Christmastime in Germany

I believe, like most, that summer is the best time to travel to Europe.  But, if I had to pick the second best time, it would be during the Christmas holidays.

Germany truly comes alive for the holiday season.  Every city across the country has a Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market), which often start at the end of November and continue until Christmas Eve.  Some cities’ markets continue into January.  These are wonderful for travelers to visit because they tend to be located in the aldstadt (old town) near the cities main cathedral.   That means while hitting up some siteseeing, you can also get in a visit to the market.

The markets are filled with vendors of all types; food, drink, treats, and crafts. Some have kiddy rides and big rides like ferris wheels.   What I like is the variety of traditional German foods all in one place.  You can get wursts, pretzels, fish sandwiches, stuffed potatoes, potato pancakes, crepes, strudels, and much more.  The Weinachsmarkt is known as a place for friends to gather for the hot alcoholic drinks like Gluwein and other drinks like cocoa, egg nog, and punch as well.

Besides traditional food, I also love checking out the traditional Christmas crafts.  You can find ornaments, ceramic Christmas villages, and woodcrafts.

While visiting a historic site or beach is a must see while on vacation, it most likely won’t get you in touch with the locals.  Learning about other cultures is one of the highlights of travelling abroad.  One of the ways to really connect with culture and natives of a country is to take part in their celebrations.

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit multiple Christmas markets and not only see how the Germans celebrate this time of year, but how different regions of the country celebrate as well!

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Paris Part Deux

My most recent trip to Paris, which was my second time there, left quite an impression.

The first time I went was during my college summer study abroad in Spain.  I did a long weekend with some friends and we took in all the sights; museums, Seine cruise, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Latin Quarter, Champs Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe.  However, I left that trip, never wanting or expecting to return.  Don’t get me wrong, the sites were all great, but the overall impression I had of Paris was not a good one.

Boy, am I glad I gave it a second chance!  This trip left me enamored with the charm and beauty of the city of lights!

I think part of the problem with the first trip was that I was a college student on a cheap budget.  I was also travelling with some vegetarians (whom I love), so our dining options were limited.  A hotel employee yelled us at when we checked in.  He made a rude comment about us “Americans.” That definitely started us out on a sour note.  My friends and I were also not adventurous when it came to food.  I hate to admit that we ate at some American fast food joints because they were cheap and had vegetarian options.   I also think we just were not hanging out in the right part of the city

This trip was totally different.   We stayed in the 7th arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower.   Our hotel was in the perfect location to the tower, a metro, restaurants, and Rue Cler.   We felt like we were in quintessential Paris with beautiful buildings, shops, and cafes.   I think having the ability to stay at a nice hotel in a nice area was key.  We could step out our door and become a part of the city with the locals.

We had some amazing food this time around.   It included LOTS of meat! Yum!  And LOTS of dessert!  Double yum!  Crème Brulee, macaroons, apple tart, chocolate mousse.  Oh la la!  I also think I may have had one of the best cups of coffee in my life.   Most likely it was just because it was café au lait in PARIS!

I think the main reason this trip was so special was because I was there with my sweeties.  Paris is truly a city for lovers.   When I walked around this time hand in hand with my love, I could just feel the energy of love all around.   I really couldn’t stop smiling.

My husband was shocked that I didn’t like Paris on my first trip.  He said, “What’s not to like?”  He also said that this was unlike any city we had ever been to.  We felt like the city itself was a museum and everything we laid eyes on was a masterpiece.  My only regret is that we didn’t have more time here.  Two days were not enough.

I left this time wanting and longing to go back to Paris again!

(Side note to some of my other posts:  Tap water was FREE in Paris and was given at every restaurant!)

Why Beer is Drink of Choice

I know why beer is the drink of choice in Germany.  It’s because it is cheaper than water or pop.

Okay, maybe that’s not why it’s so popular, but it’s why I would order it.  When out to dinner in Germany, tap water is not an option.  Bubbly mineral water is what you will receive if you order water.  You must specifically ask for still water if you want the kind without bubbles.   It is not uncommon for our drink tab to be equal to our food, even when all we have ordered is water and pop.  To me that is crazy!  It causes me to drink the bare minimum when we are out to eat.

