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Dec 29, 2014

Munich, Germany

Our weekend in Munich seems like FOR-EV-ER ago. I'm talking October of 2012. Yep. Why haven't I gotten around to sharing one of Germany's most historic and "fest-worthy" cities? No clue. I simply forgot. But it doesn't mean Munich isn't memorable...far from it. In fact, I counted it as one of the top 10 European cities you shouldn't skip. Munich is what I like to think of as the perfect blended city. It's chock full of fascinating history, kitschy cuteness, modern conveniences, and, most importantly, is the host city for one of the world's largest beer festivals...OKTOBERFEST! And that's precisely why we found ourselves in Munich for a quick visit.

Even though we didn't stay in Munich for our Oktoberfest adventure (we opted for more affordable accommodations in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and trained into Munich), we still found the city easy to navigate and filled with attractions for all types of travelers. We traveled with another military couple, and because the two boys wanted to dive a little deeper into WWII history and the Nazi footprint left behind all over Munich (formerly known as "the Capital of the Movement"), we decided to take the Third Reich Tour with Sandemans New Europe tours. Talk about a humbling 3-hour walk. We wandered all over Munich, stopping at infamous landmarks once occupied by the likes of Adolf Hitler and prominent leaders inside the Nazi party. Headquarters, houses, meeting rooms, and memorials...we heard stories of war, horror, and, eventually, the rebuilding of Munich to its former glory. The scars of inhuman malice and unfathomable fear can still be found lurking all around the city, a constant reminder of a painful time many still don't understand. The tour, while macabre at times, was extremely informative and well-done. I highly recommend it if you've got an inquisitive mind and a stomach for hearing some less than lovely stories of German (and world) history.

The tour offered quite a lot of heavy information to take in, so after our morning tour ended, we returned to Munich's famed beer hall, Hofbrauhaus, for a stein to take the edge off. I honestly can't tell you how cool it was to be standing inside the Hofbrauhaus. We'd heard about it for years, but actually having a drink and partaking in the camaraderie typical of the insanely huge beer hall was just beyond awesome. Ain't no party like a German beer party! It did take us a little bit to find a table, but once we did, we spent HOURS there...eating, drinking, and enjoying the traditional oompah band and partying tourists in town for Oktoberfest. Even if you're not typically into hitting up tourist hotspots, the Hofbrau is a MUST SEE. At least wander around inside and enjoy the beautiful frescoes and lively atmosphere. Such a super neat place.

Even if you're not into beer-drinking or history re-hashing, Munich is a gem of a place to behold. If I had to recommend one large city to visit in Germany, this would be it!

Want more cities to see in Germany? Check out my WANDERLUST page!

Dec 23, 2014

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas...

Merry Christmas Eve Eve, friends!
I honestly can't believe it's almost Christmas. Time flies when you're surrounded by friends, family, and wayyyyy too many Christmas cookies. I'll be taking a vacation to Diet City come January 1st, whew! ;)

 In keeping with holiday tradition of spending quality time with loved ones and being a little less submerged in the internets, I'll be signing off from blog world for the rest of the week. But before I go, I want to wish each and every one of you a wonderful Christmas!! May your days be filled with joy, your trees full of gifts, and your hearts full of love this holiday season. And never forget the true reason for this beautiful time of year, the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! Wishing you overflowing blessings in 2015!

And if you've got big travel plans in the New Year, email me
I'd love to make all your 2015 travel plans a reality!
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Dec 22, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Oh, yes. I went full-on tacky Christmas via PicMonkey. If you can't flaunt your tacky feathers at Christmas, when can you? I missed National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day last week...which was a total bummer. Mom has SO MANY Christmas sweaters covered in glitter, snowmen, and pom poms that I could have won a dozen ugly Christmas sweater awards just from walking outside my house. Mom still wears them non-ironically. She's literally the cutest. 

Since being home and blissed out for the holidays, I've helped mom make at least 400 chocolate peanut butter balls (also known more commonly as "Buckeyes" to many folks-except we cover ours fully in chocolate). They're absolutely a Christmas tradition in our house (the recipe is from an old church cookbook circa 1978). Ever since I can remember, I've helped roll the balls and dip them in chocolate, making a total mess of the kitchen a la Lucy & Ethel. While they do take some patience to make, we love putting "Christmas in Dixie" on repeat, reminiscing about holidays past, and keeping our peanut butter ball assembly line tradition alive. We're all professional dippers, except I lack patience as the years go by (some of my balls aren't really balls after a while). Come to think of it, I don't even really eat many of the ones we make year after year...they all end up in little tins as Christmas gifts for the mailman or the friendly and ever-so-patient post office lady. Everybody deserves a little 'thank you' at Christmastime. No tastier thank you than these decadent treats!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
-Makes roughly 100 balls per recipe-  

1 1/3 box of powdered sugar
1 16 oz. jar of Jif peanut butter
2 sticks salted butter (softened)
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 block of Gulf Wax (for keeping the chocolate smooth & shiny--you won't taste the wax & it's totally fine to eat!)

