Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Day After Christmas

My sister's visit here is nearing its end. I wanted to make sure she had some really great pommes frites in Belgium before leaving. We decided to go to a tiny pub in Tongeren where the beers are unique, the staff are friendly, and the fries are great!

My sister and husband had Rochefort 10s and I ordered one of my new regulars, a Grimbergen. For our second rounds, the pub owner decided to make recommendations. He asked my sister, "What do you like? Sweet? Dark? A little bitter?"

"Dark beer, not bitter but not too sweet either," my sister replied.

He disappeared behind the counter for a few seconds and then popped his head up so he could gaze discerningly at my sister. Squinting and cocking his head to the side, he muttered, "Yes... hmm... for her, a dark beer."

He plucked a glass from the cabinet and expertly poured the new beer. My sister took a sip and said it was exactly what she liked. Satisfied, he turned to me. I began naming off my favorite Belgian beers. He interrupted and exclaimed, "Why wouldn't you have the best beer imaginable?!"

I said, "Yes! Of course that's what I want!"

St. Bernardus Abt 12- 10.5% alcohol content
I was not disappointed. After one more round of these stiff beers, we were having the greatest conversation of our lives! We ruminated philosophically over our pommes frites and curry ketchup. Three hours later and two sheets to the wind, we agreed it was time to make our way out of the pub. 

We said goodbye to a friendly couple seated next to us. We always meet nice people at this particular pub and they are usually curious about why we are there. It seems like most Belgians have been to California for some reason, so we talk about that for a while and then ask them to suggest places we should visit while we're living here. Our list is very long!

We mentioned to the bartender that we went to the O.B.E.R. Chrimstas beer festival. He seemed impressed and insisted that I put my email address on a mailing list for another association of beer lovers. I thought it was a great idea at the time but in retrospect I'm wondering how I'll ever read the email since it won't be written in English.

We made our way outside and walked toward the Saint Catherine Church, one of the oldest churches in Tongeren. It is breathtaking and this is the first time we've seen it at night.

After we finished our tour, we heard children laughing and other sounds of merriment. We followed the noise to an ice skating rink! I have never been ice skating and neither has my sister. There aren't too many frozen lakes in Florida. 

We stood at the gate and observed the skaters for a few moments and then I declared that we would do it! First we stopped in at one of the restaurants in the square to have a quick, delicious bite of mussels and croque monsieurs.

Fully sated and filled with lots of built-up courage to combat any bruises we might incur, we went back to the rink to rent skates. Having grown up skiing and ice skating, my husband is a winter sports pro. He carefully led us out onto the ice and gave us pointers. In no time, my sister was skating around like Dorothy Hamill. As she whizzed past me I yelled, "I thought you'd never done this!"

"I haven't! I guess I'm just a natural!" she replied, as she camel-spinned past me.

I eventually made my way around the rink three times without holding on to the edges and I considered that a very big success.

I can safely say that I never imagined myself spending the day after Christmas drinking beer at a bar in the oldest town in Belgium, and then ice skating in front of a church built in 1294. I still can't believe this is my life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Aachen, Amsterdam, and Christmas Eve

We've been very busy the past few days! I wanted my sister to see a Christmas market so we decided to go to Aachen Tuesday. We woke up bright and early and had a filling breakfast to prepare for our day of shopping and excitement. I was apprehensive because this was my first time negotiating the train schedules on my own. I checked and double-checked the departure time and we arrived with ten minutes to spare. My sister asked if we had time to grab coffee and I said, "Oh no. The schedule says the train will be here at 10:30 and the one thing you should know about German trains is that they are NEVER late."

10:30 came and went. I was confused and assumed I read the schedule wrong when suddenly a voice boomed from the intercom. All I fully understood was the first word: Information. The voice spoke for about a minute and when the announcement was over, the other people waiting sighed and expressed annoyance. It was safe for me to conclude that the train was late.

The weather was rainy and cold, as it has been for the past two weeks. We decided to wait inside since it was a little warmer. This brings me to another interesting observation about Germans. It seems as if they do lots of things in silence. I've been to several grocery stores with no music piping over the speakers. Waiting for trains is also achieved soundlessly. I'm not a quiet person by nature but I never realized how much I enjoy talking until moving here. I wanted to pass the time by speaking with my sister but I felt so uncomfortable breaking the stillness in the room. Eventually we went back outside, braving the damp chill so we could at least whisper quietly without suffering reproachful looks from those who wanted to stand in repose.

