Speyer Christmas market

A week ago, Jan and I took the train to Speyer for the Christmas market. It’s a fairly small market, but Speyer is a lovely setting with it. One thing I really liked was that almost every Glühwein mentioned what kind of wine it was (e.g. Dornfelder). Here, most stands just say “Glühwein” with a few mentioning that theirs is a specific type as a way to distinguish themselves from the rest. And this, my friends, is how you can tell Rheinland-Pfalz is Germany’s wine region! All the usual foods and drinks were on offer, of course, but there were a few more unusual things. I got to try horse sausage! I’ve been curious to find out what horsemeat tastes like ever since the scandal and this was the perfect opportunity. The sausage was so well spiced that I’m still not sure what horse actually tastes like, but it was nice anyway. I also had something called a Schneemann (snowman), which was a layer of eggnog, a layer of Glühwein and a layer of whipped cream. It was very alcoholic, but very good! Sweet and fruity and creamy. Mmm! Here are some photos:

Once we’d seen everything at the market and had a few drinks each, we briefly headed to the cathedral. Speyer is a pilgrimage site, apparently, and the cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage building.

After the cathedral, Jan bought me a snowman shaped tree ornament from the French partner town’s stall then we headed back to the train station. In all, we spent about three hours in Speyer, which is as much as you need really – as I mentioned, it is a small market (obviously you can always spend longer there if you just want to hang around drinking Glühwein and chatting to friends, but just for looking at the market you won’t need much more than 3 hours including food and drink breaks). Speyer itself is a very pretty town as well, and the museum is well worth a visit (even when there isn’t an exhibition about the history of Playmobil going on).

I’m linking this post up to day 5 of Becster’s 12 Days of Christmas, which was Christmas outings/parties. (I should have linked up ages ago but I’m way behind on blog posts!)

12 Days of Christmas - Becster.com Link Up!

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Burg Hohenzollern Weihnachtsmarkt

Weihnachtsmarkt

Yesterday, I went to the Christmas market at Burg Hohenzollern (a castle near Stuttgart) with Jan and two of our friends. We booked a day trip through a company called Binder Reisen, so we were picked up in Pforzheim in a mini bus, switched to a larger bus in Vahingen and were brought to a car park near the castle from where a shuttle bus took us the rest of the way up. The Christmas market is only on for the first two advent Sundays (and this was the second), so if you want to go you’ve unfortunately missed out this year, but there’s always next year. We paid €27 each for the bus and entrance to the Christmas market.

Down in the valley it was raining, but up at the castle it was snowing and apparently had also snowed a lot in the days prior… the trees looked beautiful! Unfortunately, it was also foggy so taking photos was difficult but I did my best!

There were a few stalls inside the main bit of the castle as well, but no photos were allowed in there.
After checking out all the stalls and partaking in a few Glühweins, we decided it was time to eat something. I had a venison steak, which was delicious (and not something you find at just any Christmas market!). Jan went for the wild boar sausage, which I tried a bit of, and which was also amazing. After trying some hot red mead (seriously delicious!) it was time for a walk around the castle grounds. Away from the market, it was freezing but also beautiful.

I may have gone slightly overboard taking photos of the snow-covered branches, but it really was beautiful!
Somebody had built some little snowmen on the wall and I couldn’t resist photographing them.

After our walk around the castle, we were all freezing so we returned to the main market for some more hot red mead (told you it was delicious!) and to listen to the carol singers before heading for the shuttle bus that would take us back down to where our coach was meeting us. When I first realised we would only have about 3 hours at the market, I thought it wouldn’t be long enough, but it turned out to be the perfect amount of time. It ended up being a lovely day, and definitely different to an ordinary Christmas market. I would highly recommend checking this out if you get the chance. In my opinion, it was well worth it! (Even if we did spend more time travelling than actually at the market!)

