a gentler ride, has some extreme drops and leaves you totally sodden. It’s a good thing that it was 27 and sunny today, else I would have gotten the trench foot. 

There are so many coasters here that it would take ages to talk about them all, so let’s talk highlights. As a one of a kind experience, F.L.Y. ranks as one of the most extraordinary rides I’ve been on. This is as close as I will come to feeling like I am actually flying. Its little wonder that they included ankle supports, else you’d probably hurt something and it would ruined the experience. 

Then there is Taron, this is the signature coaster of Phantasialand for a reason. It is an amazingly done thrill ride to the point where I was so adrenaline fueled that, much like when I rode the T Express, I fell into a giggling fit. Albeit a worse one this time; took me a very long time to stop laughing. 

Whilst not a coaster, Chiapas is worth a special mention for how to do a well themed and original log flume. We even bought the photo from the kiosk afterward, that’s how much fun we had. 

I could go on about the rides as we pretty much rode all the ones we wanted to. This was another trip like Europa Park or Hong-Kong Disneyland, whilst not empty we rarely had to queue more than 5-10 minutes to get on a ride. In fact so many of them, including Black Mamba (one of their major coasters) we just walked straight on. 

As spoilt as this sounds – this was too much of a good thing. I don’t think my insides had any idea what was going on. Usually you have these 20-60 minutes between rides to get the inner ear back in order, here we were able to do 4-5 rides an hour. Which was amazing, but also took its toll as both of us got to about 4pm and our synapses had all but fired out. 

When we did take breaks, they were good ones. There is a foccacia stall where Mexico and Berlin worlds meet, the food of which was great. Looked good, smelt goods and got all over my face as I tucked in. We even had time to take in one of the shows – Nobis. Ignoring the sudden appearance of a Gangsta’s Paradise cover, it was the kind of a circus skills show that fits well into a theme park day. 

The only downside to the park was the lack of more chilled out rides that weren’t just for young children. Even those they had didn’t meet the standard of the thrill rides. The ghost train needs to be scrapped, its clearly ancient and doesn’t completely function anymore. The shooter game had a really cute theme around rats in a bakery, but the 3D glasses gimmick with the pastry bag guns you had to repeatedly pull and release just didn’t work for me. 

Still though, Phantasialand is truly a world class theme park. The theming and thrill ride count are amazing. If you are there with young children, there is also slot for them to have fun with. Would definitely recommend it to someone who likes amusement parks. 

Rather than head straight for the station, we went for a turn about the gardens of Brühl Castle. Well, think its more a palace, but I don’t name these things. After all the high-octane of the amusement park, this was a nice change of pace and relaxed us to deal with the travel problems getting back. 

You see, we ended up waiting for nearly two hours for a train that is meant to be half-hourly. There was issues thank to a mix of engineering works and a forest fire, so passenger trains were being stealth cancelled or drastically delayed for the sake of the freight trains. This would have been more manageable if the station had bothered to mention any thing – instead it was radio silence as the platform got fuller and fuller. 

Luckily there’s another way to get back to Cologne on public transport, it just takes longer and requires a hike across town. Which we did, and thank God because it turns out we arrived before any train from Brühl. It was actually kind of nice taking the light railway through Cologne’s suburbs, but we arrived tired. 

Neither of us could stomach being all social in a restaurant, so bought filled pretzels and some hot sandwiches from the station and topped them up with some Lays and Mezzo Mix from a nearby supermarket. Tomorrow should prove to be quieter as we are actually remaining in Cologne. But first a lot of sleep. 

The ABCs of Cologne: Day 1 – Arrival and Schnitzel

I ended this blog a year ago (although thanks to my buffer it only looks like 5-6 months ago) and here we are with some travel posts.  I have ended up reminiscing about holidays in the last two years has been by going through my travelogue posts. I cannot overstate how much of a comfort this has been in the COVID times. Also, both me and my husband end up referring back to them when people ask us for some recommendations on things to do… which is usually accompanied by our shock at how much we’ve actually forgotten.

So here we are, almost a week’s worth of blog posts about my trip to the Cologne region. I ended up with the title for this series thanks to some of the day trips that are on the itinerary. It’s nowhere near me claiming that I am writing anything definitive, just the fun I has along the way.

