2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Strasbourg France

TRAVEL: 5 Ws for Exploring the European Christmas Markets – Your Questions Answered

European Christmas makes my heart happy, and I am sure everyone else who has ever experienced them before. (Exception for those who don’t like cold weather at all).  Last year we spent our Christmas holidays in Germany and took a little European Christmas Markets tour through Switzerland and France as well. We are no strangers to the ways of market exploration.

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Germany

So, here are the 5 Ws, the Who, What, When, Where and Why, of exploring the European Christmas Market.

Who should go to the markets?

If you love all things wintery and Christmas (or love a good spiced hot wine), then the markets are for you! Of course, the locals get the most of out their town’s Christmas Market, but because the Christmas markets and villages are all slightly different in how they decorate, visitors find their way to visit a few different markets in other cities and countries if possible!

You should expect there to be one main market area with wooden houses set up just for the month of December. If visiting a larger city, several smaller markets will be set up around popular neighborhoods. The markets will have a festive atmosphere and music, lots of visitors walking around and enjoying the food and wine, and several shops to buy goodies and souvenirs.

What ….

…. should you eat?

The food is one of the best parts of Christmas markets. Try one of the many flavors of sausages and pastries. Most importantly sample the mulled wine or Gulwhein. When you order your first wine at the markets, a deposit is made for the ceramic mugs. When another mug of wine is ordered, the last mug is exchanged for a new one, and you pay only for the refill. When you are ready to leave, return the mug to any vendor that sells wine, and they will refund your deposit.

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Germany

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Prague

 

… should you buy?

Every year each market has the new custom made mugs used for serving hot drinks. Instead of returning your mug for its 2 euro deposit, start a small collection of Christmas market mugs! If you are lucky, you can find mugs from previous years. Other than food, we found a small delicate wooden ornament with a detailed snowy village as a tiny, easy to pack souvenir.

 

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Germany

… else should you do?

Our sole purpose of these visits was to see different Christmas markets in Europe. It made deciding what to do and how to spend our time easy. However, every city has their historical museums, churches, and other touristy activities if you tire of wine and food. Take time to explore outside the Christmas atmosphere to learn more about the culture and city.

… should you bring?

Cash! Most markets work off of Euros, and it is interchangeable in most EU countries. In Germany, they much prefer to take cash and don’t always offer a payment option for cards!

Dress warmly. The temps can be chilling around that time of year even if the sun is out in full force. Make sure to check the temperatures and dress warmly. We were so thankful that friends of ours brought little hand warmers to share with us!

When should you go?

Most markets start the first week of advent, and some as early as November 26. Perhaps they are trying to catch some of the Americans on their Thanksgiving breaks, but you will never see me complaining about that! Some markets end before Christmas day while other take a break on the 24th -26th and reopen again for New Year travelers. Each town has a website for the markets giving more details about when they start and finish.  

Otherwise, go early in the day to avoid the afternoon and evening crowds! It gets very busy!

2016CatieFunkTravelsChristmasMarketsEurope Basel Switzerland

Where should you stay?

Hotels in the town center come with a high price. Consider using a private rental such as Airbnb instead. The rental usually comes with all you need and often a kitchen for those who enjoy cooking and coffee in the morning.

Everyone has their own favorite Christmas Markets, and you will have no issues finding scores of suggestions about what markets to visit. Our first markets took us to Basel in Switzerland (listen here), Strasbourg in France (listen here), and several in Germany (listen here).

 

Now it’s your turn: 

Have you been to the Christmas Markets? If so, which ones?

What did you love about them?

What suggestions would you add?

 

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2017 FunkTravels CatieFunk House Minimalism

EXPAT YEARS: The Truth About Living Abroad (Year 1 Part 2)

“There is a puddle of water in here!” I gasped in horror at the floor of our extra bedroom. Just 1 month into our rental, our landlady was checking over some final projects on our apartment renovation when she randomly checked the extra room and discovered a layer of water. “This is not suppose to happen your first year living abroad…” I thought to myself.

I honestly don’t know why she checked that room, but I am so thankful we found the puddle of water on the floor upstairs. After a few hard rains in November, the newly replaced roof from summer was now failing the leakproof test. The room upstairs is not one that we use a lot just yet, but it is important that we fix the leak. Winter season is mostly rainy season for the Izmir area.

