Bremen, Germany

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Time for Christmas markets, folks!

The 6th edition of “The Shwits Drink Too Much Glühwein” was hosted by Bremen, Germany with a special guest – our friend, Kaitlin, joining us all the way from North Carolina!

Bremen, Germany’s 11th largest city, is located about 3 hours west of Groningen by Flixbus, closer even by car, making it a pretty popular destination for Groningners during the Christmas season. Since we’d only been to Bremen for the airport (another hot-spot for the budget airline, Ryanair), we decided it was time to pay it a proper visit.

The Bremen Christmas markets were exactly what you would expect out of a Weihnachtsmarkt. Lots of food, drinks, shopping, and general merriment!

The market Schlachte-Zauber, which is next to the river Weser that runs through Bremen.
One of many glühwein stands.

As I mentioned before, this was our 6th year of Christmas markets, and you could say we’ve established a ‘system’, so to speak, of how to best approach the weekend.

Step 1. Big lunch – traditional German food, obviously.

Step 2. Glühwein.

Step 3. Shopping.

Step 4. Curry worst.

…and the cycle continues.

Now here’s where our years of experience come in (lol). BYOA: bring your own amaretto!

You can (and will most certainly want to) add amaretto to your glühwein at the cost of an extra €1.50 per glass.

€1.50 per glass! Crazy. Do yourself a favor and bring a flask. 😉

We stayed mostly towards the markets in the direct city center (near the cathedral), but if you wander about 5 minutes out you’ll hit the Schnoor district – the medieval center.

This section of town was adorably cute and I am nowhere near a good enough photographer to capture the amazingness of this area. Cobblestone streets, houses that date back to the 14th century, small alleyways that cut you into secret courtyards – it was fabulous!

We also had to go see these guys…

The Town Musicians of Bremen!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t (and still really don’t) know the story which was written by the Brothers Grimm. Long story short (pun intended) it’s about 4 farm animals who think they can make a better living as musicians.

Naturally, you have to give ’em a little rub for good luck!


And with that – we came, we saw, we conquered!

And nice touch with the stoplights, Bremen.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Düsseldorf, Germany

I’m not even sure how this happened, but believe it or not, this is our 5th holiday season living in Europe!

Since we have a pretty major trip coming up in less than 2 weeks (!!) we decided to stay relatively close to home for the Christmas market this year. Düsseldorf is only about 3 hours driving from Groningen, so we rented a car and got outta dodge for the night!

Car snacks – Germany style! …that was a good lookin’ (and tastin’ strudel)

We’ve actually been to the Düsseldorf market before. We swung through for the day during our 2015 market trip, but since we were only there for a few hours it felt unfinished.

We couldn’t properly sample all the glühwein ya know? 

Well, it’s a good thing we went back because the quality of the glühwein here was actually quite variable! Didn’t stop us from drinking it. Just simply making note… 

This particular stand, for instance, wasn’t high on the flavor list…

Anyway, the market was festive (as usual) but we did kind of screw up a little.

Mistake #1 was eating a late lunch at a really delicious German brewery that apparently has been in existence since 1834. This in itself was not the mistake – the beer was flowing and the food was DELICIOUS. The mistake was the time in which we ate; we were so completely satisfied that we forgot to eat any curryworst!  #firstworldproblems

Mistake #2 also involves a marzipan potato, or the lack thereof. See, my husband here could eat his weight in marzipan. Last year, when we were in Berlin, we found a stand that sold marzipan potatoes which were essentially a fist-sized ball of marzipan rolled in cinnamon. Someone was very much looking forward to another marzipan potato, and we FORGOT TO LOOK! 

We did find a gluten-free cannoli stand though, which halfway made up for it.



Mistake #3 – no mug! One of the best parts of the markets are the mugs! Each market in the city has it’s own unique shape and design. You pay a deposit for the mugs upfront, and then you can either return them and get your money back, or keep them for a nice souvenir! This year we kept doubting if this mug was THE mug, and came home with nothing. There was one particularly cute one in the shape of a snowman. Shoulda, woulda, coulda…

The mug that got away…
He wasn’t sure what he bought. Turns out it was chocolate covered marshmellows!

Ok, ok, ok – I really have nothing to complain about. We feel whole-heartedly lucky that we are able to do this every year, had a great time, and even ended up with a wooden winter “Meatball egg”! 

And on that note, I will say goodbye until 2019! As I mentioned before, we are leaving in about two weeks for our “Shane-wrote-a-thesis-and-almost-has-a-Phd-graduation-trip” to Cambodia and Vietnam! We will be traveling for about a month, and meeting up with my sis & her boyfriend (who are there for 6 months!), and some other friends along the way. So, come January we will have lots to share!

Until then, thanks for another festive season, Germany, and Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to all!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Berlin, Germany

Good morning!

I’m writing this post from home in Charlotte, NC!

(at 6:45am – thanks time-change)

I’ll keep it short and sweet.