We waited another 15 minutes. I kept thinking we must have missed the train somehow. The Information Voice called out to us several more times. Everyone grew more and more agitated (silently, of course) with each announcement.

Suddenly we all heard a train in the distance. Ears perked up and people began peering over the edge of the platform. When it became clear that the train was facing toward Aachen, a low murmur of excitement spread through the crowd. The train was on the other side of the station and when it stopped, people began running toward the stairs to get across. Some even hopped over the train tracks, shuffling over the rocks. It was the oddest stampede I have ever witnessed. At least 50 people galloping through a train station, and the only sound came from the pounding of shoes on pavement. No one yelled, shrieked, or even breathed loudly.

We followed the absurd legion to the other side and then came to a complete standstill as one man (somehow chosen) boarded the train to find out if it was going to Aachen. We waited, mutely, and he emerged moments later to inform us that this was not the correct train.

Of course, I only knew this because a collective sigh arose and everyone around us began trudging back to the stairs to return to our original waiting area.

By this time, the train was an hour past due.

We were only there for a few minutes more when the whole scenario was played out again. We heard a train approaching. It was going to stop on the other side. Once more, people dashed madly toward the stairs, and some bravely leapt over the tracks. Finally, this was our train.

The journey after that was uneventful. We had a nice time at the market even though the weather was dismal. My sister liked Aachen very much and I was happy to have gotten us there and back in one piece.

My sister's time here is nearing its end. I definitely wanted to show her my favorite city so we made our way back to Amsterdam on Saturday. It's such a great city for wandering. All of the streets are so beautiful and unique and it's been one of the only European cities (so far) that make me feel truly foreign.

My sister was able to see everything we've seen and, as it turns out, a little more. One of our final stops before dinner was to the Red Light District. My original opinion of the area was that it's overrated. I was wrong. This time, we decided to turn down a side street. Almost immediately, things looked different. The narrow alley was softly illuminated by a ruby glow. As we approached, the walls seemed to get tighter and I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I turned slightly to focus on the object and realized it was a woman.

She was young and very pretty, clad in gaudy lingerie. All of them were. I suddenly felt ashamed. Obviously I have no purpose to walk through the Red Light District, other than to gawk and stare at a way of life I will never experience and can't possibly understand. I felt bad for them. I can't imagine what their lives are actually like. What a different view they must have looking at the streets from inside their tiny boxes. It was unsettling.

Our first Christmas Eve in Germany has been very nice! We made gingerbread men, rice pudding, and minced meat pie. We also went on a long and challenging bike ride to justify all of the holiday food we'll be eating.

Fireworks have been going off in our neighborhood for the past few hours. I wonder if it's a Christmas Eve tradition here. Back home, we only set off them off on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve. I guess any reason for fireworks is a good one. At least it proves that sometimes Germans do get loud and rowdy.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Antwerp and a Beer Festival

When we found out we were moving to Germany, I knew we would miss Oktoberfest by a few short days. I began searching for a winter beer festival in the hopes that 2011 wouldn't end without us sampling some amazing brews. I found the Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, Belgium.

We decided to drive, visiting Antwerp on the way. We were only able to spend about three hours in Antwerp so I'll reserve my opinions about the city until I have a chance to see more of it. Guidebooks indicated that the train station is one of the must-sees, so we made that a priority. It was very impressive!

The drive from Antwerp to Essen was 25 minutes. Once we arrived, I must admit that the outside of the building was unremarkable. It was a school or community gym adorned by a simple banner that read 'Heuvelhal.'

Inside was entirely different. We stepped into an expansive room filled with hundreds of people. After we had a moment to take it all in, we purchased our souvenir tasting glasses and some tokens. Each sample of beer filled the entire glass and most cost only one token (1.50 Euro). Lines weren't long and the crowd was well-behaved. 

This event was organized by O.B.E.R. (Objective Beer tasters Essen Region) and I would venture to say that at least half of the attendees took the task of tasting very seriously. The other half were just hoping to stumble back to the train station still standing. 

The sheer selection of beers was staggering. Over 150 Belgian varieties were at our fingertips to try. We weren't the only people to represent America. We met one person from Colorado and a group from South Carolina was rumored to be in attendance. Later in the evening we shared a table with a Dutchman, an Irishwoman, and an Englishwoman.

