Christmas Markets and Crossing Borders

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“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful”

Norman Peale

Once again it’s time for an update on the past week and all the exciting things I’ve been getting up to. After waving my friend Frances off at the airport last Sunday it was not long before I was sat on the train to the airport once more to pick up another visitor – this time my boyfriend Dom. His timetable back at Uni had been reduced due to the fact it was Graduation Week, therefore meaning he had time for a break away from third year dissertation woes and time for an extended weekend out here in Germany.

On Wednesday night we had time enough to enjoy a take-out Pizza from the best Pizzeria around here (Bella Italia) – in the past few months I have to admit I have frequented this place quite a lot. The staff are friendly, the food is delicious and it’s such good value.. any visitors of mine out here will no doubt be introduced!

After Dom’s busy day of travelling, Thursday became a day in the city. In the morning we travelled out to the Mediahafen, which is Düsseldorf’s harbour. Previously an area of workers, industry and trade, the harbour has been redeveloped and inhabited by media companies, fashion offices and a number of classy restaurants and bars. When you talk to anyone from Düsseldorf and ask what they recommend you visiting, one of their top 3 suggestions is the harbour. It is definitely one of the city’s ‘fashionable’ places to go and offers interesting post-modern architecture, most impressive of those being Frank Gehry’s eye catching works of art, the ‘Neuer Zollhof’. 

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Unfortunately the day that we visited the weather was incredibly grey so I have borrowed an image from another blog in order to do the architecture justice http://budgettraveller.org/36-hours-in-dusseldorf/

Dom and I had a good wander round, despite the cold weather and it’s attempts to snow but we were soon ready to find somewhere to escape the cold and enjoy some lunch!

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Mediahafen

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 After finishing our lunch we caught the bus back into town and stopped off at the store Breuninger to admire the fancy things, from there we had a short stroll around the Hofgarten, compared to New York’s Central Park – I can see the likeness but it’s certainly not on the same scale!

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Hofgarten

Once all our afternoon ‘wandering’ was done and dusk was falling, it was time to make our way back into the Altstadt for the first night of the city’s Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets). We started off by walking through the “Sternchenmarkt” (little star market) at the Stadtbrückchen, before heading to Heinrich-Heine Platz and the “Engelchenmarkt” (little angel market) with it’s art-nouveau style.

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Engelchenmarkt, Heinrich Heine Platz

From there we continued down Flinger Strasse, with yet more stalls and soon ended up on Marktsplatz and its offerings of craft huts and the sound of choir singers. Finding a place to enjoy a glass of Glühwein (mulled wine) was not difficult and we soon had cups of steaming liquid warming up our hands.

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After the tasty drinks, we decided to take a spin on the Riesenrad. I had been the week before with Frances but another visitor was another excuse to ride the wheel and see out over Düsseldorf and enjoy the lights.

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Riesenrad

The following day we made a trip to nearby Oberhausen, about a 30 minute journey with the RE (Regional Express) from Düsseldorf. When I was there with the other FLAs a few weeks ago, they had started assembling the stalls for the Christmas Markets and from what I could see then it looked promising. That, along with the fact that the town house’s Europe’s largest shopping centre CentrO, it seemed worth a return trip and a bit more time to explore all it had to offer. From experiences back at home, it’s safe to say that shopping centres don’t usually impress me in terms of their Christmas market stalls – the Oracle (my hometown’s shopping centre) is a prime example, where apparently a few stalls that sell sausages class as German markets or even better, in Southampton where the Christmas Markets comprise of curry stalls or tacky christmas gifts. I was hoping it would be different in Germany. They did not disappoint. As we arrived at the centre’s bus stop we were greeted by a variety of outdoor snow ‘sport’ opportunities such as snow-tubing or the chance to drive snowmobiles. Despite the temptation we gave these a miss and headed towards the huge array of wooden stalls selling christmas decorations, leather items, a huge variety of different foods and most importantly Glühwein! 

