First of all, thank you so much for following along on our journey of expat living and travel adventures. We are so thankful for you! Second, Happy New Year! If you missed it here is our Christmas/New Year Card for you!
Our first episode of the year recaps our Christmas holidays spent in Germany! If you are wondering why we like to jet out for a Christmasy trip around the holidays, definitely listen to our last Episode043. Also, there are a few references to our last Christmas in Germany. If you want to catch up before listening to this one, check out Episode023 and Episode024.
Just like last year, our cousin graciously opened up her home for us to housesit and catsit while she was away. There were a few kinks in our plans, but overall it was a lovely stay. During that time, we also made it to a few nearby cities/countries: Stuttgart, Esslingen, Baden-Baden, Neustadt, Trier, and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.
Did you know we have Pinterest? We would love for you to follow us there! Oh, and we have Pinterest Boards from our travels too! Check them out.
Funny how a digital Christmas card can be just as delayed to get to you as the real ones. 😉 In fact, you probably wonder what the excuse would be when I don’t actually have to order, address, nor stamp them! BUT we were traveling, and then we didn’t have internet for a few days… then it was Christmas. Yada, yada, yada… do I have any sympathy from you yet?
Anyways, Christmas cards are one of my favorite things. If I don’t get to see you or talk to you often, it’s the one time of year I can send a card and let you know I do care. Thanks to modern technology, free labels from Shutterfly, a Groupon for Zazzle, the cash app, and a very helpful sister, we are still able to uphold that tradition from afar! And I am already thinking next year how we can add our Turkey friends to the tradition and deliver a special set of cards just to them.
Part of our cards is having a small little update on the back side of the card. Unfortunately, I usually have to keep it very short due to space. But here I can embellish a little more, and I hope you enjoy!
Without further ado:
Izmir, Turkey, has been our home for more than a year now and are so thankful to report no repairs needed this year! Finally settled in our home, I, Catie, have even gone through a few ‘cluttered’ drawers and piles (so was stuff others had left or given us) and rid them of unnecessary stuff. I am trying to keep our home somewhat minimal with only the necessary items and decor. When it becomes no longer useful, it is given away or thrown out. But for the most part, our space is comfortable, light, and spacious.
Turkey itself has had an interesting year and continued to renew its state of emergency. There has also been a series of earthquakes over the last year, and that is entirely new for both of us. Lira was down (which is great for us) and is now slowing returning. However, we are thankful for normal lives and new two year visas.
Our church is a huge support to us here, and we have enjoyed serving there (yep! It’s in Turkish!). As well, we have wonderfully welcoming neighbors and a mix of foreign and Turkey friends. It is interesting to learn that misunderstandings happen in both Turkish and English (because words even in English don’t always have the same meaning!). God has been faithful to continually supply new friendships, a cozy home, support, and love every step of the way.
I am studying language and conquering the grammar and vocabulary little by little. Moving from full-time to no-time work had its struggles, but this fall I feel like I have found my stride. I have loved writing about our experiences with travel, living in Izmir, and expat lives. Photo editing is a beast, but have always loved photography, I am finally learning and enjoying to edit photos. In June, I decided to finally take the leap to pursue a new what I hope to be, a part-time career in travel writing. Needless to say, it has been a year of learning!
Jason continues to learn Turkish and has completed all lessons in the Duolingo App. Part of him language learning inspired him to make an app called Foreign Numbers! He is still working with his U.S. clients via his software consulting business, Tough Space. As well he has taken on a few extra projects here and there. He somehow makes it through more podcasts and books than I can in 3 years! We are thankful his work allows for remote work and flexibility.
2017 was our year of travel. Being nearby to lots of interesting places, we decided to take advantage of the easy travel while we can. We started our year in Prague and are ending it with our travels to Germany. In Turkey, we covered Cappadocia in the snow, the popular beach town of Bodrum during the offseason, the hot Adana in cooler months, an annual trip to Ephesus, and the last minute surprise of exploring Antalya. Izmir and the surrounding areas are bursting with places to explore, and even though we don’t own a car, we ventured out to some nearby cities called Urla, Alaçatı, and Pammukale.