Several young Dutchmen crowded around our table for much of the evening in the hopes of chatting up my sister. We took the opportunity to ask them what they really think of Americans. Most of them were kind. They said things like, "Oh, I like Americans. I went to San Diego once and it was fun." One of them told us he learned to speak English so well because he watched Friends when he was younger. Another explained the importance of soccer by comparing it to college football. 

These were all interesting topics but I am also curious about negative impressions of us. Only one of them was completely candid. He said, "I don't like Americans. They are self-centered. They think the problems of the rest of the world don't really affect them so they choose to remain ignorant to everything other than what's right in front of them."

It was sort of eye-opening to hear such an unguarded statement about my own country. By the end of our conversation, he thankfully concluded that he didn't think all Americans are self-centered.

I know it isn't my role to change what someone may believe about the people of an entire country but it's nice to see that despite our differences and places of origin, we can still express our opinions and have a nice conversation. Or maybe that's just the beer talking.

At any rate, the beer festival was a complete success! It was a great occasion to try some unique, amazing beers and an even better opportunity to meet some very interesting people. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Sister's Arrival

My sister has been here for four days and everything is great, except for the weather.

She was set to arrive at 8:02am Wednesday. I hardly slept the night before because I was afraid of missing the alarm and being late to retrieve her. I woke up bright and early at 5:30 just to give myself enough time to get lost or do something else wrong.

It was very dark and also raining. I typed 'Dusseldorf Airport' into Blanche, the GPS, and set off around 6:30am. Driving in inky blackness during a storm was very disorienting. I don't think the roads here are well-lit. Street lamps aren't as bright and reflectors are also absent. I was doing my very best to keep Greta between the lines.

This was not my first time driving to Dusseldorf alone. I did this a few weeks ago when I had to meet my husband at IKEA, but this was my first time going back to the Dusseldorf airport since our arrival. I was very jet-lagged during our drive to Geilenkirchen that day so I don't remember much about getting off the plane and into the car.

Everything seemed correct during the first few minutes of the drive and then I ended up in the Netherlands. I thought this was a little strange since I didn't remember driving through Holland in order to get to Dusseldorf. I checked Blanche to make sure I was en route to the Dusseldorf airport and it seemed like I was still on the right path. Because of our close proximity to the Netherlands, sometimes my driving begins in Germany, goes through the Netherlands, and ends up back in Germany. I thought this might be one of those times.

I was making quicker progress than I'd expected and was looking forward to getting to the airport at least 20 minutes in advance of my sister's flight landing. Suddenly traffic came to a complete standstill. I'm assuming I hit rush hour traffic somewhere and it was terrible. It caused me to lose 25 minutes. I didn't go into a panic just yet since I knew that even if I arrived at the airport when the plane was scheduled to land, I'd still have time to spare since she would be going through customs.

As soon as the traffic cleared, I saw that I was very close to my destination. I began seeing little airplanes on the information panels I was passing and I thought, "Wow! Despite that setback, I'm still going to make it! This is great!"

As I approached the airport, I had an odd feeling about how small it seemed compared to what I remembered from my own arrival here. But I pressed forward. Blanche directed me to the 'Arrivals' parking lot where exactly four cars were parked. I was almost in full panic-mode at this point. I parked the car and strode semi-confidently into the lobby. It was as desolate and empty as an old Western outlaw town after a gunfight.

An employee walked past me and gruffly said, "Morgen," as he went outside for a smoke break.

I greeted him and then decided to follow him to ask if I was in the correct place.

"Entshuldigung, sprechen sie English?" I asked.
"A little," he said.
"Ok. Thank you. Is this the Dusseldorf International Airport?"
"Oh I see. How far away is the Dusseldorf International Airport?"
He gestured in the direction behind me and impatiently replied, "It's at least 25 minutes away. You're not even close."
I retrieved the address from my phone and asked, "Is this the correct address?"
He brusquely replied, "I don't know the address."

With that, I was dismissed. I thanked him and apologized because I wasn't sure if he was already having a bad day or if I'd just contributed to it. Frazzled, I returned to Greta. When I originally put my destination in the GPS, I only searched for airports nearby. I did not use a specific address. I realized that Blanche was taking me to the nearest 'Dusseldorf' airport to our house, instead of the one an hour away. I was currently sitting in my car at the Dusseldorf-Monchengladbach regional airport.

