Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When I was younger, one of my aunts had businesses all over Europe, and visited them constantly. My dad would never let us go with her (thanks, dad), but she promised that when we turned 16, my sister and I could choose any city in the world and she’d take us. After reading a book called Postcards from No Man’s Land when I was 12, I fell madly in love with Amsterdam from afar, and knew this was where I would pick. And while a change in fortune prevented me from going when I was 16, I promised myself I’d make it there one day.

That day ended up being last December, in between Berlin and Poland. Gareth wanted to wait until the Spring, but I l’d already waited over ten years, so off we went.

that is me between the red hat and red scarf. I love wine and all wine colored things.

We arrived (barely) after a ten hour bus journey from Berlin, and from the moment we stepped off the bus we were already excitedly talking about how this is where we want to live. I still feel that way. Amsterdam felt alive and inspiring and immediately like home. I spent all our down time researching the logistics of a move to Amsterdam, and it’s still probably the number one place in Europe I’d like to live. I really hope it happens one day!

We only had two days in the city, and missed out on some vital stuff. We’d already said we’d go back in the spring to see the tulips, and will know to book ahead to see the Anne Frank house. But I wouldn’t trade our winter trip for anything. The city wasn’t very crowded, we got to pop in for a mulled wine whenever it got too cold, and spent an evening ice skating next to the Van Gogh Museum. That said, there was a shocking lack of Christmas markets in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t expected. However they did have ice skating and mulled wine, which are the best parts of Christmas anyway.

We didn’t do the “other side” of Amsterdam at all. We accidentally walked through the red-light district for about a minute, but didn’t see anything other than some literally red lights.

Things I’d recommend:

The Van Gogh museum is worth it. The collection is huge, and it’s not just his art but history of his life, personal items and letters. I remember being in second grade and learning about the crazy guy who cut off his ear. It seemed so insane back then, far away and from a different world. I loved being able to see his things, look at his writing, view his work.

We went to Omlegg for breakfast both days. I know you’re supposed to try new places, but we’d already found the perfect spot and were happy sticking with it.

We decided early on that after the Van Gogh museum we’d try to spend as much of our time as possible outside. We took a long walk from one end of Amsterdam to the other, which I’d highly recommend copying. Omlegg is in De Pijp, which was imo the coolest neighborhood in the city. It’s easy to go from there to the Albert Cuyp Market (largest market in Europe, open 9-5 every day of the week except Sunday). Then take a stroll through Museumplein Park, and along the river.

We saw so much of the city just by wandering around, popping in the shops, chatting with the servers, and got to know the city beyond just its tourist attractions. End the walk at Arendsnest to try the local beer brews. This was a highlight of the trip, even for a wine drinker like me. Honestly, this place is incredible.

There are a lot of bookstores around, and we had so much fun stopping in them (or maybe I just loved it enough for us both). Like I said earlier, the city felt very creative and young, and the bookstores were no different. I got this book, and it was SO good. I learned so much about the history of Amsterdam and it was so well written, I flew through it in just a few days.

Amsterdam is hard to capture in just a post. The bikes, the young population, the crisp air. The whole time I was there all I wanted to do was read and write and explore, and that feeling is basically what I’m looking for when I travel. I don’t know when or how we’d live there, but it’s still something I’d really, really like to do at some point.

(feature image photo cred to The Telegraph)

A Weekend in Prague during Christmas

It’s getting downright frosty here in London, and the sun has set by around 4:00 every day. Instead of finding this a depressing shock to the system, I’ve decided to get into the Christmas spirit early. The one good thing about living abroad where American Thanksgiving is strangely ignored, is that post-Halloween (another largely ignored holiday), it’s basically Christmastime. And there is nothing like a weekend in Prague during Christmas.

I’ve booked a few trips for December, and planning them has me thinking about what an incredible trip I took over the puente last year in Spain. As I said before, it was a whirlwind trip from Berlin to Amsterdam to Prague to Poland. I only got around to writing about Berlin last year, but it’s time (or about 10 months past time) to talk about the others. Because they were fantastic.

I’m starting with Prague because Prague in December is quite literally the most magical place on earth. As much as I like to explore new places, had I found affordable tickets I’d be spending a weekend in Prague this December, without a doubt. While Berlin was a bit crowded and overwhelming, Prague was much less packed. It honestly looked and felt like we’d time traveled back a few dozen (hundred) years. The Christmas market was filled with wooden stalls where people were making their crafts–metal workers, jewelry makers, booksellers, wine vendors–it was a nice departure from the more modern and pricey markets I’d been to elsewhere. There were also animals around, and a little place where you could feed donkeys. While it got a bit crowded at night, it was never to the point where you couldn’t mill around comfortably, and take in the views of the beautiful tree or the church or the astronomical clock.