Since closing down my blog, I have moved to a house in a new town. Yes a house, don’t know how we pulled that off. This move meant that the first travel leg was actually pretty cool as it allowed us to ride on the recently opened Crossrail. Yes, I am writing this on the first day of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations back in the UK and, yes, I am being stubborn about calling it the Elizabeth line.  

Anyway, as people may remember, the airports have been bedlam this week with hundreds of flights being cancelled across the UK. As we were flying Ryanair, we managed to be unaffected… other than getting to the airport three hours before our flight left. For little reason really, it was busy because everyone was getting there early but otherwise it was pretty normal. 

The flight from London to Cologne is only an hour, so as long as your flight isn’t late thanks to refuelling, it’s a quick and pleasant enough journey. It was made all the sweeter as, for some reason, Booking.com gave us a free car ride to the hotel. Meant I could really enjoy watching the city come into view, knowing I was being ferried straight there. 

A mishap at the hotel also meant we seemingly got a room upgrade. Sounds like they put someone in our room by mistake as they had a similar name. I’m not going to complain as it means we have something akin to a suite. It’ll come in useful when I want to make some breakfast sandwiches later in the week. 

By the time we left the hotel it was about 6pm local time. Usually that just means a walk around town before grabbing dinner. However, this is the first Thursday of the month, which means the Museum Ludwig is open until 10pm. Also, its half price after 5pm. Talk about a result. 

On the way, we had our first close up encounter with Cologne cathedral and, my word, it is a presence. Like, sure, it could use a bit of a clean, but that won’t make me less eager to explore it in a few days. 

The Museum Ludwig is a modern art museum that could probably be worth going around a bit longer than the few hours we did. It’s exactly how a lot of modern art museums tend to look, white and cavernous – yet it still smells like Germany. This isn’t meant to be a read, but there’s a comforting smell that a lot of German buildings have, and the museum Ludwig is one of them. 

Alongside works by a lot of artists I’d never heard of, but still found some pieces I really enjoyed, was something I hadn’t expected. 

Turns out the Museum Ludwig, alongside some Warhols and Lichtensteins, has the third largest collection of Picasso works in the world. Most of then aren’t even out, but it still made fora better experience than the dedicated Picasso museum I visited in Barcelona. Hell, I didn’t know he dabbled so much in sculpture and ceramics. That was a really fun discovery. 

A few hours of art led to some hungry tourists, so we went for a late dinner in a place near the city hall. I am sure we ended up somewhere that is vaguely touristy, but with schnitzel this good I really don’t care. Some of the best I’ve had, and all washed down with Spezi. It sure feels good to be back in Germany. 

As the sky turned pink, we took a walk north along the Rhine to get back to the hotel. As rivers go, it sure puts the Thames to shame. Then again, I don’t want to get too far into that game right now… not really great being a Brit right now. 

It’s odd to be back in the position where I am writing blog posts at 11pm in a foreign country. It would’ve been nice to get this back as some sort of normal. Really want to make up for all that lost travelling time. 

Christmas in Seville: Day 4 – Finally The Cathedral

Yes, we really could have spent a few days longer here. It’s one of those stupid balancing acts that you have to play with the number of vacation days you have and which place best matches that number. With Seville, I think I hadn’t banked on their being so much to see here outside the Lonely Planet item and maybe a few museums. Goes to show just how full of surprises Spain’s fourth largest city is.

Today was the last day, which meant we had the morning and early afternoon to mop up the items from our original itinerary. A late breakfast of tea, orange juice and a toasted roll with Spanish ham and tomato was exactly what was needed to help set us up for the day and so we were off for a final attempt to get into the cathedral.

Since it was the final day with not much on, it really did allow for greater appreciation of the buildings in the old town area. Like with certain areas of London, this section of Seville really pays dividends if you just crane your head up a bit. Some Muslim inspired archwork here, a beautifully decorated turret there. All things we couldn’t see lit up by Christmas lights looked wonderful in the blue skies and warm sun of this December morning.

Despite there being a long queue, the size of Seville Cathedral (the largest cathedral in Europe and one of the largest Christian places of worship in the world) is so cavernous that the masses are quickly diluted once inside. It felt remarkably empty, with the many decorated alcoves being devoid of onlookers or barely populated.