I quickly redirected Blanche to the Dusseldorf International airport, which was now making an appearance on the list of optional destinations. The man was correct. My estimated arrival time was 25 minutes later, which would make the time 8:40am. My sister was probably going to think I'd forgotten her.

It was still raining but the early morning darkness had subsided. I put the pedal to the floor on the Autobahn and resolved to get to the airport without any more blunders.

I was so relieved when I saw the airport looming ahead. It was obviously much larger than the regional airport. Blanche lost her bearings when the time came for me to park. There were so many options. I had no idea which areas were for short-term parking. Running out of time, I pulled into a garage and pressed a button. I thought a ticket would pop out but a German voice blared out of the box instead. I said, "Oh! I'm sorry! Is this for short-term parking?"
"No!" he barked. "Parking garage FULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I backed Greta down the ramp and took a right. I came upon a regular parking lot and decided to try my luck there. I received a ticket and was able to park and then I hurriedly made my way to the lobby. Reading the signs as I walked in, it dawned on me that I did not know my sister's terminal. My plan, now that I'd managed to get myself inside the airport, was to find the nearest information desk and ask them to locate my sister since I couldn't do it myself.

I was run-walking down the corridor and suddenly there she was. Somehow, after all of my ignorant mistakes, I had chosen the correct door! I almost broke out into a run.

"Hi!! Where have you been?" she asked. "I thought you had gotten into a car accident or something!"
"No, no. Nothing like that. But I did go to the wrong airport."

She shook her head, as if she had anticipated something like this might happen, and then we hugged and were joyfully reunited!

The weather has been absolutely abysmal since she's been here. The sun hasn't peeked through for any duration longer than a few minutes and it is raining constantly. It is also extremely windy and very cold. The bright side to all of this is that we had dinner in Maastricht yesterday evening (nice tapas restaurant) and when we stepped outside, it was snowing!

I saw snow for the first time last Christmas in Minnesota but this was my sister's first experience with snowflakes. It was really great to see her react the same way I did.

"OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is that.... is it really..... I can't believe it!!!! Is this............. snow?!?!"

The snow turned back to rain as we were driving home, and nothing more happened over night, but the weather is still dreadful. We are braving it today to go to Belgium for a Christmas beer festival!

In 4 days, my sister will visit 3 countries! And who knows? Maybe we'll even have a chance to build a snowman.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I think my favorite city so far is Amsterdam! We arrived at the Sittard train station around 9:20 yesterday morning. Our train was leaving at 9:45 and we expected to be confused while buying tickets since it was our first time taking the train in Holland. Fortunately, a nice couple approached almost immediately and gave us a discount voucher for the parking garage. How lucky! Then, as we were puzzling over the ticket-purchasing procedure, two employees came to our assistance. They explained how to get two tickets for the price of one. Before they showed up, we were going to pay almost 180 Euro! I'm constantly impressed by all of the people who are so willing to help us.

The train ride was two hours. Based on this experience alone, I think the trains in Holland are nicer than those in Germany. Leg space is ample and the seating is more comfortable in general.

Our view upon exiting the station was amazing:

We were advised to be careful in Amsterdam. I guess pickpocketing is common, especially in tourist areas. Most of the streets we walked along were very crowded but I never felt uneasy or worried about anyone getting too close to me. I think if you follow the general rule of keeping your bearings straight, everything should be fine.

Since this was our first time in Amsterdam and we have the luxury of being able to visit frequently, we decided to keep things low-key. The major attraction on our agenda was the Anne Frank House and Museum. We found the house on Prinsengracht easily; it would have been hard to miss because of the long line of people waiting for admission. We were in line for about thirty minutes, and that was less time waiting than we originally thought it would be. 

The tour is self-guided. It takes visitors up and down narrow stairs that are more like ladders, and straight into the tiny room that Anne Frank lived in while her family was hiding. Walking through those doorways makes the pages of her diary come to life. I can't imagine how confining those walls must have been. This building is such an important piece of living history and a must-see for anyone making a trip to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is such a gorgeous walking city and I can't wait to return when the weather is nicer. The building architecture was unique and beautiful. We managed to go off the beaten path into some residential areas. I'd consider myself a very lucky girl if I could live in any of those canal houses!