About two weeks ago Shane and I continued our German Christmas market tradition; this year in Berlin, Germany! I had full intentions of writing this post before we headed home for the holidays, but such is life around this time of year – too many plans and not enough time.

Amazingly enough, this is our 4th year of Christmas market trips! We’ve realized that each year we’ve gone a little bit bigger.

Year One – Day Trip to Münster

Year Two – Overnight in Valkenburg (The Netherlands) and a day trip to Düsseldorf.

Year Three – One night in Cologne

Year Four – TWO nights in Berlin

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every year. If you ever get the opportunity to go to a German Christmas market then do it! They are so magical and full of Christmas spirit (I imagine the gluhwein also helps with that). Berlin was no exception – great shopping, great food, great company!

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This year we were able to meet some Groningen friends (from Shane’s department), Theresa and Giulia, who are now living in Germany after finishing their PhDs.

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And Shane found his dream come true – a marzipan POTATO!

(aka – a potato sized ball of marzipan lightly rolled in cinnamon)

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We were also able to fit in some Berlin sightseeing despite the abundance of Christmas cheer on Friday night. Saturday morning we participated in our favorite ‘new city’ activity – a walking tour! We were a little worried a 3.5h tour would be too long, but it wasn’t enough time! Our (funny enough, British) guide did an excellent job at taking us to all the major sites.

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We saw the Brandenburg Gate in both stone and chocolate form!
The Berlin Cathedral, and the TV tower in the background.
A piece of what’s left of the Berlin wall.
Checkpoint Charlie.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
They had the coolest pedestrian walk symbol. People love him so much he has a store!

All in all I would say Berlin was a success! Of course, two nights is nowhere near enough time. So, until next time, Berlin!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Cologne, Germany

Merry almost Christmas everyone! 

We’re on Christmas season #3 in The Netherlands (crazy right?!), and what does that mean?

 Christmas market time!! 

So far we’ve been to Munster, Valkenburg (NL),  & Dusseldorf. This year, we were off to Cologne, Germany! I was particulary excited about this one becuase I’ve been eyeballing it since we’ve been in Europe, and we dedicded to be smart this year and stay the night.

2016 was also a little different because we had a visitor! Everyone, meet Luna. She’s our self-proclaimed god dog, and we just happen to be dog-sitting this particular weekend!

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The three of us hopped in the rental and three hours later ended up on Cologne, Germany!

First stop. Breadcrumbs for Luna (sorry Sarah & Barend) & glühwein for us!

We stayed in a hotel right on the Rhine river, and we were in walking distance of the really nice river walkway & four, count ’em… FOUR! Christmas markets!

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In our professional Christmas Market Attendee opinion- Cologne markets are awesomeeeeee. The best so far.

So beautiful! So festive! So gezellig!

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…and so committed to the theme! (lol)

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One market was set in the main square next to the Cologne Cathedral. Luckily for us, it was still open so we hopped inside for a peek. We’ve come to realize that one of our favorite things about Europe are all the cathedrals. Regardless of your religious beliefs it’s practically impossible to not be impressed by them.

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The next morning, the three of us headed out to the river walk, and towards the Hohenzollern Bridge. In case you were wondering, we left for this walk about 9am. Yep, 9am and the sun is barely up.

It was quite peaceful though, and a nice change of scenery. Also, it turns out the Hohenzollern Bridge is completely covered in love locks!

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And that was that…Cologne market in the books!

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Next up? A week from today we head to Austria for an Innsbruck city trip, and a week snowboarding!

Until then, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

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Tot ziens,

The Shwits & Meatball

Almost Christmas….and home !

That’s right! We are in the final days now!

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By the time this posts, it will officially be 9 days until Whitney and I are heading home. Crazy right?! It’s hard to believe it has already been 18 months since we moved (and 18 months since we have been home!). Details of our upcoming trip would fill a post itself so I’ll just quickly highlight it at the end.  First, I’ll cover what we’ve been up to lately:


Thanksgiving! – only a bit delayed

This will be the case for us the entire time we live outside of the United States and, more specifically, while we live in Groningen.  Not only do we have to work on Thanksgiving (go figure, other countries don’t want to celebrate U.S. holidays), but I also have to attend a conference that takes place yearly during the last week of November.  This means that, without fail, for the next 2 years (not counting the 2 previous) I have to be away on Thanksgiving.  So, we just adjusted a bit and had Thanksgiving the following Saturday.  Luckily, we were able to find a turkey (not so easy to do) and somehow managed to get the thing cooked.  See, the problem was that we have only a small, counter-top oven and ended up with a 6.1 kg (~13 lbs) turkey.  That same 6.1 kg (~13 lbs) turkey also did not fit into our slow cooker.  However, after a bit of limb removal, it eventually fit and cooked to perfection! It may have been a few days late but Thanksgiving was a success!

