Travel & Covid-19: My Experience

We recently got home from a trip to several different countries outside of our own (we currently live in Germany) and I figured I would share a little insight into OUR experience. Obviously this is all very new and things are constantly changing from location to location, but this is what I experienced and saw. 

This isn’t a debatable post, nor is it a place for opinions to be spewed one way or the other, I want to make that very clear. This is a place for those who may be traveling soon or want insight on what travel even looks like currently. Also, I don’t have the current accurate case numbers for Covid-19 and I wouldn’t share them if I did. These numbers and information changes daily and I would refer you to check the WHO, EU, or CDC websites for further details. Finally, I am going to give a very brief rundown of our situation. My husband is in the military and we are stationed here in Germany (I don’t talk about this much and wont moving forward very often, but need to address it for the sake of this post). We have our own restrictions set in place by nature of his job, above the European Union and Germany restrictions which do include where/how we travel currently. 

Another – shorter & quicker – note we traveled to Luxembourg, France, Belgium, and a smaller town in Germany. I would say we experienced everything from strict enforcement to relatively relaxed enforcement in terms of recommendations and Covid-19. I feel like we experienced enough to actually speak about not only what we did, but how we felt and what the experience was like. I’ll be sharing everything from masks, to shopping, to border crossings and finishing up with my thoughts. 

I’ll start by saying that masks are recommended across the board in Europe. In some countries they are required, but not all (for example in Brussels they were mostly recommended, but not required and in Luxembourg they were required inside at all times). In countries that require masks, they are required in any indoor situation (so a museum, church, store, etc.). They also recommend and ask that you have a mask in any outdoor setting where being able to be physically distant from others is not feasible. You are not required to wear a mask outside (unless that specific establishment ask that you do) and I found that most places that had outdoor exhibits chose to minimize the amount of people allowed in at one time over requiring a mask. One final mask note in regard to dining out. In the countries we went to, you wore your mask to enter the restaurant, go to the bathroom, and leave the restaurant. The wait staff wore masks through the entirety, but you were not required to wear one once you were seated at the table. 

Public transportation was something that I was the most intrigued about as it is what we use the most when we travel. We rely on a metro or bus system, so when figuring our trip out, this was what I wanted to know the most about. AND aside from a mask requirement and limited seating options (to ensure people from separate households minimize contact) everything seemed business as usual. The limited seating falls into this: if someone is sitting on a seat, the seat next to them (or in some cases behind- basically the seat touching them) should not be occupied by someone other than a member of their own household. Obviously they would prefer that you not get on a train that is already close to capacity (so don’t pack in like sardines), but there wasn’t any sort of force enforcing that. Public Transportation seemed very…”business as usual, but with masks”.

Everywhere we went, no matter mask requirement, you could count on markers (whether signs or tape on the floor) directing the flow of traffic as well as minimizing the amount of people in an establishment at one time. There is no disruption in any way to doing things this way. In fact, I somewhat prefer it. Most tourist locations know their sights the best and know the best way for visitors to get the most out of their visits. They have engineered the markers to take you along the best routes and allow you to get the most out of your visit. Marking the direction of traffic not only allows them to safely have people on the premises, but minimizes a lot of flow problems and allows you to end up seeing exactly what you want to see without a crowd of people or backtrackers. We didn’t run into any issues with making it into locations or museums due to the smaller group sizes, nor did our wait time to anything get too astronomical (except our last day at a suspension bridge). Honestly, I found it to be a bit more enjoyable. 

Since we are on the topic (kind of) of the smaller tour groups, I will say we didn’t see an overwhelming number of tourists, until we came back to Germany. Paris seemed almost empty (and in fact a few people that have been previous to Covid have said my pictures made it look almost like a ghost town) and most of the “tourists” we did run into were “within country” folks (people who are sticking within borders). I will say, it was a bittersweet addition to our trip. I know how important tourism can be, how many are suffering and dealing with Covid (in any way from actually being sick, to dealing with job cuts, to being higher risk for it), BUT I would be lying if I said that we didn’t enjoy being able to truly enjoy the various spots without all of the crowds. It was a unique experience. 

No matter what country you were in, whenever you entered an establishment there was a hand sanitizer station set up. These varied from just regular sanitizer bottles, to fancy foot pump bottles, to wipes (in only one or two locations). It was expected that when you walked in, you sanitized your hands (and our kid’s hands) and then again when you walked out. What varied the most with this from country to country was the guidelines of what to do after you touched something. This is a guideline I’m not even sure what or how I would advise, but we saw one location where they sanitized items right after you touched them, others would take them to the back (I’m guessing to wait out some time period), and some would do nothing at all (now some of this made sense depending on what it is that the store was selling), but otherwise shopping wasn’t very much interrupted. Most places had some form of clear material around their cash registers and I found stock wise things were good. 

A note on dining out in restaurants. We found that we didn’t need a reservation 90% of the time. Of course, you can make one to guarantee you have a table (as you would regularly), but it wasn’t required. We were able to walk into most restaurants and find a table to eat. Tables were placed at generous spacing and those in the middle would occasionally have those same clear barriers on either side of the table. As I already stated, masks were required until you were seated at your table. In the strictest location, restaurants had paper recyclable menus, but most had standard menus that would get sanitized after every use. Wait staff wear masks through their entire shift, but that is really the only “abnormality” (you could say). 

As far as crossing borders, we didn’t run into any issues. The European Union (and our little area) has open borders and at this time there aren’t any border checks for the countries we visited. Of course, you can always get randomly stopped and screened, but we didn’t actually experience that. We drove so I can’t speak to what planes or trains look like unfortunately. 

