What to expect: blocks & blocks filled with whimsical Christmas stalls, German Xmas music, international foods, frosty temps and so much gluwein 😀
Located in the middle of the city center, and easily accessible by train, the Stuttgart Christmas Fair has a festive, rollicking vibe. This market is sprawling, filled with beautiful stalls selling every Xmas related decoration you could imagine. The food includes the typical German fare – sausages, fries, maultaschen (german dumplings), damfnudle (yeasty sweet roll that is not my favorite) as well as international foods – langos; Hungarian fried bread covered in your choice of sour cream, cheese and garlic butter (which as mentioned in previous blogs is my fav) pulled pork fries, soups, etc.
This year, the market is being on November 27th and ends December 23rd.
Next up on the blog – general merriment at the Berlin Christmas fair.
The medieval Christmas Market in Esslingen Germany, is my most favorite market. This was my first foray into German Christmas markets and my most beloved.
Located in Southern Germany, about 10 minutes from Stuttgart, this enchanting market is pure winter wonderland magic. It completely transports you to another time and place in history. Strolling the Christmas markets, sipping a mug of steaming plum gluwein as blacksmiths, potters, glassblowers and weavers conjure up the spirit of Christmases long, long ago is the most festive experience.
We were lucky enough to live in this gorgeous town for eighteen months, and were able to fully enjoy this Christmas market to the max! I was mildly obsessed with it.
Set in squares winding through the gorgeous old town, surrounded by half timbered houses, the setting could not be more glorious. The market is filled with whimsical, lovingly created stalls selling every Xmas related item you could imagine including – homemade decorations, Merino wool throws, medieval toys and swords, wooden sculptures, liquors in potion bottles, and other gorgeous items.
At various times during the market, fire dancers and Christmas choirs perform. A parade of magical creatures on stilts also makes surprise appearances!
As if this setting wasn’t fantastical enough picture this: a parade of centaurs blowing their woodland horns, and other magical creatures followed by a fairy with gossamer wings on stilts, striding down the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, weaving among the twinkly market stalls under the falling snow.
Last year my very favorite drink was a decadent plum gluwein sold in the medieval part of the market. The mulled wine is tart, rich and the perfect way to warm you as you wander through the glittering stalls.
Because we spent the last two holiday seasons in Germany, and so much time exploring the markets themselves, it feels a little odd not to be there this year. I must say Germans absolutely know how to do Christmas right! If you are a fan of yuletide cheer, I highly recommend planning a trip to the German markets – they are beautiful, whimsical, festive as hell, and will live on in your memories as the most glorious of Christmases.
Last April, we found ourselves with a surprise five days off, and I wanted to visit someplace new and unexpected, someplace we would most likely never have a chance to visit if we weren’t based in Germany, so I planned a trip to Riga, Latvia. Here are some highlights:
Riga is part of the Baltics and an absolute gem. We weren’t sure what to expect from this Baltic city but we had a fabulous time exploring the medieval Old Town, lounging in the underground pubs, listening to live folk music, chatting to the friendly locals and indulging in some great meals. Riga is very budget friendly, so this is a place to splurge.
You should note – this place is COLD. We visited in April and it snowed the entire time. I think this added to the medieval ambiance.
Eats: Prices are very reasonable in Riga so go ahead and splurge! We had a fabulous meal at Balzambar – great artisanal cocktails and tasty, beautifully plated food. We sat at the bar and had a fun time chatting with one of the owners who happened to be the bartending champion of Riga!
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs: Underground pub with large potions of filling Baltic fare, traditional live music, and a rollicking vibe. Felt like we were in a festival scene from Robin Hood 😀 You can easily spend an entire evening here.
Sights around Riga:
Nightlife and Pubs:
The Armory Bar – Brad has fond memories of being on the shooting team at his school, so I was stoked when I found this armory bar for him, stocked full of weaponry from communist rule that patrons can strip down and reassemble over drinks. The bar men was very friendly and willing to help. Think: bayonets, hand grenades from across the ages, Ak47s and a rocket launcher. Interesting place. You’ll need to find plenty of cafes and bakeries and pubs in Riga if you go between Nov and April because you’ll want to pop into them every 20 minutes or so for a warm drink and some heat.
