Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Traveling during the Holidays!

In Europe, traveling during the Holidays can lead to stress and confusion. Here are a few tips to help your trip go smoothly!

Plan ahead: This one seems self-explanatory, but I have been guilty of this! When my family came to visit during Christmas and New Year, I relied on everywhere I wanted to take them to be open. Unfortunately, many restaurants close early certain days or even for the whole week of Christmas. So if possible, get in contact with the places you want to go to see if they will have Holiday hours. There are definitely many restaurants still open; they just may not be the most authentic local choices, since most of them go to be with their families. But don’t let this deter you, keep a good attitude, and you can create a wonderful unique memory, like eating Asian fusion with local German beer for Christmas dinner!

Always have a backup plan: Even if you are prepared and did your research, you may stroll up to a restaurant that said they would be open, only to find they left early since they were not busy. This is where it is important to have a backup plan. No one likes to be hangry and stressed with family, so trust me, always have a plan b, and maybe even c just in case.

Go to Christmas mass: You may not understand the language they are singing, and you may not be overly religious, but I still recommend stopping into a Christmas mass. Most churches and Cathedrals in Europe get ornately decorated and this is when all the parishioners will turn out, so it makes for a beautiful experience.

Find a Christmas market: There are so many wonderful Christmas markets around Europe! They are full of booths selling food, drinks and gifts. Usually located in the city center or town square, they are a great place to grab a delicious fresh meal and glass of gluhwein, warm spiced wine. It is served in mugs usually decorated in custom scenes for each city. You can return it and get your deposit back for the glass, or keep it as a souvenir!

(the family out in Leuven for NYE)
Go out for New Year’s Eve: Whichever country you are in, you are sure to find some sort of celebration. If you are unsure of where to go, ask a local. They are most likely going to know a few things going on, and for big celebrations like New Year’s Eve, they believe the more the merrier! Just make sure you are familiar with your surroundings, when in doubt, keep a map on you! Lots of bigger cities will still have cabs available, but prices will be exorbitant due to demand; and be mindful that some public transport will not be open normal hours.

Overall, the holidays are a great time to travel with loved ones, just make sure you are prepared and always keep an open mind! 

Germany: the land of my forefathers!

Germany is a HUGE country, with so much to offer! It is laced with beautiful cities with rich history and amazing sites to see.

Domestic trains get you there for cheap, but they take a bit longer. If you want to get their quickly, and willing to spend a bit more, book a ticket for a high speed train, like the ICE. When my family came for Christmas, we got EuroRail passes including the high speed trains. They are usually more comfortable and offer private compartments for groups and even reclining seats. Another option is always to fly, RyanAir flies into multiple cities in Germany, including Berlin and Hamburg. As always when traveling between countries don’t forget your passport and allow plenty of time just in case, you never know when the shuttle will be down or the train running late.

So now that you know how to get there, the question is where to go?

Koln (Cologne):  Located on the Rhine River, Koln has a few great stops to see. The Dom Cathedral of Cologne is spectacular and provides the opportunity to climb up one of the spires for a breathtaking view of the city! If you are a student or EU resident you get a reduced fare, and the ticket includes the tour of the catacombs and the jewels of the Cathedral. Next, the chain bridge spans the Rhine River, and is covered in love locks. Couples travel from all over the world to seal the commitment and secure their lock on this bridge. Make sure you drop the key into the water though, as a testament of your devotion! Then for a panoramic view from the other side of the river, stop in the KolnTriangle, where you can pay a few euros to ride the elevator to the top for a great view!

(View of Freiburg city)
Freiburg: This city is not a main tourist city, but it is where my father’s family is from. We did not do as many touristy things here since we had the chance to meet up with distant relatives who still reside in the area. The city streets are covered in cobblestones, with mosaic symbols outside of restaurants and shops, and on the side of the roads there are drainage channels called “Bachle”. According to locals, if you accidentally step in one, you will marry a person from Freiberg. While in this area, make sure to try a Flammkuchen, a regional dish, similar to a very thin pizza covered in cream, with onion and bacon. Walking through the city was one of my favorite highlights, there are clock towers on the edge of the town that very unique, and you can also hike into the forest in the city park for a great view of the city.
(A few well deserved pints at the Hofbrauhaus Munich- Prost!)
Munich: Start in Marienplatz, the center plaza of the city. Here you see the beautiful cityscape of church towers and the main city buildings. Stop and see the New Town Hall, or Rathaus, which faces the historic town hall. Every day at 11am and 12pm there is a Glockenspiel, where mechanical puppets are built into the fa├žade of the building and they perform scenes and history of the city. It is free and an interesting sight to behold. Walk around the city taking in the sights, and head towards the English Gardens, a wonderful public park inside the side. There are many trails to choose from, and many stops where you can eat or watch the locals. If you get thirsty, head to the Hofbrauhaus, which is the original, for traditional German food and beer. Since my family loves beer, we mainly went to all the different brew houses and tried their house beers, which snacking on pretzels and cheeses!

(Heidelberg Schloss)

Heidelberg: We took a day trip to Heidelberg, where we strolled through the streets and made our way to the Heidelberg Castle or Schloss. It was a bit of a hike up, since it is located on the highest part of the city, but the view from the top was well worth it. The grounds around the ruins of the castle are lovely, and when looking to the city you can see the Old Bridge and the Neckar River.

(Romer in Frankfort old town)
Frankfurt: The juxtaposition of the industrial and historic structures lead to an interesting time exploring the city. The Romer is in the historic sector, it is a beautiful square with images of what comes to mind when you think of Germany. There are great souvenir shops and traditional food nearby.

No matter where you go, the beer will be cheaper than water in the restaurants, and traditional sausages and stews will never be in short supply! So put on your walking shoes and grab your camera and start your adventure in Germany!