Christmas in Europe Part 3: The Weihnachtmarkts

We left London on Sunday evening to head to Reading, where our friends Charlie & Gareth live.  We were leaving for Germany on Tuesday evening which gave us a day and a half to relax and do nothing.  Except that Gareth had a little surprise for us.  He was already on Christmas Break and as such, was taking us to Winchester to check out their Christmas market.  He’d never been and he’d heard it was one of the best in the state.  Lee and I had never been to Winchester, so it seemed like a no-brainer to check it out.

Winchester was absolutely beautiful.  And old.  You see, Winchester has been an inhabited town since about 150 BC and was the capital of England during the reign of King Alfred (871-899 AD), so yeah.  It’s ancient.  We stayed mainly in the city center, which contained a beautiful cathedral and tons of shops.

 

 

Winchester’s Christmas market was nice enough, but Gareth was adamant that it didn’t compare to what were going to experience in Cologne.  I was glad to hear this, because so far, I hadn’t been all that impressed.  Every market we had been to in England was nice, but not overwhelmingly exciting.

Tuesday we packed our bags, headed back to Heathrow and made our way to Düsseldorf.  The plan was to spend a night in Dusseldorf and then make our way to Cologne on Wednesday.  When we got to Dusseldorf, we quickly checked into our hotel and made our way to the “altstadt”, or old town, to check out our first real Christmas market.  Unfortunately,  by the time we made it to the city center, they were closing up for the night.  We walked around a bit to figure out which markets to hit up the next day before heading to the hotel for the night.

 

 

After a somewhat slow start that morning (too much Prosecco and cribbage the night before) we made our way back to the altstadt and Lee and I finally got to experience our first authentic Weihnachtmarkt.

Oh.  My.  God, you guys.  If you ever have the opportunity to go to Germany during the Christmas season, DO IT.  Everything, from the atmosphere, to the drinks to the food, is beyond amazing.  I got to try my very first glühwein, which is a hot mulled wine, available in both red and white varieties, and Lee got his fill of hot chocolate with both Bailey’s and amaretto.file1-2

We spent about half the day walking through Düsseldorf before making our way to the train station to head to Cologne.  Lee and I were pretty jazzed about the markets we had experienced in Düsseldorf, however, Charlie & Gareth continued to assured once again, that they didn’t hold a torch to Cologne.

They weren’t lying.  As our train slid into the Cologne train station, we saw a beautifully gothic, almost foreboding cathedral in the distance.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  We  made our way to the hotel, dropped our things and went to explore the city.

As luck would have it, there was a Christmas market about 50 feet from the hotel entrance, so we didn’t have to go far to find some Christmas cheer.  I was parched after a 45 minute train ride, so our first stop was at the market bar so we could get another glass of that delicious mulled wine.  Once we’d had a look around we proceeded to the next market.

One of the great things about the Cologne Christmas markets is their proximity to each other.  You don’t typically have to walk more than 5-10 minutes before finding another one.  Cologne had a total of 9 markets set up when we were there, and I believe we made it to 8.

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Our evening was spent trying a bunch of new and exciting foods and drinking a lot of mulled wine and beer.  The markets close around 10, which meant that everyone made their way to the nearest bars to keep the festivities going.  We had a couple more drinks before making our way back to the hotel.  (We had a VERY spirited game of Cribbage that needed finishing)  A couple more glasses of wine and beer later, Gareth and I were still losing at Cribbage but less inclined to care.

Thursday morning, Gareth & Charlie walked us down to the Cologne lock bridge.  Like it’s Paris counterpart, the lock bridge is a place where couples place a lock with their names and anniversary date on the bridge.  The couple breaks the key off in the lock before making a wish and throwing the key into the Rhine.  Charlie and Gareth immortalized their wedding date on their last trip to Cologne and it didn’t take much convincing for Lee and I to decide to immortalize ours as well.  We even found a spot right next to Charlie and Gareth’s lock so we’ll always have a place next to each other.  Best friends for life!