My Thoughts/Feelings

Honestly, I was a bit nervous going into this trip. I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what the right steps to do to prepare, how paranoid I should get, etc. Now that we’ve gone and done it I have no fears. Well that may not be entirely true, I am definitely still worried about Covid and everything involved with that, HOWEVER I didn’t feel…unsafe in that sense whatsoever. Basically, a lot of what you do (just in general with travel right now) is going to be what you’re comfortable with. We wore masks inside even if they weren’t required, because that is what felt right for us (for numerous reasons). We tried to stay physically distant as much as we were able to and only going into places that we really wanted to. I think once we got into the swing of things it became second nature quite quickly. It really wasn’t all that bad. 

So, that’s that! Do you have any questions that I didn’t cover or that you want a bit more information on? Let me know!

All the Castles – Germany Edition!

While we still are in a “safer at home” state, the world is slowly starting to open back up again (in fact, while finalizing some of my research for this post I’ve learned that Lichtenstein is in fact open with restrictions!). I’m still over here dreaming about all of the places we can visit and the countries we plan on going to over the next bit of 2020 (once the borders open of course), but I figured today I would do a fun little round up on the blog and start talking about some of the castles we’ve been to.

In compiling this list, I’ve realized that we’ve been to more castles than I had originally realized, so, as the title suggests, this will be full construction German Castles. I will do a separate post for the United Kingdom (which will include palaces as well!), other European Countries, as well as the ruins that we’ve explored. I will also include at the end of each blog post any Castles that are still on our “to go to” list for each region (so at the end of this post I’ll have a list of the castles I would still like to go to in Germany). Once we go to a few more, I’ll do another round up of those as well.

As always, I’ll link to full blog posts where applicable, but I am going to include pictures, a little history, and my own thoughts as we go along.

It seems like people who go to castles fall into two categories, the “you’ve been to one you’ve been to them all” or “they are all different and we should see them all”. If anything, I fall into that second category as not only do I LOVE castles and see differences in each one, but I also LOVE the history of each castle. In most cases these houses are beyond our comprehension in terms of age and what actually went into the planning and construction of these castles is incredible (and yes, some have a dark history as well). I’m just a bit of a history nerd over it all.

So, with all of that blabbering out of the way, let’s get into the castles…

Hohenschwangau Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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We are going to start our post with the little sister to Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau. Nestled in the Alps at the German Austrian border, this castle is absolutely stunning. It is first mentioned in the 12th Century and was owned by the Knights of Schwangau until the 16th century. Eventually in the early 19th century King Maximillian took ownership, and had it rebuilt per its original plans. It was used by the royal family as a summer and hunting residence up until King Ludwig II decided to build his private residence of Neuschwanstein.

Hohenschwangau is a beautiful castle to see. It’s one that I feel like sometimes gets a bit neglected with Neuschwanstein being right next to it, but it is gorgeous, mixing the perfect location with the perfect interiors. In fact, you actually get to see more of the interior of Hohenschwangau than you get to of Neuschwanstein. The gardens have some stunning views of the lakes and alps and the castle itself has a fuller story to tell (you’ll see why when you read on). I actually initially ranked Hohenschwangau higher on my list of castles because of this.

Neuschwanstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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Ah, one of the most famous castles. The inspiration for Disney Castles. The most picturesque of all the castles, Neuschwanstein. It’s only when you learn the history of the castle and its King that it becomes a bit different looking. Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II as a private residence; a refuge from the public. It was intended as a sort of rebuild of Hohenschwangau, but bigger and better. The construction began in 1868 with completion in 1892. It was at the forefront of technology both in the construction of the castle and the methods used, to the interior of the castle. The large windows were unusual for the time as was the heating and serving methods within the castle. However, King Ludwig only spent 11 nights in his dream castle before his death (this is an interesting story- it was claimed that he had gone mad and he was found drowned alongside his psychiatrist. There are different stories claiming whether he was or was not mad, what role his mistress played in the entire affair, and how he actually died).

As picturesque as Neuschwanstein is (and IT IS picturesque), I found it to be a bit…dark and small when compared to Hohenschwangua. This could be because you don’t see nearly as much of the castle (part of this was due to the reconstruction that was going on while we were there). It wasn’t my favorite, even though I still absolutely loved it. It was a good look see for the pictures and views. Looking back now, knowing the full history of the castle it definitely holds a little bit more of an air of mystery and intrigue.

Hohenzollern Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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At this time, I think this is my favorite German Castle. It is just…foreboding but quaint, set high on a hilltop with stunning views and yet so warm and home-y. It also has quite the history and, unlike the above two, was never built to be a residence. First mentioned directly in 1267, this is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and of the Hohenzollern Princes. It was rebuilt in the mid 15th century to become a bigger/better house and then became a fortress in the 17th century during the 30 Years War. After the war it fell into a bit of disrepair until the 19th century when Frederik of Prussia decided to reconstruct and turn it into a bit of a showpiece for the public. What we currently see of Hohenzollern dates back to 1850 and is considered an acclaimed masterpiece of military architecture. The only time that the castle was used as an actual temporary residence was during World War II.

I know I’ve already said it, but Hohenzollern is my favorite as it stands now. I loved our time wandering the battlements, walking the entry gate, seeing the various artworks detailing Prussian history (placed starting in the 1950s), and the courtyard…the courtyard made me swoon. This castle just had it all that you would want in a castle. In fact, I would like to go back for a Christmas Market (or really any market) if possible before our time in Europe is done.