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We had a good look around the shopping centre but it is enormous and after not so long we felt rather overwhelmed by it all. That meant it was time for something to eat, and what was more appropriate than a traditional German Wurst (sausage). Here’s Dom tucking into his..

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After our German hot dogs we found a stall selling Poffertjes, some of the most delicious things ever that my cousin introduced me too a few years ago at the Christmas market in Neukirchen Vluyn on the Dutch border. Poffertjes are basically small pancake balls which you eat either with icing sugar and butter or with warm vanilla sauce. Seeing them in Oberhausen meant I had to have some and I think I converted Dom too..

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Poffertjes

After sampling the local cuisine and once we were finished browsing the market stalls and huts we caught the bus back into the town and thought that we would have a quick walk around the town to see if there was anything special. I can’t say the city itself is particularly special but it’s Christmas lights were sweet and festive and we found a few nice buildings so it wasn’t all that bad.

On Saturday we ended up enjoying a lazy morning at home with a chilled breakfast and some catch up TV. Once midday had been and gone we decided it was about time to make a move and get on with our day. Düsseldorf is only 30mins away from the Dutch border and I decided that having a visitor, it would be the perfect time to explore and cross over the border into the Netherlands. Once over the border we arrived in the small town Venlo and after the rush of buying my ticket we only just made it onto our connecting train to Roermond, home of a McArthur Glen outlet centre. We arrived in one piece and soon found ourselves walking through the pretty town in search of the shopping centre.

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Roermond

It took us about 15minutes to get to the centre and were greeted with beautiful lights and Christmas decorations as well as a few of these friendly chaps..

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We spent quite some time looking in the shops, not that we could afford half the items there, and also had the statutory Kaffee und Kuchen break. Before we knew it, it was already quite late and we had a reasonably distance to cover to get back to my cosy flat. We arrived back in Düsseldorf just at 21:30 and headed to my nearby Greek grill to pick up some food. What an experience we had..!! Following on from ordering our food we sat out the way and were told we’d have to wait a while for the food to be ready. We entertained ourselves by watching the old drunk couple slouched over the salad bar being offered copious amounts of Ouzo shots and talking complete nonsense. Why the grill owners were still handing them alcohol I do not know! The old woman was struggling to stand herself up straight and what happened next was no surprise.. all of a sudden she lost her balance and in slow motion fell sideways, straight into her husband who also overbalanced resulting in them both crashing onto the fall. In all the commotion, furniture was knocked over and brochures etc went flying. Despite the fact the lady had knocked her head with quite some force on the floor/ door she insisted she was fine and rejected the offer of a taxi home. Poor old Dom and I weren’t sure what to do with ourselves in all the chaos and stood idly against the wall, not knowing how we could be of any help. Thankfully after that it was not long before our food was ready and we could escape the strange event – on departure from the grill we were handed a large bottle of Coca Cola and free dolmadas on the house – probably as a plea for us to return and in the hope we wouldn’t be put off by the craziness! In case you were wondering, the food tasted sooo good 😉

Sunday means one thing in Germany and that is a day of rest. We had had plans for another day trip but were put off by the poor weather and instead we decided to stay inside during the morning and perhaps venture out into the city later. As I hadn’t been to the supermarket there was nothing in the cupboard for breakfast or lunch so we instead we gorged ourselves on fresh waffles at the local ice cream cafe.

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In the afternoon we set off by Ubahn across the Rhein to the other side of Düsseldorf and its posh area of Oberkassel. Many of the houses and apartments on this side of town are worth hundreds of thousands of euros and a short walk around the area gave us many fancy cars and beautiful houses to admire.

Sadly Monday was our last day today and I had spent the morning at work. At lunchtime I picked Dom up and we went for our last meal together at our favourite place Vapiano, definitely worth a visit if you have one near you – it’s basically the Nandos of Italian cuisine and must be good if Dom likes it! At 17:30 it was time to wave each other goodbye, which is always horrible but in 3 weeks I will be sat on the plane travelling home for Christmas.. so it isn’t all that bad 🙂

For now, Auf Wiedersehen x