A Girls Road Trip, Germany

Kai and I had a conversation last fall that went something like this . . .

Ali: What if we booked Greece over my birthday weekend?
Kai: That would be great, because then our Greece trip wont overlap with Oktoberfest.
Ali: Ohh cool, I am looking forward to wearing my dirndl again this year!
Kai: What? What did you say?
Ali: My dirndl, I am looking forward to wearing it again.
Kai: Ohh, um, I am going to Oktoberfest with the guys this year . . . .
*cue hurt and sad Ali who hides it effortlessly*
Ali: Ohh, that’s fine, because I was planning on going with the girls . . .
Kai: No you’re not.
Ali: Yes I am!

And so dream was born. Or better yet, a challenge was accepted. My boyfriend had apparently made Oktoberfest plans without me – that’s fine Kai, sing your German songs and drink beer and eat pretzels with your dude friends, because I am going to have a much better time at Oktoberfest without you ;)In all actuality, I didn’t mind at all that Kai was going to Oktoberfest with his guy friends. With work travel, different friend groups, and individual hobbies and passions, Kai and I spend a lot of time apart which works well for both of us. I like the feeling of missing him every once in a while, and I love coming home after a week of work travel with so many new stories to share – and I know he feels the same. Kai and I are also pretty good about syncing up on our travel plans – if he plans on being out of town, I will make sure to fit in lots of friend time, so when he’s back we can really focus on each other. Quality, over quantity! So all that said, although I would have liked an invitation to Oktoberfest with my sexy German boyfriend, I was really looking forward to a fun weekend of my own around that time. I floated the idea of a long weekend trip past a few of the girls, and Carina, Dannika, and Kira were totally up for an adventure! We talked about a surf trip, or maybe even our own Oktoberfest celebration, as Carina had a few friends that we could stay with in Munich. Fast forward a few weeks, and Amie, one of my good friends from the US, had also decided to join for the weekend! So in the end we landed on an Oktoberfest road trip, which would be fairly inexpensive, a fun cultural weekend, and give us a chance to do some beer drinking and dancing! We decided to go on opening weekend, which worked best for all of our schedules, and would give us a chance to meet up with some other friends who were also going that weekend! Continue reading

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Romantic Road, Germany

Taking a drive down Romantic Road has been on my travel bucket list for years and years. What is Romantic Road, you ask? Romantic Road is a picturesque route in southern Germany that winds past many medieval villages and quintessential German sights (think castles, churches, enchanted forests). The road starts in Munich and ends near the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, at the foothills of the Alps. My mom and I looked into doing the drive almost 9 years ago when she came to visit me at university in England, but we ultimately passed as flights to Munich were too expensive by the time we actually got around to booking. Little did I know that – fast forward a decade – I would be dating Kai who calls Munich home! We’ve been to Munich a few times now for various family events, and Oktoberfest twice (when you have a German boyfriend, it’s just what you do ;) but we never really had a chance to venture too far outside of the city.However, this past August Kai’s step-dad was turning 70, so we planned a long weekend in Munich for the celebration, followed by a two-day adventure down Romantic Road! I really wanted to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, and so we booked one night at Landhaus Kössel, which was right by the castle.  Continue reading

A Weekend in Berlin, Part 2

So let me tell you about my party experience in Berlin. Amie and I have caused midnight mayhem in many European cities. We’ve had crazy nights out in Lisbon, Istanbul, Paris, and Amsterdam, just to name a few. But we knew Berlin would be something else. In the 90’s, all of the best parties in Berlin were nomadic – thousands upon thousands had fled Berlin to escape the firm grip of communism, leaving behind empty houses and abandoned industrial buildings. When the Berlin Wall fell, Berliner’s rejoiced, and the once abandoned homes and buildings became a backdrop for the city’s triumphant party scene. Twenty years later, Berlin’s once elusive nightlife is now a permanent fixture in the city’s global persona. Iconic night clubs such as Berghain and Sisyphos draw party-goers from around the globe, while trendy cocktail bars such as Neue Odessa and Green Door serve distinguished cocktails for locals and tourists alike.IMG_2291To say that Amie and I were excited to experience Berlin’s nightlife would be a vast understatement. We’d intentionally enjoyed a week of rest and relaxation in Italy, recharging before an epic long weekend in Berlin. As mentioned in my last post, Amie and I kicked off our Friday evening at Txokoa, where we sipped monstrous G&Ts and enjoyed a rich dinner. Continue reading

A Weekend in Berlin, Part 1

As Germany is right next to Holland, I’ve crossed the border for many jovial long weekends away (read: here, here, and here). However, I somehow always seem to miss out on the Berlin excursions. Berlin is a quick 1.5 hour plane ride from Amsterdam, and often the fare is dirt cheap (around €50). I have friends who go for long party weekends, business trips, shopping adventures, or a simple change of scenery. And while I’ve been invited to Berlin a multitude of times, something else always seems to pop up!