Lichtenstein Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION)

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Lichtenstein Castle is one of those castles that you just marvel at from start to finish. It seems to defy the rules of gravity, of building, of everything and is just a place to be experienced. First built in 1100 it went through a very destructive history of being built and destroyed several times. Despite that cycle, it withstood every attack and was considered the best fortified fortress of the middle ages (which it doesn’t take a military strategist to see why). In the second half of the 16th century it lost its ducal seat (and therefore lost its “castle” status) and started to deteriorate. In 1802 it was dismantled entirely to the bones and turned into a hunting lodge. Finally, in 1840 it was rebuilt for the final time into the castle we see today. Count Wilhelm was inspired by a novel called Lichtenstein by Wilhelm Hauffhe and decided to build a German Medieval Knights Castle. It is now privately owned and certain areas of the castle and courtyard are available for rental for performances or weddings!

Lichtenstein is just one of those castles you have to see. Perched right on the edge of a cliff you not only get the thrill from just feeling on the edge of the world, but this history of building, tearing down, and rebuilding is just incredible. It also has the only visible damage from World War 2 that we saw in all the castles (a bullet hole in a mirror that was fired during the war). What made our particular trip a bit cooler (in my opinion) was that it was rainy and foggy, so you could not only get the eerie feeling of being up on the mountains and this incredible castle looming over everything, but also just get a real taste of the history. However, as someone who is afraid of heights (or rather falling from a height), being there was a bit terrifying as well (walking across that bridge?!).

I want to do one Honorable mention of Dresden Castle (BLOG POST, MORE INFORMATION). We haven’t actually been properly to the castle itself, however we have walked the Procession of Princes, seen/walked the Zwinger Palace Courtyards, and seen the exterior of the castle.

The Dresden Castle was originally built around the beginning of the 13th century and (after a fire and rebuild in the early 18th century) has been home to Electors, Kings of Saxony, and Kings of Poland. It was fully destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in February of 1945 and the restoration didn’t start until the 1960’s. Overall, Dresden is a really neat city with a lot to see, learn, and explore, BUT the most incredible part of the city is that it was almost fully destroyed in that bombing and yet you wouldn’t know it by visiting it now. Save for the memorials and museums explaining what happened, the city itself doesn’t show the destruction that occurred in its architecture or buildings.

Finally, a list of the castles that we would still like to visit while we are here:

Burg Eltz

Heidelberg Castle

Schwerin Castle

Cochem Imperial Castle

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

I hope you enjoyed this first Castle Round Up! What was your favorite? Which would you most like to visit?

Travel Bucket List

I figured it would be a fun way to pass the time, dream of the days when life is back to normal, to talk about our Travel Bucket Lists. I have a lot of places that I would like to go in my lifetime, as I’m sure a lot of people do, and I figured it would be fun to compile a master list of places. I am going to mark this down as a page on the site as well so that when I cross a destination off, I can link the blog post to that specific page and maybe give someone else an easier way to find by destination. Honestly, I am starting to get that wanderlust, that ache for travel, and I figured this would be a good way to feed that a bit.

I am going to break this down by “continent”, then by places I would like to go back to and re visit other areas, and then by the places we’ve already been (for linking purposes). I WILL NOT be going into super specifics on cities within countries or such on every location as I am still researching specifics. For now, this will be countries/states/and some cities if there is something specific.

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So, here we go, starting with Places I would Like to Go

Europe

Greece

Romania

Hungary

Croatia

Slovenia

Slovakia

Poland

France (I know we’ve technically been to France, but it’s only one city for one night, doesn’t count)

Ireland

Spain

Switzerland

Lichtenstein

Portugal

Denmark

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Latvia

Lithuania

Russia

Iceland

Greenland

Africa

Morocco

Egypt

Israel

Cyprus

South Africa

Asia

India

Thailand

Vietnam

Myanmar

Malaysia

Philippines

Japan

South Korea

Indonesia

Australia

New Zealand

North America

Canada

United States (again- I’ll have to break this one down as I’m from the USA and have already traveled several states)

Mexico

Belize

Cuba

Dominican Republic

Costa Rica

British Virgin Islands

Turks and Caicos Islands

South America

Colombia

Brazil

Argentina

Chile

Those are all the “new” places. Now I am going to touch on the places we’ve already been that I would like to go back to (and link the original posts about those places). Most of the places that you may have noted as missing above are actually places that we’ve been, and I would like to go back to.

Here are those places:

Britain (our first trip was to London and Dover, I’d like to go back and go to Bristol, Cotswold’s, and a couple other spots)

Scotland (our first trip was to Edinburgh and Inverness, I’d like to go back and go to Skye, Galloway, Aberdeen, and many many more spots.)

Italy (our first trip was to Rome (Parts: 1, 2, 3 ) and Vatican City, but I’d like to go back and go through the Tuscan region, as well as down the southern coast)

Czech Republic (Our first trip was Karlovy Vary, Prague, and Lidice, I’d like to go back to Prague, and to Pilsen).

Austria (we’ve been to Salzburg, but I would love to go over to Vienna, Linz, and Innsbruck)

Germany (gosh, where to begin? We are currently living here and have done Berlin, Dresden, Neuschwanstein, and a bunch more castles, but there is so much more I want to do in this country)

And now, last but not least, the places that we’ve been (most of these are linked as places above that I would like to go back to):

The Netherlands (we’ve done Amsterdam and Keukenhof– which I would actually be very up for a return trip to as I LOVE it in the Tulip Fields)

Calais, France

Belgium (I would be a for a return trip here too to see more of the country)

England (Dover, London)

Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness)

Italy (Rome 1,2,3 and Vatican City)

Czech Republic (Prague, Karlovy Vary, Lidice)

Germany (Berlin, Dresden, Neuschwanstein/Fussen, Nuremberg, Hohenzollern, Lichtenstein Castle, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Berchtesgaden 1,2)

Austria (Salzburg)

Dresden – An Overnight Trip

The weekend before Christmas we spent a very magical 24 hours in Dresden exploring Christmas Markets and landmarks alike. You can see my post on the Christmas Markets HERE, but today I am going to talk about some of the sights and my favorites about Dresden.