In the end we spent over an hour and a half here because there was just so many different things to see. For one, you have the tomb of Christopher Columbus who – whatever your feelings towards him and his actions in the Americas – is such an important figure in Spanish history. The way that his tomb is placed, held aloft by statues of pallbearers, has his body on the march to the main alter – which is a cool image once you notice it.

Sadly, a lot of the elaborate altarpieces and chapels are behind iron grates – presumably as protection – but there’s so much scope for pictures as long as you are to strategically position yourself or your phone/camera.

It’s also worth noting that, on this day, the sun was shining so brightly in the sky that the stained glass on the eastern side of the cathedral was casting large coloured swatches across the beams and other sections of the interior. Made me think back to the windows of the Sagrada Familia and how this felt like a gothic cathedral version of what Gaudi is trying to achieve.

You can’t come to the cathedral without a trip up La Giralda – the giant tower that started life as a minaret back when a mosque was originally founded on this site. Thankfully the steps are minimal due to 34 ramps and then 17 steps at the end. You end up so high by the end of your climb, which makes the views up here some of the best in Seville.

Being up here was like Montparnasse Tower in Paris, in that I got a chance to see the greatest hits of the different sites I’ve seen over the last few days, in one direction was the brilliantly bizarre Metropol Parasol where we could see individual people roaming along the folds and enjoying the many views. From another side, we could see sections of the Alcazar and it’s gardens as well a glimpse of the Plaza de España. Goes to show now walkable this city is.

We would have spent a bit longer at the top of La Giralda, but the wind suddenly kicked up to the point where people were getting rather wobbly. So, we descended the ramps and finished off our visit to the Cathedral with a walk through the treasury and the vividly red chapter house with its exceptional acoustics. I know I’ve probably missed out a lot of things in here, but it’s just so big that you end up getting a bit lost.

Tickets to the cathedral came with free same day entry to the Iglesias del Divino Salvador. Since we had a little time to kill before we had to be off to the airport, we figured that this would be a good way to spend a little time. Oh good grief, this was a beautiful church whose front facade I forgot to photograph and instead just focused on the, now fairly empty square where we are churros a few days ago.

Inside this church, choral music was playing and all the treasures were shining so brightly it was like they’d been given a fresh coat of polish. I had one of those moments where I felt a bit short of breath and covered in goosebumps, some might have considered that a religious experience – to me it was like sensory overload combined with ASMR.

Every alcove was full with statues and beautifully crafted and shining pieces of metal work. It’s really hard to pinpoint specific ones, but there were some elements – such as a brilliant carving of a lamenting Christ and one of the most beautiful Virgin Mary pieces I’ve ever seen – that are likely to stick with me.

They also had a Nativity up, made of all the usual suspects and some interesting additions like a cat and a family of quails. This guarded one of the two entries to the sacristies that took you behind the main alter and had some interesting treasures such as reliquaries and a vivid red-eyed statue depicting Mary as the Lady of Sorrows.

And that’s it for this brief sojourn to Seville. We went from the church to the airport via our hotel to pick up our luggage. A late lunch was some locally available Burger King items in the departure lounge as we watched our plane getting more and more delayed (in part to the massive thunderstorm that had hit earlier). We didn’t necessarily get the holiday I expected that would be filled with Christmas markets, as the markets are pretty tiny and non-Christmassy compared to what I’ve seen in Munich, Vienna and Riga – but it’s been a lovely long weekend.

As of the moment, I have no idea of any future holiday destinations to come – so I had better get thinking so that I have something to look forward to. I’ve definitely been spoiled in 2019 with trips to Paris, Korea, Hong Kong and now Seville. Cannot help but wonder what might await in 2020.

Christmas in Seville: Day 3 – Palaces and Les Setas

Lots of little things done today, but it all started with a light breakfast of espresso and an ensaïmada from the cafe/bakery around the corner. We realised that lunch would only be a few hours away, so why not go for a regional(ish) pastry that I had never seen before.

To get to our first stop of the day, we had to make our way along the river and back into the Parque de Maria Luisa and finish off the final section that we hadn’t explored in our first afternoon. This particular area is called the Plaza América and, like the Plaza de España, was constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American exhibition. These pavilions have since been converted to other usages. Our destination, the Archaeological museum, having previously been the Renaissance Pavilion.

