2015: A Year of Wander

2016 has arrived and everyone’s looking ahead  to new beginnings, fresh starts, and wish lists for the upcoming year. I am too - but I’m a little behind, and I can’t fully move on until I take a long pause and reflect on all that 2015 was before I catch up with the rest of you.

Some years slide by us, and as the calendar flips to January, it just marks the passage of time. Then there are some years that are so life-changing and momentous and exhausting yet exhilarating all the same that as that last digit changes, you try to peer out of the wild haze you are surrounded in, wondering aloud, “Did that just happen?” That was this January 1st for me. And because of that, more than anything I need to recap it all for myself so one day in the future I remember what was built in the tumultuous year of wander that was 2015.

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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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Canvas-Worthy Europe, 2014 edition

Last Wednesday I shared my round-up of my favorite photos taken in Paris in 2014. Now it’s time to see the year in review through a collection of my canvas-worthy contenders from our European travels outside of Paris. Here’s where I traveled to during the year!

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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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The Most "Local" Christmas Market: Leipzig, Germany

Sometimes when you least expect it, you stumble upon something wonderful. If you saw my husband’s first guest post earlier this week, you heard how Leipzig, Germany was his addition to our first European Christmas trip in 2012. It wasn’t the Christmas market that attracted him to this town though. Instead, it was a pilgrimage of sorts to see the town where his favorite composer of all time lived for nearly 30 years of his life. And if you adore Bach like he does, the Bach Museum still stands as his favorite museum ever (and let me tell you, we’ve been to A LOT of museums). 

But let’s get back to the Christmas market. The mission of the trip was to experience European Christmas markets for the first time, and at first, I honestly thought this stop might interfere with that goal a little. After all, we reduced our time in Berlin to one day and one night to have enough time for Leipzig. But it was so worth it in the end.

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Take me "Bach" to Leipzig

Today's post is a guest post from a special someone - my husband! It's his first guest post, and appropriately on a subject he has always been passionate about, his favorite composer of all time. It's the reason we made Leipzig, Germany a stop on our first European Christmas market tour in 2012. Although it felt like a concession at the time on my end, it was a surprisingly delightful town that earned our superlative of "the most local" Christmas market we have visited, and all of this to do:

While we were planning our trip through Germany to see the Christmas markets, there was one thing on my Christmas wish list that had nothing to do with hot spiced wine or baked German treats: the town of Leipzig.

In America, Leipzig earns a mere footnote in our contemporary world history textbooks: they are mostly known for two things:

  • Their failure to prosecute WWI war crimes (this is one of the primary reasons the Nuremberg Trials took place: the Allies didn't trust Germany to prosecute the war crimes on their own this time)
  • The Monday demonstrations which led to the fall of the Berlin wall

Going further back in history though, Leipzig was a notable cultural center of the world. Martin Luther preached here, and some of the greatest minds in music have lived, worked, and/or visited here -- including Mozart and Schumann -- but most importantly...

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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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Walking along Berlin's East Side Gallery

Here's the final reveal of the week. One of my favorite sights in Berlin that I shared with you on Wednesday was the Reichstag. Preferably visited at sunset to see its glass dome lit up in brilliant reds, oranges, and purples, offering a great 360-degree view of Berlin. Now it's time to focus on the other highlight of my two-day trip to Berlin. Hint: it’s another wonderful free sight. And also offers a link to the history of the city, the spirit of Berlin, and its hopeful future. 

It’s a walk down Berlin’s East Side Gallery.

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Best View for a Berlin Sunset

I only had two full days in Berlin this summer so I had to be super selective when deciding what to see. Especially as I started to realize just how big Berlin really is during my preliminary research. For example, I found that a walk from my hotel’s neighborhood of Mitte to trendy Friedrichshain was an estimated 50-minute walk...and those were two sections of town right next to each other! So the challenge was on: lots of ground to cover, so much to see and do, little time, big decisions. Challenge accepted. 

