Christmas markets are one of my favorite experiences in Europe. Since Sicily is so warm year around, it makes getting into the holiday spirit a bit difficult. So, I found the perfect flight that left after work on Friday and returned on a Sunday evening. We jetted off to Frankfurt with the intention of meeting up with and old friend and taking the train down to Strasbourg, France for some Christmas market fun. Turns out France had a major transportation strike that weekend. So, instead of renting a car (totally do-able if that’s what you wanted to do), we decided to check out the markets in the Römerberg part of Frankfurt instead. I’m so glad we did because it was one of our favorite markets thus far. Last year, we visited the markets in Berlin and Budapest and we loved those too! The atmosphere in Frankfurt was just perfect for the holidays and we had a wonderful weekend hanging out with Max and drinking Glühwein!
Needless to say, 2018 was a HUGE year for us that was full of exciting change! The moment that topped it all off was our move overseas from Virginia to Sicily, Italy in February. So much has happened over the last 12 months, I thought it would be fun to relive the best of 2018!
I really loved going back through all of my photographs from this year and reliving so many memories! So, without further ado, here is a recap of my 2018 including some of my favorite memories:
The Best of 2018
My life has changed in so many ways over this past year, reflecting back on it all is really actually quite surreal. I think my biggest takeaway from this past year is that you never know where life is going to take you. As a person who was extremely “type-A” for so long, stepping back and allowing life to take over a little bit has helped me to realize that sometimes the best things that happen to us are the unplanned ones. I’ve also developed an even greater sense of YOLO (you only live once, right?!), that I’m a little bit overwhelmed with the fact that I will never get to see or do all the things I want to. So, for 2019, I aim to be more present in everyday life; to enjoy the little moments just as much as the big ones!
This past weekend, Jordan and I flew up to Berlin to experience the phenomenon that is German Christmas markets! Ever since I found out Christmas markets existed, I have wanted to visit one (in Germany specifically). This year, that dream came true when we traveled to Berlin to get the full market experience.
There are many, many Christmas markets in Berlin (between 80 and 100 to be not exact at all). Since there are so many to choose from, we enlisted the help of friends to decide which to check out. Our friends Pauline and Ben, who live in Berlin, hosted us and took us to two markets: Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt and Weihnachtsmarkt am Schloss Charlottenburg. Bless their hearts because it was Saturday night and the markets were hoppin! My photog friend, Caitlin, also recommended Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt, as well as Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt in der KulturBrauerei. They did not disappoint!
I am usually not a fan of crowds, but I have really sucked it up this year to attend some remarkable events (like the Christmas markets and Oktoberfest). Also, I forgot the battery for my camera (ugh, again!), so you can see some of my iPhone images from these two markets over in my “highlights” on my Instagram (and no, you don’t have to have Instagram to view them). All of the photos in this post are from Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt in der KulturBrauerei.
The first market we visited was Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt. It was beautiful and very classic and traditional. All of the markets we visited offered a large range of handmade goods crafted by artisans and Christmas food (ahhhhmazing!!!), but this one offered entertainment as well. We really loved this one, but it was probably the most crowded. There was also a 1€ entrance fee, but don’t let that stop you. We also experienced snow while we were there! See my iPhone photos from this market here.
The second market, Weihnachtsmarkt am Schloss Charlottenburg was literally in the very front of Charlottenburg Palace!! What a picturesque setting!! This market had over 250 vendors (it seemed bigger than Gendarmenmarkt) and beautiful illuminations of the market itself and the palace. Like Gendarmenmarkt, you could purchase many handmade items and traditional Christmas foods and sweets such as: stollen, spritz biscuits, marzipan, gingerbread, mulled wine, and freshly-baked bread. The mulled wine (aka Glühwein) was our favorite of the night. We tried to collect as many Glühwein mugs as we could! See my iPhone photos from this market here.
Before we headed back to Sicily, we made another stop at Lucia weihnachtsmarkt in der KulturBrauerei (Lucia Christmas Market). This market was recommended by a photographer friend who lives in Berlin, Caitlin (check out her work here). This Christmas market was much different than the other two, as it is dedicated to the Scandinavian countries. You might be wondering why it’s called “Lucia,” this is because Lucia is the light-bringer of the dark winter in Sweden and other Nordic countries. This market was particularly cool because there are a variety of Scandinavian delicacies available to taste, including over 20 variations of mulled wine (we tried three)! Lucia market is also unique in that it has unique “open-air mantle heating,” places where people can slip into hanging warmed fur coats, and a mobile sauna (without wheels or undressing). You could also buy exotic meats to eat.