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Dresden is the state capital of Saxony and it is the 12th most populated city in Germany, the second largest city on the River Elbe. The city itself is relatively “recent” in comparison to the history of Germany, dating to around the 12th century. It has served as the seat of the state since it’s settlement and has also always been a center of culture, education, and politics in Germany. The most incredible thing about Dresden is that the entire city center was destroyed, along with 25,000 people killed, during the bombing of the city by Americans and British towards the end of World War 2. Certain parts of the inner city were completely reconstructed after the war including the Zwinger (the royal castle/palace).

I will be completely honest- a lot of my time in Dresden was taken up by either Christmas Markets or in awe of the architecture and landscape of the city itself. I’m looking back through my pictures and thinking “oh I loved that spot” and “that was pretty cool”, but not remember a lot of the details about the trip itself. Partially my fault for waiting this long to actually write this post (it’s now after New Year’s), but also Dresden was the second city that I really just let my “amateur photographer” heart fly free. I just took pictures (so many pictures) and wandered around. There wasn’t a lot of “specifics” to our trip. So, forgive me if this post is a little vague or different from previous posts. I’m still figuring out how to merge a couple different passions to put together the best posts that I can for you.

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So, since this post has already derailed into something very different than I anticipated, I’m just going to continue that trend…

While in Dresden we went square hopping pretty much. Each square has a “focal point” of sorts, whether it’s a palace, a statue, or a church. Each square also had a Christmas market, so we would start at the Christmas Market and then walk in to whatever the nearby attractions are. In our minds we had two or three “must see’s” on our list, but otherwise we just wandered around.

IMG_3137The first square is the main square and right off the main square is the Church of the Cross. This is actually the main church and the seat of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Saxony. It is also the largest church building in the state. The church itself has been through quite the history, but its current state retains the look of the church post Dresden bombing. It was decided to keep it in that state, rather than refurbish it to prewar designs.

 

 

Speaking of churches, we also went to The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony (also known as Dresden Cathedral/Katholische Hofkirche) and the Church of Our Lady (also known as Frauenkirche).

These were both absolutely incredible churches in full painted and designed glory. An interesting fact about Dresden (back in the day)- at the time the rulers were Catholic, BUT most of the residents were actually protestant. The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony is one of the foremost landmarks of Dresden. In fact, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen a picture of it, it’s incredible. The original church actually had a private high-level walkway from the Dresden Castle to the church for the rulers and other high-ranking officials to use. Of course, like much of Dresden, the bombing heavily damaged the church and it was fully restored following the reunification (including the private walkway between the castle and the church). The church does not only hold mass and services, but also (like many of the churches in Dresden) concerts throughout the year. In a slightly different tone, the Church of Our Lady was left in ruins after the bombing of Dresden to serve as a war memorial (for 50 years!). Originally built as a way for Dresden citizens to assert their will (by remaining protestant in the 18th century), the church was not rebuilt until the 1990’s-the early 2000’s.

Something that we had on our list and did see was the Procession of Princes or Furstenzung.

This is a 101-meter-long mural that shows the ruling family as a procession of various riders. It shows the Wettins’ family lineage through the years. Originally painted in the 19th century, it was replaced by porcelain tiles in the early (early- very early) 20th century due to the elements fading the paint. It is now known as the largest porcelain artwork in the world and is absolutely incredible to stand in front of. The members of the family are accompanied by various other “common folk”, scientists, children, and such.

We also managed to make a stop at The Zwinger, which was on our list.

The Zwinger has a long history, but I’ll be completely honest- I don’t quite understand it. So, I’m not going to try and talk about the things that I don’t know about it (as that would be wrong), but my basic understanding was that Augustus the Strong (who was recently made King of Poland and Elector of Saxony) wanted to have something similar to Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. It ended up getting changed around several times, halted, and finally completed at a much smaller scale. It was destroyed during the bombing, but was fairly quickly rebuilt (in the grand scheme of the other buildings listing within this post). You can walk the main garden levels, and then up higher in the ramparts. Within the buildings are museums containing artwork, porcelain, and jewelry.

Recommendations:

Honestly I would recommend just walking around Dresden.

Obviously going to the Zwinger, the museums, the Procession of Princes are all great places to start, but really I would recommend just walking around the city. The city (as many in Europe) is divided between “Old Town” and “New Town” by the river and it’s really neat to see both sides. By walking around you’ll see most of everything the city has to offer and then some. I would recommend separating your time by Old Town and New Town (whether you’re doing an overnight or day trip). If you are only going for a single day, I would stay with Old Town.

As for Parking, there are several parking lots within the city, both indoor and outdoor, with reasonable pricing. I would honestly go a bit further to go to one of the outdoor lots as people often times won’t go a little bit further, so there is a higher chance of them having open spots. Once you find a spot, I would just stick with it (some lots have the 24hr tickets) unless where you are staying is across town or you have a large amount of luggage. There is a large Galleria/Mall parking garage, however this is one of the first places that will fill up during the busy/Christmas season, so keep that in mind.