 

The rest of the day was spent hitting up Christmas Market after Christmas market and stopping for glühwein whenever we got cold.  Charlie and Gareth made reservations for us at their favorite Cologne restaurant that evening, an Alpine-themed restaurant complete with servers donning lederhosen and boots of beers.  I chose to try Wienerschnitzel that evening and made lots of Tenacious D references to people eating my fucking schnitzel that apparently only I found funny.  Whatever.  I stand by my jokes.

Friday morning we visited the markets one last time, in order to buy all of the items we had been scoping out since we arrived before making our way back to the train station.  It was a bittersweet day, as reality sunk in that we would be heading back to the US the next day.  Our Christmas vacation was nearly over and we would have to return to the real world again.  A return to the real world meant in-depth conversations and tough decisions were going to be headed our way.  We promised each other that this wouldn’t be the last time we came to Europe to experience Christmas.  If anything, this was just the beginning.

 

Christmas in Europe Part Two: London Calling

After our initial travel debacle, the rest of the journey to London was uneventful.  It was a non-stop overnight flight, which meant attempting to sleep on an airplane.  We arrived in London at about noon on Thursday, December 14th.  While it wasn’t exactly warm, there was about a 30 degree difference between Minneapolis and London which felt quite nice.  We hopped on the Heathrow Express  to London and made our way toward our hotel in the Lambeth area of London.

Now, I work for a hotel, which is not without it perks.  That’s part of the reason why it’s so affordable for my husband and I to travel (especially internationally).  When we checked in to the hotel, the guest service rep casually mentioned that he had upgraded our room, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the amazing upgrade we received.

 

They upgraded us to a one-bedroom suite facing the Thames with a beautiful view of Westminster Abbey.  Had it been warmer than 40 degrees while we were there, I would have spent morning, noon and night out on the balcony admiring the scenery.

Lee and I learned long ago, that even though the jet lag can be absolutely miserable when you first get there, it’s best to power through and get on London time so that it doesn’t ruin the start of your trip.  With that idea in mind, we quickly got situated, showered and then went on our way taking in the sights.  We walked along south bank, past the London Eye toward the south bank Christmas market.  One of the things that surprised us was the amount of outdoor seating available in December.  Every restaurant along Gabriel’s Wharf had outdoor dining available, equipped with heaters and blankets.  And people were actually sitting outside!  We’re made of strong stuff in Minnesota, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to eat dinner outside at 40 degrees.

We popped in for dinner at a little pizza place and relaxed for a bit before making our way back toward the hotel.  There’s a little boat located right outside the hotel that’s actually a bar, so we stopped in for a nightcap, before heading in for the night.

We managed to make it all the way to about 8 p.m. before we called it a day.  Not bad considering I got maybe an hour or sleep on the plane.  We hopped in bed with no real plans for the next day.  We’d wait to see where the day took us.

I woke up the next morning determined to accomplish what I had only recently realized was a dream of mine.  I was going to go for a morning run along the Thames.  Of course, (because it’s London), it was raining.  It rained every morning when I would get up to run, which meant I was relegated to the hotel fitness center.  Oh well.  Next time.

Another one of the perks of staying at my hotel properties is the complimentary breakfast each morning.  Each day, we received a full English Breakfast as well as anything we wanted to help ourselves to from the continental buffet.  The continental breakfast was more than plenty on its own!  Smoked meats and cheeses,  a variety of breakfast breads, fresh fruit, smoothies, porridge and of course a plethora of juices, teas and coffees.  After a quick breakfast, we were on our way.

We got a lot of walking in that first day!  From the hotel, we walked to Westminster Abbey, up to Trafalgar Square, then down through St. James Park, Green Park, to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland and then over to Harrod’s to do a little Christmas shopping.  I’ve put together this beautiful little map to show you our travels.

