Frankfurt Christmas Markets

After many hours of much needed recovery sleep, our second day in country started slowly and without any real sense of urgency.  I’ve found that when traveling with smaller children, there are only two speeds: stopped & going. Bob & Rachel are remarkably efficient in getting the four kids on task and out the door.  They are faster than many of the solo traveling adults I know, and one of the kids can’t even dress themself yet, and probably needs a diaper change before we go…You know who you are 😆.

We hopped the hour train from Wiesbaden to Frankfurt and began our day exploring what their markets had to offer.  First things first, more gluehwein and the hunt for food.  One of the cool things about the Frankfurt market was that it started directly outside the train stop, the streets were crowded but there was no extra walking involved.  

We found our way to a bratwurst hut next to the Iron Bridge, a.k.a  the “Love Lock Bridge”.  We’re told that these bridges are somewhat common in Germany, where couples place a lock on the bridge to symbolize the permanence of their love, and then cap it off by throwing the key into the water.  There are thousands of locks on the bridge and still room for thousands of more.  Brianna and I were going to put a lock on the bridge, but that’s a pretty big commitment that neither of us was quite ready for yet.

Besides the bridge, Bob grabbed the kids an order of Pommes, or French fries, that were delicious.  Apparently, Germans love to cover things in Paprika, and these were delicious.  A lot of these foods bring back special childhood memories and help explain little things, like why aunt Mickie wouldn’t eat our deviled eggs without paprika, or why my family thought bread covered in custard (damphnudeln) passed as an acceptable dessert.  I finally get it, they are all delicious!

Ordering things in a country where you speak a little bit of the language and understand none of it is always fun.  Brianna and I ask for a thing, be it wine or Bratwurst, and then hope for the best.  Our only reply to people is generally, “Ja”. A pretty dicy response, as we are basically agreeing to whatever they say.  Some people might think it better to say nothing at all, or respond in English to let them know you don’t speak German.  Where is the fun in that?

At some point during our wine drinking wanderings, Brianna noticed a different style of Gluehwein cup, and we all really wanted one.  It took the better part of an hour but we did eventually find these different cups at a kinder punch stall, where they have alcoholic and non-alcoholic warmed fruit punch options.

We even made it home in time to watch the Bengals get their first win of the season. Solid day.

Tomorrow, we leave the German Christmas markets and head towards Strasbourg, France.  It will be Brianna’s first time visiting France and we are both super excited to see how the different markets compare!

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Strasbourg Christmas Market

The original plan for today was to visit both Colmar & Strasbourg Christmas markets.  It didn’t take long for us to audible Colmar out of the day’s equation, not because we didn’t want to go there, it’s just that Strasbourg was already a three hour drive away from us and has something like 11 market areas all on its own.  We had a quick lunch with Bob at our most frequented European restaurant, the Ratskiller, and then hit the road to France for our first kidless Christmas market adventure.

On the way to Strasbourg, just after crossing the border into France, we had our first experience with European highway rest stops; check out our Instagram if you haven’t already.  Outdoor urinals are a thing I’d expect in a tropical climate, like Jamaica, but not on the side of the highway in eastern France.  Why not though, right?  If there were no urinals, us boys would just pee in the field anyway.  And as a matter of fact, while we were waiting to use the indoor bathroom, there were guys just peeing in the field next to the unoccupied urinals anyway.

The indoor bathroom was also something we had never seen before.  Instead of a deep hole in the ground for waste, these bathrooms had a not-so-deep hole with a conveyor belt at the bottom.  There are instructions for pumping a poop peddle x5 after each use, so the waste gets carried away before the next person.  Where does the waste get carried away to?  We’re not sure.  There is probably a vast underground network of poop belts, all used for nefarious French purposes.

I just wrote two paragraphs about poop.  Just stopping to point that out.

Finding our AirBnB in Strasbourg was a bit on the tricky side but we did eventually find where to park.  We hopped a tram over to the Christmas markets and began exploring the French version of things.