Depending on your travel plans (where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you want to do), I don’t think that you realistically need more than the 24 hours to really get a good idea of the city. I felt like we got to see everything we wanted to and then some during our time there. You can definitely make it a longer trip, but I didn’t feel like it was super necessary to do so.

Overall we had a lot of fun on our little overnight get away and I really loved Dresden. It has elements similar to Prague, so if you loved Prague, you will probably love Dresden.

 

A Bavarian Culture Evening – December 2019

Imagine…

A cold blustery evening, the sun has set. All bundled up with your friends and family by your side, in the town square you eagerly wait for the show to begin. Everyone told you that this you had to see, for not only was the show exciting, the culture couldn’t be beat. The square gets darker and soon a low rumble begins. An announcer’s voice starts to tell the story of Krampus and St. Nick. Slowly terrifying horned creatures fill the square carrying switches and sticks, bells clanging.

This begins the Krampus show that we went to this past month.

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Krampus has been set deep in the culture here and is known just as widely as St. Nick and Santa Claus. There is a troupe of performances who dress up in costume and put on a great fire show to tell the story and activities of Krampus during the Christmas Season. Before we chat on the performance I’ll share a bit of the history of Krampus that we know.

Krampus dates back to when pre-Germanic tribes practiced paganism and originally had no relation to Christmas. Krampus is described in folklore as a half goat half demon creature and beyond dating him to pre-Germanic origins, there really isn’t much more history on Krampus. Saint Nicholas became popular around the 11-12th century, with Krampus following suit in the 16th century. During the 16th century masked devils would run around acting as nuisances opposite of the St. Nicholas displays. In modern times Krampus “flies” with St. Nicholas on December 5 punishing all the bad little boys and girls (while St. Nicholas awards the good children). Krampus has horns on the top of his head, a long tongue, a face that seems to be in a perpetual howl or evil expression, chains (as an attempt to bind him), and hooves. He typically carries a birch switch and has bells somewhere on his person.

A much darker version has Krampus kidnapping and torturing those who are bad (which is what has been picked up in America/Hollywood/Movie Producers).

There are a couple different ways to see Krampus, one is a performance (which is what we did), the second is a Krampus Run (which is something the bigger cities will hold), and the third is to run into him at a Christmas Market. The one thing they all have in common is that Krampus has no boundaries. His job is to cause havoc and mischief and he definitely succeeds at that.

When I originally heard about Krampus, I knew I wanted to go to one of the fire shows. It seemed the best way to experience the entire “effect” of Krampus. You see him both causing mischief (as the no boundaries includes the shows), but also how they work with the fire.

I’ll let the pictures from the show do most of the talking for this post, but let me just say this, if you EVER have a chance to go to a Krampus fire performance…go. It was so cool to not only see Krampus, but also see the work that they did with the fire, see the performers in their element, and feel the culture of Krampus and the Christmas Season.

He is terrifying (especially if you go up and ask for a picture- if you have any boundary issues DO NOT do this), but at the same time, there is something inherently awesome about the whole show. The troupe that we saw was Oberpfalzer Schlossteufeln e.V. and they were fantastic. They truly put on a show and they lived up to the Krampus legend.

And that was our Bavarian Cultural Evening for the Christmas season. We did combine it with attending the Christmas Market at Amberg, but the market itself was quite small so I didn’t have enough to really make a good market post on it.

Christmas Market Breakdown – Schloss Gutenek 2019

Untitled Design 22Ah, our final Christmas Market post. I have one more Christmas related post (all about Krampus!), but this is the last Christmas Market post and I have saved the best for last. Schloss Gutenek was my favorite Christmas Market that we went to this year (followed closely by Dresden) and I cannot wait to share this market with you. It’s one that I think everyone should try to go to (in the area at least). It’s one of those small but perfect markets, that weaves you through various courtyards and castle alleys. To me, it is the quintessential German Christmas Market experience. I think it rivals Thurns & Taxis in Regensburg (read about that one HERE), although I liked this one a bit better and cost wise it was a bit cheaper.

Schloss Gutenek – The Specifics

As a castle (yep a little history first…), Schloss Gutenek is first found around the 12th century, although the current set up is dated the 19th century. The property and buildings have bounced around various royal families, finally settling with the Gymnich family.

Schloss Gutenek has only been holding this Weihnachstmarkt for 10 years (so a newbie!) and it is only open during the weekends. It is actually classified as a medieval market and features not only the stalls of a Christmas market, but a tented section that has character actors and artisans making their wares. You can watch the craftsman work away to make the perfect item. There is also both camel and horse rides, as well an old-fashioned crank ride for children.

The market itself winds its way through the entire castle grounds, so you not only get to see the market, but also bits of the castle as well. I would say that most of the stalls were hand crafted or unique items, with only a couple (at the most) stalls featuring mass produced items. This particular market also had a couple of enclosed areas where you could sit and drink a beer (from Weltenburger kind of a fun bit to see after visiting the Abbey!) and enjoy your meal of snacks.

The real highlight was standing in the darkened evening with only the lights of the stalls and lamps to see, glühwein in one hand, pastry in another, with a  crackling fire in front, and Christmas Music from a live musician. It was heavenly and I just want to relive that again and again and again.

This was another market that we didn’t actually buy anything at, aside from food and drink, keeping the mug. Again though, we ate some real delights. One of the stalls had a donut selection that was incredible. Donuts here are not quite the same as they are stateside, but they are just as (if not more) delicious. Robert went for a full selection, getting a piece of each kind, while I stuck with staples- chocolate, cinnamon sugar, original, raspberry, and a fried apple chunk. It was absolutely delicious and hit all the right spots. Robert also picked up a pulled pork sandwich which contained pork that was roasted for 2 hours (you could see the spit turning) and featured a select group of spices. He said it was delicious and well worth the price.

