“So where are we going?” I enquired. It was almost certain that he'd been told but you never really listen to what the gang say – do you?
“Sometimes Fraulein Bond you can really be annoying.” Connie huffed.
“Don't mind her Drew,” Nena put in, “we're going to Köln, for the Weinachtsmarkt well Markts really, there're three separate ones to visit.” She enthused.
“Ok.” Weinachtsmarkt – that's some sort of Christmas market like that thing in Nottingham last year.
He looked out of the window of the Ahrtal Express as they sped towards the Rhein. It was a cold, damp morning – not icy but definitely wintry, in fact the weather forecast suggested snow might be on its way particularly in the Höhes Eifel but maybe as far north as Düsseldorf. At least the train was warm but everyone had dressed for December and he was currently regretting wearing the tights under his jeans – an old cycling trick to keep your legs warm. The only one eschewing some sort of trousers was Anna who had gone for a layered skirt look with woolly tights and sheepskin boots.
Geez that seemed quick today, Remagen already!
“Get with it Drew, the Köln train's already in.” Pia jostled his elbow.
“It won't go before we get there.” I pointed out.
We all made our way to the doors as the train eased into Gleis 5. The platform clock was showing 08.55 so there was at least two minutes to get to Gleis drei where the Rhein Express northbound was indeed sat waiting. We joined the throng heading down the subway – it looks like half of the Ahr valley are here! There was a rumble and a sort of singing noise just as we reached the middle platforms and the southbound ICE wanged through the station at stupid kph.
“Come on” Connie urged, “I bet there are seats at the back.”
Like a string of ducklings the rest of us followed in her wake towards the rear of the train. A couple of people were loading themselves and their bikes into the last carriage and we arrived just as the manoeuvre was completed. As usual the train comprised ten double deck carriages that we discovered to be pretty full already.
“Upstairs.” Pia urged leading the way up.
It did already have quite a few passengers but by luck there were two lots of table seats almost opposite each other that we quickly commandeered.
“Phew!” Anna slumped into her seat.
There was a slight jolt and the train started to move. Looking out of the window I could see a coach outside the hotel that's opposite the station, hey that's a Johnson's coach from back home! It's a little bit weird to think that six months ago we lived in England because it sort of feels like we've been here forever! The coach soon moved beyond view as it started to pick up speed and soon the wide, dirty Rhein flowed beside us populated by a string of heavily laden barges.
“Which should we do first?” Steffi enquired.
“Neumarkt” Bridget suggested.
“Yeah and then we can work back through the shops.” Nena agreed.
“I hope someone has those 3d log villages,” Connie mentioned, “I want to get one for my Tantchen in Brazil.”
“What about you Drew? Anything you're looking for?” Anna asked.
“Dunno, I've never been to one before, well not a proper one – what sort of stuff is there gonna be?”
“Of course, I forgot you are a virgin!” Steffi announced gleefully.
“Ste-eff!” I complained checking to see if anyone else had heard.
“There's all sorts of stuff,“ Pia put in, “wooden toys, special foods, candles…”
“Jewellery!” Nena added.
“Pottery an' stuff.” Brid dropped in.
Okay, maybe I can get some Chrimbo prezzies for the gang back home.
We must have been engrossed in our conversation when we stopped at Bonn, it must have been when all those people came through the carriage and that woman sat next to Pia. Still if we're at Brohl it will only be ten minutes to Köln Hauptbahnhof. I know this a train not a steamed up old bus but this morning sort of reminds me of going across to Sheffield and Meadow hell. So okay this is a bit more comfortable but I'm with my friends going shopping. I had tuned out the girls chatter and looked out the window at the bleak flat landscape that Köln sits in. ‘I wonder what the guys will be doing today? Probably the same as us here I guess in as much as Christmas shopping. Mad'll be bossing everyone around, Bernie will probably get in a huff and Ally'll have to make the peace.'
“We'll get off at Köln West, its closer to Neumarkt than the Hauptbahnhof.” Bridget mentioned as we passed the container port, Eifel Tor.
“Plus we miss a lot of the crowds by the Dom” Anna stated.
The others were already collecting coats and bags and by the time we were redressed the Köln West platform was already gliding past below us.
“Come on!” Pia urged as we made our way through the crowded stairwell to the doors.
“Brrrr, its cold out here.” Connie complained.
“Well duh! Do your coat up!” Anna suggested.
It certainly was cold, especially after the heat of the crowded train.
“Lets get going, we'll warm up walking.” I adjusted my rucky and headed for the exit stairs.
I've been to Köln several times since we moved to Germany but this is the first time I've been around this part. The others seemed to know the way so once at street level I just did the following bit. After about ten minutes we crossed the inner Ring then started threading through a few back streets before what Bridget called the ‘Bohemian shopping area', book shops, some of those arty coffee shop places and shops selling like weird clothing and stuff. We lingered at one or two windows – I wonder if Jules knows this is here?
We finally emerged at Neumarkt; the smell of würst and seasonal music identified the collection of wooden sheds between the bus stops and the tram station as our destination. It was still only quarter to eleven so not all the cabins were open yet as the magnificent seven strolled into town!