Durlach Mediaeval Christmas market

Last night, some friends and I went to Durlach to check out the Christmas market. Durlach is the largest district of Karlsruhe and its residents like to say that they are the “real” Karlsruhe because Durlach was there first! (Karlsruhe is a relatively new city, having only been founded in 1715). Like some of the other more remote districts of Karlsruhe, Durlach has its own Christmas market – a Mediaeval one! And what, you ask, makes a Mediaeval Christmas market different to an ordinary one? Well, along with the usual Glühwein, alcohol-free hot punch and hot chocolate with added spirits, Durlach Christmas market sells hot mead – which I actually find a lot nicer than the cold variety – and provides lots of wood fires for people to huddle around. (Apologies in advance for the quality of photos in this post – my camera doesn’t do too well with darkness!)

Fire

It’s also held in a square in front of a former castle, the Karlsburg, which now houses a museum and a school, among other things.

Karlsburg Durlach

There are stands selling all the usual Christmas market foods – Bratwurst, steaks, crepes and more – but something you don’t find at just any Christmas market is a pig on a spit! I didn’t try any of it this year, but I have in previous years and can assure you it’s delicious!

Pig on a spit

There are also stalls selling interesting things, like these bottle containing various types of alcohol:

Interesting bottles

We ate, drank and chatted while huddling around one of the various fires – my hair still smells of smoke! It’s a nice smokey smell though, nothing like the scent of cigarettes! Later, we headed to the stage to check out some of the entertainment.

Mediaeval entertainment

It’s not every day you see people in Mediaeval costumes dancing!

Mediaeval dancers

Later, there was a fire show, which was very cool to watch!

If you’re in the area, I would certainly recommend paying a visit to this Christmas market. It’s smaller than the main one in Karlsruhe proper, but it tends to be less crowded and I find it makes a nice contrast to all the other Christmas markets that are basically the same concept. Be warned though… if you go anywhere near the fire, you will end up smoked!

If you would like to see the fire show, they’re back on Wednesday 11 December and Friday 13 December 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

**I’m counting this as my December trip for Need Another Holiday‘s #Take12Trips challenge.**

Goslar

Unlike roughly 90% of the other places in my 30 German Towns Before 30 series, Goslar is not in southern Germany! I went there in December 2009. Jan and I were staying at his dad’s for Christmas that year and a girl I’d gone to school with was living in Bad Fallingbostel because her then husband was posted there with the army. We decided such a perfect opportunity to meet up couldn’t be missed, and chose to do so in Goslar because it was roughly half way between where each of us was.

Goslar, viewed from the top of a tower
Goslar, viewed from the top of a tower

Jan was actually born in Goslar, but only because it was the closest hospital to where his parents were living at the time. So other than as a newborn, he’d never actually been there.

Being two days after Christmas, everybody still had their lights up.

Christmas lights in Goslar
Christmas lights in Goslar

A small Christmas market was still going on (unusual – most of them finish on 23 December!), so we stopped for a quick Glühwein.

Sign on the Glühwein stand - Waldhütte translates to "Forest hut"
Sign on the Glühwein stand – Waldhütte translates to “Forest hut”

Jan then spotted a tower that it was possible to climb, so of course we had to go up. One of the photos of the view is at the top of this post. Here’s another:

Goslar 3

As you can see, Goslar has a fair few half-timbered houses.

The main sight in Goslar is the Kaiserpfalz – the Mediaeval Imperial Palace, so that’s where we went next. No photos were allowed inside, but here’s one of the outside:

The Kaiserpfalz
The Kaiserpfalz

After looking round the museum, we walked back into town and found a cafe where we treated ourselves to some coffee and cake. Here’s one of the streets we walked down while looking for the cafe… so cute!

Goslar 4

By the time we’d finished our coffee and cake, it was starting to get late, and we each had a longish drive ahead of us, so we decided to call it a day.
Our trip to Goslar was brief, but I’m glad we decided to go there. It’s one of those typical cute German towns with numerous pretty buildings just begging to have their photos taken. When we were there, it was freezing, but I can see it being a lovely place for a walk in spring/summer. And the town is situated at the foot of the Harz mountains – the highest mountain range in Northern Germany – so it would be the perfect starting point for a day of hiking.