It might be a smaller market, and not as exciting as say Dresden would be, but I found this market to be my favorite of the bunch. It was small enough to not be super overwhelming or duplicates, but not too small that you felt it wasn’t worth the time. The ambiance was incredible, and the food was spot on. Everywhere we looked was just Christmas embodied and this was just the perfect reminder that sometimes smaller and more “intimate” can be better. I highly recommend it if you are in the area.

 

Christmas Market Breakdown – Dresden 2019

Untitled Design 22Dresden was one of those somewhat last-minute decisions that was a surprise for me. It’s no secret that my husband isn’t the biggest Christmas Fan (I regularly adoringly refer to him as The Grinch), but he’s been surprising me this year with the Christmas Market fun. He has happily gone to several of them, enjoying and ranking his time at each one, and then by surprising me with a weekend in Dresden. I figured Dresden would be another year, but after our not super great time at Rothenburg ob der Tauber (HERE), I think he felt like we really need to end on a good note.  Oh boy, did we end on a good note…

Dresden Specifics

Where do I even begin? Dresden is the home to 12 (yes 12!) Christmas Markets throughout its city and we went to a total of 6 (we did wander through 1 partially open one as well, but not counting that). I am going to break each market down in sections to make it easier to navigate this post. A couple of things to note before we really break everything down though. Most of the markets this year opened the last weekend of November and closed the 23 of December. The Stallhof is open until New Years. Due to the dates passing, I am not going to put the specific dates and times for each market, just the general dates in the previous sentence. Since Dresden is one of the more popular and well-known markets it will be crowded. Finally, some of the things that Dresden markets are known for (and that are typically sourced directly from a business in the area, rather than mass produced) are Christmas Pyramids, Smoking Figures, Pottery and Glassware, and of course, the Christstollen (the desert that the main market is known for). There are various Parking Lots throughout the city and parking, while a tiny bit difficult to find on the first day, wasn’t overall a huge problem for us.

The Striezelmarkt

The biggest Christmas Market (and oldest) is The Striezelmarkt. This is the oldest Christmas Market in Germany, dating back to the early 1400’s. The name is unique (normally Christmas Markets are Christkindlmarkt or Weinnachtmarkt) and it comes from the name of the German Christmas Cake, Hefestriezel. This market is in the center of the historical portion of Dresden and overtakes the entire square. The entrance of the market is also a stand that you can walk to the top of to take in the entire market scene. If you look off to the left you will see the world’s tallest Christmas Pyramid (14 meters tall). This is easily the biggest Christmas Market I’ve ever been too and contained such a variety of goodies from food and drink to Christmas pyramids, nutcrackers, and jewelry. There was also quite a few rides for the kids, with a Ferris wheel (which I highly recommend- such a fun way to see above the market and it was fast), two level carousel and train ride (there was more than that, but those are the one’s our boys rode). It was…incredible. The Christmas Market of all Christmas Markets and definitely earned it’s “largest and most popular” title.

Christmas Market on the Neumarkt

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This was the second market we stopped at and it’s actually an Advent Market. It is located at the base of the Church of Our Lady and is a fairly spread out market (it’s not like the typical rows, rather a wider pattern). It seems a bit small (especially after going to The Striezelmarkt), but it has a unique little market charm. It has a quaint older carousel and quite a few of the handcrafted booths. One of the things that I loved about the smaller markets is the more handcrafted booths. With the rest of the markets (exception being Augustusmarkt), there are a lot more of the smaller businesses with homemade items and less of the big business stalls.

Weinnachtsmarkt at the Frauenkirche

This was a hectic market. This particular market takes place on the street following from the Neumarkt square. It’s a somewhat narrower street, and definitely more crowded with people. It begins just below the Frauenkirche and ends at the terrace overlooking the river and bridge (it stretches along Bruhlsche Gasse). It features around 45 stalls selling pottery, glassware, food and drink, and other regional specialties. This is a nice compact spot to wander through on your way through the various markets.

Stallhof Advent Festival (Medieval Market)

This was one of my favorites within Dresden. This is a medieval market and truly lives up to that name from everything from your entrance tickets (cut to two by a costumed character with a spike or executioners’ blade), to the stalls, to the performers on the stage- it all is straight out of the medieval times. The culinary treats are not only German, but from various parts of Europe (including Russia!) and the wares up for sale are all handcrafted and relating to the time period. Handmade mugs, iron pieces, jewelry, leather bags, you name it, they probably made it. It also features a tub that you and some of your friends can enjoy a little wash in if you so desire, performances throughout the day, and an arrow contest for the little ones. There is a cost to this market, but I found it to be a reasonable price and it was a market I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Augustusmarkt

This is a newer, modern market that is located in the “New Town” of Dresden. Each stall is adorned with white tents and golden tinsel, with various decorations in the middle of each section of stalls. I will say- it seemed like this market was heavily food and drink featured, with other stalls containing mostly mass-market items. There were a few unique stalls, but I wasn’t super impressed with this market. It does have a historic Ferris wheel and a carousel at the outset (on the Horsemen side), but otherwise this market was a hectic collection of food and drink with a few stalls in between.

Two Smaller One’s

While walking we wandered through several other smaller markets that I didn’t fully catch the names of (sorry!), but just added to the magical air. That is the beauty of going to a city like Dresden, a city that goes all out for Christmas, you can just wander around and you’ll find little markets here and there. There is something very special about seeing a city pull out all the stops during this festive season. Even if there wasn’t a market, there seemed to be Christmas Tree’s, Holiday Decorations, and a certain cheer everywhere we looked.