Even more fun is traveling with friends! Our biggest trip last summer included traveling SouthEast Asia for a month. With our friends Eric and Ashley (you may remember them from sailing and Prague), we toured the countries of Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Ironically enough, we travel to Bangkok via Romania, where we met up with our other friends Kathryn and Brian and were able to meet their kiddos for the first time!
Since we were already heading to Asia, we decided to combine this travel with our trip back to the states to visit our families in both Louisiana and Iowa. Starting in New Orleans allowed us to not only meet up with friends along the way but also meet one of Jason’s clients in person for the first time as well! The coolest part of our travels was that we can now say we have literally flown around the world!
We are hoping that next year will mark a few more countries off our list: Iceland, UK, Ireland, Norway, and the Greek Islands(there are some just off the coast of Turkey) just to name a few. Mostly just dreams, but we drop one country for meeting up with friends in other ones in a heartbeat! Then there are always a few surprise trips that come our way instead! Jason will continue his work, and I have a new side project that I am slowly developing to be used in Turkey. We both are still studying Turkish. Our first scheduled trip for next year is to Dubai for Jason and me to run our first race together, a 10k!
While we continue to miss family, we have found a rhythm of communication, and that makes it a lot easier. Our nieces and nephews are learning that Turkey is another country and Turkish is another language. They always impress us with their smarts, new vocabulary, and just general cuteness. 2017 was the first year we have not gained a new niece or nephew, but we do have a new nephew on the way in 2018!
And then there are some random things we miss; we always try to find good ‘American’ Chinese and (Tex)Mexican food wherever we travel. Most of the time it is a complete letdown, but our time in the states and Germany provide fixes to our craving every six months. Good pork is hard to come by and super expensive. I miss the freedom of owning a car, the freedom of spontaneity that comes with it, the ease of ordering packages from Amazon,and convenience of being able to find what I want when I want and not having to think several seasons ahead (Thanksgiving decor bought in August while in the states and cupcake decorations bought for Valentines Day while in Germany in December).
But we love the conveniences of restaurant (and grocery from what I hear) delivery. And if we need to buy groceries, we have three within a 200-meter radius! We eat the best eggplant dishes, and the sea view, while I run, is something that would definitely make you jealous. We are literally living on top of the ancient city of Smryna. Even though it takes a little planning, flights to pop in and out of Europe are cheaper than flying from our home state of Iowa to my roots of Louisiana. Not to mention, Jason and I can travel to Istanbul and back for under $50 each.
As we live in Turkey, travel, work, and learn Turkish, I have learned that we just can’t do it all. I want to save AND travel. I want to live in the states AND overseas. I want to work on every project AND only do one! Jason thankfully continues to love and encourage me (as well as keep me grounded)! As I already knew but still have trouble implementing, slow living is the best way to live, and slow travel is the best way to travel. Thankfully we live a lifestyle that allows that, and I hope I can just do a better job of appreciating it.
Special thanks to though of you who follow along on our journey!
I can’t wait to share more with you this year!
Jason & Catie
PS. – If you have extra Christmas cards, we would LOVE to have you send them our way! We LOVE getting mail. Plus, if you mail from the states, it’s just 3 stamps, stick it in the mailbox, and BOOM, it’s at our place!
P.P.S. – If you don’t already, we have a monthly newsletter that goes out every other podcast! Sign up here!
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.
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.
…. 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.
… 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.
… 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!
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?
Merry start to your Christmas season! In this episode, we are talking about how we celebrate Christmas in a predominately Islamic county, a.k.a. a country where the majority do not celebrate Christmas. We chat about how to be intentional during this time or Christmas would just pass you by!
That being said, we are also popping out to Germany again for a couple of weeks and will be celebrating Christmas day there. We are so thankful to be housesitting/pet sitting like we did last year and are looking forward to all the great Christmas markets around the area!
Did you know we have Pinterest? We would love for you to follow us there!
The Going Home Series is all about how you can have the best visit back ‘home’. Catie covers both sides of the spectrum to help both those in the native country and those living abroad have an easier time reconnecting and supporting each other.
If you are an expat going back to your native country, this is for you!
If you are someone who will be visiting returning expats, this is for you too!