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After Harrod’s we stopped for a quick bite before heading back to the hotel.  We had very important business to attend to!  Our friends Charlie & Gareth were meeting us at the hotel, and would be spending the weekend in London with us.  Once we were reunited, we went and had an amazing Turkish meal at a terrible Turkish restaurant.  (Yes, you read that right; amazing food, shitshow of a restaurant).  We called it a relatively early night that night, as we had a big day ahead of us the next day.

Saturday we met for breakfast and then headed out to do some more shopping,  I only had a few things on the agenda for Saturday, but I was really excited about them!  I got tickets to Skygarden, which I was unable to get on our last visit.  Located on the 36th floor of a building nicknamed the Walkie Talkie, Sky Garden is exactly that:  A garden in the sky.  It had started to rain rather heavily at this point, so there wasn’t an option to enjoy the rooftop deck, but I would imagine, the views are even more breathtaking when you can enjoy them outside.

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That evening, we had tickets to a pop-up movie.  Each year, a company called Backyard Cinema hosts a pop-up movie theater in the middle of a Christmas Carnival.  I managed to find out about it through a Buzzfeed article and snagged tickets to see Love Actually as soon as they went on sale.

The video I saw on their website was cool and all, but it really didn’t do the experience justice.  We rolled up to the carnival and made our way to the movie theatre where we queued to get in.  We walked through a wardrobe stuffed with coats a la The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, walked down a magically lit path into a heated tent complete with a full bar and blankets at each seat.  It was such a wonderful experience; one that I definitely hope to do again!

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Sunday was a little more laid back as we had to leave London, but I can unequivocally state that we already can’t wait to go back.  Each time I visit, it gets that much harder to leave.  As much as I love the great state of Minnesota, if a job ever opened up for me over in England, I wouldn’t even hesitate.  That job would be mine.

We had a day and a half to relax with our friends before we were on to our next adventure:  the Christmas markets in Germany.  Neither of us had ever been, and neither one of us was quite prepared for the experience.

Christmas in Europe Part One: The Departure

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I had the best of intentions when it came to writing a blog post or two during our European vacation, but alas, I failed miserably.  The fact is, I was too excited to get each and every day started, didn’t make it back to the hotel until late and oftentimes I wasn’t exactly sober.  All in all, I’d say our Christmas vacation was a success, which is great, because it didn’t necessarily start out that way.

I have a habit of getting to the airport early, in order to avoid any issues or surprises that may pop up.  We started for the airport at about 5 p.m., anticipating that we would hit some nasty pockets during rush hour as we made our way to the airport halfway across town.  Traffic was surprisingly mild, however, and we ended up making it to the airport with about 4 hours to spare before our flight.  We got checked in and made our way to the security checkpoint, expecting to stand around for half an hour, as there never seems to be enough security lanes open when we fly.  Again, we made it up to security and through almost instantly.  What luck, right?  Well, that’s where our luck took a bit of a shit.

We’re on the other side of the security checkpoint gathering our things, when Lee realizes he doesn’t have his ticket or his passport anymore.  I immediately became super agitated, and here’s why:

  1.  I have very little patience
  2. Lee has a habit of forgetting things at an airport.

We’ve lost a phone and wallet(which were recovered), a camera, a computer (which was recovered) and most recently (as in, on this trip), an umbrella.  Granted, I myself am incredibly absent-minded in the mornings when I’m leaving for work, and if it weren’t for Lee going through a checklist with me every morning, I’d probably forget something everyday.  But if I forget my wallet, that just means I don’t eat lunch that day.  It doesn’t mean I’m in jeopardy of not being able to leave the country.  So, I become agitated, because I’m annoyed that this is happening again, but also, because if he can’t find his passport, neither of us are going on this trip.  I would never dream of leaving without him, but I also don’t want to be put in a situation where I have to make that decision.

We tear apart his carry-on, rifle through all of his pockets; it’s nowhere to be found.  We go through the stack of empty bins to make sure it hasn’t been left in one by mistake.  It’s not there.  At this point, we decide to get security involved.  Lee pulls a TSA employee aside and explains that he thinks he may have left his passport on the other side.  Lee can’t go and check himself of course, as he would have to way to get back through security, so he relies on the kindness of a stranger.  The stranger peeks his head over the partition, glances quickly, states that the passport is not there, and walks away.  Awesome.  Thanks, Brah.