Old Town Square, Prague at Christmas

Old Town Square, Prague at Christmas

48 Hours in Prague

Stay close to the action. We stayed at Prague Square Hostel which I highly recommend. It wasn’t that expensive (about 10 euros a night for an 8 bed room), but only a two minute walk from Old Town Square, and an easy walk to all the other main things you’d want to see in Prague. If you stay around here, Cafe–Cafe had a few good breakfast options (including eggs!) and some really delicious cakes and coffees.

We did a loop, which ended up being a great walk around all the sites of the city.

We missed it, but I’d recommend starting with a trip to the Old Jewish Cemetery. Then walk across Manesuv Most bridge up to Prague Castle. This is up a hill and offers some great views of the city. Walking around this area is a look into what the less touristy side of Prague looks like, compared to Old Town Square. If I came back anytime other than December, I’d try to stay around here.

Prague Street

The Castle is incredible, and parts are free to walk around. We didn’t actually go inside, though if you have the time and money I’m sure it would be worth it. Instead we walked around the grounds–there’s an area called Golden Lane where Kafka used to have a house, that I’d recommend checking out, and a little old toy store built into the castle where I really regret not buying something for a future kid, because everything in it was wooden and gorgeous. When we were there were quite a few stalls selling food and mulled wine, and it was a really nice place to spend some time.

Prague Castle at ChristmasPrague cafe at Christmas Prague Prague Castle Prague Castle
From there we headed down to Kampa island, which is a teeny island off of the western side of the river that divides the city. It has a nice park, and some great views of the other side of the river.

Vltava River, PragueCharles Bridge, Prague

On our way to the bridge we found Lennon’s Wall, and joined the dozens of French tourists taking pictures in front of it. Then we made our way up to the bridge (this was actually fairly confusing and eventually a guard just walked us there). I was honestly not expecting much–how big of a deal can crossing an old bridge be, really? But it was so beautiful, the sun was close to setting, and there was live music playing that just heightened it all. It was definitely a, “how is this real life??” kind of moment, one of the ones that make traveling so special.

Lennon Wall, PragueCharles Bridge, Prague at Sunset

After the bridge we went back into Old Town Square, where we had a really great dinner right on the square, overlooking the market. I’d recommend being a bit picky about the restaurant you choose–so many were incredibly touristy, with the menu is dozens of languages and a bit void of heart. Instead we tried to pick one where it was mainly Czech people eating, which ended up being the right call. We ended up at Restaurant White Horse, which I highly recommend. We sat outside, because the Christmas market was a lovely view, but the inside looked incredible as well. I had Goulash and it was so, so yummy. Definitely give that a try, and the pork knuckle is meant to be delicious as well. We didn’t get to go to Svata Klara for dinner, but it’s on my list of places for if I ever return. If you go, please have dinner there and report back–it looks so cool!

We saved the actual market for the next day, and after a lie in and a detour to buy warmer jackets (it is literally freezing in Prague at that time of year, bring the heaviest winter coat you can find), we spent hours exploring the stalls, trying the food and drink (find a stall with honey wine, you won’t be disappointed!). We also used this time to go to the top of the Astronomical Clock, which is something you can’t miss. The views, especially when overlooking the market, were so pretty, and a great overview of everything you’re experiencing down below.

Old Town Square, PragueAstrological Clock, PragueAstrological Clock, Prague

Prague was everything I ever dreamed a Christmas market could be, and though I see the value in visiting during other parts of the year, I’m already trying to figure out how to make annual December trips part of my life plan for the next few decades!

Two Days in Berlin at Christmastime

This December I was lucky enough to jump around to a few different Christmas markets, and I had the best time doing so. I don’t know if I’ve shared this yet, but I am basically obsessed with the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are basically my happiest times in life, and getting to spend December in various European markets was a dream come true. I had a really hard time deciding which cities to go to, because basically every European city becomes winter wonderland during December (except for Amsterdam, strangely enough). It was a whirlwind trip, spending two to three days each in Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and Wroclaw.

Also, as great as it was, it started with the journey from hell. I live in Logroño, which has a lot of positives, but a huge negative is there isn’t an airport nearby. My roommate and I, who was also flying to Germany, though to a different city, had to catch an early bus to Barcelona, and after six hours we arrive in Barca just in time to catch the last train to the airport.

