Friday 10th - Sunday 12th December 2004. My company's annual Christmas party was held this year in Cologne, and rather nicely involved a two night stay in a very nice hotel.

We arrived in Cologne early evening, and after a quick drink in the hotel, headed out to sample the the local ale. The food side of the arrangements didn't go entirely as we might have hoped, having been forced to eat in Hard Rock Cafe, however after that we managed a couple of really great traditional bars. OK, one traditional bar, and one, errr, less traditional.

18:59:58 Chie on the hotel stairs, shortly after checking in. We stayed at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst by the cathedral, which was rather nice.

19:00:41 I rather liked this fountain at the bottom of the stairs.

19:09:11 We congregated in the hotel bar, for a quick sharpener or two, before heading out for the evening.

19:47:35 Cologne cathedral: all the gothicness you could hope for.

20:35:36 Due to everywhere being full, we had to resort to having dinner in the Hard Rock Cafe. Embarassing, but there really was no other choice.

20:35:36 Inexplicably the same picture again.

21:07:01 The starter, with a centrepiece that looked like ice cream.

21:08:27 Me and Kev naively enjoying the Schneider Weisse. Little did I know at this point in time...

21:08:32 Not sure what all the finger posturing is about here. I suspect this is a reaction to a piece of modern art, or something.

21:08:37 Kev looking very pleased with himself... or the Schneider Weisse.

21:08:42 A scan down the other side of the table revealing Kev, David and Jeremy.

21:08:54 Errr, this seems to be a shot of the bar, for no particular reason.

21:10:15 Chie eating the "stuff" from the middle of the starter.

21:20:10 Me and Chie, looking forcedly happy.

21:21:12 What everyone is now calling the "other" end of the table.

21:22:27 Ok so we were getting quite bored waiting for our main course, which prompted a round of these rather unsettling pictures. This one also seems to have got corrupted, as my camera likes to do now and again.

21:22:32 Nope, not necessary.

21:22:36 Vicious Kev.

21:39:01 David, as seen 'betwixt two Schneider Weisses...

21:39:22 ...and again, probably with different lighting. What a great example of head retention.

21:55:44 Looks like our main courses have arrived... and somebody has given me the "Pig Sandwich".... Eugh.

21:55:53 Close-up of that pig sandwich action going on there. Apparently this was full of sugar and really very unpleasant. The thing I had on the other hand wasn't actually too bad.

22:05:56 One of the redeeming factors of the Hard Rock Cafe was the bit where the staff got up on the bar and danced along with YMCA.

22:06:09 ...this was made more entertaining by the choice of staff uniforms...

22:07:48 Good work guys.

22:10:57 A pictoral study of flags and sauce.

22:24:09 Looks like we're still in Hard Rock then... I assume we're just finishing off our drinks at this point.

22:24:56 Must be time to leave now...? I particularly like Kev Sparrow miming shooting himself in the head here. Well done sir!

22:25:03 Right, I think we're on our way out. You can just about see our waitress here, who was very helpful in instructing us where to go next. (She also said Germans were very dull, which I found a bit shocking!)

23:21:08 After leaving the Hard Rock Cafe, the girls (and/or Jeremy) decided to go back to the hotel, leaving the rest of us to set about the important task of some really serious drinking. Here is the first bar we staggered into.

23:22:42 Mmmmmmmm Gaffel Kolsch.

23:27:35 This was the first bar we could find with space in. Something seemed a little unusual about it though, which none of us could quite put our finger on to start with... gradually we noticed there weren't many women in there, the men were dressed, err, interestingly, and they seemed to be very friendly with each other... and us. Ahem.

23:44:55 There was a strange yellow powder lining the little pot on the table with a candle in. I felt bizarrely compelled to taste it.

23:45:01 Yes, it was quite salty.

23:45:07 This is me trying to scrape the yellow salty stuff off my tongue.

23:57:08 I think I wanted to reassure myself that, from the outside at least, it wasn't obviously a gay bar.

00:07:39 The next bar along came equipped with a robotic accordian player, and may have been called Papa something or other.

00:08:14 Kev is probably saying "Skol!" or something here.

00:36:40 My compulsion to make t-shirts from cigarette packets doesn't seem to have elapsed yet then.

00:39:59 Me and David? In Germany? In a bar? Drinking beer? Certainly not.

00:44:21 Errr, don't know what this is about.

00:44:30 I seem very proud of my cigarette packet t-shirt here.

00:45:24 A slightly blurry picture of David and Kev M plus q few Schneider Weisses.

01:14:54 Nice picture taking in all the decor an' evryfing.

01:20:31 Somebody seems to have rather stealthily caught me sending a text messsage.

01:23:10 Errr.... some kind of pot. I was probably considering stealing this.

01:23:25 Nice pointing action there.

01:47:23 David reverting to type and spilling/breaking something. I think we left shortly after this.

02:38:18 Looks like we returned to the hotel bar then.

02:38:34 I look like I'm struggling to sit upright then.

02:58:11 Accusations were levelled at me the following day that I had fallen asleep in the hotel bar, however I strongly refute these.

02:58:26 This and the previous picture are clearly staged! No, really!

