2014 Recap: The Gift Year

I know that by this time, we've all stopped rehashing 2014 and have started looking ahead to 2015. But I can't just summarize last year with pretty photos of Paris and Europe - I need to pause and share my reflections of a special year.

21 Trains
19 Flights
5 Buses
5 Rental cars
14 Countries
21 houseguests
131 blog posts
2 camels 
And countless sheep

2014. I think of this year as my “gift year.” That’s not to say that every day we get on this earth isn't a gift, because it is. I mean it in the sense that when I think about 2014, I think “we shouldn't still be here.” Michael had a contract to work on an assignment in Paris for almost two years, ending in December 2013. Except by the end of that year, we had realized that Paris wasn't merely the home base for our travels throughout Europe. We had somehow built a life here, entered into community, and fell in love with life in the city. Things were looking bleak for a while and it seemed that we did in fact have to move back to the US as planned. Until things turned around and we were able to stay. We weren't supposed to still be hanging around the City of Light this year, but somehow in the end we were gifted with more time.

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A White Christmas in Seefeld, Austria

Bon lundi!

Hope you all had a wonderful start to 2015! 

While traveling, have you ever wished you could share the experience with a loved one who wasn't there with you?  Somewhere you knew would just be perfect for them?  That was one of the things that crossed my mind last year as Michael and I traveled through Germany and Seefeld, Austria for an annual trip we've called Christmaspalooza - and this year, I got to fulfill the wish by having my parents and brother visit for some Christmas Markets and cross-country skiing.

When we arrived, Seefeld looked like this. Still quaint and magical, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disappointed that it wasn't covered by a blanket of snow. I mean, we confirmed with the cross-country skiing school that there would be enough snow on the ground for us to take our classes because we were uncertain.

Sunset at Seefeld's Christmas market

But then a Christmas surprise happened. Christmas Day and each day after it snowed and snowed, and turned Seefeld into the winter wonderland I fell in love with the previous year. And like the time before, it felt too soon to leave when the check-out date arrived.

Dashing through the snow, Seefeld-style

Though my brother had to head home, my parents joined us to visit our German relatives for an evening and then continued on to Paris to ring in the new year.  So now that I'm back and settled, I have lots to share once again :-)

What did you do for the holidays and New Year's?

Simply Sara's Ultimate European Christmas Market Round-Up

I’ve been making a list and checking it twice...and am ready to reveal which European Christmas markets made the naughty or nice list. This by no means is a conclusive list of markets throughout Europe, but it’s my thoughts on 20 markets spanning 8 European countries. So without further ado, here’s the breakdown by country:

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Simply Sara's European Christmas Market How-To

I have always loved celebrating the Christmas season, and moving to Europe has introduced me to an absolutely wonderful tradition: the Christmas market. For the past two seasons my husband and I have traveled to many European cities during December to experience the burst of holiday cheer and have been anything but disappointed in our findings. 

If you’re off to a European Christmas market, here are 13 tips we've learned firsthand!

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Christmas in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

I'm in a sweet, fleeting season of life at the moment. One that has allowed me the opportunity to spend Christmas in Europe, just me and my husband. But it is a season that I know won't last too much longer. It is a wonderful and fun, yet the tension in this phase of life is missing out on moments with friends and family back in the US.

With a limited number of Christmases to spend in Europe, there is a lot of pressure to select just the right location to spend the holiday. 

I managed to nail it this year.

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European Adventures in Pictures

We started by looking at our best canvas-worthy photos of Paris and then expanded the scope to all of France. Now it is time to conclude with our best pictures from our European travels of 2013.

There was much to discover on our travels in Europe. The first trip of the year outside of France was to Iceland, a country completely off my radar to visit. Now I can't help hoping to spend more time there enjoying its spectacular natural beauty.  

The summer brought an amazing trip to Sevilla which once again proved just how wrong I was about Spain. I once had no interest in seeing Spain at all. Then I got acquainted with tapas (oh, the tapas) and the warmth of the country. Now I keep trying to scheme ways to return. 

In August I joined my fellow Parisians in a mass exodus out the city. I found myself in Ireland on the most relaxing trip of the year, drinking lots of tea with dear friends in a house overlooking the Dingle peninsula. 

Fall brought a trip to Bruges with good friends who, not coincidentally, were very knowledgeable about Belgium beers. I was afraid that I overly romanticized Bruges from my first trip there in May 2012 but found that I love the city all the more. 

I closed out the year on a Christmas trip making my way through Germany to be in Seefeld, Austria over Christmas. All I can say is I'm already planning to be there next year for Christmas.

Here's the year in review: 

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A-Z of Christmas Markets

Last year I had the joy of experiencing a Christmas tradition throughout Europe: the Christmas market. It started with one in Paris on the Champs-Elysées, certainly the most touristy one I visited. Then I embarked on a trip with my husband to Strasbourg, France; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and four German cities: Berlin, Nürnberg, Dresden, and Leipzig. Here is my A-Z list to illustrate what I found and why I love Christmas markets!

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