We were also, of course, curious about the Red Light District. Based upon its worldwide reputation, I expected it to be much larger. In actuality, it seemed the area encompassed only two blocks. The atmosphere was akin to walking in the seedier part of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. There were definitely ladies of the night perched in windows. None of them looked particularly happy. Being there felt very surreal. 

Some things I've always heard about Amsterdam proved to be true. People were smoking marijuana-- everywhere. The infamous coffee shops lined every street and street corner. All ages, gender, and people from many different walks of life were lighting up. It was impossible to avoid that strong, distinctive smell. I didn't see anyone acting crazy or out of control. If I didn't know what they were doing, I would have easily thought they were all just smoking cigarettes and relaxing with friends. 

Bicyclists were everywhere. Parking garages exist just for them! It was a pleasant feeling to walk around a city without worrying about crossing streets in front of cars, but the possibility of being injured in a drive-by-bicycling exists. They come out of nowhere and sometimes don't even ding their warning bells until they've already swooshed past you, brushing your hair to the side with their handlebars.

Our first jaunt to this city was a success! There are so many things left for us to do. We can visit the Van Gogh and Rembrandt museums, see Madamme Tussauds' wax museum, and take a boat ride through the canals. We want to enjoy a beer (or several) from a brewery at one of the few surviving windmills in Amsterdam. Maybe we'll rent bicycles and picnic at Vondelpark. The options are endless! The list would be incomplete without a mention of at least one risque attraction. With the Red Light District already covered, how about the Sexmuseum? 

Enjoy a few more photos of our day in Amsterdam.

I almost forgot to tell you we finally found margaritas!
The day was truly a success!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back to Aachen

Today we took our bikes on a seven-mile ride through the woods. It was cold, wet, and windy but the climate didn't detract from the beautiful scenery. I still can't believe I can ride my bike through the German forest on a Sunday afternoon.

While there are countless experiences to cherish, we are still dealing with challenges. We went back to Aachen yesterday to try and finish our Christmas shopping. It was another rainy, frigid, and windy day but we decided to act like real Germans and forge ahead despite the inclement forecast.

By now we know how to purchase our train tickets with little fanfare. As we were standing at the machine, a German woman approached us and asked if we needed help. We said yes, in the spirit of being polite. Instead of just talking us through the process, she stepped in front of us and started pressing buttons. She asked where we were going and my husband told her our destination.
"How many people you buying tickets for?" she asked.
Thinking the answer was obvious, my husband glanced at me and said, "Uhhmm, two. We're both going."
"Ah," she said thoughtfully. Then she began pressing the buttons in earnest.

The price came up on the screen and it was almost 16 Euro. We thanked her and she walked away, proud of herself for helping the clueless Americans. We assumed that this price was for two tickets to and from Aachen. We waited for the stubs as the machine buzzed. One ticket was produced. Once we checked it and realized it was for one person, we went back to the home screen to begin again. The woman approached questioningly.
"We needed two tickets. This is just one ticket," my husband said.
For a moment she looked confused and then shrugged her shoulders and began walking in the opposite direction. I appreciate her effort but I think she might need to take some more English lessons before she attempts to offer assistance to foreigners.

Aachen was still beautiful, even without the sun shining. We fought through the rain and the crowds to find some nice gifts. We drank hot mulled wine, or gluhwin, for the second time. It's the perfect beverage for a German winter day.

We decided to try lunch at a recommended restaurant. We have searched in vain for typical Mexican food. When I say typical, I mean queso, enchiladas, and margaritas in salted-rim glasses.

The first sign that this might not be the place we were expecting was its location-- right beside a Pizza Hut. Upon entering, our ears were assaulted by loud American pop music. We found a seat near the bar and perused the menu. There were 'Ultimate Nachos' and even an entire page dedicated to 'California Cuisine.' I'm not sure what made those particular offerings California-style; the featured items included a club sandwich and a burger with avocado. Incidentally, we were at a different restaurant a few weeks ago and something was being served 'Florida-style.' It was just a basic pork dish... with peaches. I think they got their states confused because that clearly should have been 'Georgia-style.'

Anyway, this restaurant definitely felt American. If I closed my eyes, I could have been in a Chili's.

Despite having an extensive beverage list, we didn't see any margaritas. Undeterred, my husband asked the bartender if he could make one.