After finding the airport, we thought the hard part was over (though sleeping there would be an entirely different kind of difficult). However, as soon as we walked into the terminal, it was obvious something was wrong. It looked like we were walking into the aftermath of a rave. There was trash everywhere. Multicolored fragments of paper all over the ground. I honestly wondered if something really terrible had just happened there. Apparently the cleaning crew had gone on strike four days ago, and not only had no one cleaned or removed any trash since then, but the striking workers had a protest where they basically trashed the airport. Hence all the paper and stickers and graffiti. It honestly looked (and felt) post apocalyptic.

We found the only clean spot in the entire airport by squeezing between one of those mechanical walkways and the wall. A word of warning for anyone else attempting the same thing–they turn the heat either completely off or WAY down at night, and lying on the floor made sleep virtually impossible because of the extreme cold that was coming from the tiled floor.

After a night of absolutely zero sleep, I finally boarded my plane at 6:25 and slept for about an hour and a half before landing in Berlin. G and I timed it nearly perfectly, and he landed about 20 minutes after me, just long enough for me to find his gate. The journey from Berlin Schönefeld Airport into central Berlin wasn’t ideal, as the train only comes twice an hour, once around the :15 mark, and again around the :45 mark. We had just missed the 10:15, and had to wait for the 10:45, which I will not lie, in my tired and messy state I was not super pleased with.

I’ll take a second to admit I was not in a great mood. I was exhausted. I felt so dirty from the airport. I was and had been freezing for nearly nearly 10 hours. I’m not sure either of us was expecting a great day during that 30 minute wait for the train. That said, we went into Alexanderplatz and found a Christmas Market right next to the station. We had some delicious sausage and a glass of warm Glühwein, and I was suddenly feeling much better. We hung around the market for a few hours, eating, drinking, and watching my mood rapidly improve. Guys, Berlin during Christmastime is a dream. It was like being on a Hallmark Christmas movie set. EVERYTHING was decorated. Everything was themed for Christmas. We even found a beer hall that was adorable. It was all wood and rustic, it had a huge tree, Christmas music, and the servers were all dressed in Christmas outfits. And it had a really warm fire that we sat next to. It was the perfect place to wait for our room to be ready.

Eventually, though, it was ready and we headed to our hotel. It was incredible–for Berlin and Amsterdam we used lastminute and managed to book really nice hotels for the same price (or less) than an airbnb.

We left for DasMeisterstück, which is a craft beer and sausage place that has excellent and well deserved reviews. The day before was Gareth’s 27th birthday, and it was a nice, low key way to celebrate. The food was delicious, I tried sour German beer (it was good), and all the beers G tried were excellent (and this from someone who prefers literally any other drink to beer).

After dinner we headed to WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt, one of the main Christmas markets in Berlin. It was minutes from DasMeisterstück, and I’d recommend combining it with dinner there if you go. That said, I would skip this if I was doing it again. You had to pay to get in, and because it is so well known, it was beyond crowded. I’m not sure if it’s because it was so late, but it was 10 times as crowded as any of the other markets we went to. It was impossible to actually see any of the stalls, and just walking down an aisle took about ten minutes. Other than the amount of people though, the market was beautiful, and I would recommend trying to go in the middle of the day when it might be less packed. (Also I think there is live music/performances in the day time!)

literally filled to the brim with people

The next day I insisted we find breakfast that included eggs, because such a thing doesn’t exist in Spain and it’s basically the first thing I look for when traveling outside the country. We found Wintergarten which was incredible and highly recommended. It was in an old Literaturhaus, and the vibe was great. I’m going to be honest, I got two full meals–eggs and pancakes. I know that’s pretty excessive but the food was amazing and Spain has me feeling constantly breakfast-deprived. Both were delicious.

After that it was Berlin tourism time, and we hit most of the major sights. The Reichstag Building, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust museum and installation, which was incredible but be ready to cry and feel quite low for a while after. They are all within walking distance of each other, though note that if you want to go to the top of the Reichstag Building you should book in advance. From there made our way to the last Christmas market, Berliner Weihnachtszeit, which was the best one. There were little fires to sit by, ice skating, a ferris wheel, and so much mulled wine. It was incredible.

 

Berlin could not have been more perfect and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for some of the best Christmas markets in the world. Our journey continued from Berlin and we took an overnight bus to Amsterdam (though nearly didn’t make it–note that the main bus and train station are not the same, and we were left literally sprinting to the bus!).