Regrettably the basement containing the pre-Roman era golden treasures was closed because of ‘technical issues’ (ain’t that just the way) so we made do with the ground floor. Entrance was free because, for now, we’re both EU citizens – you can’t really argue with free entry. Also, the set up of the museum itself was beautiful with many big rooms with well set out treasures.

Two of the rooms really stood out for me. First was Room XIX with the incredibly well preserved statue of Diana set in front of columns. This led directly into the other, and more spectacular Room XX which is a grand rotunda with large statues of Trajan and Hadrian (who were born nearby) and busts of many other Roman emperors. Then there’s the large mosaic in the middle, which just ties the whole room together. Who put this together deserves some sort of raise.

We were done with the archaeological museum earlier than expected, so we popped into the opposite Popular Arts and Traditions museum. Its essentially a museum that has a number of exhibitions to demonstrate how those who worked in different traditional occupations worked. So you have example workshops set up for guitar makers, goldsmiths, pottery decorators etc as well as some example works. Interesting enough for a quick and free (thanks EU membership, I’m going to miss you like crazy) visit to get some more context of the region.

On our way to lunch we, once again, went by the Torre del Oro and actually paid to go up to the top. You get some great, views of the Centro and Santa Cruz area from up there. It really shows off just how big Seville Cathedral is too. I hope we actually get to go in tomorrow, else I’m going to be so disappointed. The tower also had a small exhibition on the naval history of Seville, but we were here for the view so marched past it.

Lunch was originally going to be over the bridge and at Triana Market as so many guides had recommended it. However, it’s Sunday and despite it technicality having opened an hour earlier, nearly everything was basically closed. So, not to be discouraged from at least having one meal in Triana, we found a place and ordered a various bunch of little bocadillos and just shared them. Truly, this is right up my alley and I wished I had the stomach space to have tried more from the menu.

Fuelled up, it was back over the bridge again as we were going to visit the second of the three big things I wanted to see whilst in Seville (the final one being the cathedral). They go by two names: the Metropol Parasol or Les Setas de Sevilla. It’s a giant wooden mushroom-like structure that is stunning to look at and gives similarly great views of the surrounding city from the top.

Considering all the old things that I have seen in Seville, there is such a big contrast when dealing with something so modern. I can see how it might polarise opinion within Seville, but I absolutely love it. It’s bizarre, whimsical, functional and had all the unique hallmarks of what makes a great landmark. Also, it has the superlative of being the largest wooden structure in the world. It’s one of those essential things to see when in Seville.

After a hot chocolate at they top of the wooden mushrooms, we headed off to the first of the two remaining stately homes that we wanted to hit up (the first being Pilate’s House yesterday). Since it was the furthest out, we first went to the Palacio de las Dueñas.

This is one of the private residences owned by the Duke of Alba and is one of those places where you manage to forget that you are in the middle of a major city. The lemon tree garden is especially beautiful to both see and smell as you wander around seeing statues and more citrus trees that you would know what to do with. It’s probably the most zen part of the residence, give the rather ‘eclectic’ art collection on display which includes a painting of rather stressed kittens playing instruments and a vase with demonic looking babies on it.

The Palacio de las Dueñas also contains a beautiful central courtyard, which was clearly modelled on the Maidens Courtyard in the Alcazar. This is not the only part of the residence that has been modelled on the Alcazar, but it’s probably the part that has been able to carry it off to the point that it’s gorgeous in its own right.

Next was the Palacio de la Contessa de Lebrija. This is a smaller residence bought by the Countess of Lebrija in 1901 who took it upon herself to remodel it almost entirely and fill it with her own increasing collection of artwork from around the world. If the tour we got of the first floor is anything to go by, where we saw her sticking plates to Stars of David on the ceiling, she was a bit of an eccentric and probably what I would have been like if I was a single aristocrat in that era.

Two things are particularly notable in this house. The first is the amazing yellow and blue tiles on the staircase. I have seen many an example of a tiled surface over the last few days, but this staircase really is in a league of its own when it comes to audacious colours. The other major things of note are the ancient mosaics that the countess had transported and laid in her residence. She even went as far as to completely remodel the walls of rooms in order to keep this mosaics whole. That is ridiculous money right there.