Black Magic Bar – Beautiful, atmospheric, underground bar. Felt like stepping foot in medieval Riga. Try the desserts and Black Balsam – liquour made in Riga. Not for the faint of heart.
Funny Fox – Fun, relaxed bar in Old Town Riga. Latvians are a very welcoming and friendly people. We had great fun chatting with them in restaurants and pubs and bakeries and learning about life in Riga.
Skyline Bar at the Raddison Blu – For sweeping views over the city and fancy cocktails
Where to Stay: We stayed at an Airbnb for about 30 bucks. It was fine, but very minimal. I would recommend staying in the city center, as once you are there everything is very walkable.
Transport: We walked, took Uber and shuttles. Riga has very good public transport – including heated shuttles that drive around the city, basically much more luxurious busses. They are small, deliciously warm, cheap and delightful.
I loved Riga. This gothic city stole my heart. I can’t wait to visit another Baltic city – I think Tallinn, Estonia looks gorgeous, particularly during the winter. During the summer I tend to long for tropical beach vacations and wildlife, but I love the feel of Eastern Europe or northern Europe in winter.
More Riga Photos: As you can see, no fun to be had here…
This year for the holidays Trader Joe’s is selling magnum bottles of sparkling wine – that is precisely 1.5L of deliciousness for only $12.99! I know, I thought I had misread as well.
Spoiler alert: the bottles are gigantic and festive and I NEED THEM RIGHT AWAY!!!
Naturally, I needed to sample them right away before the holidays began to make sure they were a good deal. Let’s begin shall we…..
TJs offers two options: a french bubbly and an Italian prosecco. I chose the L’Eclat Blanc de Blancs to sample first because the bottle is so gorgeous and glittery and festive. I thought the bright gold and red design wouldbe particularly pretty displayed on our kitchen counters. The Blanc de Blancs is a perfectly fine sparkling wine for the price and the spectacle. It is fruity and crisp and easy sipping. It’s even better in a mimosa the next morning served with blueberry pancakes, or whatever you prefer for brunch. (We’ve really been into blueberry silver dollar pancakes lately in our neck of the woods.) I also just found this fabulous looking holiday cocktail and think it would be great with the L’Éclat. This French sparkler will be lots of fun to serve during holiday get-togethers, or as a host/hostess gift.
Splurging with a luxurious dinner and carriage ride in the Old Town
Krakow is enchanting. Our first introduction to eastern Europe, Brad and I instantly felt a connection to this beautiful, bohemian city. Krakow’s history hits you like a thunderbolt to the chest. Its past is evident everywhere – in the street art of the Jewish Quarter, in the candle lit pubs of the Kasmierz, in the rubble of the apartment blocks, still rebuilding after Communist reign. Krakow is a survivor. Its strength and resilience is intoxicating. It’s a transporting place, one that often occupies my thoughts and dreams.
We visited in October which I think added to heighten the Gothic ambiance. I loved Krakow in winter. Though I will say, the surprise snow in October was quite the shock to our tropical loving hearts!
I’m going to begin this post with nightlife, because the nightlife in Krakow is so unique and unlike anyplace else I’ve visited. Strolling through the Kasmierz, stepping into bars like Eszeweria and Alchemia feelt like stepping foot into the 1950s. You are instantly transported to another time, another place. We spent hours in these pubs, sipping bubbles or vodka, watching the snow fall and soaking in the ambiance of the Kasmierz.
The Kazmierz: our favorite part of Krakow. The bohemian Kazmierz is the former Jewish District of Krakow and the place for boutique shops, traditional Polish restaurants, and otherworldly bars and cafes. We have found that in many Eastern European cities, the Jewish Quarter is the place to base yourself. It has heart and culture in spades. It also has a great local vibe, plenty of young people and is budget friendly.
