The holidays are here! It’s a bit odd to be so far from home during the holidays, but we are making them as memorable as possible with new friends and our own little traditions.
We were very fortunate to have already found a new church we really like, plus a new life group with some pretty awesome people we are getting to know. Another American couple from Michigan (not Wolverine’s, before someone boos) had previously planned a Thanksgiving Dinner on the Wednesday before, so all the Brits could experience what an American Turkey Day is like. I made stuffing for the first time… in my life. Making it was a challenge itself, but making it for 25 people, in a teeny tiny kitchen, with UK measurements (ml & oz), plus an oven that has more settings than my iPhone was an experience. In the end everyone liked it, so I dubbed it a success. Jared’s apple, blackberry pie on the other hand took two tries. We burned the first one, thanks to our novice understanding of fan vs grill heat in UK ovens. The second one came out almost perfect. Most, if not all of the British had never had pumpkin pie, so it was fun to get their reactions to an American favorite (not mine). Some liked it, some not so much. It was the perfect way to spend our first holiday over seas.
Jared had to work on Thanksgiving Day, so I did some work and then attempted to make us a mini-Thanksgiving meal. We had cornish hens, garlic mashed potatoes (my dad would be proud of the garlic level), creamed corn that was nowhere near my southern grandmothers and left over pie and stuffing. It was a quiet evening, but I was thankful to share it with my best friend, my life, my husband. Ok, the sappiness ends there, I promise.
We were told that Europe has some of the most amazing Christmas markets EVER, so we planned our entire December around visiting as many as we could. With so many to choose between, we devised a plan to do as many UK ones as possible before heading to Germany (TOMORROW, or today since I stayed up so late to post this blog – EEK!). So here is just a small glimmer into the magical UK Christmas Markets we have gone to so far.
The first Christmas Market we indulged in was Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market. It was by far the coldest day we have had while in England, at a whopping 6 degrees celsius (42 degrees fahrenheit), so we had to bundle up. I fear that the mild UK winters are going to ruin me for the brutal winters I have in store in the 216 in the future. It makes my teeth chatter thinking about it. Ok, back to the market. Birmingham is noted for being the largest outdoor market in Britain with over 180 German inspired stalls lining the high street selling pretzels, schnitzels, bratwurst, every sweet known to mankind, wooden toys, candied nuts and of course gluhwein and weissbeer.
These are tools made out of solid chocolate. Just what a girl always dreams of, a chocolate wrench.
Forget footlongs, meet the meter dog.
Birmingham has a crazy cool library. Although, Jared was put off by its subtle loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don't see it, do you?
The following weekend we went to the Bath Christmas Market. Bath is quite possibly one of my favorite places in the UK. Jared and I were able to visit Bath once before when we studied abroad. It was just as charming as I remembered. And wet. And truth be told, one of the funniest memories Jared and I have from Bath in 2008 is the fact that I fell on my toosh 3 times trying to navigate the wet cobblestone roads in $1 Old Navy flip flops. Jared had to hold my arm like a wobbly toddler to keep me right side up. We look back and laugh at that now. The first half our day in bath was just as wet and slippery, but I came prepared this time with my wellies.
I not only love Bath because it’s Jane Austen’s old stomping grounds, but it has the perfect winding roads, Roman architecture and little shop lined streets, that help make it so charming. If you ever come to to England, be sure to stop in Bath, you won’t regret it. And as if, I could not love it anymore, I came back at Christmas and fell in love all over again. The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey set the perfect backdrop for the bath Christmas Market. I hope my pictures can bring a little of the magic to you:
We also hiked up what seemed like the staircase to heaven to reach Alexandria Park, where we had panoramic views of Bath below. The trek was totally worth it.
Going down was the hard part. Steep, stone stairs, wet leaves and a bad knee make for a fun combo going down. I made it down alive and patella in place. I am looking forward to going back to Bath when the sun is actually shining.
We got ourselves an early Christmas present last week, a new car! It is nice to finally have a set of wheels again. Jared has a lot of clients in the countryside he has to drive to, so a car was a necessity, but it will also be an added benefit. We are looking forward to traveling to some more obscure locations across England. Getting a car was not easy given all the new things we had to learn and consider; manual vs automatic, diesel vs petrol, taxes, parking, MOTs, car brands we have never heard of and more. We were very lucky to land a reliable car, from a great local dealer (that didn’t make me squirm). It may look tiny, but our long legs fit with room to spare. So if you come visit us, there is room for you and your luggage. Hint: come visit.
Jared got to test his UK driving skills that very day, by driving us to… Highclere Castle, AKA Downton Abbey! Not too shabby for its first outing. Oh, and Jared is a pro at driving on the wrong side of the road. Jared had surprised me with tickets in October for our Anniversary to this special event at Highclere. The castle opened it’s doors and usually off limits upstairs rooms for a special, one-time Christmas event. We spent the evening touring the rooms, hearing the countess speak about its history, sipping on champagne, eating nibbles and listening to Christmas carols. We even got to personally chat with the Earl and Countess, who were mingling with everyone the whole evening. I was quite excited to even pet the official Highclere Castle lab, Bella. If you watch Downton Abbey, you get how “cool” that is. There are no words to describe how amazing the evening was. It is something I will never forget. There were no pictures allowed inside, but I had to sneak a few (shhh!).
We only live 20 minutes away from Highclere Castle, so you can bet we will be back in the Spring to see it when the gardens are in bloom. And get ready friends, I already saw the new season coming to America in February. It’s a good one. The season finale happens on Christmas Day.
This past weekend we ventured into London to tour some of the Christmas Markets. First, we made a stop at one of my favorite London destinations, Camden Market. It is basically a big flea market, with shops and an amazing craft market and local food stands. I could spend a good day here just browsing all the goodies.
Then we took a walk up the Thames to the London Bridge and Tate Modern Christmas Markets where we indulged in some amazing macaroons, cider & live music. I wanted to go back and buy a whole box of pistachio macaroons, but I practiced self control. Although, I now wish I had a macaroon to snack on while I blogged.
After fulfilling our sweet tooth’s (for now) we headed to London’s Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. I did not know exactly what to expect, but based on the website, some sort of festival. Well this was no ordinary festival, it was truly magical. There were at least 6 different markets within the festival, including a Bavarian Market, Angel’s Market, Santa Market, Circus Market & more. There was so much to see I snapped around 400 photos:
We couldn’t leave without a belgian waffle.
It took 34,000 steps, but we Christmas Marketed the heck out of London. My feet felt it for three days. No regrets.
You can see all of the photos from our Christmas Market Adventures HERE.
We’re off to Germany tomorrow (4 hours from now actually – I may have stayed up a little too late to finish this post) for four days to explore 6 different Christmas markets along the River Rhine. Stay tuned to my Instagram account for live updates!