The bartender quickly looked from side-to-side, leaned down toward us, and quietly said, "I cannot make a margarita. I am sorry."

I'm beginning to think there's something illegal about margaritas here. That's the type of reaction we received the first time we asked for one at a "Mexican" restaurant in Sittard. We aren't sure why they can't be made. The bars are always stocked with tequila and all of the other required ingredients. We even Googled "Why don't they serve margaritas in Germany" to no avail.

Disappointed, we went with a mojito and some type of beer with tequila. We decided to find a different restaurant for actual food.

On the way to our new destination, we were singled out of the crowd by a man. He gestured us over and began speaking to us.

"Sorry, sorry, we speak English only."
"Ohhhhhh. Okay. Well. This place is for... how do you say in English... a place for good cause..."
"Charity?" my husband offered.
"No, no, not charity...."
"Fundraiser?" I asked.
"Well... you just go inside, okay? And you buy things."

We had no idea what this man meant, or why he wanted us to go through the archways in front of him, but we didn't hesitate. This type of situation frequently happens to us. I never wonder where we're being lead until we're already too far in to second-guess what we're doing.

As we walked into a large courtyard, we passed by a nun sitting on a stool and eating a piece of blueberry pie. She smiled and held up the pie. We smiled and nodded.

We saw a sign for some type of cafe so we followed it. When we arrived we realized that we were in a convent and this was some type of bake sale for donations.

Neither of us wanted a pie since we still hadn't eaten lunch so we silently and reverently made our way out of the convent and back onto the street.

Some of our experiences are so ridiculous. The summary of our day would be: We spent 10 Euro more than necessary for our train tickets because a German lady tried to help us. We mucked through the rain and wind at the Christmas market and drank some hot wine. Then we went to the Chili's of Aachen and astonished the bartender when we ordered margaritas. After that we passed a nun eating blueberry pie.

C'est la vie.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bicycling by Night

Bike Path
One of the things I miss most about home is the sunshine. It's a given that the day will always shorten during winter, but it gets dark here much earlier than in Florida. Yesterday we decided to take a bike ride around our village. Bike paths are everywhere! I think it's actually easier to get your bearings by biking rather than driving. All of the paths seem to lead to each other so it's almost impossible to become truly lost.

We set off around 4pm, thinking that we would have plenty of time for an hour's ride. About half an hour later, we were pedaling like Tour de France competitors. The darkness did not happen gradually. Instead, it was as if someone suddenly just flipped a switch and we were encased in shadows.

We did manage to make it to the Netherlands before darkness fell. Now I can officially say I've biked in Holland. I thought I would be nervous riding beside cars in traffic but drivers there are very considerate.

I like using the bicycles already but I'm looking forward to spring and summer when the weather is nicer and the days longer. Although, I've been told that summer days here can last until 11pm! But let's not get ahead of ourselves. One season at a time.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Catching Up and Sharing Photos

We finally have Internet at home! Instead of making this a catch-up entry, I'm just going to sum up the goings-on of the past few days and share some photos.

Thanksgiving turned out wonderfully because we had guests! Our departing friends who sold us the desks came over and it was a very nice evening. Having others at our table made the day feel like a real holiday. Much to my relief, the food was great!

First Overseas Thanksgiving
On Saturday we went to Aachen for the Christmas market. It was beautiful! We drank mulled wine and found some unique gifts for our families.

Aachen Christmas Market

After spending several hours taking in the sights in Aachen, we decided to take advantage of our all-day train ticket and go to Cologne to see the Christmas market there. It was definitely worth the trip once, but we preferred Aachen. Cologne was so crowded. Hundreds of people were stuffed into tiny walkways through the vendors. Trying to negotiate through everyone was very difficult and we were constantly coming to a complete standstill. Of course, it was still beautiful!

Koln Christmas Market
The Dom behind Christmas Firs
We returned to Belgium Sunday. The weather during our previous trip there had been foggy and cold:

Foggy Belgium
The weather this time was still cold and very windy, but luckily the skies were clear. We walked around, taking in the people and all of the sights and then we ended the afternoon drinking some Belgian beers and eating pommes frites at a cozy cafe.

The countdown to my sister's visit has begun in earnest! She will be here in the middle of the month and I'm very excited to see her! We will show her Aachen, Cologne, Belgium, and the Netherlands and we are also planning to cross a few more places off our list.