As November ended, we hoped and prayed our apartment neighbors along with our landlord could figure out a solution. Three weeks later and many confusing conversations… we finally learned that that section of the roof is our landlords responsibility and the warranty is not going to cover it. Our landlord disagreed about the timing and importance of fixing the roof and suggested a tarp be laid down to catch any water over the next two weeks that we would be gone on vacation.  And a part of me was wishing we would have decided to be full-time travellers instead of full-time expats

As new tenants, we politely but firmly requested the roof be repaired. We played the game of refusing to pay rent,  deducing the cost from the rent for the repairs and paying ourselves, but in the end she did have the roof fixed and paid for it too. (We secretly may have had issues with figuring out the rental transfers via our bank, and it could have looked like we were not paying because of these problems.)

Two days before our two week departure for Germany and our Christmas market tour, 2 men lifted 4 steel beams up 6 floors via a rope on the side of our apartment to resupport the roof and I just prayed it wouldn’t rain until they finished.  And one day before we left, the fixers told us they would need another day. One the day we departed, our Turkish tutor, who had helped up through the process, stayed at our home so that the men could finish the roof.

Thankfully, since returning, we have had no major issues!

As you can tell and much to our disappointment, living in another country has the same issues wherever you live. What makes them slightly more frustrating is figuring out how to solve them… what method they use, who can help you, what is a good price, and how to say it in another language. BUT just like living in your native country, living in another country brings lots of other fun adventures… going to the market, travelling because things are closer, and going to the seaside for a walk.

living in another country has the same issues wherever you live. Click To Tweet

FunkTravels Podcast Izmir Turkey Expat

So in the spirit of reflecting, here are questions we have been asked about our first year living abroad:

What has been your favorite part?

Neighbors and friends – Little did we know that our neighbours would be this awesome! I have really been able to connect with the ladies in our building and in turn they have invited me into their home. Jason has been able to meet some men through a coffee shop he works at and an expat meeting we went to just once. Investing in the people around you is never an empty endeavour. 

Investing in the people around you is never an empty endeavour. Click To Tweet

Neighborhood- We love where we live, the neighborhood, parks, seaside. The large weekly market is just 10 minutes walk; Starbucks is about 5 minutes. I run along the exercise path lined with the deep blue waters and parks with benches just 10 minutes from our apartment. Our neighborhood has multiple grocery stores, restaurants, and shops that have everything we could need. Hop in a taxi and the megamall is just 10 minutes away.

Travel is always a plus! While Turkey isn’t in the EU, it is still a popular destination for Europeans’ vacation. This in turn, makes inexpensive, frequent flights more available to major European cities!

What has been hard?

Yes, we have traveled a lot and I am sure it looks like it is perfect. Don’t let us fool you! It has been one of the harder parts of our marriage. Nothing has taught us how different the ‘Saver(Jason)’ and the ‘Adventurer’ are than when we travel. This actually extends into most of our marriage too. But we have also learned how to work together better because of it.

I struggled to find my balance and identity after working full-time at a university for 3 years. Jason and I had to find new systems for working and living too. Once we got use to that, it helped us manage our schedules better.

FunkTravels Podcast Switzerland Expat

FunkTravels Podcast Spain Expat

What does a day look like for you?

Daily life is fairly normal and what you would consider typical. Jason works most of the day just like he did back in the states.  And just like back in the states, he works from home, or a coffee shop, breaks for lunch or turkish study time. He is generally more at ease with being by himself than I am.

When it comes to living in another country and culture, I have had to learn what works best for me, and some weeks I am still figuring it out. I will usually exercise, have Turkish lessons, study Turkish and do homework, write, photo edit, and visit neighbors or friends to practice my Turkish.

When it comes to living in another country and culture, I have had to learn what works best for me, and some weeks I am still figuring it out. Click To Tweet

What does community look like for us?

I have found friends through several paths. My closest friend here is German, and we met on a local Izmir facebook group! Through her I found the IWAI and those women continue to weave more and more connections throughout the city than I could ever hope for. Jason and I have made efforts to know our neighbors and meet people in our neighborhood. We also attended an Internations party one time, and from that Jason has continued to meet with the guys he met there.

FunkTravels Bodrum Turkey Expat

What goals do you have for living abroad?

Our goal is to spend 3 years in Turkey. We are believers in setting up timelines and signing contracts with yourselves. While we don’t have a printed timeline for what the next 3 years look like we do know that we plan to be here 3 years, learn language, build community, and continue Jason’s business in the states.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely, you can read more about that in part 1 – EXPAT YEARS: Our First Year Abroad.

 

Do you live abroad?

What was your best and worst of your first year abroad?

Do you have a funny story to share? I would love to hear it!