Eszeweria – Atmospheric to the max, filled with flickering candles, antique decorations and candelabras, serving mulled wine and other spirits. This place is 100% for the bohemian at heart.
Wodkka Bar – This little bar is right off the Old Town square. I have never truly understood the appeal of Vodka until visiting Poland. We chose six vodkas to sample (and then another six because we liked them so much), with rich flavors like pineapple, cherry, pomegranate and pear and took them to our private little alcove filled with bright, jewel colored plushy pillows. We sipped (and I may have grimaced a tad at first), as the snow fell silently outside.
The colors are so delicious
Found the alcove 🙂
Where to eat:
We loved the food in Poland, particularly Kuchnia u Doroty and Polakowsi: – cozy, rustic restaurants with delicious homemade Polish food – creamy borsht with a huge scoop of mash potatoes, shnitzel the size of your plate covered in garlic butter, potato and onion perogies. Order at the counter at the former.
Trattoria Zyklop: well priced Italian food
Loza: Splurge at this 1950s diner in the main square, designed to look like a luxury cruise. Everything is delicious. I ordered the pesto tortellini with sun dried tomatoes.
What to See:
Explore the Kazmierz (are you seeing a trend here?)
Try the restaurants, browse the shops, check out the street art and cafes. Stop at the Judah Square food truck park if you’re brave enough! It was snowing as we frantically ate our steaming chimney cakes. We saw an entire family feasting in the outdoor courtyard The New Square one Saturday evening around 11pm. They shared snacks and toasted Vodka as the snow fell. The Polish are some hearty people. Twoje zdrowie!
Stroll the Cobblestone Lanes and Explore the Beautiful Old Town
Krakow is very walkable. We walked from the Kazmierz, to the Old Town, to the Castle, albeit with frequent pop ins to cafes and bakeries for frothy coffees and flaky Polish treats because we needed to warm up as the weather was freezing!
At this point I just started shouting
This is my disgruntled face because it was TOO COLD to stop every few steps for a pic!
Check Out Wawel Castle and the Fire Breathing Dragon Statue
So, as we headed up to the Castle Grounds, the weather was definitely brisk, but skies were blue, and the sun was shining. We popped into the castle to use the restrooms and came out to snow!
When visiting Krakow, touring either Auschwitz or Schindler’s Museum is a must. Schindler’s Museum is incredibly well done – transporting the viewer to 1939 Krakow instantly, and taking them on a journey through five years under Nazi rule. It brought me to my knees.
Where to Stay
We stayed at in AirBnB in the Kasmierz, and absolutely loved it. We stayed in a top floor walk up. It felt very authentic, and gave us a true taste of what it might feel like to live in the bustling Jewish Quarter. Bonus – it cost less than $40 an night.
Krakow captivated us instantly, and began our love affair with Eastern Europe. I find my thoughts frequently flitting to this beautiful city, and cannot wait to return.
More Krakow Photos
Next up for Eastern Europe/The Baltics blog posts: Winter in Beautiful Budapest and Five days Exploring Riga.
Australia – you stunner. Of all the places I have visited, practically speaking, I feel like Australia boasts some of the very best quality of life. It’s incredibly safe. It’s clean, sophisticated and welcoming, while still feeling genuine and exotic as hell. The seafood and food scene in general is unreal. And, it still feels like a wild place. Kangaroos and kolas roam the coasts. Glittering lorikeets fill the trees. Fruit bats swoop over Hyde park at twilight. The thought of living in a tropical city, where you spend weekends exploring the dazzling coastline, glittering beaches and hidden coves, appeals to me like no other. A week visiting Australia and I was already scheming in my mind – how can I make this life change?!
Lounging with roos’, visiting koalas and other Aussie critters at animal reserves
The beaches – that first glimpse of iconic Bondi is such a showstopper
Top notch seafood – looking at you king prawns
Lorikeets chittering from tree to tree and fruit bats swooping through the night sky
Drinks at the Opera House and fireworks at Darling Harbour
What to Do:
Featherdale Wildlife Park
Oh, this wonderful place. We had a fabulous time feeding the little ‘roos and other Aussie creatures. We even held a koala. Buy the food as you walk in and feed the little creatures and wallabies. They eat from your hand 🙂 A friend from South Africa told us about this hidden gem. Better and less crowded then Taronga Zoo.