Lee tries with another TSA agent who tells him to check the security desk.  It’s not there either.  We try to get another agent or two to give a shit about the fact that our trip is ruined if this doesn’t get sorted, before I finally decide to exit and re-enter the airport so I can scour the area myself.  I run through the terminal, to the exit, down the stairs and then up the escalator to the security area.  I approach an agent on that side of the wall and explain the situation.  She tells me that she hasn’t seen it, but she knows there’s another employee looking for it.  Finally!  Someone cares.

I wait in line for my turn to go through security, because of course, now it’s gotten a bit busier.  As I’m taking off my shoes to place them in the bin, I see Lee out of the corner of my eye, waving wildly.  He gives me a thumbs up, and I immediately relax a little.  I’m still really anxious about the whole ordeal, but at least we know that we can get on the plane.

I make my way through security again, only to be pulled aside this time for a good old-fashioned frisking.  Because, of course.

Lee ended up determining that in a very odd and (I’m assuming) incredibly rare, twist of fate, Lee’s passport and ticket managed to fall out of the bin as it was traveling down the belt, and fell in between the slats of the belt.  Lee was finally able to get an employee to look underneath the conveyor belt, and voila.  That’s where it was.

After a very stressful and anxious half-hour, we made our way to the Delta club lounge, where I made it my mission to drink enough vodka to forget the whole debacle even happened.  I didn’t exactly accomplish my mission, but after 4 vodka sodas I definitely cared a little bit less.

I chose to look at our security fiasco as a mere blip in what would be an otherwise perfect trip.  Everything, from that point on, would be exactly as we had imagined it would be, if not better.

And luckily, I was right.

 

 

Christmas in London

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Surprise!

I’m planning another London trip.

The idea came about when we were in London for Lee’s 40th birthday trip last November.  The Christmas decorations were going up for the season and I was awestruck.  Anyone that knows me knows that I am a little obsessed with Christmas.  From the music, to the decorations to the food and time with friends and family; I am enamored with all of it.  Being in London and walking through department stores like Harrod’s and Selfridges filled me with such childlike excitement that I knew I had to come back and experience Christmas at full tilt.  Thus, the plan for London Christmas Vacation 2K17 was born.

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Pictures from our London trip in November 2016

Our friends Charlie and Gareth, who live just outside of London, travel every year to Cologne, Germany right before Christmas to check out the Christmas markets.  Neither Lee or I have ever been to Germany so naturally, the idea of tagging along on their annual Christmas pilgrimage sounds like a dream come true.  We could travel out to London, meet up with them, travel to Germany, have an amazing time, and be home in time for Christmas with our families.

Given everything else we’re going through, it may seem like we’re overextending, but I feel like we need this.  As I’ve explained to those who know of our travel plans, if our IVF cycle works, this will be the last time we’ll have an opportunity to visit the UK for quite a while.  If our cycle doesn’t work, we’ll need something to look forward to.  I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than spending the holiday season in our favorite country with some of our favorite people.

And think about it:  If we are pregnant, it’ll be our bump’s first transatlantic vacation.  If I’m not, I can drown my sorrows in delicious UK whiskeys and ciders.  It’s a win/not quite a win, but somewhat bearable situation, really.

While we wait to see what’s going to happen over the course of the next 9 days, this will be the thing that keeps my thoughts otherwise engaged.  And if, for some reason, this round of IVF does not work, this will be what allows me to heal, recharge and come back ready to kick some infertility ass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Life

This week, I had the great fortune to spend 5 days “up north” (the Minnesotan colloquialism for vacation) with my husband and his family.  Lee’s immediate family as well as some of his extended have had an annual lake week tradition for the better part of 3 decades.  The week and the resort have changed a few times over the years as have some of the faces in attendance, but there’s still a pretty amazing turn out each year.  It’s probably the thing Lee looks forward to most; a week at the lake with his nearest and dearest.