 

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FunkTravels Expat Abroad Podcast Turkey

 

———

P.S. – If you missed it, this is a 3 part series about our first year living internationally.

EXPAT YEARS ROUNDUP SERIES:

EXPAT YEARS: Our First Year Abroad (Year 1 Part 1) 

EXPAT YEARS: The Truth About Living Abroad (Year 1 Part 3) – Coming soon!

2017 FunkTravels CatieFunk House Minimalism

EXPAT YEARS: Our First Year Abroad (Year 1 Part 1)

‘You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you’ll never be this way ever again.’ — Azar Nafasi

4 checked bags, 2 carry ons, and 2 people boarded a 5 a.m. flight leaving 2 sets of parents behind at the airport in the U.S.A.  Excitement, nervousness, and surrealness flooded our thoughts as we traveled to Spain where our other 4 packages were waiting for us at our cousin’s home. Our original destination was Izmir, Turkey, the place that we hoped would be our home for the next 3 years. But with the coup taking place just 2 short weeks before, we detoured to Spain for a month.

Leaving the states!

Instead of spending one more month in the states we stuck to our original departure date – determined to move overseas. We felt that delaying our move would make it harder to leave, and believe me, it was sad enough leaving family and friends behind. So 20 hours later with a very lengthy layover in the Chicago airport, we found our (very tired) selves on the sunny beaches of Rota, Spain.

Since then, these 2 people have….

FunkTravels Podcast Episode017
Sailing Trip in Turkey
FunkTravels Eski Foca
Exploring Eski Foca, Turkey with new friends

And the truth? There have been MANY times I have regretted moving those first few months, especially while we were settling in.

BUT the great reality?

REGRETS and ‘second guessing’ are COMPLETELY NORMAL. And in all honesty, part of the deal. The disagreements between Jason and I about what and how much to buy, having to research and learn what to do here before you can make 5,000 decisions, deciding to budget high for travel although we had just moved, investing money into our language learning when it could be easier not to learn it at all, having to deal with having surgery in another country, the days where you don’t want to deal with culture or think about how every way you act.

REGRETS and 'second guessing' are COMPLETELY NORMAL. And in all honesty, part of the deal. Click To Tweet

And when those thoughts of regret happened?

Tears, sadness, loneliness, reflection, prayers (lots and lots of prayers), and choosing joy and happiness. I remember it is WORTH it. I remember how long we planned and dreamed for something like this. I remember the list of gratitudes I started in my prayer journal. I remember how sweet our neighbors, church, and friends are. I remember how far I have come for the ‘not so easy learner.’

I remember it is WORTH it. I remember how long we planned and dreamed for something like this Click To Tweet
Cyprus

And even now? ONE year later?

I am SO VERY THANKFUL we made the move. The decisions, awkward start of friendships, and transitioning from one life to another have had even more happy moments to accompany them. We have walked through our Turkish friends’ wedding, sang songs in another language, loved on Turkish and expat kids that are not our nieces and nephews, and celebrated life with those around us!

The decisions, awkward start of friendships, and transitioning from one life to another have had even more happy moments to accompany them. Click To Tweet

And you know what?

Year 2 is already starting off to be an even better year!

 

Questions for you!

Do you live in another country other than your native one? If so, where?

What emotions did you feel your first year abroad? Was it easier or harder than you expected?

Do you have a funny story to share? I would love to hear it!

New Years in Prague

 

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FunkTravels Expat Abroad Podcast Turkey


P.S. – Stick around for part 2 and 3! I can’t wait to share even more about our first year abroad and what it taught us!

EXPAT YEARS: Year 1 Roundup Series – Our First Year Abroad (Part 2)

EXPAT YEARS: Year 1 Roundup – The truth about living Abroad

 

 

FunkTravels Fitness

WRITING: Get Fit with These 3 Fitness Apps

Exercise has always been a part of my life and tends to always make it into my year goals . It started with my mom and dad always committing to exercising when we were young. Throughout primary school and into high school, physical education class continued reinforcing the importance. Then I continued on with it throughout college. I will admit, there were season of inactivity and it was never helpful! I feel like I have been in one of those seasons recently actually. So this is a post is a good reminder how I can exercise on the road!

I wrote an article featured on SaganMorrow titled Get Fit with These 3 Fitness Apps. In the post, I highlighted 3 apps I have used and loved.

 

 

Unfortunately, the website I wrote for recently rebranded and the article is no longer available via her website.

