Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunshine, finally!

Everyone told me that Belgium is a rainy country, but I am only starting to see this for myself.  It rained pretty much everyday for like two weeks here.  Saturday was the first day in a while without raindrops in the forecast, so we decided to get out and take a drive to Bruges (or Brugge to the Flemish).  We are so lucky to have this beautiful city an easy 1 hour and 15 drive away (perfect timing for Ava to catch a nap on the way there and back). 

We had a great day just walking around, enjoying the rain free weather, window shopping and checking out the disappointing Christmas market.  Enjoy the pictures from our day. 

The Markt (The Center Square)

Belgium is divided into three regions: Walloon, Flemish, and Brussels-Capitol.  Each region has its own language making things a little complicated (especially when towns have different names depending on which region you find yourself).  We live in Walloon, which is French speaking.  Bruges is in the Flemish region, which is Flemish (derived from Dutch) speaking.  The capitol is officially bilingual (actually tri-lingual as most people speak English). In Walloon, center squares are called Grande Place.  In Flemish, the center square is called the Markt.  Bruges has a beautiful Markt with many cafes and the Belfry at the center. 

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The Christmas market was in the Markt.  Apparently you need to watch your wallets while here.  Bruges12-29-12 (39)

Belfry- Built in 1240 and then rebuilt in 1280 after a fire.  The top portion was added on in the 1400s.  You can climb 366 steps to the top for a fee. 

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Ava at the inside of the Belfry courtyard.  That is the line to climb to the top behind her.Bruges12-29-12 (40)

Burg Square

This is the earliest inhabited part of Bruges (as early as the 2nd century).  This was also the center of Bruges when it was the wealthiest city in Europe and is home to the Town Hall.

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Pictures around Bruges

canal on the outskirts of town

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It is a little hard to see in this picture, but do you notice the Simpsons reference. You will definitely see it in the next picture. Bruges12-29-12 (8)

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Interesting architecture.  Bruges12-29-12 (10)

The tower from the Church of Our Lady.  In this church you can find the only Michelangelo outside of Italy. Bruges12-29-12 (16) 

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My wonderful neighbor, Melissa.  Though it looks like she is trying to get away from me in the picture:)

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And no trip to Bruges is complete without a little treat for the ride home.  Chocolaote from Dumon, a family owned and operated chocolatier.

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This is not an actual strawberry, but marzipan and white chocolate. 

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nuremberg Christmas Market

Europe is the place to be over the Christmas season.  Starting the beginning of November, Christmas markets have been going on around the area.  Since we are stationed at an international base, we were lucky to be able to visit Christmas markets from our friends in Canada, Germany and Italy.   

We decided we would spend a weekend visiting one of the most famous Christmas markets, The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany. 

Our hotel was located right near the subway station in Fuerth, which takes you right to the market (this was good, because parking would have been a nightmare).  The market features 180 wooden booths all selling handmade Christmas decorations, yummy gingerbread, plum people, Nuremberg sausages and mulled wine (gluhwein). 

Here are some photos from the market:


Here is Ava on her first train ride ever.  She also had her first bus ride on this trip.  She really enjoys interacting with new people while we are traveling.  She is especially mesmerized when people speak to her in a language besides English.

  baby backpacking

We met this kind  man on the train.  He lives outside our stop and he walked with us for a while to show us some places to check out and eat.  His backpack doesn’t include a baby:)

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The market has strict rules regarding who can set up a booth inside.  But, outside the market there were several other booths selling produce, meats, cheeses, olives and things that are available inside the market, but cheaper (like Gluewine and gingerbread, which we bought outside the market).  By the way, the gingerbread sold at the market is the best I have ever had and I may or may not have eaten an entire loaf by myself.

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We started our market adventure right here, at the Gluhwein stand.  This one was not a particular favorite, but it was outside the market so it was cheaper.  The best way to have your Gluhwein, in my opinion, is with a shot of Amaretto added. Perfection.  When you get your Gluhwein for the first time you pay a 2.50 Euro deposit for a mug.  You just bring your mug back throughout your time for refills (you still pay for the wine, just not the deposit).  Each year the market designs a mug that all the vendors use.  Some of the markets also had previous year’s mugs, so we got one of those too.  They make pretty cheap souvenirs.  Here were the mugs:

DSC_2037The one on the far left is not an official mug.  The orange mug is this year’s and the white mug was from 2010 and it was the 175th anniversary mug. 

Nuremberg Christmas market (23)The Nuremberg Christmas Angel welcomes you to the market.  They actually choose a young woman, between 16 and 18 years of age to be the Christmas Angel.  Her “reign” lasts 2 years and in addition to opening the  market from the top of the Our Lady’s Church, she also visits children in schools and hospitals.

Nuremberg Christmas market (1)    Nuremberg Christmas market (11)A German Christmas Pyramid.  Most German Christmas markets feature a giant pyramid, which is a popular decoration that spin with the help of the heat from candles. 

Nuremberg Christmas market (3)Nearby was the Kinderweignacht, which is the market for children (Kinder is children in German).We planned to go here on Saturday, but the crowds were insane.  So, we missed out on the children’s market.  This was a bummer because I really wanted to get a picture of Ava on the carousel.  Here is picture of it from the Christmas Market’s website.


Nuremberg Christmas market (16)We spent most of our time walking through the market on Friday.  It was empty on Friday compared to the mass crowds on Saturday  This is a shot walking down from the Imperial Castle towards the market so you can get a small idea of how crowded it was (these are people walking out of the market).

Nuremberg Christmas market (18) I had to take a picture of the Nuremberg Bratwurst (I ate one every day and it was delicious).  These are different from Brats in other parts of Germany because they re small, 7-9 cm to be exact and weigh about 20-25 g (about the size of a breakfast sausage in the US).  They are grilled over beechwood fire and have a strong flavor of marjoram.  They serve 3 sausages on a brioche roll with or without sauerkraut.  I am kind of drooling on my computer as I think about this sandwich.

Nuremberg Christmas market (19)Here we are in front of the Frauenkirche, or in English, The Church of Our Lady.  This church was built between 1352-1362.  This is where the angel, as I mentioned before, opens the market.

usaAdjacent to the Christkindlesmarkt is the International Christmas Market where you can find boots from the 14 sister cities of Nuremberg.  Hey, this stuff looks familiar.  It resembles stuff you will find at an elementary school holiday store.  People must think all Americans eat is junk food…oh wait.

Nuremberg Christmas market (17)We had a great time checking out the sites at the market.  Too bad I didn’t leave with one of the famous prune people as a souvenir. 

prune people Really?What do you do with one of these guys.  Can you store them for next year, or are they a one time thing? 

Here are some pictures from Fuerth (this is where we stayed) and the Imperial Castle.  The castle was originally built sometime between 1050 and 1150.  It was partially destroyed during WWII and rebuilt.


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The Imperial Castle

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Thanks for reading.  From our family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.