We’ve seen police at all of the Christmas markets but Strasbourg was the first market with a military presence and entrance security.   Each of us had to unzip our jackets and open our bags for general inspection.  Not an overly intrusive process, similar to the routine for entering a college sporting event, and adds that little extra piece of mind.

Now to the question that everyone wants the answer to:  how do French vin chaud cups compare to the German gluehwein cups?  Well, the French offer multiple cup sizes, for those of us who want more than 0.2l per fill, which is great.  The downside is that the French cups are plastic, something you might expect to get as a collectible from McDonald’s or 7/11.  This difference may not actually be a French vs. German thing, I’ll keep reporting as we continue our tour de Christmas markets.

Our Strasbourg market visit was a tale of two cities.  Daylight brags the city’s age, architecture and canals both capture and reflect the setting sun in a way that feels pleasantly dystopian.  Night brought with it a side of the Christmas markets that you really need to be there to appreciate.  It’s not special that they have large Christmas trees with multi-color lights, or that they have angel decorations lining the rooftops.  It’s special that all of this somewhat normal Christmas decor is surrounded by beautiful cathedrals and a mixture of modern and historic architecture in a city that is over 2,000 years old.

History is largely what pulls us to visit Europe.  23 & me says that 30-40% of my heritage is of   the Germany (Bavaria & north Rhine), France, and Poland regions.  We might not always have specific questions, but we are always finding new clues to answers that matter when taken in context of the whole.

One of my favorite parts of Strasbourg was that they speak French.  My French is a million times better than my German, not great, good enough to both speak and understand.  I successfully ordered wine and food for Brianna and I, on multiple occasions, in French.  Boom.

If I was to give advice to other potential travelers, I’d say that learning 50-100 words is the difference between being able to order something kind of like what you want or the thing you actually want.  Learn colors, numbers, salutations, and common foods.  I think there is a lot of pressure to become more fluent than necessary, which causes people to give up and fail (what happened to us when trying to learn German).  It’s highly UNLIKELY that you’ll be standing around asking the locals what the weather looks like in their common tongue.  It is far more LIKELY that you will be ordering food and paying for it.

For foods, we indulged in a variety of baguettes, some Spaetzle, and a Nutella crepe.  Oddly or not, Strasbourg had no Bratwurst options.  My personal favorite was the Spaetzle.

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Rüdesheim Christmas Market

Our day started off with, you guessed it, an hour and a half drive back to home base.  The plan was to pick up the Bob and hit yet another Christmas market before having to pick the kids up from school in the evening.  Though there were a lot of city options on the board, we ended up choosing Rüdesheim.  The 30 minute drive after already having been in the car for an hour and a half was appealing, plus it’s a Bob & Rachel favorite.

In our first post, I mentioned that Christmas markets were a primary objective of this trip.  I didn’t realize that meant we would be hitting a new Christmas market every day!  As we wandered around Rüdesheim, I mentioned to Brianna that this might be the most consecutive days in a row that we’ve drank wine.  We both kind of laughed, that’s not even remotely true 🤔, for either of us.  We could stop now and this trip would be a smashing success.  But we aren’t stopping, we just keep collecting cups and pressing onward.  Which by the way, the Rüdesheim glühwein cup is pretty, purple, and not plastic.

It’s easy to see why Bob and Rachel enjoy Rüdesheim so much.  Rüdesheim is a quant little city right on the Rhein river, a horizon lumpy with hills.  Elevated Cathedrals pop up across the water, making for a picture perfect setting if you have a good enough camera; I tried, mostly failed.  The market itself was fun to explore in a hiking kind of way.  We were always walking up or down a hill but the grade was small enough that it never felt like a challenge.

Let us be real for a moment, yeah?  Being next to the Rhein river and on hills is not a particularly special feat in this area.  The really new bit of this Christmas market was that we arrived early and before the crowds.  Time moves slower at the markets, and yeah it is partly due to the glühwein, but it’s also the atmosphere and culture.  Without the evening crowds, we were able to get wine and food without any waiting.  It’s not a huge difference, but without kids or lines, everything moves a little bit faster, a little bit slower, it’s a lot a bit different.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable day.  We had currywurst and brats and kartoffelpuffers.  I even had my first taste of glühbier – I am a huge fan and looking for more.