Thankfully I came across a post on Guten Blog, Y’all on a visit to the Reichstag. Margo strongly recommended coordinating a reservation to tour its glass dome at sunset for a beautiful view of the city. Inset my imaginary personal ad here - forget the long walks on the beach. Mine would be more along the “enjoys views of cities from above anytime, but particularly at sunset.” Need I say that a visit to the Reichstag then would be part of a perfect date? 

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From Paris to Berlin

Bon lundi!

My two overall take-aways from Berlin this July are: Berlin is a really huge city (the second largest in the EU, London being the largest). And it is quite a cool European capital city.

Two full days wasn't enough time, but I loved what I did experience. (My time in Berlin was sandwiched in between the time visiting my uncle in Germany and Prague.) There is certainly tons to do in Berlin, and I'm going to whittle the list down to my two favorite sights and share them with you this week. Get ready! 

Auf Wiedersehen for now!

A connection to Paris right at the famous Brandburg Gate! (Though this square is named Pariser Platz in celebration of victory in overthrowing Napoleon so not the warmest welcome to the French.)

If you're missing a Paris-fix this week, follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Google+ to keep up-to-date!

Travel Inspiration Realized

Bon lundi! 

I’m back from a trip that encompassed northern Germany, Berlin, and Prague. As expected, I came across many wonderful things: places steeped in history, beautiful architecture, and plenty of well-made beer alongside hearty meat dishes. What I wasn’t expecting were sudden connections to people who inspired me to travel.

Of course, there was the run-in with Rick Steves as he was filming one of his travel shows in Prague. I’ve used his travel guides for years now and have appreciated his mission to make travel to Europe accessible for American tourists to navigate on their own and connect with the culture and history of a place.

It was really neat to see Rick in action. But before I ever watched one of his travel shows, there was another person who inspired me with tales of travel and wanderlust. My grandma.

My grandmother made her morning coffee with a lot of zucker, just one of those little hints of her 12 previous years living in Germany. She would play home videos of her travels throughout Europe for me, giving far more detail to her adventures than Rick Steves ever could. (Not only were her videos narrated by herself on film, but sitting with her she managed to dub over herself and “double narrate” the action, which was so her style.) Seeing the windmills of the Netherlands and the cuckoo clocks from medieval Germany made Europe come to life before my eyes, and I longed to experience all these things.

I never got to travel with her to Europe, but last week my uncle took me to see the two houses where my grandparents lived for the twelve years before I was born. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt a connection to the independent woman I lovingly called “my adventure grandma.” She was always up to go somewhere and took me often into New York City on day trips as I was growing up. She taught me to get out and see the world, and nothing held her back or slowed her down. With something as simple as passing by her old home in Germany, I wished that I could tell her about my own adventures in Paris, following in her footsteps and forging my own path to discover Europe. 

Thanks, Grandma, for infecting me with the travel bug at a young age!

What or who is your travel inspiration?

A Quiet Walk to Detwang (Germany)

There is plenty to do in beautiful Rothenburg ob der Tauber whether you enjoy walking around or going to museums. On our second (and last) day in Rothenburg we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at our hotel. Caffeinated and ready to explore, we wondered what we should do.

The sun was shining and we were energized, so we decided to set off on a walk downhill to descend below to the village of Detwang.

If you're in the mood to go off the beaten path (and see an incredible 10th century church), follow these directions to get to the nearby town of Detwang:

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Before we made our way to Seefeld, Austria for Christmas, the prior week was spent leisurely traveling through Germany. I fell in love with the German Christmas markets last year and wanted to see more this year. One place that seemed to come up frequently in my research for its ambiance at Christmastime was a small town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Rothenburg was a wealthy city in its medieval days and prospered until it was invaded during the Thirty Year’s War in the 1600’s. The invasion was quite unplanned. When Catholic forces needed a place to settle in for the winter, Protestant Rothenburg was the closest town and was overtaken swiftly. The city bribed its way to survival but never recovered and was preserved by its state of poverty. The town could not afford to upgrade over time to newer, more modern buildings so the medieval architecture had to make do. The city lived in these unfashionable conditions until the tides turned in the late 1800’s. Tourists were attracted by its reflections of the past. Inspired artists started selling paintings of the town, and its popularity spread.

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