Koalas sleep for up to 22 hours a day – an animal after my own heart I must confess. I did a lot of research beforehand as I didn’t want to do anything that might cause an animal stress. All proceeds go to the animal sanctuary, and the koalas are treated carefully and respectfully.
Though cosmopolitan, Australia still feels like a wild place. I love it.
Happy Hour at The Rocks
The Rocks is the historic end of town known for it’s pubs. We stopped at The Argyle and loved it! It had great happy hour drinks/snacks and bustling atmosphere. We grabbed a couple of drinks, and lounged in the patio strung with twinkly lights enjoying the vibe. It’s a great place to take a wander, and it also has markets on Fridays and the weekend. Some background info: Circular Quay and The Rocks is where you will find most of the Sydney landmarks – the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
There are lots of places to take some greats shots of the bridge. We walked across it for a great vantage point, then had dinner on the other side. Plenty of choices including Thai, Indian, Asian fusion, you name it. We had a wonderful time walking around Hyde park and watching the massive fruit bats swoop around the trees at twilight. We couldn’t believe it when we saw a huge shape obscure the clouds for a moment and both thought – is that flying fox in downtown Sydney?! The trees are literally full of them. It’s amazing.
Ah, Bondi Beach. That cerulean water! The absurdly beautiful people! The frothy cotton candy clouds! There are several adorable cafes lining the promenade for lunch, we chose The Bucket List for fish and chips. We couldn’t believe the way beach goers just left their items on their towels while they went for a swim. This beach is SAFE. Note – that water is cold! We also took a stroll along the coast, beginning at Iceburg’s pool, and continuing along the path to Coogee. Highly recommend. You can do Bondi to Bronte (around 2miles) or walk the entire way to Coogee if you’re feeling energetic! Our friend recommended Coogee as one of their favorite city beaches.
Drinks at the Opera House
Stop and have a glass of bubbly and take in the iconic views at the Opera House bar. Take a moment and revel in the fact that you are visiting Australia! Toast the wonder that is Sydney.
Great way to see the harbour is by public ferry. Much cheaper than any of the private options and it’s the same route. Jump on any ferry to Manly from Circular Quay. Manly is a nice beach suburb so when you get off you can explore the area, have a swim, grab lunch, etc. Enjoy the great views of Luna Park: an iconic theme park that also has a nice bar/restaurant inside with a great view of the bridge. Note – I got a little seasick, which is insane because the ride was very smooth, but if you are sensitive, I recommend taking that into account.
Fireworks at Darling Harbour
Strolling home in the balmy evening after a day of playing with roos and sightseeing, we were surprised and thrilled by a fireworks display in Darling Harbour. Displays take place Saturday evening over Cockle Bay. Watching the sky explode into magenta and blood reds and fire oranges, listening to the water gently lap against the harbour we thought to ourselves – what a fabulous city!
Good eats/drinks in Darling Harbour: Everywhere is pretty good along the water. Some of our favorites include Crinitis (Italian), The Port (nice spot for drinks), Adria, and Nicks Seafood.
Aside: a seagull landed on my shoulder and tried to steal my fries in Darling Harbour. Fucking what?! I thought Fisherman’s Wharf had well prepared me for the most aggressive seagulls of all time!
All the food in Sydney is pretty to die for. Fresh seafood, great Thai and Indian and other Asian options. Of course, of course, we had to try the pies: this winner from Harry’s Cafe De Wheels was suggested by a friend who lives in Sydney. We went for the works: chicken & mushroom pie topped with a scoop of mash potatoes and mushy peas. Quite tasty. I still think South Africa serves the very best though. Shhhh…
Next – off to the Gold Coast for beach time, seafood and wild life galore!