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Mainz Christmas Market

Traveling with Americans who live in Germany is different in a lot of ways.  We spend most of our nights at home base, where everything is in English; we speak it, read it, eat it.  It’s almost as if the house is a tiny American state existing independently from the rest of Europe.  Stepping out the front door transports us back into Germany faster than any flight, forcing our brains to switch back into traveler mode.  This switch-swatching of the traveling brain is quite the phenomenon, not a thing I would recommend or avoid, it just is what it is.  We have paid $0 for lodging, in fact, the biggest expense of this trip beyond our airplane tickets and Christmas gifts has been wine.  Drink that down for a moment.

In a previous post, I wrote about the weird rest stop in France and wanted to clarify something.  That post may have given the impression that European bathrooms are gross or worse than what we have in the states when quite the opposite is true!  Most of the time, there is a .50 or 1€ fee for using a restroom or WC.  These bathrooms are generally cleaned multiple times throughout the day, as opposed to US bathrooms that are free but only cleaned once per day and become nasty pretty quick.  Ask Brianna about her public restroom experience in the Smoky mountains visitor center.

Mainz Christmas market was selected as today’s destination out of respect for how much we will be traveling in the next few days.  Mainz is only a couple train stops away from Wiesbaden, all of the other options involved 1+ hours of driving.  Flexibility is the most important merit badge a wanderer can earn, else you live in eternal dismay and regret, be it trail or train.

Brianna and I have been through Mainz Hbf on several occasions but hadn’t been into the city proper until today.  There were about five or six Christmas market booths just outside the train station, with the larger market requiring a  fifteen minute walk into the city center.  

Today’s was our fifth Christmas market and easily the smallest.  We did the normal slow sipping warm wine walk, making it from end-to-end in only two refills.  Distance measured by alcohol consumption is a real tool and has been adopted by more countries than the Imperial system.  Mainz had two different glühwein cups, a clear glass w/local design and a brown ceramic, we collected both. 

The most memorable feature of the Mainz Christmas market was probably the semi-secluded drinking area just off the path from all the normal booths.  Hobbit sized wine barrel shaped booths encircled an open fire with its own bench seating.  We spent as much time drinking and chatting in this area as we did looking around the actual market.  

At the end of the day, most of the trinkets sold at these markets are the same as the other markets.  Then again, what do I know?  I shop for beer, wine, sausage, and chocolate.  So, if you’re hoping for a Marty gift, don’t be surprised when it’s chocolate.

We are really excited for our next and last Christmas market, Dresden!

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The night we arrived in Dresden

The 2019 Intagramable world would have us all believe that everything is perfect.  Envy us, we are in Germany!  Envy us, we are in France!  Envy us, our lives are exciting!  Fact is, it’s not all roses and sunshine. Sometimes it’s late, cold and stressful. Difficult moments are less photogenic, and even if they were, it’s difficult to take a picture using only your middle fingers.

Our trip into Dresden started fairly normal, boarding the 2:30pm train without incident.  Things started to turn south at our first stop, where the conductor alerted us to the fact that the train was now running 7 minutes late.  Not a huge deal, 7 minutes, though certainly ponderous as we left on time and didn’t hit any apparent bumps. Only 7 minutes late meant we could still find our AirBnB during “normal” hours, still hit the late Christmas markets before they close.  It didn’t take long before 7 minutes turned into 14… 20… 40… 50.    A 5 hour train ride turned into 6 and it was all down hill.

I feel like every time Brianna and I wait to eat food, expecting something better than what can be order on.. say, a train, we always regret it.  So the train is late, Brianna and I are hungry, and almost everything is closed.  We did get on the correct Tram from the train station to the area of our AirBnB, but the address we set the GPS to was incorrect.