“Hmm I think I'm getting a Waffel” Nena announced.
“I fancy a pretzel” Brid sighed.
The source of such delicacies was soon located and we were soon all eating! Neumarkt is quite small, my guides advised, and whilst it gives a bit of flavour I didn't see anything to entice Euros from my wallet. I don't think anyone bought more than their food before we crossed over to the end of Schildergasse, Köln's main shopping street.
The crowds were already thick even at this end; the Dom end is usually even busier as that's where you find most of the tourists. I know that we had come to ‘do' the Christmas markets but there was no way the girls were going to miss the chance to visit Pimkie or any of the other fashion emporiums attractive to teenage girls in these parts.
We'd nearly walked straight past what has become one of my favourite destinations in Köln before I realised.
“I'll catch you guys up.”
“Where're you going?” Connie asked as the others gathered about us.
“The um Spielhaus?” I indicated the building with the plane crashing into it behind me.
“Toys?” Brid queried.
“No, no,” I back pedalled, “Stuff for my Dad.” I ad libbed.
“Hmm its time to eat, Galleria okay everyone?” Connie suggested.
There was a general murmur of agreement.
“We'll see you up there then Drew, 30 minutes?” Brid suggested.
“Okay.” It would have to do I guess.
The toyshop was heaving with, I realised quickly, a lot of tourists! I can remember the first time I came here, I was pretty much gob smacked by the place – four floors of toys, dolls, models and such. This was where I got sort of hooked on my newest hobby, collecting the small cars and trucks that you see on railway layouts. I've never really gotten into the whole model railway thing but the cars are well cool. It started with an Apollinaris truck but since the summer I've added quite a few to my little collection and today I was looking for one in particular. I managed to navigate up to the correct level and started scanning the displays. Ah there it is – a Smart car with a bike on the back! Kewlies – the bike isn't exactly brilliant but I mean it's only about a centimetre long. I made my selection (I still can't believe they have these things just out on the shelf!) and made a quick trip around the department on the way to the Kasse. Oh wow, I gotta get that – I studied the package of racing cyclists in the same scale as my model cars.
I waited impatiently to pay, for the first time in months I could hear English spoken outside of my family and Herr Viessner's English class . ‘I'll get that for Barry – ooh hang on that's only about three pounds.' I sort of cringed at the sound realising that I now considered myself ‘one of the locals'!
“12,50 bitte” the sales girl advised.
I passed over my twenty Euro note.
“Haben sie Klein geld bitte?”
“Er ja.” I handed her the coins to make fifty cents.
My purchases were now bagged and noting I only had five minutes before I was due to meet the others I headed towards the Karstadt across the way.
“Hey Drew, over here!”
I spotted the guys and headed over. Hmm the table was already laden with their food.
“Give us your bag and coat girl.” Anna instructed.
“Er sure.” I agreed disrobing. “Back in a couple.”
I headed to the servery – now in case you've never been in one of these places I'd best explain a bit. The Galleria places are like a super self-service restaurant with all sorts of stuff on offer including salad stuff and things like pork and rice, which you pay for by weight! Its so cool but can get expensive if you get carried away. One other thing about these places – the food is actually quite good!
I checked out the ‘carvery' and decided on the special – Schnitzel Thurau style, that's with a fried egg on top, with fresh veggies and new pots. I figured we'd have frites later otherwise I would've had them now. I rounded up a slice of coffee torte with cream, a cappuccino and a small dish of salad before paying and rejoining the others.
“We were just saying Drew, we'll do the Altmarkt after this then we can spend plenty of time at the Dom.”
“Sure,” I agreed, “What time train are we taking back?”
“Lets see,” Brid found her timetable, “we get the six o'clock which will get us to Remagen in time for the seven fifteen back up the valley, Dernau about eight.”
“Hmm” I noted around a mouthful of schnitzel.
It was well after two by the time we got to the Heumarkt where we watched the skaters on the big open rink for a few minutes before heading along to the Altmarkt. Compared to the Neumarkt this place is really buzzing, more people and I guess more atmosphere. There were some nicer things here too and I found a few bits and pieces for various people's presents – some earrings for Goth Girl and a hand knitted scarf for Gran.
There were a few ‘rowdies' around a Glühwein stall and despite trying to avoid them one of them started trying it on with Pia.
“Give us a kiss then gorgeous!” he countered leaning in.
Pia shoved him away, which started a chain of events that resulted in…
A full cup of mulled wine, hot mulled wine was deposited in my crotch!
“Hey like I'm sorry Fraulein.” Rowdy one allowed as Nena and Connie descended on me.
“Geez Drew, you've got to get out of those jeans.”
“Oh right, like I've got spare trousers with me.” I shot back.
“I've got an idea – take Drew in the toilets, I'll be there in a few minutes.” Anna ordered.
My jeans – and my tights underneath, were now a sodden sticky mess of material. Luckily it hadn't soaked through to my knickers!
“Here you go.” Anna passed a bundle around the door to me.
“One of my skirts and some warm socks”
I pulled on the skirt, a mid thigh length brown cord affair and sat on the toilet to pull on the socks.