The resort is located in Ottertail, Minnesota, about 3 hours northwest of our home in the Twin Cities.

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The area is filled with resorts and stunning lake homes.  Time seems to slow down in Ottertail, which is exactly what I needed this week.  Though I had planned to write this blog post while I was up there, I found myself apprehensive to even open my computer.  I knew that if I opened my computer, I would probably feel the need to check my work email.  There would be some email that would inevitably put me in a terrible mood and send me down a rabbit hole I would have a hard time climbing back out of.  As such, I didn’t check my work email until I arrived back at the office Thursday morning.  After all, I was on vacation.  Work could wait.

We were able to bring our dog, Omar on this vacation as well, as this resort allows dogs during the offseason.  Omar spent most of his time begging for food, (from us and other families at the resort) and napping in the sun.  All in all, I think it’s safe to say that he enjoyed himself.

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This year was a little bit different than years past, because Lee and I are abstaining from alcohol.  It wasn’t too bad, but I do have to say, the minute we finished unpacking, our first instinct was to make a cocktail.  Old habits die hard, I guess.  Instead of a cocktail, we opted for sparkling water and iced tea.  Don’t tell us we don’t know how to party.

Another thing that was different this year was our bedtime.  It’s amazing how much earlier you go to bed each night when you’re not up playing drinking games.  Early to bed meant early to rise and being an early riser,  I was able to watch the sun come up.  Absolutely breathtaking.

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The majority of our days were spent sitting lakeside, playing cards, bags, doing crosswords and listening to music.  Not a bad way to spend 5 days.  We’d venture in to town from time to time, but I found myself happiest and most at peace sitting on the water.  It made me so thankful for the beauty of my state.  Sometimes, I think  we get too busy with day to day monotony to stop and appreciate the beauty around us.  I was thankful to have time to do that this week.

It’s also crazy to think that by the time lake week comes around next year, we might have a newborn baby to bring with us.  As we drove home on Wednesday night, Lee and I talked about all the changes having a baby would bring to lake week.  For starters, we’ll probably have to give up our bedroom in the party cabin and get a cabin of our own.  We’ll also need two cars; we have a hard enough time fitting all of our stuff into one now!  Yes, many things will change over the course of the next year if we get our positive, but we welcome these changes with open arms.  And we know that if we’re lucky enough to have a baby to bring to the lake next year, between Lee’s parents, sisters, aunts, uncles & cousins, this baby will feel more love than anyone could possible imagine.

New York Getaway

Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath!

Lee and I just got back from an amazing New York City vacation.  It was the first time for both of us, and it’s safe to say that I fell in love.  From the food, to the culture to the beautiful architecture, I can see why NYC is such a draw for so many people.

Lee and I arrived last Wednesday and took a taxi to meet up with my cousin, Liz, at her workplace. She brought us to her office on the 45th floor.  The views did not disappoint.

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She works right off the High Line, which is essentially an old railroad line that has been turned in to a park.  It was an excellent way to walk around and get acclimated.  We dropped off our luggage and quickly got busy enjoying the city.

Once Liz was done with work, we went on a boat cruise around the city.  The cruise was a sweet gift from my aunts; an NYC experience to celebrate my recent college graduation.  The views were amazing!

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Not only was it amazing for me and Lee to see the city and some of the surrounding neighborhoods from the river, but it was also exciting watching Liz fall in love with the city all over again.

After the tour we traveled to Liz’s home in West Harlem.  She lives in a cute, quiet neighborhood; a surprisingly large one bedroom apartment on the first floor of a New York brownstone.  The neighborhood was perfect.  Far enough away from the NYC hustle and bustle, yet no more than a 10 minute train ride from the heart of the action.

Thursday morning we got up early to make the most of our first full day in the city.  We visited the 9/11 memorial and Freedom Tower.  It was absolutely breathtaking.