Kerststad (Christmas city)

Last year we went into Germany for a Christmas Market and loved it! So we figured we would keep the tradition alive and visit a Dutch market in the south of the Netherlands.  Valkenburg is about as far south in the Netherlands as you can get (more on this in a minute) and during the holidays is aptly known as Kerststad or Christmas city.  The city has multiple markets, some of which are in caves, lots of decorations, and a Christmas parade.  In summary, Whitney read about this market last year and I haven’t heard the end of it since.  So off to Kerststad we go!

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that we found Kerststad to be underwhelming.  The city itself was beautiful and it was great to see some elevation change (the south of the Netherlands is so different from the north). However, the markets left a lot to be desired.  Not only did we have to wait in line and pay entry, but once getting inside we found nothing of interest.  In fact, most of the things in the market could be found at any big box store around the world (been to Wal-mart during Christmas time? You know what I mean then…). On top of that, the environment was just not, as Whitney put it, “jolly”. Food choices we extremely limited, there was no Christmas music playing, and there were way too many people crammed into tight spaces.  You would think that by saying this I would be inferring that I was disappointed in our trip but that’s not actually the case.  Which brings me to the next item…

Drielandenpunt (The three borders)

As I mentioned earlier, Valkenburg is about as far south as you can go in the Netherlands.  Because of this, we were close to the borders of Belgium and Germany, which also happens to be the highest point in the Netherlands.  Being that we got back early from the markets the night before, we decided Sunday morning would be an ideal time to visit the drielandenpunt. All in all, it was cool – definitely a place we would love to visit again in the summer.

Düsseldorf Christmas market

Since we were so close to the border and we had such a good experience with the German Christmas market last year, we figured it was worth a shot again this year.  We hadn’t planned to spend Sunday driving into Germany (this was supposed to be a quick trip) but the Kerststad experience left was wanting more. So, a quick 1.5 hour drive from the highest point in the Netherlands and we were in Düsseldorf, Germany. From the very beginning, we were impressed.  First off, what little we were able to see of the city was great. It’s definitely a place we want to visit again. As for the Christmas markets, they were just what we were looking for.  Lots of handmade, quality items, Christmas music everywhere, any food option you can think of (and many you can’t!), and gluhwein at every turn (which probably contributes to the jolly atmosphere).  We also never waited in line and paid only to park our car.  If you ask me, German Christmas markets are the way to go.  We will definitely be going back next year.

It’s comically hard to take a picture without people taking center stage…

And…home!

I’m going to need everyone to click here before proceeding. Just let in play in the background…

So that’s it! We are officially out of stories/pictures/experiences. All that is left is for us to work a few more days then we are on our way! We will officially be in the United States December 20 – January 17.  However, our exact location in the U.S. is a bit complicated. We have a packed schedule and will be in numerous different states and often not together.  However, we still want to see as many of you as possible, if only for a quick bite to eat or cup of coffee. Have all your smiling faces ready because everyone we see will be featured in a January recap of the trip home!

I normally say “Until next time”, however I don’t feel that is appropriate this time.  So instead, I’ll end with:

America, we’re coming!

Shane

Merry (Almost) Christmas !

I would just like to start out by saying that the city right now is just beautiful. So many lights everywhere! Each street has its own unique set. There are candles, twinkling diamonds, icicle lights, you name it. It actually makes it easier for giving directions… “Meet me on the street with the sparkling holly!” It’s also incredibly hard to get pictures that do it justice, but here are a few.

I would just like to make note that I took some of these WHILE BIKING. Considering that when we first moved here it was “white knuckle” biking everywhere we went I (despite the obvious safety risk) count this as huge progress in my skill level.

We got a baby Christmas tree from the market which Shane brought home on his bike…so I suppose that his biking skills are still ahead of mine.

And cat is obviously thrilled that its Christmas time again.

Now for the real deal. A Christmas miracle has occurred!

I got out of Groningen!

Seriously, I haven’t left the city since we moved here except to pick up the cat from the airport.

Yesterday we rented a car and drove to Münster, Germany for their Christmas Market!

We both agree that if you take away the windmills, driving through the middle of nowhere Germany looks very similar to driving through the middle of nowhere North Carolina/Virginia/Pennsylvania.

About 2 hours later we arrived to Christmas Extravaganza! First stop, Glühwein! It’s a mulled red wine that’s served warm. It’s basically Christmas in a mug, and I’ve been pretty obsessed with the ‘warm wine’ since it first showed up in the grocery store a few weeks ago.  Every Glühwein stand was packed with people, and it came with a cute souvenir mug!

Last year we went to a ‘German Style’ Christmas market in Pittsburgh, and I must say, now that I’ve seen a real one,  Pittsburgh’s was quite authentic. Lots of gifts, ornaments, and food.

Curryworst, pretzels, chocolate covered bananas & freshly smoked salmon!

We didn’t see much of Münster itself, but what we did see was very pretty. It’s definitely somewhere that could use a little more exploring.

The spoils of our market trip… sshhh don’t tell Meatball. The bowl is her Christmas present.

This will probably be the last post of the year, so until then Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Tot ziens,

Whitney