But you can still read the article below:

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What type of exercise do you like? Or if you don’t like to exercise, which of these seem to be the most appealing: running, pilates, strengthening, or something else entirely? I generally feel the best after I go for a run, but I don’t always want to run; cue the excuses of bad weather, being tired, and.. to be completely honest..  my personal lack of motivation (but let’s not talk about that one!).

So if you are anything like me, your love for exercise ebbs and flows. When I was living and traveling overseas, I was forced me to be creative in how to do my exercising.  My biggest question was “What else can I do to adapt and spice up my routine?”

I found that choosing a workout video, an online cardio class, or pilates routine helped keep things interesting but the internet is not always dependable when you are traveling. But since living in the states for the last few years, there have been 3 helpful tools that I have found to kept me going:

  1. Mapmyrun (app)

There are many exercise tracking apps, but I have enjoyed mapmyrun the most. It is great for running, walking, biking, or pretty much anything else you can do outside. This app uses your phone’s GPS to track your routes and record the details about your run. You can even adjust the settings to have it notify you when you complete miles and tell you your pace. This keeps me informed on my progress so I know if I need run faster or slow down to meet my goal… and we all know it’s telling me to slow down, right? The app will also send you weekly and monthly reports of the workouts you have logged. This log of my runs really keeps me motivated and makes me want to achieve more goals. Speaking of which, I should probably get going on using it more… this winter wasn’t great for my outdoor running habit.

  1. Daily Burn (website and app)

This online community has exploded in popularity; maybe due to their cheesy commercials. For $14/month or so you can have access to online workout videos that you can complete at random, pick a program, or – my favorite – join up with their 365 workout. The 365 workout is live every morning at 9 am; but don’t worry, you have 24 hours to catch it later if you miss it. There are new routines every day like cardio, kickboxing, yoga, and pilates! The downside is that some of the intense workouts require extra equipment like a medicine ball… who owns one of those anyways? I easily get board of doing the same video routine over and over, so for me this is a huge bonus.

  1. The Balanced Life (website)

If you like the yoga/pilates side of exercise more, than this one is for you. Yoga has never really been my friend, but maybe one day I will learn to love it. But pilates is a different story. I can at least accomplish it with a little more ease. The Balanced Life, led by Robin, just did a 30 day challenge and it was amazing to see how sore a 10 minute session of pilates made me! Robin has pilates videos for beginners and quite a few public workout series. If you really love it, like my sister does, you can join The Sisterhood for a monthly fee which gets you into a private support group with accountability. It also can send you a new workout link which are waiting in your email inbox every morning when you wake up.

So if you are looking for something new, I’d try one of these out. They have really helped me keep my exercise routine for getting boring.

Have tried any of the 3 options I mentioned? If so, what do you think?

What other apps or websites do you use to help with your exercise routine spicy?

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I would love to hear what apps you use for exercising!

WRITING: Arabian Nights in Dubai

I have had many ‘Homes’ and what I like to call ‘2nd homes’. Homes would be places I lived longer than a year… so Louisiana, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iowa, now Turkey again. My ‘2nd home’ category are places I have flown in and out of enough time that, even though I didn’t live there for a long period of time, I know it. Dubai would be one of those places.

Last summer I wrote an article featured on Journey Freak titled Arabian Nights in DubaiFrom my many trips in and out of this city in the U.A.E., I share 5 ways to taste all that Dubai has to offer!

Here is the start of the article:

If you love luxury and shopping, Dubai should be moved to the very top of your travel bucket list. This vibrant city in the U.A.E, United Arab Emirates, is a long line of skyscrapers that are nestled between beautiful beaches and vast desert. Dubai is a hub for many expats and contractors as they travel in from and out to other more remote location. And that is how I ended up traveling there many times.

During my trips to Dubai, I explored many areas of this fun and unique city. Dubai is the world’s leading city when it comes to hospitality, shopping, and events. But it was not until the 1950s that this city started to become what it is today. The government let other countries come in and harvest oil and now 60 years later there are almost 2.5 million people that live in that in this formerly small desert port city. It is famous for its blend of cultures, mix of ultramodern and traditional architecture, and luxury services.

Based on my experiences, here are 5 ways to get a taste of all that Dubai has to offer:  Continue reading..

FunkTravels Dubai U.A.E.

 

*Spoiler* The indoor skiing has been one of the coolest activities I have done in Dubai! Click over here to read the rest of it!

I would love to hear if you would travel to Dubai! Or if you have, what would you suggest to other people?

P.S. Check out Episode005 to hear about our travels to Dubai together!