1| In a stand mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter, and powdered sugar until combined into a soft, rollable dough.
2| Roll a small scoop of the peanut butter mixture by hand into small 1 inch balls and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Place balls into the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours before dipping in chocolate.
3| In a double boiler on low heat, melt chocolate chips and Gulf Wax together, stirring as it melts. Pull peanut butter balls out of the refrigerator just before dipping (if they get too soft while dipping, just pop them back into the fridge to firm up again). Use a toothpick to stick the ball and dip into the warm chocolate. Use a spoon to help cover the ball completely with chocolate. Use a toothpick to fill in the hole with chocolate left after pulling out the toothpick.
4| Place chocolate covered balls back into the refrigerator to set (roughly 30 minutes) before eating.
5| ENJOY with a tall glass of milk! 

Do you have any holiday treat traditions? Share them here!

Dec 15, 2014

Valkenburg, Netherlands: Christmas in a Cave

One of the best things about being in Europe during Christmastime is the exciting abundance of Christmas markets all across the continent. The lights, the music, the stalls filled with handicrafts, sweets, and the ever-popular gluhwein...there's no better way to get into the holiday spirit than a wander around a European Christmas market. Many people think of Germany when they hear of Christmas markets (as they should, it holds many of the world's most beautiful markets!), but some of the most unique ones I've been to are just across the border in countries like Belgium, France, and in today's post, the Netherlands!

One foggy (and incredibly chilly) December Sunday, we hopped into a car with two dear friends and made the 2.5 hour drive from Wiesbaden to Valkenburg, Netherlands...home of the famous Valkenburg Caves. We'd heard Valkenburg held their annual Christmas market inside the network of underground caves that run throughout the city, so we knew we had to see this unique market set-up for ourselves. Upon to arriving in Valkenburg, we realized the town had split their Christmas market between two different cave areas; one called Gemeente Grot and one named Fluweelen Grot. Each cost us roughly 4-5 euros to enter, or you could purchase a 10 euro ticket to wander through both (if memory serves). The lines were long to enter Gemeente Grot, the largest underground cave market of the two, likely because only so many people are allowed into the caves at one time. We waited roughly 15 minutes before we were allowed to enter, so not too shabby.

Once inside, Christmas began to unfold before our eyes. The caves were dark, but lit brightly and festively by dozens of twinkle lights, glowing Santas, and Christmassy displays of elves, polar bears, and nativity scenes around every turn. Along many of the cave walls, you could see historic markings and drawings, just adding to the uniqueness of the experience. Being inside a cave was definitely the coolest part of the whole market. The let down? The market vendors. Much of the market stalls were filled with Dollar Tree-type junk and not the adorable local handicrafts and holiday gifts that most Christmas markets pride themselves on showcasing. Additionally, the crowds got a bit claustrophobic in certain areas, which made it hard to enjoy what little shopping we did try to do. If you go visit the Valkenburg cave markets, I suggest you come for the cave experience & history, not so much for the shopping. And maybe choose only one of the caves to pay to wander through, no need to see both (they house almost identical stalls). Just my traveler two cents.

Now, if you're thinking you could care less about the markets if there's not any great shopping, you might want to reconsider. The town of Valkenburg is quite cute to explore. All decked out in garland and lights, a stroll at dusk helped restore our Christmas spirit after battling the cave crowds. We also ate some lovely stew at one of the quaint restaurants just off the market square...worth spending time in the town for, just wish I could remember the name of the restaurant! Sorry. After dinner, we walked to another part of the town and found ourselves an small outdoor Christmas market called Santa's Village. It was much more like the Christmas markets we were used to in Germany, with gluhwein and gingerbread in abundance.

After all was said and done, would I recommend a visit to the Valkenburg cave markets? Ehhh, like I said, the caves were neat, the shopping was not. Maybe explore the caves apart from Christmas market season? I would have loved to do that. That being said, the town itself was festive and adorable, so if only for that reason, I'd go back again. It was definitely an market experience to remember!
For more recaps of Christmas Markets around Europe, click here!
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