 

From there, we made our way to the Brooklyn Bridge.  The first part of the walk was rather annoying.  There were so many tourists!  I realize I am also a tourist, but I always walk with a purpose.  I walk fast and move out-of-the-way if I need to stop for any reason.  This allowed me to blend in fairly well on the sidewalks of NYC.  Once we made it past the initial horde, we were able to take some amazing pictures.

 

Once we made it to Brooklyn, we stopped at Grimaldi’s for their world-famous New York style pizza.  Lee considers himself to be quite the pizza connoisseur, so this was a must do.  Lee’s rating?  “Good”.

After Brooklyn we headed back into Manhattan to make our way through Central Park.  We were meeting Lee’s cousin, his wife and their son at Sheep Meadow for a glass of wine before heading out for dinner.  Central Park was beautiful.  We didn’t spend as much time in Central Park as I would have liked, but I get the feeling that no matter how many times we visit, I’ll never grow tired of all there is to do and see in the park.  Talk about a beautiful place for a picnic.

Image-5 Dinner that evening was at a Brooklyn restaurant called Marlow & Sons.  The food was amazing.  The passion was evident, not only in the dishes we were served, but in the knowledge and friendliness displayed by each employee that we interacted with.  I highly recommend if you’re ever in the area.

Friday & Saturday were miserably hot.  We spent time about half our time walking around and the other half searching for bars with air conditioning.  Any excuse to stop for an ice-cold beverage, am I right?

We spent Sunday morning packing up and taking one last walk through West Harlem before we headed home.  I can say without a doubt that I will visit New York again.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.  It was a great vacation; an unforgettable experience that will leave us with amazing memories.

Now Lee and I are home and reality is coming at us rather quickly.  We have a lot we need to get done by the end of the month in order to be eligible for IVF in September.  But at least, if only for a few days, we were able to forget all the uncertainty and stresses waiting for us at home.  And for that, I will cherish this trip for the rest of my life.

A Memorial Day Getaway

For the first time in the 7 years we’ve been together, Lee and I took a mini-break for ourselves.  Sure, we’ve traveled a fair amount in the time we’ve been together, but it’s always been for  specific reason.  This was the first trip we had planned with no one to visit and nowhere in particular to be.

I chose Duluth as our destination for a variety of reasons.  First, I hadn’t been since I was about 12 years old.  I’d driven through Duluth since that time, but never stayed long enough to appreciate the beauty of the North Shore.  I was looking forward to experiencing Duluth again as an adult, because the visit was lost on me as a kid.  Going on vacation with your parents and your 4-year old sister isn’t exactly “cool” when you’re 12.  This trip also gave Lee an opportunity to walk down memory lane.  Lee graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, so it was nice to see the places he used to hang out “back in the day.”

The hotel company I work for has a hotel in Duluth and rooms were $60 a night which made it an affordable getaway.  The icing on the cake was that the hotel also allows dogs, so we were able to bring our dog, Omar, along for the trip.  While bringing Omar might have impeded on the romance of our mini-break, you could tell that Omar was having the time of his life.  Omar is a jealous little dude; he tolerates our cats, but if we lavish the kitties with too much affection, Omar whines and pouts until we turn our attention toward him.  The fact that he got to spend a weekend with just Mom and Dad made for one happy pup.

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We spent all day Saturday hiking along the North Shore.  We visited Split Rock Lighthouse, Gooseberry Falls and finished the day at Castle Danger, a brewery and taproom on Lake Superior with a dog-friendly patio.  It was a fantastic, relaxing weekend.

It was nice to be able to spend the weekend together, just the two of us (and Omar), with no obligations or worries.  It made me so thankful for my little family and reminded me that sometimes we waste so much time and effort focusing on the things we don’t have that we often forget to be grateful for all that we do have.

What a great lesson to learn on such an important holiday weekend.  A huge thank you to the servicemen and women who fought for our freedom.  I appreciate you all.