After this residence we went back to the hotel for a bit of a recharge and then headed out to see a flamenco show at the Teatro Flamenco Triana. My word. I’ve only seen snippets of flamenco when it’s part of scene in film and TV – which does not adequately prepare you for what it’s going to be like in real life. We were in the front row which meant a lot of seeing exactly how fast the feet were moving and a lot of uncomfortable eye contact. The hour flew by in an instant and don’t think I will ever understand just how the feet can move that fast.

Given it was late on a Sunday, a lot of the tapas places in Triana that we wanted to hit up were either full or shut – so we followed TripAdvisor until we ended up at the restaurant next to the hotel. Go figure, it was a brilliant really great place where I had butifarra and egg for a main and then torrijas for dessert.

When I write these posts, I try and think of a thread or a theme that unites a bunch of the activities together. To be honest, I can’t think of one today because of how eclectic the different things have been. Guess it just goes to show the number of different sides to Seville you can see today. Shame that, given it’s a Sunday, the churches were pretty much off limits. That’ll be our final morning/afternoon then. Knowing what I know now, we probably should have stayed here for longer.

Christmas in Seville: Day 2 – The Alcazar

So today is the day that we were going to discover the Real Alcazar aka the reason behind Seville being on my radar as a place that I really had to visit. Now that I am here, I have to say that I am really loving most of what I have seen so far. This may be coloured by the gorgeous Christmas lights, but that’s by the by.

A trip to the Alcazar demands a good breakfast and the one that we had La Cacharreria really helped to set us up. One large toast with Serrano ham, one with old cheese and a mug of vanilla rooibos tea. Truly a delicious breakfast and so reasonably priced, little wonder that this place was completely packed by the time we left.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 94/100Sight: Real Alcázar
Location: Seville, Spain
Position: #235

Filled it was time to venture to the Alcazar, which was even more extraordinary than I had imagined. Given its position on the Lonely Planet list, the mind boggles at how much more extraordinary the Alhambra would be. That’s a trip for another time though, so let’s focus on the Alcazar.

In total we spent about four hours here, it could have easily been longer but limited time and all that. The majority of the time being spent navigating the many rooms of this royal palace. The way that the tour and audioguide is organised is clever because you could easily end up in the most impressive rooms straight away and everything else would slightly pale in comparison.

That isn’t to say that these earlier rooms aren’t beautiful to look at, because they are. The Hunters’ Courtyard featuring the front facade of the main building is a gorgeous piece of architecture unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s just that beyond that door lies the The Maidens’ Courtyard and that’s where suddenly you need to adjust your expectations.

The Maidens’ Courtyard is stunning and, like a lot in the Alcazar, there’s no real way that you are able to get it onto camera. So much of what makes it the landmark it is is the general feeling as you are surrounded by such grand pieces of fusion architecture. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been a foreign dignitary waiting there for an audience with the king, but it probably did the job of intimidating a lot of them.

The other massively impressive room in the Alcazar is the Ambassadors’ Hall, which also has the nickname of the ‘half orange’ room because of the ceiling. The ceiling alone is enough to make this room worthy of note – this massive dome with gold and star features is an absolute stunner. The rest of the room, with its portraits of past Spanish kings, tile-work and gorgeous archways is no slouch either, but it’s everything together that make it noteworthy.

Once we’d finished with the main buildings it was already over two hours in, which meant time for coffee and sweets at the really reasonably priced cafe. I mean, what cafe in a major attraction does a 2 for 1 on their donuts? This one apparently, so we were there with lemon cream custard donuts looking at the gardens and dodging the many peahens who were using the cafe as a thoroughfare.

Not to be outdone, the gardens of the Alcazar are also very beautiful and expansive. To get some of the best views of these, you have to go up the Grotto walkway which gives you a high up view of most of the grounds directly next to the palace. The styles of the gardens vary widely with some taking on Italian, French or even English influence. They all fit well together with meticulously maintained grounds, although the English garden does feel rather sparse in comparison.

As with the rest of Seville, some of the stars of this garden were the various citrus trees. Also, the smell that you get when you have rows of citrus trees intermingled with a number of other species. When in the gardens it’s worth tracking down the hydraulic organ and try to be there for when it’s actually performing. We managed to come across it when it was playing and later saw that this is one of only four in the world, so is worth finding.