We didn’t actually really buy much of anything this past weekend of markets (surprise!). I picked up one present for a friend and then just the mugs for the drinks, of which I got 4 total. HOWEVER, we did eat…and we ate well. We picked up bratwurst sandwiches, donuts, hot cocoa with rum, Verpoorten, and glühwein. Everywhere we looked there was something new and delicious to try and it was all somewhat different. This was one of the few cities where the markets offered more than just the sandwiches, crepes and trdelniks- we saw people eating soups, salads, and other full meals.

Honestly, I loved Dresden. It’s my second favorite set of markets that we attended this year (the blog post on my top is coming!) and I just felt like everything was incredible. I mean it helped that I loved the city of Dresden too, but the markets were well worth the hype. They are definitely bigger and busier (so plan accordingly), but highly worth it. You can easily do several in a day, although I would definitely recommend two days if you are wanting to hit more than two or three of them. In one day, you can definitely hit Striezelmarkt, Neumarkt, Frauenkirche, and Stallhof. The only market that we didn’t make it to, but debated on quite a bit, was the Winter Lights Market on Prager Strasse.

Have you been to Dresden’s Christmas Markets? What were your thoughts?

Christmas Market Breakdown: Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2019

IMG_2766Rothenburg ob der Tauber is easily one of the most popular spots in Germany to visit, to recommend to visit, to fall in love with, to spend a day walking in; It’s just one of those spots. It is a town that is medieval in nature and look and has somehow become devoted to Christmas, with Christmas shops being open year-round and its Christmas Market being one of the most popular ones. I had visited Rothenburg a couple weeks prior (which you can read about HERE) and my expectations were very high…

Rothenburg ob der Tauber Specifics

Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s Christmas Market is within the walls of the medieval town, starting at the main town square and wrapping through the Rathaus and to the smaller side square and churchyard. The market itself is open 11/23/2019-12/23/2019 opening around 11AM daily. I think there are around 70 stalls total in the market (which makes our opinion a little…weird, but more later). This market has been going on for about 500 years and hasn’t changed much over those years.

In my personal opinion, this was a bit of a disappointment in terms of Christmas Markets and I don’t know that I can accurately say why. I think that there was a cumulation of a couple of different factors that honestly made the day a bit of a disappointment. I’ll break it down and then let you decide your own thoughts as to whether you want to visit.

***Clarification—VISIT Rothenburg odT, however decide if you want to visit the Christmas Market or not***

The market itself is a bit smaller and the stalls were…not oddly laid out, but could have been better. I felt like the layout could have been better, mixing up the vendors and displays. It was oddly packed in that there wasn’t a lot of people in the actual market square or along the stalls, but A LOT of people right at the entrance or down the main road. This made it really kind of annoying to navigate into the market and then made the market itself feel a bit…empty (both in people and with the stalls). The actual stalls were full of really cool goodies and they have a whole handcrafted market in the hall of the Rathaus, BUT between the crowd being oddly dispersed, the layout coming off a bit strange, and the crummy weather that we experienced it just wasn’t one that we loved.

All of that combined with my own previous trip to Rothenburg odT, which took place in the only “off” season that they have and was a quiet, calm day (again- read that HERE), just put a bit of a different spin for this market. When you compare it to the others that we’ve already been to, we definitely preferred more.

With our experience being what it was, we didn’t really eat a lot. I snagged some cocoa and Robert had a sausage sandwich and that was it. We did a little bit of shopping, although more so in the store fronts than in the market (which is something that I discourage during Christmas Markets, but it was what it was for this one). I picked up my Glühwein incense smoker and a Rothenburg odT wooden ornament. We also picked up a pickle ornament, which has a little tradition in Germany attached to it (basically it’s hidden and who ever finds it first gets a present and good luck for the upcoming year). Of course, I got the Rothenburg odT mug.

I still think that everyone should visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber, BUT I wouldn’t make the Christmas Market your sole reason and event for your day. I would either skip or combine it with everything I suggested in my previous post. I would be interested to hear from others if they’ve been, their thoughts and opinions. I think for us the weather (cold, windy, and rainy – the most not ideal weather) was the biggest killer of our day so I just wonder if we just had an off experience. I hate that we didn’t love this one :(, so leave your thoughts down below!

Christmas Market Breakdown: Regensburg 2019

Regensburg is the nearest “big city” to our location and also happened to be the first Christmas Market we went to this year. We started at one there, headed to Prague, and then visited two more when we came back into town. Regensburg is one of those great cities that just seems to meld the Old-World European Charm with modern convenience and {some} buildings. Its old town is such a great place to walk through and has provided a lot of fun for us.

To start with…The Basics

As always, Christmas Markets are a great way to get in the Christmas Spirit, to try new foods/pastries, drinks, and other fun items. It’s a good option when shopping for Christmas Gifts and fun little keepsakes of your time in Europe.

Regensburg has one large popular market and then several smaller markets (I am finding 4 total markets). The largest one is the Romantic Christmas Market at the Thurns & Taxis Palace and then they also offer a Traditional Christmas Market in the Neupfarrplatz Market. They are all within a walkable distance of each other and walking through Old Town Regensburg to get to each is a treat in itself.

This year (and typical years) they open around the last week of November and close right before Christmas. Something to keep in mind, the markets that open earlier (than the 30th of November), will be closed for Silent Sunday, a holiday in Germany.

