Over the past few months living here in Belgium, I’ve come to love many things, one of them being the amount of national and public holidays Belgians observe. Belgians like their days off, something I can wholeheartedly get behind and support.
And last week, Michael and the kids had off from both school and work, which was super convenient timing because HELLO BIRTHDAY WEEKEND for Piper and me. No school, no work, another year in the books to be celebrated – yes a road trip was in order. This time, to Cologne Germany (just two and a half hours away from home).
The really cool thing about living in Belgium is that it’s so incredibly centrally located to a ton of awesome places. Paris is only three hours away, Amsterdam is three hours away in the other direction, you can get to the North Sea in under two hours, and you can drive into Germany in less than one.
We left mid-morning on Saturday, stopped for lunch on the road at Burger King, (I know, but Michael had to get it out of his system) and headed into the heart of Cologne to do some sightseeing and window shopping.
One of my favorite things to try is street food that is specific to the region we’re visiting. I immediately spied people lining up at this cart to buy little paper cones filled with some sort of snack. I needed to know what was in the cone, and at only 2 euros a piece, I sent Piper shopping.
Maronen. Also know as Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Our little cone came with about eight or so chestnuts, perfect for everyone to have a taste.
This little snack of chestnuts taught us a very valuable lesson:
1. know what you’re eating.
2. know how to eat it.
You guys, chestnuts do not taste very good if you just pop them in your mouth as-is. They need to be shelled like a proper nut (I know, whodathunk?). The first go-around, Piper and I did not shell ours – instead just popping the roasted little sucker right in our mouth. Also: gross. Also: any German watching us and our reaction probably got a pretty good laugh at our expense.
At this point the snack was lost on us, even after we figured out how to shell them properly. At least we tried and gave it a go, I guess.
Next up we walked around the beautiful Cologne Cathedral in all it’s Gothic glory. Having an interior design degree and given the amount of art history classes I took in college, it’s absolutely fascinating to finally be able to see what I had previously only read about in textbooks.
After touring the cathedral, we walked across the famous Rhine river via a beautiful footbridge (no photos here folks, I was admittedly afraid of heights and fearful for my children’s well-being, even though they were perfectly safe) and did some shopping.
The girls each picked out a small bottle of iconic 1411 cologne (because when in Cologne that’s what you do) and then we headed out to dinner. Dinner was at a super fun (and super huge, loud, inexpensive) beer hall called Frueh am Dom which serves their own house brew, Fruh Kolsch. Again, me being always up for an adventure ordered something off the “chef specialty” list called Schlachtplatte.
I’ll spare you the plate photo (I’m no food blogger) but let me just mention that my dish was a combination platter of liver dumplings, pickled pork, boiled bacon and black pudding served on a bed of sour kraut and mashed potatoes. Basically a big ole’ pile of German. Also make note: I’m now adding “learn to read German” to my ever-growing assimilation to-do list.
After dinner we found the car and headed out of the city to our rental apartment (through Airbnb, which I highly recommend, it’s the only way our family of 6 travels affordability) where we tucked the kids in and got ready for day two.
Sunday we woke up (my 36th birthday, yes I had to do the math, secretly hoping I was turning only 35) and headed to an indoor water park called Aqualand. (exactly how a 36 year old female would want to spend her special day, right?).
Watersides, whirlpools and lazy rivers. I didn’t take any interior shots, and that’s ok. We spent eight hours tiring out the kids before heading back to the apartment for a quick pizza dinner and OMG bed.
On Monday (Piper’s 10th birthday), the plan was to pack up and head to Bonn, about 25 minutes south-ish to the Haribo Factory Store.
Yes, THE GUMMY BEAR STORE.
We knew going in that they didn’t do tours of the actual factory given that it’s a food facility, but our research said the destination wasn’t to be missed regardless. Guys, I don’t even really like candy, but I have a soft (or shall I say sticky) spot for Haribo gummies.
I love them. Open a bag, finished it within the afternoon. Not sharing, hands of momma’s chewies.
We spent around 45 minutes and 30 euros at the store, walking out with an epic assortment. And yes, there’s a nice sized kids area which includes some gummy bear history and memorabilia to look at and kill a few some time (aka where I sent the family while I finished up shopping).
Clutching our bags of sweets, we headed back to Belgium by way of the autobahn (holy speed, batman!) to conclude the celebration weekend. Piper decided to forgo a traditional birthday cake and instead chose German “berliners” for her evening celebration.
Kid, it’s been a good 10 years. We had a great weekend, and I hope you always remember your 10th birthday spent in beautiful Germany. Cheers to many more crazy adventures…