Truly I could spend a long time talking about the Alcazar. It’s why I came here to Seville and it’s going to be the way I try to sell this to other people when talking about places to visit.
When we left it was about 2:30, so we really wanted a late lunch. Specifically one of the really gorgeous looking ham sandwiches that we kept seeing on our way to the a
Alcazar. Could we find one when we wanted one? Hell no, it took us 40 minutes to track one down. Pretty damned gorgeous though and this search ended up being a mixed blessing.

Turned out that Seville Cathedral was closing their doors to visitors two hours early today – so it saved us from the aggravation of a visit cut short. Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers for Monday that we’re able to get in before having to leave for the airport.

As a last minute replacement activity we swapped something scheduled for another day by visiting Casa de Pilatos. Where the Alcazar was a peak example of a Spanish royal residence, this is the same but for dukes. This is still technically a residence for the Dukes of Medinaceli, but the current holder currently resides in Madrid. The price for access is about the same as the Alcazar, so feels a little bit steep but it’s a really interesting house to visit.

We probably spent longer than expected here as the audioguide was incredibly verbose. The flip-side of that is that it forced us to look at each room in detail in order to kill time. So, ironically, we got more out of this visit because of the overly long guide. During this visit there are two big highlights and one strange curiosity to be found. First there is the main courtyard, which feels like a more attainable version of the Alcazar’s Maidens’ Courtyard. Just instead of needing millions to copy it, you’d need a few hundred thousand.

The other big highlight is the tiled stairway to the upper level , which we didn’t visit as the accompanying tour doesn’t operate on any sort of schedule in the off season. It was still worth a visit up the stairway because of the beautiful honeycomb domed ceiling and the extensive vibrant tile-work. This brings me to the curiosity, of a portrait of a topless bearded woman with a baby and her husband in the background looking on, as the guide said, with “resigned bitterness”.

We had a bit of an explore of the surrounding Santa Cruz before heading back to the hotel for a rest. En route we found a place with a queue and gigantic churros with chocolate sauce. We shared this box between the three of us as it was massive – God knows how some of these small children were able to have a whole box to themselves. Hot, fluffy and delicious.

By the time we left the hotel again, it was dark and the streets were filled with thousands of people. As the Christmas markets here have been, to be blunt, disappointing we paid a visit to the largest El Corte Ingles I found nearby to check out their Christmas stuff. I was amazed at how much I wanted and left with a new star for the tree and some new tree ornaments. There was a statue of a carol singing elephant that I liked, but we’re drastically running out of room in the flat as it is.

We walked around admiring the lights and visited another Christmas market – which was a bit like the first one we saw yesterday before venturing back to the nativity market near the cathedral where we caught a rather strange procession of bored looking bugle players and some overly zealous drummers. Never did find out who they were, but it was too weird a thing to not document.

Dinner was at a place a few streets away where, after sharing a nice plate of calamari, we all had various cuts of pork grilled medium rare to the point where it was melt in the mouth and utterly delicious. I opted for the presa, mainly because I hadn’t heard of it, and was wowed by the flavour and the tenderness. Definitely something I would want to try again when I am back in Spain.

Then it was a quick hello to the amazing angel lights before heading back to the hotel via a bakery where we bought some cookies for dessert. Tomorrow will be a day where we learn more about the history of Seville by visiting the archaeological museum and by venturing over the bridge into Triana. For now though, it’s late and time to rest after another long day with plenty of walking.

Christmas in Seville: Day 1 – What An Amazing Plaza!

Reading this post months later is going to be especially strange for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the day after the UK’s general election and 57% of the country are miserable. As result of the first, by the time this post goes up, Britain will have likely left the EU and this will be the last holiday I go on as an EU citizen. Don’t know quite how to process all this at the moment, so it’s a good thing that – despite still getting over the flu – I’m here in Seville.

Considering how Riga last year got to lows of -6, the idea of being somewhere in December and it being 16 feels utterly ludicrous. This is what the next few days in Seville will bring, albeit under a carpet of cloud. I somehow managed to get us a great deal on a snazzy hotel near all the main landmarks, so the Hotel Becquer is going to be a brilliant base of operations for this trip.

By the time we were checked in and prepared to get about our way, it was 3 in the afternoon. Given it was just a first day and we didn’t want to put too much pressure on it, especially as I am recovering from the flu, we started out with just two things that were next to each other on the itinerary.