European Christmas markets have been on my bucket list a long time. I would see articles every year about the markets. In fact, I took several of the city names from the articles I would come across, searched google maps, and then left a pretty little star on them. I love that you can star locations in Google maps. The stars are usually a reminder of where we have been. But for this purpose, the stars showed me how close some of the markets were to one another.
Since my cousin moved to Germany several years ago, it has always been in the back of my mind to return to Germany. If you wonder how I travel, it usually revolves around a friend who lives in this country or that country. I toured Europe for five weeks in this same style, only staying in a hostel for six nights. Friend stays are the best, and we LOVE to return them(*hint*hint*come visit us!*). After chatting about a visit, she sweetened the deal with an offer to house/cat sit while her family went to the states for Christmas and New Year. HUGE bonus. That meant we could have some full sightseeing days at the beginning and end of the journey(Catie’s preference), meet up and have some time with her family, and then also have some chill time around the holidays (Jason’s choice).
So how did we decide what markets to visit? My cousin suggested a few markets that were within driving distance of her house. From there, I looked at markets nearby. I found some cheaper tickets into Basel Switzerland. From Basel to Strasbourg, France, the train was only 2 hours. In Strasbourg we met my cousin since it was just a 1.5-hour drive for her. From Strasbourg, we headed to Saarbrücken, Germany by car for an hour. Then we finished our first round of markets by going to Kaiserslautern by car for 1 hour. It is all incredibly close.
Roundtrip flights from Izmir to Frankfurt were less than $500 roundtrip for the both of us. But Jason and I opted for a flight to Basel since the one ways flights were only $80 per person. I figured we could cover a little more ground with one-way tickets. This one-way option allowed us to then travel onward to Prague to meet some friends and fly back from there. Our flight from Turkey left in the morning and gave us plenty of time to explore Basel before moving on to France the next morning. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until we were halfway through our flight to Basel that I learned that Basel’s Airport was actually in France! I had a little freak out moment but realized that it wasn’t a big deal because it is the only airport for Basel. After landing and grabbing our bags, we found the bus that took us into Basel’s downtown.
Since our stay was only one night, the private room via Airbnb was a perfect, cheap option. Apparently, we are beyond a hostel life but still ok to have a private room in someone’s apartment… For those of you who may be weirded out by trying this option on Airbnb, don’t be. All the times I have used a private room have been great! It’s like staying in a friend’s home… that you may not ever see again. Ha!
Basel, a city of 165,000 people, is known for being a cultural capital of Europe with its 40 museums to explore. But we came for one sole purpose, and I am not ashamed of it. Basel introduced us to our FIRST Christmas markets, and it was(to be completely cheesy) LOVELY and MAGICAL. As Jason would keep saying (and this may embarrass him a little), ‘This is just lovely!’ And he was absolutely right.
Coming from Izmir, Turkey, there are a few decorations mostly for the new year – some snowmen, lights, and maybe a tree. But the markets in Basel were beautiful and ornate. Think of a quaint little town square newly crowded with a maze of small wooden houses. But it doesn’t stop there. Every single house is then covered with evergreens branches, ornaments, ribbons, and lights. All throughout the markets are evergreen trees creating a village-like atmosphere somewhere in a forest. The detail of the signs and displays of the vendors are all in character, even down to the price tags on every item you want to buy.
Most of our money we pulled out of the ATM was spent on food. Yes, all $50 of it. Switzerland is known to be more expensive, but it really took us by surprise how quickly our money was used up! In the chilly weather, sausages and sweets filled our tummies up, and mulled wine kept us warm! 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 back to any vendor that sells wine, and they will refund your deposit.
If any of you reading this know me, then you already know I kept at least one of our mugs. And may have started a small new collection of Christmas market mugs! Other than food, we found a small delicate ornament with a lovely snowy village cut into the wood as our souvenir. The vendors are diverse and unique provided lots of opportunities to meander through the markets and ‘window shop.’
So why so little time in one place? Simple, our sole purpose of these visits was to see different Christmas markets in different countries. It made deciding what to do and how to spend our time so easy. Museums, churches, and other touristy things were just a bonus to our travel if we happened upon them. Having one central theme made our trip relaxing and chill. Plus, living so close to Europe means we can go back, and Switzerland is a must!