“What? The skirt fits yeah?”
“Erm it's not that, couldn't you find any plain tights or something?”
“I think they look cool.”
The garments in debate were far from ‘cool' as I saw it, yep they were warm and being over knee did a fair job on that score. No it was the fact that they were in pink and white stripes and, I realised when I stood up, not quite long enough to meet the skirts hem!
“Come on Drew, lets see.” Brid encouraged.
I sighed in resignation before stepping out.
“Well cool girl!” Anna grinned.
“Couldn't I borrow a longer skirt?”
“These are all too thin to keep you warm enough.” She advised as she fluttered her remaining layers about her.
Really, why me?
“Come on, the others are headed to the Dom Markt.” Brid encouraged.
By the time we had made the short walk to the biggest of the cities three markets my legs were accustomed to their new covering – or lack of and it was just starting to go dark.
We found the others waiting for us by the steps up to the market.
“Great look girl!” Steffi noted.
I replied with a pained look.
“Well it is.” Pia added her two Centimes worth.
“Come on, or we'll miss some of it.” Connie encouraged.
The crowds here were incredible – almost a tide of people flowing around the plaza. The noise was incredible too – voices in several different languages, seasonal music and off to one side a choir singing carols too! Then a voice caught my attention.
“Are you sure I need a large?”
“You're a large in Marks”
“This is hardly M & S is it?”
Yup I know that voice. I scanned the nearby crowd and there he was – Woody, Mr Wood my old headmaster from Warsop College! Oh sugar, I don't really want him to spot me.
“Lets look at those candles.” I hinted to the others.
“I didn't think you liked them just now?” Connie mentioned.
“Gaby? Gaby Bond? Is that you?”
“Is that person calling you?” Steffi asked as I froze in place.
“It is you, I told you Bren, its Jenny's youngest.”
“Er high Mr Wood, Mrs Wood.” I sighed.
“Fancy seeing you here Gaby, I thought you lived further south?”
“We do, me and the um girls came up for the day to the Weinachtsmarkt's.”
“Who are they Drew? Why do they use your nickname?” Connie whispered to me.
“Er sorry, this is my old headmaster from England, Mr Wood and his wife Brenda.”
“Ah.” My friends noted.
“Er Mr Wood, Mrs Wood these are my friends, Pia, Anna, Connie, Brid, Nena and Steffi.” I completed the introductions.
“Gooten arbent” Woody grinned.
The girls replied in a variety of broken English greetings.
“Um so how come you are in Germany Sir?”
“A flying visit I'm afraid, coach trip staying down the river. We drove over last night and we get home late tomorrow night after visiting another of these markets in Arken or some such.”
“Aachen?” I supplied.
“That'll be it.”
“Well its um nice to see you Sir, Mrs Wood, I'll tell Mum I saw you.”
“That would be nice, you'd better join your friends, nice to see you again Gaby. ”
“I thought Jenny's youngest was Drew?”
“That was Drew dear.”
“But that was a girl?”
“I'll explain later.”
“Come on, we should just make it!” Nena struggled against the tide of people between the stalls.
After the unexpected meeting with Woody we had returned to trawling the stalls. It was only as we watched a guy working on some cuckoo clocks that Brid spotted the time – five to six, oh crap!
We wove our way through the crowds and round the dark mass of the Dom ran down the steps and into the station. We reached the platform to see our train just disappearing from view.
“Shitza,” Connie noted, "when's the next one?”
“Lets see, seven o'clock.” Brid told us after checking the departure board.
“I'll ring my mum, she can tell everyone in case they worry.” Connie advised.
“We can get some frites in MacDonald's and wait there.” Steffi suggested.
“Moment mama,” she put her hand over the mouthpiece, “Papa will fetch us from Remagen in the bus and drop everyone home.” She informed us, “Ok Mama, Tschuss!”
We were almost at the Maccy D in the lower concourse when that voice came again.
“You still here Gaby?” Mr Wood enquired as our two parties met.
“We missed our train Sir”
“Oh dear!” Mrs Wood exclaimed.
“Its no problem there's another in an hour and Connie's Dad will pick us up from Remagen station.”
“That's where we're staying isn't it Bren?”
“Yes, the hotel is opposite the station.”
“You're on the Johnson's coach?”
“How did you know?” Mr W quizzed me.
“I saw it this morning when we changed trains.”
“You live near to Reymargen?”
“A few miles up the valley Sir”
“Geoff we need to get going ourselves if we're to get the coach back!”
“I'm a little worried about the girls being here on their own at this time of night.”
“We'll be okay Sir.”
“I've an idea, come on girls, we'll get you home a bit quicker.”
So that's how the magnificent seven found ourselves hitching a lift on the Johnson's coach back to Remagen. Apparently a few passengers hadn't joined the excursion, which left some vacant seats that, with just a little persuasion from my former head, we were allowed to occupy for the forty-minute drive down the river. I made a call home on the way; Mum was surprised and very happy at the news and would be in Remagen not much behind us.
Maddy Bell 24.11.07© 2007
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