To get to the first on the list, the Plaza de España, we opted to walk along the river and just make our way leisurely there. On the way we went by the beautifully coloured university buildings and the Torre del Oro. We didn’t opt to climb up it for reasons I cannot quite remember (maybe we’ll do that later if we have time) but it was impressive to look at and reminded me a bit of the tower in Belém, just on a smaller scale.

This was a nice gentle welcome to Seville that didn’t prepare me for the beautiful clusterfuck of the Plaza de España. I have never known a place quite like it, it may very well be the most beautiful plaza I have been to. If not the most beautiful, it’s top three. It’s one of places which is like the sky at night – beautiful at first glance, but the more you look at it the more you see. This is how we ended up spending two hours investigating the plaza.

The plaza itself was designed as a centrepiece for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition and is awash with little details that you cannot take in on first blush. First you notice how beautifully grand the main buildings are, then you see the u-shaped canal around the square with people in rowboats, then you notice the bridges and how there’s blue tile being used. Oh more tiles. Even more. Even the guttering is clad in tile.

It’s one of those places that feels like it was designed to be beautiful from every angle, and I think after walking around it for hours we pretty much tried them all for size. One thing I especially loved was that, around the inner circumference, there’s tiled murals for all the Spanish provinces done in different styles and still with the tiled side towers originally used as bookcases. I was pretty shocked at how many Spanish provinces I’d heard of.

Now, I was fully prepared for that to be the end of the unexpected beauty – then there was the surrounding Maria Luisa park. Walking in, it felt like a regular park. That’s when you notice a building within the trees and it turns out to be a small pavilion or a columned area surrounding azure blue tiled water features. The way this park is laid out is like a breadcrumb trail of beautiful areas, once you find the first one you are led on to the next one.

I don’t know if it was because of where we began, but the ante of beauty within the park kept being upped until we got to an area where behind us was a lovely tiled frog fountain and in front of us was a pavilion on a hill with a waterfall, more tiled pools and masses of manicured orange trees. I think we could have spent longer in the park, but we’re due back here eventually for one of the museums – so the rest of the explore will wait until then.

Now, the reason we came to Seville was because it came recommended as a city that does Christmas well. As such we made the walk out to Nervión Plaza to one of the two markets deemed as essential (the third market opened a week later than the previous year, so we’re missing it). There is no way this is essential, it’s pretty bleak and that’s pretty much all I am going to say on the subject.

To try and salvage things, we opted to head to the other of the essential markets near the cathedral. We’re planning to do it again tomorrow anyway, but I think we just wanted the Christmas win. The moment we entered the Santa Cruz area, things felt like they were getting there – then we came face to face with the giant that is Seville Cathedral being lit up at night. More on the cathedral tomorrow as that’s when we plan to go in, but it is a stunner when lit up at night. So too are the surroundings, like the orange trees all decked out with lights.

We had a cursory look at the nativity scene themed marked, but we’re back here tomorrow and we hadn’t eaten for 10 hours, so things were getting a bit desperate. Thankfully we found a nice tapas place nearby and proceeded to order eight plates including pork loin in whiskey sauce, goat cheese rolls and tope shark. It was gorgeous and we rounded it off with the official drink of this holiday: Colacao. I know that to Spaniards that probably sounds a bit basic, but this hot chocolate is gorgeous and we’ve already bought some to bring back to the UK.

By the time we were done with dinner the stalls were closed up, so we went further in to have a look at the Christmas lights. Well, this might be the best Christmas lights ice seen up in a city. The giant bell lights and the walk through Christmas tree were nice enough, but then the angels.

These giant light angels are hard to photograph to get a decent scale, but they’re massive and just so beautiful to look at. I don’t even know what the surrounding buildings are or even where I was particularly when I saw them, but I hope I find them again tomorrow when we aren’t rushing to find a supermarket that isn’t closed and also sells toothpaste. This city may not have the markets, but it sure has the lights.

Tomorrow is going to be the big Seville day where we visit the Alcazar (the city’s entry in the Lonely Planet list) and get to properly know Seville Cathedral and the rounding areas. I hope I find a nice Christmas decoration and a gorgeous lunch sandwich too.