Jordan and I traveled to Munich to join our friends at the Oktoberfest festival and see what the city had to offer (*spoiler alert* a lot!) We LOVED Munich! The city was so clean and so easy to navigate. The food was seriously amazing (of course!!) AND, our friends were able to join us. Overall, it was one of my favorite trips – and this is significant because I was initially so hesitant to go.
We flew EasyJet to Munich and Condor back to Sicily. Both flights were easy and smooth. The flight to Munich was definitely one of the most beautiful flights I’ve ever taken, as we flew right over the Alps.
You don’t have to go far to get a good beer once you land in Munich. Ashley, John, Jordan and I all reunited at a bar right in the middle of the airport. The beer was so amazing that we looked for it all over the city, with no luck. We wondered if we just thought it was good because it was our first beer upon arrival. But, after getting to the airport early just to have another, we determined the beer is really just that good.
I later looked it up online because I still really wanted to know where to find it. As it turns out, it is literally only sold at the airport, hence the name Airbräu. I am very entertained by this fact, but also pleased because it means all flights through Munich will result in me acquiring this beer. Spend the extra 5 minutes in the airport to savor one of these babies.
We visited quite a few food joints in Munich, but I only have photos from one: Spatenhaus at the opera. This beautiful place was situated, well, right in front of the opera house (as the name states). I also noted the adjacent Louis Vuitton 🙂 Anyway, the food here was very traditional and done exceptionally well. The service was also pretty good!
Some of our other favorite spots included:
Special thanks to Ashley for helping me out with this section!
My mind was totally blown the moment we stepped into the Palace. With its Baroque architecture, the rooms were absolutely stunning! Nymphenburg Palace opened in 1675 and was originally the main summer home of the former rulers of Bavaria (House of Wittelsbach). You could spend quite a bit of time here if you choose. Make sure to bring your camera (I forgot my battery. Boo).
Another one of my favorite tours was Munich Residence. It was also centrally located, so very easy to access.
As one of the largest museum complexes in Bavaria, we were completely unprepared for a museum of its size! We decided to check it out prior to heading to our Oktoberfest reservations on Saturday. This lead to us running out of the labyrinth toward the end. It is recommended that you provide adequate time to walk though (at least the Palace portion) if you visit.
The Munich Residence started as a castle in 1385 and was gradually transformed by the rulers over the centuries into a palace served as the seat of the government. It was the residence of the Bavarian dukes, electors and kings from 1508 to 1918. Today, the palace is home to art collections from the Renaissance to the early Baroque and Rococo epochs to Neoclassicism. Honestly, it is something to behold!
Large square near Munich Residence and in the central part of the city. An art festival and huge farmers market both popped up while we were there.
Marienplatz is the city-center square with a larger than life cuckoo clock (The Glockenspiel), St. Peter’s church, two town halls & a toy museum.
I was most excited to see The Glockenspiel, but we actually had a really hard time arriving in time! For your information, The Glockenspiel is active every day at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., and 5 p.m. If you visit between November and February, the 5 p.m. performance doesn’t occur. The performance is approximately 12 minutes long and ends with a cuckoo bird coming out above the display. It was pretty neat to see!
As a side note, you can climb the tower of St. Peter’s church to get an amazing view of Marienplatz and the city. We didn’t have time, unfortunately.
We slept too late to do any of the day trips we planned, but here are some ideas for you:
Out of all of the countries in Europe, I have visited Germany more times than any other. What can I say? I guess I find Germany quite charming! I haven’t visited a city there that I didn’t like. With that being said, I originally did not want to visit Munich or go to Oktoberfest. I know, I’m weird right? I’ve heard a lot of people say that Oktoberfest isn’t even something that Germans do. It’s an American attraction, a drunk fest. Blah, blah, blah. So, when Maddie and Justin invited us to go, I thought, okay, maybe. And then, when my best girlfriend, Ashley, who lives in the US told me she was thinking of going and wanted to meet there, I couldn’t say no. Maddie + Justin + Ashley + John in one city = a solid yes for me. Who cares what city or what event? Thus my trip to Munich and Oktoberfest came to fruition.
