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

Merry Sinterklaas!

I don’t think that’s a thing people say, but ya know what? I like it so I’m going with it.

The arrival of Sinterklaas kicks off the season in mid-November.

It’s December 5th which means it’s pakjesavond (present evening) and if you were a good little one throughout out the year, maybe Sinterklaas replaced that carrot in your shoe with some treats! Tonight is the big gift-giving evening of the Dutch holiday season!

This could very well be our last holiday season in the Netherlands since Shane’s next position is still up in the air, and I’ve used this time to fully embrace the spirit of Sinterklaas. And by embrace, I mean eat myself sick on Sinterklaas-specific holiday treats.

So, in honor of the evening I thought I would do a quick round-up of those holiday goodies you will only find during Sint-season!

Pepernoten! Pepernoten! Pepernoten! Pepernoten!

THE thing. Without pepernoten there is no Sinterklaas!

I’ve literally seen them sold in a 5 kg (10 lbs) bag…

There are two types: pepernoten & kruidnoten.

Both are small cookies, but pepernoten is the more traditional version with an anise flavor. Kruidnoten are a more like a spiced cookie. Since I’m not a fan of anise, I tend to prefer the kruidnoten – as does my mother who made a special request for “those delicious little cookies” the last time Shane came home. Lucky for her, the grocery stores have started to push the seasons, and pepernoten have been available since October!

The kruidnoten section in our local grocery store.

The flavor possibilities are endless. There are entire seasonal shops which sell only pepernoten, kruidnoten, and flavored kruidnoten aka: the cookie covered in some form of flavored chocolate.

Carmel sea salt, coffee, raspberry, dark chocolate, lemon… not that I’ve tried any.

Chocolate Letters

Another important gift of the season, and another one that comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors – although the most popular flavors are milk, dark, and white chocolate.

Tradition dictates that you’ll receive the letter which corresponds to the first letter of your first name. But, if you’re name starts with an unpopular letter (sorry Quincy or Zelda) then you’ll be hard pressed to find them. If this is the case, the standard “S” – for Sinterklaas – is appropriate.

Chocolate letter… with pepernoten!

Marzipan

Particularly in the form of a pig.

Conveniently displayed next to the “super kruidnoten”.

Yes, that pig is made of marzipan. Yes, it will get chopped up and sold as smaller pieces.

If a chunk-o-pig ain’t your thang, no worries. Small pigs are also available.

The marzipan pig (made of milk, sugar, and almonds with a consistency of soft fondant) is a New Year’s German tradition to wish good luck (Glücksschwein!), and also a holiday gift tradition in Scandinavia. Given the relative location of the Netherlands, it’s not surprising it carried over.

Banketstaaf

Loosely translated to an ‘almond log’, it’s a buttery, almond-paste filled little piece of holiday heaven with origins in the Netherlands.

A word to the wise: share it. I mean, or don’t, but be prepared to go into a sugar-almond-million-calories induced coma afterwords. #worthit

My Sinterklaas paketje from work – a chocolate letter & banketstaaf.

Speculaas

Speculaas is a shortbread cookie with a spiced flavor similar to that of pumpkin pie spice in America. Actually, if you’re in America and lucky enough to live by a Trader Joe’s then you might know these cookies – called Speculoos, which is the Belgian spelling. You can usually find some sort of speculaas cookie year round, but this time of year the cookie itself changes to a more festive pattern.

Speculaas – smeckulaas. BOOOORRRINGGG.

Ditch that plain cookie, and go for the filled one!

Gevulde Speculaas

My crème de la crème. Re-named to ‘crack-ulaas’ for its sheer power of deliciousness.

Take two, large planks of soft speculaas spiced cake and add some almond paste (same as in the banketstaaf) in the middle and BOOM.

FILLED SPECULAAS. You’re welcome.

I’m genuinely sorry for anyone who isn’t able to try it. So, if you happen to run into some, buy it!


And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite song of the season:

Sinterklaas (wie kent hem niet) by Het Goede Doel

I recommend the entire video, but if you’re in a hurry start at ~1:30.

Gah, the 80’s were great!

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

Groningen Round-Up 3 (Plus Some Extra)

So, remember that time we went home for Christmas?

…probably not, because I never actually blogged about it! (facepalm)

In short:

We flew home – we had Christmas with our families – we celebrated New Year’s Eve – I turned 32 (not too keen on seeing that in writing) – we saw as many friends as we could – Shane got to see some of his nephew’s swim meets – time went way too fast – we came back to the Netherlands!

I’ll let the pictures show the details. Presented in chronological order.

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Shane was a mattress shopping assistant.
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Star Wars.
curious kitten. Muffin wouldn't let me get any pictures this trip.
Curious kitten, Abby.
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Birthday!
Birthday, again!

Since we’ve been back, we’ve been laying low. Shane is officially in the final stretch of Ph.D. so there is a lot of writing going on in our house at the moment. There have been a few new developments though.

1. We booked our next trip! We will be heading to Livigno, Italy for a week of snowboarding in March.

2. We checked something off our Groningen bucket list! We FINALLY made it to an FC Groningen match. The best part? The tickets were free (thanks to our insurance ‘healthy points’ rewards program) and we ended up being 4 rows from the field! The match ended in a tie, but it was so nice to go to a live sporting event.

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3. I started a Dutch course! For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night, I’ll be in class. The group is 16 people, and the people are from all over. Mexico, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, Poland, Bosnia and America (me), to be exact. I think it’s so cool for such a diverse group of people to be united over a common goal of learning Dutch. Supposedly, when I complete the course I’ll be halfway to ‘B2’ level, which would be advanced-intermediate. I should be able to have conversations and more clearly express opinions in Dutch without problems. I’ll report back on how it goes.

4. We are fully on the climbing train. Right now, we’ve been going to the climbing gym about twice a week. Our gym does mostly top-rope climbing and has a very small (indoor) bouldering room. We recently found out about a fairly new bouldering gym here in Groningen, so we decided to check it out. Lots of fun!

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5. And most importantly, Meatball got a house for Christmas (had to get the XL version…). Toooooo cute!

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So, I think that’s about all! More to come after snowboarding. 🙂

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