Regensburg Specifics

My quick tip is in regard to parking. I would recommend heading out early in the day and parking at the Regensburg Aracaden. This is a larger shopping mall that connects to the train station and then the Old Town area of Regensburg. It is walking distance to all of the markets and the parking cost is not terrible. You can pay for an all-day ticket (Tages Ticket) and leave your car without fearing it on the streets. They have both underground and above ground parking.

Regensburg Christkindlmarkt:

In terms of Christmas Markets, this one is a fairly small one, taking place on a little market square in the Old Town area of Regensburg. There is really only one loop, and about three kids rides so it will only take about an hour to work through. The vendors are all craftsman, with only one that I saw displaying more of the commercialized items. They had plenty of drink stations and a couple different mug selections to choose from.  If you are wanting to do this market, I would do it in addition to spending a morning wandering around Regensburg and taking in the sights OR in addition to the other markets. The Christkindlmarkt is not big enough to warrant a large amount of time, just a quick wander as you enjoy your hot beverage of choice (at this market mine was Hot Chocolate- delicious!). This market is open 11/25/2019-12/23/2019.

SpitalGarden Advent Market:

This one is probably the cutest, quaintest little Christmas Market, featuring all local craftsman, a photo booth for little kids and live music. It’s located in a beer garden right on the Donau River and each weekend is themed with different mottos. This particular market is only open on the weekends (and Friday late afternoon/evening), so keep that in mind with your planning. I will say, it is very tight spaces, so I would get there early to beat the rush if you can. Otherwise, this market is just so much fun and you can’t beat the view. This particular market is open Wednesdays through Sundays 11/28/201-12/23/2019 with varying hours.

Thurns and Taxis Weinachtsmarkt:

This is the Romantic Christmas Market of Regensburg. Set in the courtyard of the Thurns & Taxis Palace it is probably the biggest of all the Regensburg Markets. It also offers various themes as the month goes on. An important note about the Thurns & Taxis market is that there is a charge to get in to the market, and it increases on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. HOWEVER, this is totally worth it as it was one of my favorite markets so far. It’s not huge, but there is just something really magical about going to a Christmas Market in a palace courtyard. The decorations were perfect, it didn’t feel crowded (though it was), the booths were full of a wide variety of goods and food. PLUS, they had my favorite drink as of this post. We treated Thurns & Taxis as a date night (and it makes for quite a romantic date night) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Make sure you at least set aside an hour or two to just fully wander and bask in all the festivity. This market is open 11/22/2019-12/23/2019, but closed 11/24 for Silent Sunday.

In terms of what I ate, at the Christkindlmarkt, I had hot chocolate, glühwein, and a trdelnik. The glühwein was delicious, not too sweet and not as spice filled as I’ve had before. I also picked up some Apfel Glühwein (it was called something different, but I can’t remember right off the top of my head), that was absolutely delicious. Easily topped the regular glühwein and it made me want to try some other flavors as well.

 

I didn’t do a whole bunch of shopping in this go around of markets. I only picked up a couple of things for my little village and our tree, two gnomes (who the boys have named Gnome-y and Monty?), a little wooden person, and a wooden Regensburg Ornament. I, of course, picked up a glühwein mug each time we went, two at the Christkindlmarkt and one at Thurns & Taxis. I think at the end of the market season, I’ll put a post up of all the mugs together so you can take a little look see.

 

So, on the whole Regensburg has good “introductory” markets. They give you a little taste of what the Christmas Markets are like and the atmosphere is top notch. Quite honestly, all three that we went to are definitely doable in a day. It’s hard to say where to start and stop as I think that Thurns & Taxis should be an evening event…SO, start towards the end of the day (opening hours) at SpitalGarden, then head to the Christkindlmarkt, and end at Thurns & Taxis. I would eat and drink mostly at Thurns & Taxis.

 

And that is my Christmas Market Breakdown for Regensburg. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know…Have you been? What are your thoughts?

Thankful – 2019

Ah, Thanksgiving. A day to celebrate family and friends, parades with massive floats and balloons, food, and various sports (read American Football- that’s the only sport on that exists on Thanksgiving). While I’m thankful all year long, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is celebrating all that we are thankful for and doing that with family and friends.

This year Thanksgiving looks a little bit different for us. Not only are we in Germany, who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving like we do (or when we do), but we are actually in the car on our way to visit our ninth country since moving here. We are taking a long weekend away to Czechia, specifically Karlovy Vary and Prague. We are going to be experiencing their history as well as visiting a couple of Christmas Markets (trying to contain that excitement). While Thanksgiving looks different for us, I still wanted to take a minute and just jot down (rather type up) a couple of the things that I am thankful for.

I mean to start with the obvious I am thankful for my little family, for my husband and children, and for the joy that they bring me. I’m thankful for our continued good health and that we’ve weathered all the challenges of this past year so far.

I am thankful for our friends, old and new, who we try to keep up with at all hours. We’ve made some really good friends in our move here, friends who I know will continue to be friends long after we leave here. With an international move to a foreign country, friends become your surrogate family. They become the people that you bond with and rely on when you are in need and we’ve been very blessed in that respect.

I am thankful for the home and life we’ve created over the past 5 months in our home. We had quite the journey to get to this house, and we’ve really made a home in it and in our neighborhood. We are finally in the country and it’s been the biggest blessing.

Finally, another obvious one, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here in Germany. Some of it is just us being blessed with the opportunity, but a lot of hard work went into this as well. My husband worked incredibly hard to get to this point in his career where he could choose the job that he has here. So, I am thankful for this opportunity that was given to us and again thankful to my husband for the incredible work that he has done to allow this opportunity.

How are you spending your Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for this year?