Aaaand that’s number 30, which means MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Mainz

We are now over a week into the third month of this year, which is exactly the kick up the backside I need to continue with my 30 German Towns Before 30 series.
Today’s location of choice is Mainz.Mainz

I went to Mainz with some ex-colleagues of mine from the place where I completed a year-long internship. For a while, all the southern branches of this major translation firm would meet up a couple of times and do something together, inviting ex-colleagues and (ex-)interns along as well. Sadly, the people who organized these outings have since left the company so they don’t happen any more.

On this occasion, it was the turn of the Mainz branch to organise the day, and so the rest of us converged on their town. The plan was that the locals would show us around before we all headed to the Christmas market for yummy Glühwein (this meetup being in December). I actually mentioned the trip briefly here, but now it’s time for a proper post.

Mainz is a bit of a strange place. Parts of it are really pretty, with gorgeous buildings and views of the Rhine river (not the Main, as I originally thought), but then there’s this random square full of clothes shops/office buildings that’s just awful. All concrete and steel and glass with no character whatsoever. It’s right around the corner from where the Weihnachtsmarkt was being held as well, so if you stand on that square and peer through a gap between the shopping center and some other building you can just about see the prettiness on the other side. Most bizarre. You’d think they’d have at least tried to make the shops fit in with their surroundings!

One of the first things we found on our walk was the Narrenbrunnen (Fool’s Fountain). Mainz is one of the carnival towns – along with Cologne and Düsseldorf – so of course it has to have a Narrenbrunnen – although this particular one calls itself a Fastnachtsbrunnen, Fastnacht being the word for carnival in that part of the world (in Karlsruhe I’ve most often heard it referred to as Fasching, and occasionally Fastnacht, but Karlsruhe doesn’t really do carnival).

Fastnachtsbrunnen

Behind the Fastnachtsbrunnen is the Schönborner Hof – former home of the sovereign princely Schönborn family. Apparantly it now houses a “Maison de France” – an institute that aims to make French culture, language and France itself better known in Mainz. The University of Mainz also uses parts of the building.

Schönborner Hof

The next stop on our walk was the cathedral. It’s quite an impressive building, towering above the old town of Mainz. And inside is quite nice too.

Mainz cathedral

Organ

We also found this guy in there… kind of creepy.

Headless statue

Once the cathedral was done, it was time to head to the Christmas market for lunch and Glühwein. The Glühwein was average, but cheaper than at most other Christmas markets.

Mainz

Later I went and looked in some of the clothes shops on the ugly steel and concrete square (no photos of that!) at the suggestion of another ex-intern. I didn’t buy anything though, and after a while we headed back to the Glühwein stand to join the others.

In the evening, we headed to another part of town for a meal, walking down Christmas-light adorned streets on our way.

Mainz street

After our meal, which took a while with such a large group (and I can’t remember where or what we ate), we had to take taxis back to the train station to avoid missing our trains home, so I didn’t get to see any more of Mainz. Not that I would have anyway – being December, it was dark by that time.

Mainz seems like an okay town, although as I mentioned it’s a bit of a weird mixture of really pretty and really, really not – mostly the fault of the second world war, I’d imagine. I also didn’t get to see as much of it as I would have liked, being with such a large group of people and having mostly been invited there for the Christmas market. I think this is a town that I might have to visit again in order to form a real opinion of it.

Christmas baking – round 3

On Sunday, a friend invited us over to his place to bake biscuits. Obviously I jumped at the chance – all the fun of baking without getting flour all over my own kitchen again? What’s not to like! There were 9 of us in all, but we managed to do a pretty good job of not getting in each other’s way.

First we baked biscuits

biscuits in ovenThen we decorated them:

Christmas tree biscuitsWe had many different types. These are some traditional German biscuits known as Vanille Kipferln (Vanilla Crescents is the best translation I can come up with).

