Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Looooong First Week of December

So now that we've already been to the Christmas markets in Cologne, the flight home on December 10 has been looming large in our minds. What were we to do to keep the endless waiting off our minds?

We started off by taking our first London Walk; when we arrived in Covent Garden, the city was looking festive.

Even though we know the Covent Garden area quite well, we were still shown some cool things we hadn't come across. First among them: Floral Hall,

and a balcony with a great view of the market.

We also went in the Royal Courts of Justice and the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons. We liked this place so much (especially Teriann) that we went back two days later to spend more time there.

This is the antithesis of the Imperial War Museum — rather than documenting all the energies humans have spent over the centuries killing each other, the Hunterian Museum (named after 18th-century all-purpose scientist John Hunter) documents all the energies humans have spent over the centuries learning about science and anatomy and health. Consisting of a more-interesting-than-you-would-think exhibit about the history of surgery and an unbelievably diverse collection of preserved dissections, this museum is somehow fascinating without drifting into pedantry.

And after a fairly vanilla weekend that included a choir concert and our flat Christmas party, we saw a fantastic show, La Cage Aux Folles, on Monday night — because it was our year-and-a-half anniversary.

You won't be hearing from me for a while because we're finally going home tomorrow. And the monthly photos thing won't continue (who cares what my favorite cathedrals are anyway?). So long until the new year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmastime in Cologne

Last weekend, Teriann and I took a great trip to the Christmas markets in Cologne to take our minds off the interminable wait to come home.

Cologne is not a pretty city. It was almost completely flattened during WWII, so, except for the massive Dom, consists of fairly drab post-war buildings. Perhaps because of this, though, I have never seen a city get more dressed up for Christmas. Both public spaces and individual businesses were decked out in garlands, lights, and decorations. Combined with the excellent food and the friendly people, we ended up really loving our weekend there.

They even turned one of the river boats into a Christmas market.

And Teriann indulged on the local beer!

Still, there's a small part of town that survived the bombs, where buildings still lean over narrow lanes.

The pink one was our hotel, from which we could see the Rhine.

We also went the Chocolate Museum (awesome) and the Dom (actually less interesting than I anticipated).

Far and away the highlight of our weekend, though, was stumbling into Papa Joe's Biersalon, which is apparently the only place to be in Cologne. It was a raucous pub where no one spoke English and the music was provided by these two animatronic gentlemen.

The result was the most stereotypical German experience I've ever had: a sing-along to 'Rut sin die Rusen' (Red are the Roses).


See more pictures in the facebook album.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Favorite Cathedrals

One the distinguishing characteristics of Europe is, of course, the cathedrals. No city worth its salt is without one. Bear in mind that these are only my favorite five from the dozens we've visited over the last year... among them, Salisbury, St. Paul's, Notre-Dame (Paris), Stephansdom (Vienna), Basilica di San Marco (Venice), Köln, and St. Peter's (Vatican City).

5. St. Vitus's Cathedral, Prague

Sure, the audioguide is a shocking ripoff, but for sheer opulence, St. Vitus's provides constant eye candy. And situated at the top of Prague Castle, it's the dominant feature of the skyline no matter where you are in the city.

4. Strasbourg Cathedral

I wasn't prepared for how massive or intricate this cathedral is. For centuries it was the tallest building in the world, and inside, there's a beautiful organ, an astronomical clock, and a sculpture that consists of not just a person or two, but an entire landscape.

3. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Though construction began in 1883, it's still not finished. Any blurb I could write about it here would be madly insufficient. Read about it here or there are pictures here. It is hands-down the most unique cathedral — or for that matter, construction site — anywhere in the world.

2. Duomo, Florence

Aside from being one of the oldest of the world's massive churches (its dome precedes St. Peter's by almost a century), its pink, green, and white facade looks like a real-life version of the Small World ride.

1. Westminster Abbey

No, it's not the biggest; some may even argue that it's not the most opulent. And — what the heck — it's not even technically a cathedral. But it is my favorite. Because of its history, its atmosphere, and its Thanksgiving dinners, it will always be my favorite.