When I think of Seminyak. Bali I think about mind-blowing sunsets, days spent lazing and sipping delicious cocktails at beach day clubs and exploring the neighboring village – dreamy Canggu by scooter, enjoying fresh fruit smoothies under swaying palm trees.
Highlights of our Time in Seminyak
To die for sunsets at Potato Head Beach Club
Lounging away the day at Beach Day Clubs
Exploring dreamy, hippy, tranquil, Canggu
Fresh fruit juices and smoothies (mango and pineapple smoothies looking at you!)
Bargain Shopping for Balinese treasures
Here are my favorite beach clubs:
Mano Beach Club
Located right across from the the Petitenget Temple on the beach front, Mano is laid back with a chic pool, bean bag chairs and delicious lunch food and smoothies. We went back at least twice. Lounging on the beach bag chairs, munching on toast piled high with avo, heirloom tomatoes and feta and sipping our smoothies was a perfect way to while away an afternoon.
Potato Head Beach Club
For sunsets, you cannot beat the swanky Potato Head Beach Club to watch the sun dip into the Indian ocean in style. We arrived just before sunset after a day spent in Canggu, grabbed strawberry daiquiris, and swam leisurely in the bright green pool while watching the sky explode into shades of fire red, orange, magenta and finally deep purple. Potato truly comes alive at night. The atmosphere as the sun set and the sky lit up was electric. The pool was filled with revelers so thrilled to be witnessing such a spectacular scene, it was one of those moments you experience while traveling that you wish you could hold close forever, and share with everyone you know.
*You pay $20 dollars to enter Potato Head, which can be used towards drink credits, which you will want because the tropical cocktails are fresh and fabulous. They have a tasty menu and day beds, but I preferred the smaller more relaxed beach clubs during the day.
We had a fabulous, very relaxing time lounging the day away at Mrs. Sippy. Mrs. Sippy is a beach club with salt water lagoon pool, onsite restaurant, swim up bar, day beds and tropical vibe They charge 200K for a day bed, (about 20 bucks) which includes credits that can be put toward food and drink.
Giant floating bean bag chairs! I need more of these in my life.
Daybeds and daiquiris at Mrs. Sippy
Canggu is a half hour scooter ride from Seminyak, and the most beautiful village. Canggu is a dreamy, tranquil beach town surrounded by rice paddies and filled with tiny Warungs, low key beach bars and surfers.We sat at beach bars sipping fresh pineapple and strawberry smoothies, listening to the sound of the waves crashing and the palm trees swaying overhead. It was the exactly the type of remote, relaxing moment you crave while on an island, when you feel like you and a handful of others are the only people in the world.
Brad spent a few hours surfing, and I lounged on a beach chair, reading a book, sipping sparkling water and playing with the friendly neighborhood puppy who took an instant liking to me, and napped underneath my chair. We had fresh salads and sandwiches at The Canteen Cafe and returned to Seminyak relaxed and ready for a sunset party.
Bargain shopping in Seminyak was a treat. I came home with several pairs of wide legged beach pants decorated with elephants, as well as jewelry. Be prepared to haggle and the weather is SULTRY, but you can find some great bargains. Other excellent options: beautiful bright jewelry, handwoven straw handbags.
As luck would have it, we arrived in Seminyak a few days before Nyepi, a religious day of silence in Ubud. The day before, Balinese people parade sculptures of Ogoh Ogoh – demons who drive away evil spirits from their towns and villages. We noticed locals working on several of these massive statues as we were riding our scooter around Seminyak.
Encountering an Ogoh Ogoh for the first time in Semniyak
How fierce is he?! Reminds me slightly of the Cyclops Odysseus had to fight
Thinking ahead for next time – I would definitely spend time in Ubud, because it was an absolute rain forest paradise, soul nourishing dream of a place. I will return to Ubud again and again. I would then spend a week between Canggu and Ulluwatu. I would probably spend a day in Seminyak, for some beach day club lounging and spectacular sunsets.
Next blog post – One week in Australia! We’re headed to Sydney mate!