VanillekipferlThese ones were waiting to go in the oven when I took this – somehow I failed to take one of them after they came out.
These chocolate-coated biscuits are gluten free for the sake of one of the group. Can you tell I had fun decorating the teddy bear?

Gluten free teddy biscuitOnce we’d finished baking, we settled down to feast on our creations with a nice cup of Glühwein.

Christmas biscuitsA fun afternoon, but I don’t think any of us will be wanting a sugary snack for a while!

Freiburg Christmas market

Wares at a stall on the Kartoffelmarkt
Wares at a stall on the Kartoffelmarkt

Last Saturday we went to Freiburg Christmas market. (Yes, a week ago. Despite blogging pretty much every day, I’m totally behind. *sigh*). I had been to Freiburg once before, during my year abroad. Jan and I went to visit another girl from my uni who was doing her year abroad in Freiburg. However, as our visit basically consisted of going for pizza with her friends then heading to the Messe (fun fair) which was in town at the time, I took zero photos and saw just about enough of the town to decide I had to come back some day.

Jan and I had been planning to go to a Christmas market in a nearby town one weekend, and when I spotted a giant poster at the train station informing me that Freiburg Weihnachtsmarkt is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year, it was settled. So off to Freiburg we went (Jan, myself and my Scottish friend K, that is).

Freiburg im Breisgau, to give it it’s full name, is known for being the warmest place in Germany. Not that that means anything at this time of year – it was still -2°C when we were there! It is also actually in the Black Forest (whereas Karlsruhe only almost is).

Freiburg’s town centre is full of pretty little streets and, being December, naturally they were all decorated with Christmas lights.

Freiburg Christmas lights

Freiburg lights

I’m sure they would be much more impressive at night 😉 As for the Christmas market (our reason for being there!), you could certainly tell that Freiburg attracts a lot more tourists than Karlsruhe. Our first stop was for food, which just had to be Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes). I chose to have mine with garlic sauce (I love potatoes and garlic, remember). Along with German, the stall we went to listed its wares in French and English as well. Yep, touristy! After my potatoes, I was still hungry so I decided to be a traditionalist and go for a Bratwurst in a bun. Yum! After food, it was time for Glühwein! 🙂 But first Jan had to find a bank and I had to take this photo:

Freiburg Martinstor

The tall tower thing you can see is the Martinstor (Martin’s Gate). Note the Macdonalds as well. Although the cuty council couldn’t prevent them from putting up their sign, they were able to stop them from using their usual horrible yellow logo, which I think is excellent! (The only thing better would have been no Macdonalds at all in such a lovely old building.)

After a few Glühweins, the natural response to lots of liquid kicked in 😉 so we headed off in the direction that the sign for “WC” was pointing. After using the facilties, we spotted some stalls that I don’t think had anything to do with the actual Christmas market, but were selling some pretty things so of course I had to have a look. I wanted to buy this hat, but decided not to in the end.

It's a lion!
It’s a lion!

Since we had a while to wait before we could get a train home, we decided to go and check out the Christmas goings on at the Kartoffelmarkt (literally: Potato Market). It’s basically a pretty little square which, as the name suggests, was once used for the selling of potatoes. It has its own little Christmas market offshoot, which is smaller and slightly less crowded. Here’s a photo:

Kartoffelmarkt Weihnachtsmarkt

After a quick browse of the stands, we finished our trip with more Glühwein – blueberry for me and cherry for K (I’m not sure what Jan had). Very tasty 🙂

The market was pretty crowded, but not nearly as bad as we were expecting (or as bad as Heidelberg for that matter!). I would say it’s worth a visit if only to get yourself a cup with 40 Jahre Freiburger Wiehnachtsmarkt on it (ok, that will only work for another week ;-)). Freiburg itself is pretty, too and certainly worth a visit even when the Christmas market isn’t in town.