One thing I have to stop and point out is how gangster Bob & Rachel’s kids are.  We were wandering the 30 degree streets of Dresden and not one of them complained about being cold.  The kids were all business and treated the failing AirBnB search as just a normal night in foreign travel. 

Sometimes those who wander are lost.  After an Amazing Race like sequence of events, where we had to find an outdoor lockbox with keys and then figure out what door those keys went to and how open the doors, we did make it into our room.  You might think we are joking, but we had to wave a key fob in just the right area of the wall on the elevator before the secret door to our apartment would finally be revealed.

With problem #1 solved and the kids heading to bed, Brianna and I still needed to figure out the dinner situation.  We couldn’t agree on what to do nor would Dresden make it easy for us to know what was possible.  Brianna wanted to find a sit down restaurant to relax in but the doors were all locked and there were not business hour signs we could read.  I was leaning more towards a quick eating outside win but the booths were supposed to be closed and the ones still seemingly serving didn’t have anything we recognized.  Our hangriness came to a head, her stubborn bullhead of a Grace vs. my hard hard of an Aries Ram.

We ended up finding a nice Italian restaurant to sit down in…  and everything smoothed over after the food went into our mouths.  Tomorrow is a Dresden reset day.

Dresden Christmas Markets

Dust settled over day one in Dresden and the world rebooted anew.  Our AirBnB apartment was beautiful; three bedroom, two bathroom, full kitchen, large living room.  And it couldn’t have been better located, smack in the middle of half a dozen Dresden Christmas markets.  Brianna and I gave our room up to the kids, electing to crash on the living room couch beds.  This trade worked to our advantage in that a fairly sound resistant door separated our sleeping quarters from the rest of the bedrooms = we got to sleep longer.

We started our day with a proper German breakfast and a visit to Frauenkirche,  ‘Church of Our Lady’.  Our goal at the church was to find a way to the viewing area at the top.  We ended up in the central church area and down into the crypts, both good views in their own rights, but we never did make it up top.  I haven’t had many opportunities to tour a 18th century Baroque Protestant church.  So much history in such a relatively short period of time, rebuilt several times over the various reformations and wars.  The church, much like the city, was bombed to rubble by the Allies in WWII.  The church, much like the city, looks beautifully rebuilt.

Dresden Christmas markets open at 10am and we had first drinks in hand by 10:30am at the latest.  Each market had it’s own story, theme, and collectible cups.  We navigated our way to five or six of the eleven markets over the course of a hard worked ten hour day.

The eight of us covered a lot of distance, all things considered.  Kids were happy with random treats and foods, adults were happy with unlimited access to hot wine and beer.  The central location of our AirBnB allowed us to stretch out for long distances before returning home for a rest and then do it all over again.  We even got in a mid-day nap break for “the kids”, though Rachel and I slept longer than all of the kids combined.

One thing struck me about Dresden that was different than the other markets we have visited on this trip.  Many of the other cities had multiple markets but seemed more or less united. In Dresden, each of the different markets we visited was very much an independent entity.  Each market has its own website, glühvein cups, and theme, some even had their own open Wi-Fi networks for public use.  It almost felt like people living on the different city blocks were running their own block party and thought theirs was the best.  I don’t know if this is symbolic to how the city’s community functions all the time or if it’s just my inaccurate interpretation of what my wine blurred eyes were seeing.  The Strasbourg Christmas markets had various themes but felt like differently flavored pieces of the same home cooked pie.

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Back Home

Our trip back from Dresden was much less eventful than the way there! Thank goodness. We spent the rest of the weekend with Framily, even visited the Wiesbaden Christmas market one more time for wine and last minute Christmas gifts. The flight home from Germany was also much less eventful than the trip there… gold star!

Thank you for reading along with us on our trip. Stay tuned for more adventures, we are hoping the next one will be a week or two long hiking trip over the summer. It should be entertaining to read as we learn what it’s like to live in the wilderness for extended periods of time… for fun 🙂

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