I spent the first half of Saturday with a really evil hangover. Beware the Schneider Weisse. Once I had finally (more or less) recovered, I spent the afternoon wandering round the city with Chie and her German friends before heading off for the main event (the meal with the rest of the company) in the evening.

14:44:54 I finally made it out of bed around 2 o clock, and met up with Chie who had already been out with friends for several hours in the morning. Here's the three of them with a nice view of the cathedral in the background.

15:25:24 We went for a nice walk along the Rhine, and the fresh air really did me good. A bit hard to see here, but I was actually trying to take a picture of this giant chess set on this boat.

15:39:02 Back in one of the Christmas markets, Corinna and Chie in front of the chesnut stand.

15:39:21 Finally at about 3:30 I felt ready to try and tackle some food. So here I am with some of those potato cakes (kind of deep fried rosti) which seemed quite popular.

16:08:15 I was rather intrigued by what you might find in a shop called "Wormland".

20:28:13 Later on, here we are at dinner, and during the long wait for any actual food, we entertained ourselves with pine cones and other accessories the restaurant had very generously left lying around.

20:31:07 A picture of the majority of the room.

20:31:33 Kev, Rich and Rosie, all looking very pleased with the "decorated" pine cone. Good work.

20:41:27 My starter, which warranted a picture simple because of how pleased I was that it had actually arrived.

20:41:52 Chie's starter, which involved some kind of fish.

21:20:24 David "three beers" Symons. Having complained about the size of the beer glasses (which is of course the traditional way to server Kolsch to ensure it stays fresh) the waiter kindly served David three at a time.

21:31:27 A "jovial" picture of me and the other end of the table, taken to pass the time whilst awaiting the next course.

21:31:33 did seem like rather a long wait!

21:38:18 Ahhh.... the curtain rail incident. In opening the window, Graham and/or Dyllis had managed to dislodge the curtain rail...

21:38:31 ...this then resulted in a great piece of Marx brothers esque comedy, whereby correcting one end of the curtain caused the other one to fall down.

21:38:37 ...not sure the pictures really capture the hilarity here, but it was quite funny, trust me.

21:56:11 My "vegetarian soup", which was almost certainly vegetarian, if you ate around the lumps of chicken.

23:32:37 An interestingly lit picture of me and Chie. Perhaps this is down to the haze of smoke...?

23:33:57 Mohammed and David made a great double act during the evening, and here they are displaying some perfectly acceptable manly affection towards each other.

23:45:15 The other end of the table again.

23:48:29 One of the more "dynamic" pictures of the evening. This does make the waiter, who was in fact very nice indeed, look like something of a brute. He was in fact attempting to pose for what would have been a very nice picture of him and Marion, however, Marion seemed to have other ideas.

23:53:47 Looks like we've got desserts now, and it's only just before midnight. Mine interestingly seemed to come with garlic mayonnaise, which was a bit of a surprise. This may have been a result of complaining about the soup earlier.

00:24:39 On the way back to the hotel. After having stopped off outside the cathedral for a wonderful motivational speech from Kundan, we thought it appropriate to get a picture. Given the nativity backdrop, this has a hint of the three wise men about it, although Marion pointed out that the "wise" might be pushing our luck a bit.

00:25:03 Me and Chie in front of the nicely lit nativity scene.

Spent the afternoon having a final wander around the city before heading back to the airport.

12:10:22 Having drank somewhat more moderately than the Friday night, I managed to avoid any resemblance of a hangover this morning. Here's a picture of Chie in our hotel room, just before going to check out.

12:15:44 I was hard not to take a picture of the cathedral every time I walked past it.

12:15:51 I thought it might be nice to get a picture of it at ground level.

12:18:17 The inside of the cathedral, which is equally as impressive as the outside.

12:18:52 ...and again.

12:19:04 ...and again, with slightly different settings to try and get the lighting right.

12:19:45 I felt oddly compelled to take a picture of this control panel I noticed in the cathedral, lovingly crafted in the Gothic style.

12:30:27 We thought we'd spend the majority of the afternoon taking another tour of the Christmas markets, looking for presents.

12:35:02 A nice view of the cathedral rising up above the market.

13:45:57 I think this is another one of the markets - Neumarkt. After a while they all start to look the same... Given the timing it looks like I've made a couple of friends here!

13:46:02 Same again without so many friends.

14:13:41 Me and a small boy looking at a model train in a shop window.

14:13:53 Look - there's the train!

14:28:36 Yet another angle on that cathderal.

15:05:26 Having grown tired of forcing our way through the crowds in the Christmas markets, we decided to stop off in a bar for a drink and a bite to eat.

15:10:13 I was rather pleased with this one actually.

15:23:38 Yet more of those potato cak thingies for me, and a great big sausage for Chie.

15:49:27 A rather blue-ish picture of the outside of the bar where we had lunch.

15:49:46 Same again, slightly less blue.

15:58:56 After our late lunch, we popped back to the hotel to pick up ourt bags, before heading off back to the airport. The Excelsior was very very nice indeed. Not the sort of place I'd go if I was paying myself!

17:08:37 In the airport now, waiting for our flight... It seemed appropriate to round off the trip with a last couple of Kolches...

17:09:04 ...what an interesting effect this has made with my mouth! Goodbye Germany....!