Our last adventure was 4 days long, two countries wide and included: 2 backpacks stuffed, 7 cities toured, two languages attempted, 28 mini Christmas Markets explored, 50 miles walked, pretzels the size of my head eaten, countless gluhweins drank and enough Christmas spirit to last us the next 361 days. We went to what I now believe is the meat and potato capital of the world, Germany. Oh, and we made a quick jaunt to France.
Our first stop was Dusseldorf. Decked with 7 Christmas markets across the city, it was a great way to kick off our trip. We got our first taste of German cuisine with a kartoffelpuffer. It is a potato pancake served with applesauce or garlic sauce. We did not know what we ordered when we ordered it, so we ended up with the applesauce. Jared enjoyed that bit, me not so much. Tip, go with the garlic sauce. My three years of German in high school started to kick in after a few hours, thanks Frau Marks. What my limited memory did not remember, Google translate filled in. You can scan anything with your phone camera and it instantly transcribes it. Came in quite handy when ein, danke or bitte did not work. Besides the Christmas Markets, Dusseldorf had a beautiful river rhine walk, adorned with a mini eiffel tower and the some pretty nifty plane trees.
You can see more pictures from Dusseldorf on Flickr HERE.
After making our way through Dusseldorf we caught a train into Cologne. Even from within the train station you could not ignore the gigantic and amazing beast that is the Cologne Cathedral.
It also set an amazing backdrop for probably one of my favorite Christmas markets we visited. Cologne was full of so much magic. Which makes sense, since it’s also home to The Elves of Cologne. Cologne had 3 Christmas markets with 100’s of little wooden stalls, a skating rink, a curling court, mini trains and more. We enjoyed traditional german sausage, cherry streusel, some type of meat on a stick and of course lots of mulled wine in ornately decorated mugs. A big part of German Christmas Markets are the mugs. Each market sells a unique mug you can collect. By the end of the trip we had 7 mugs stuffed in our book bags. Since we were moving from city to city, we had to do this trip in traditional European back pack style. Which means I am learning how to be a minimalist packer. Lets just say, I need more training. I have 21 more months to master the art. Here are some of our pictures from Cologne:
This is called a Christmas pyramid. All of the markets sold toy versions of these, but they generally were the centerpiece of the markets selling food and wine.
Jared loves him a cherry streusel.
You can see more pictures from Cologne on Flickr HERE.
In the morning we jumped on a train to Heidelberg. It was a last minute decision, but probably the best decision we made the whole trip. Side note, if you travel to Europe, buy your train passes in America, you get it at a crazy good rate and it lets you travel unlimited on rail and bus for 1-2 weeks depending on which level you buy and for what country. So it’s easy to move your plans around. And back, Heidelberg was everything I imagined Germany should be and more. Castle, sweeping hillsides overlooking the River Rhine, winding cobblestone roads, the perfect little gingerbread style buildings and more. The castle even had its own Christmas market. I already want to go back and explore more:
So this is how potato chips are made.
The Castle Christmas Market.
You can see more pictures from Heidelberg on Flickr HERE.
We did not want to leave Heidelberg, so we left a little later than expected and arrived in Stuttgart after dark. But we booked it to the hotel, checked in and then hit the markets where I finally got my gingerbread man fix. Stuttgart had some of the most ornately decorated stalls we saw the whole trip. They were beautiful! We also probably spent a good hour watching people ice skate, or should I say try to to ice skate. It was good fun. I wish I could skate, but my bum knee does not like skates (insert sad panda). There was one older German lady we spoke to who must have been an ex-olympian, she was killing it and helping those less skilled on skates navigate the ice.
You can see more pictures from Stuttgart on Flickr HERE.
The next morning, only 12 hours after we arrived, we caught a train to Strasbourg, France. We were welcomed by some very heavily armed guards at the train platform. Since the Paris attacks, french towns are patrolled. We also had to switch our language mode. I kept saying “ein” and “danke” instead of “uhn” and “merci.” The hazards of country jumping. Strasbourg in one word was STUNNING.
Petite France was my favorite. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of cobblestone roads and old shutters.
The Strasbourg Cathedral was HUGE too. The Gothic architecture is so detailed. You could look at it 100 times and always find a new detail that you missed.
This is the Les Ponts Couverts it was a defensive structure built to protect the city in the 13th century.
Palais Ronan which housed (or palaced) people like Marie Atoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Paris tributes left at the Kleber Memorial.
Strasbourg is called the capital of Christmas. The very first market was held in 1570. The market definitely lived up to it’s name. Besides no snow, elves, reindeer or Claus’s it sure felt like the North Pole.
We found some amazing butter cookies, so we had to try them of course.
Meet the bretzel beignet, the combination of two amazing things. I could have eaten 5, but I didn’t (regretfully).
You can see more pictures from Strasbourg on Flickr HERE.
In the morning, we left for our final day. First, we made a quick stop in Mannheim. It was a little town, so we only stayed a few hours:
After a few gluhweins and sausages, we headed to our final destination, Frankfurt. It was the perfect way to end our four day marathon.
Frankfurt’s own lock bridge.
These plane trees are an optical illusion.
Frankfurt’s Christmas Market was spectacular. It had all the Christmas cheer you could ever dream of and more!
Love me some gingerbread style buildings.
Yes, I did eat this pretzel that was the size of my head. Jared helped a little. Did I mention it was covered in dark chocolate.
And it’s vacation, so yes, we will have fondue for dinner.
You can see more pictures from Frankfurt on Flickr HERE.
Before Jared and I were even married we started collecting Christmas ornaments together. And what better place to collect Christmas ornaments than a Christmas Market! We left Germany with 9 amazing ornaments:
Here is our official German Christmas Market mug collection too! You’ll have to come over and enjoy some mulled wine with us one day:
After Germany we were able to squeeze in a few more Christmas celebrations. We went and saw a traditional English Pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk in Henley on the Thames, which is the cutest little town, I’m sure you will hear about it again. A Pantomime is a musical comedy created for family entertainment. The play was adorable and entertaining for kids and adults. Music ranged from the Beatles to Frozen hits, and the villain heckles the crowd and the crowd heckles back. The best part was when Jack asked the boys & girls what he should do to the villain and without skipping a beat they said, “kill him.” Jared lost his marbles over it, well the whole room did.
Then on Christmas we spent the day with some of Jared’s co-workers and had an orphan Christmas. There were people from seven different countries there; America, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Spain, Pakistan & of course England. We had quite the spread of Chinese fried rice, cream pork from Spain, English bread pudding, garlic mashed and more. It was a great way to spend Christmas being so far away, but we definitely missed our family and friends.
And we got to end the day with Downton Abbey’s Christmas special and final episode. It was bittersweet, but ended in the most perfect way. It was fun watching an episode after having been in the actual Downton Abbey AKA Highclere Castle.
To celebrate the New Year we are taking a 6 1/2 hour road trip up to Scotland. So Jared’s newfound UK driving skills will definitely be put to the test. We leave tomorrow for the Lake District where we are going to stop for a night and then onto Edinburgh for three days for the Hogmanay. It’s supposedly one of the biggest festivals in the world and a New Year’s Eve destination.
Here’s to a swell 2016!