Since this was one of my longer trips, I’m going to divide it into two posts – one about Oktoberfest and one about Munich itself. This post will be about Oktoberfest, both our personal experience and some tips!
So first, let me say – I’m really glad I went! I had an amazing time and lots of fun even though I don’t do crowds. The experience itself was worth it!!
I’m not sure what I really expected, but Oktoberfest is a… festival!! Ha! They have a ton of really cute stands that sell everything from crepes (see below), to pretzels, to Lebkuchen Heart Cookies (see below), to souvenirs and attire. I also saw a stand with five or six different types of fish on a stick (also see below!)….
Most people who attended Oktoberfest wore traditional attire (Drindl’s for women and lederhosen for men). I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate or not, but it was definitely encouraged by all of the locals I met.
Oktoberfest also hosts a huge variety of amusement park rides! They looked tempting (heard they were good), but alas beer.
Probably the top questions pertaining to Oktoberfest include: “How do I get tickets?” and “Which tent is the best?” I think the answer to both of those depends on who you ask. We actually acquired zero tickets for ourselves – both sets of friends acquired them for us. So, I will tell you about how they did this.
Maddie Googled: “The 12 Octoberfest Tents” and then went to each tent’s website and applied for tickets. Each tent has different application dates, with some starting in January and most ending in July. According to Maddie, most tents opened for applications in March, so if you decided you wanted to go to Oktoberfest after March, it might be difficult to get a good table.
Ashley decided she was going purchase tickets to Oktoberfest in July. At this point, prime time for purchasing tickets had past. Thus, the only way to get them was to buy them from a reseller (which is actually not allowed, but quite a few people did it!). Tickets are much more expensive this way than Maddie’s way. However, this is great if you aren’t able to plan a year ahead.
Ashley elected to go to Oktoberfest on Saturday night (prime time – also most crowded). We shared a table with people we didn’t know, but it was A TON of fun!
Our tent for Saturday night was Hacker-Pschorr. It was a beautiful tent and the people were spirited!
We took the time to visit every single tent there, and every single one was unique in its own way. Thus, I don’t have a recommendation for which tent to visit. My only recommendation is to pick one and ENJOY all Oktoberfest has to offer!!
Germany! One of my favorite places to visit in Europe. It was the destination of my very first international trip and will always hold a special place in my heart. Don’t get me wrong – Lyon and Malta are gems!
I first visited Berlin five or six years ago. I loved it so much, I knew I had to go back and take Jordan. We went over a long weekend and met up with my sweet friend, Pauline, whom I haven’t seen in years!
Here are some of my favorite things I’ve done while visiting Berlin:
This 15th century cathedral is worth the few dollar fee to visit. I think we may have spent two hours here between hanging out on the lawn outside, walking down the isle to Wagner’s “here comes the bride,” (seriously, I felt just like Meghan Markle), and exploring the narrow passageways and path on top of the dome. The view of the city from the top was pretty remarkable!
This well-known square not far from the Berliner Dom is known as the square with the two identical churches. One church is the German Church and the other, the French Church. In the middle of the square sits the Konzerthaus (the concert hall of Berlin). While we were there, there was a group of people with a huge bubble pool and we got to pop a few before we walked on!
The national parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany sits in the Reichstag Building in Berlin. I honestly can’t believe they let people sign up and tour this incredibly important building, but I am so glad they do! This was my second visit to see this well-engineered structure and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to visit. It’s completely free and you even get a short audio guide that helps you to understand the history of the building and the surrounding area as you walk up to the top.
Most of the Berlin Wall was dismantled when the wall fell in 1989, but on Mühlenstrasse, a 1.3km stretch still remains. This stretch became the world’s largest open-air mural collection, known as the East Side Gallery (you can also walk around the wall to the “west side,” which has some graffiti (see below).
Seeing and experiencing this memorial was a very somber and thought-provoking experience. What looks flat and parallel from the top, turns deep and vertical as you walk though it.
Two iconic sites that are very symbolic for Berlin. I somehow surprised Jordan with Checkpoint Charlie (I just didn’t tell him where we were walking). And, Berlin surprised us with a World Cup viewing party at the Brandenburger Tor!
This topic deserves it’s own post, but alas, we only at at ONE restaurant while visiting (with Pauline). I figured I had to mention the food because Berlin had SO MANY amazing restaurants. You really just can’t go wrong!