This is not only in Germany, I must say.  When we were in the Netherlands, we got an English version of the menu at a café.  It said in capital letters at the bottom, WE WILL NOT SERVE TAP WATER.   I guess this is strange to me because in Greece we were often given pitchers of tap water at our meals.  Some places only served bottled water, but we found if we asked we could get tap water.  The only place we have been able to get tap water so far is at a Greek restaurant. Go figure.

My beloved Coke is also expensive in restaurants.  Another difference here is that it is served without ice and more often than not I find it to be flat.   I have decided that it just isn’t worth it to order it.   Since pop and water are pricey, you might as well order beer or wine and at least get a little kick with your beverage!

I read somewhere that they believe if you order tap water it is for your dog.  Dogs are allowed just about everywhere in Germany and the Netherlands too.  This is something that I absolutely love.  You will be out to eat and suddenly you will notice a dog under the table.  At the café we went to in the Netherlands, there was a round table of about eight people and each of them had their dog with them.  A McDonalds in the Netherlands had four dogs bowls inside the restaurant for their hound patrons.   What I don’t know is how they get their dogs to behave so well in restaurants.  They are so good that you don’t even know they are there!

Check out this dog at Starbucks!IMG_2594                                  (And there is a bassinet stroller I mentioned in a previous post)

Our German Cottage

The hubs and I are ADDICTED to Househunters International, especially the European episodes. We would watch it and say, “Look.  Those people moved abroad with their kids or their pets.  We can do it too!”.

We love guessing which of the three houses the people are going to pick and also like to say which one we would chose. Well, if we were on an episode ourselves we would definitely choose the home we are in now.  Just like the show where each choice has its pros and cons, so does our new home.  It has boatloads of charm with the thick wooden beams, original wood floors, and German antique and modern furnishings and decor.   It feels so homey.  I love the smell when we walk in the door, it just screams Germany to me.  I don’t know why.

The downside is that those original floors creak loudly and are not always level.  The walls are quite thin, so you can hear anyone walking or talking upstairs.   And the spiral staircase!  It is a necessity for such a small house, but can be a challenge when trying to carry a baby up and down or if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.   Even so, the positives far outweigh any negative.

This is the first time in any home in Europe where we have had so many appliances.  We have a dishwasher, washer/dryer, microwave, toaster, coffee maker, hot water boiler, iron, CD, and tv.  We feel very spoiled.  We are loving our new home.

Embracing uncomfortable

Is anyone surprised when I say we are moving back to Europe? We must sound like a broken record!

We are going back to Europe so Greg can play basketball again.  Our destination is Hagen, Germany, where Greg played two years ago.   What makes this, his 8th season of professional basketball, crazier is that we are going to be taking our two cats, Zoe and Micho, and our baby girl.

You can’t believe how many people say things to me like, “Wow!   You are an amazing wife to keep doing this for Greg!” or “How do you keep putting up with this?”  I guess people don’t understand that going is just as much for me as it is for him.  While he gets to follow his dream of playing professional basketball, I get to follow my dream of living abroad and passion for travel.   I am not “putting up” with anything.

Are we excited?  Definitely!  Are we nervous? Most definitely!  The strange thing is that the part we are most nervous about is bringing the cats, not the baby.  The baby will adapt, but will our cats? It’s no easy task to bring cats overseas.  We are not only concerned about getting the right vaccinations and documents, but seeing how they will do on the plane and in their new home.  Will they howl the entire flight?   Will they be stressed about their new environment?  Cats do not like change.  They would be content to stay in the same place forever if they could.  Unfortunately, their parents (Greg and I) feel the exact opposite.  Staying in a comfortable place for too long makes us uncomfortable.

That’s our new motto, by the way.  “What’s uncomfortable now becomes comfortable later.  What’s comfortable now becomes uncomfortable later.”

Will it be difficult to leave family and friends? Yes (uncomfortable)

Will it be stressful moving our family on only 1 suitcase each? Yes (uncomfortable)

Will it be challenging to be there without a support system and dealing with a different culture/language? Yes (uncomfortable)

Anything worth doing is going to be uncomfortable at first.  But we believe that doing what you love will make you happy in the end, you just have to get through the hard work and difficult phase. The discomforts of the move far outweigh the feelings of regret we may feel later.   So for now, we are embracing uncomfortable.