When I got let go from my job a few months ago, I made a list of the places I wanted to visit in Europe before I left, just incase. There were ten places on the list, some more costly and exotic than others. I then listed them in order, starting with the top few I HAD to go to before I (hypothetically) left Europe, the others falling somewhere behind. I vowed to make it to at least two or three spots on the list before my visa was up. Guess what the top two were? Cinque Terre and Berlin :) If you’ve been following along on the blog, I’m sure you’ve read all about my Cinque Terre adventures. In fact, I was so taken by the stunning Italian countryside that I am planning a fall-2016 trip to Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome with some of the ladies in my family! And man, I can’t wait to go back :) Berlin was also ticked off of my European travel bucket list in mid-October, while Amie was visiting.IMG_1886 copyWe flew straight from Pisa to Berlin (believe it or not, a €24 plane ride), and quickly switched from a beachy-sunshine mentality to an urban-exploration mindset.  Continue reading

Exploring Münster, Germany

Last weekend the Dutch girlfriends and I planned a little escape. Fall was in the air and we were craving a change – a weekend outside of Amsterdam or a day in another city. We marked the weekend in our calendars without making a concrete plan. If the weather was sunny and gorgeous, we could head up to Texel and stroll the beach. If it rained, we could spend the day shopping and eating in Antwerp. And if it was a clear, fall day, we could trek a bit further and spend the day in Germany, drinking crisp beers and exploring a new city – which is exactly what we ended up doing!Visiting Munster Germany_9919Melissa picked us up at the crack of dawn. I’d gone out on Friday night and was *dead* after only three hours of sleep, but the adrenaline of visiting a new city for the first time is often stronger than a good cup-o-joe, and so by the time we reached Münster (our decided German destination) I was refreshed and ready to go! This post is going to be more beautiful than informative, as I did no research on Münster ahead of time and don’t have a boat load of recommendations to share. We looked at good ol’ Google Maps once or twice for navigation guidance, but left the rest up to luck! We stumbled into shops, ate at random stops, and gawked at the numerous stunning churches.  Continue reading

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I’ve been working on creating some new sidebar images for Pressed Words. You can take a look – a few of the travel images are already live now. It’s taken a while to get these images up, as the selection, editing, and upload process is quite time consuming. But Pressed Words is so visual, and I want my readers (you) to be able to explore a new topic or post based on photographs. If you’re a visual person like me, this is one of the best ways to surf the web and discover new content.

Anyways, the whole point of this rant is that I was going to tell you about this cool curry place I went to in Edinburgh – really yum. But that post will now have to wait for tomorrow, because I got distracted.

As I was selecting images for the new sidebar, I put all of my favorites travel photos into one folder. Later, I was clicking through quickly, looking for something specific, and it suddenly occurred to me that I’d been to all of these places in the past year. And I really, unexpectedly, felt overwhelmed. It just seemed like a lot. Extreme colors and climates, clicking by so fast. And I wanted to share that with you. A special group of photos that make me happy. That make me think about life, and the potential we all have to travel and to explore and discover new things.

Sometimes I think about the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! I can recall a time in my life where I truly didn’t know where I was going. But now I’ve taken a few steps towards something and I actually have a few cool places, memories, to look back upon. And that’s a really empowering feeling, and I wanted to share it with you.703522_10151364352194809_56416924_oimg_0419img_0908img_0260img_0781img_8303cannes-trip-6-2img_9529img_8644love-locksimg_0957img_3494img_3882img_5680img_0234img_8173 cannes-trip-24img_6408img_8974img_8786img_7127img_0044 img_9626img_9377-1img_9154img_7922 img_0118img_0405img_8087img_9902img_0697img_4097img_3982img_9048img_8525

xo Ali

Cologne Christmas Markets Part 2

Earlier this week I told you all about our wintertime trip to Cologne. Well, after a steam and a long bath at our hotel, the gluttony continued with Christmas Market adventure part two! There are several markets throughout Cologne, and we were determined to make it to them all before our time was up in this romantic city. Our first stop of the evening was the Angel’s Christmas Market, a beautiful outdoor space draped in white, glittering lights.IMG_6660IMG_6632IMG_6625 IMG_6629While we were tempted by the delicious aroma of currywurst and the loud crackle of potato fritters, we instead decided to start with something more simple – mulled wine.IMG_6666To drink, you pay a small deposit for your mug which then stays with you for the rest of the night. You can go back to the bar again and again and have your mug filled with mulled wine, warm cider, or amaretto for a very slim price. At the end of the night, if you remember to return your mug, you get your deposit back and you can go in your merry way. Or you can keep your mug as a keepsake or gift which is what B and I have done for the past two years!IMG_6662IMG_6673IMG_6670The Angle’s market was truly beautiful, and had many craftsmen busy at work, tending to their stalls.IMG_6679With the option to purchase anything from roasted chestnuts to hand painted ornaments, the booths range wildly and taking in the sights is half the fun. After a few glasses of mulled wine (and a shameless selfie) we ventured towards the cathedral to admire its beauty by night.IMG_6639IMG_6707It was stunning, as usual. Tall and looming and elegant in the dark, we strolled around the cathedral until we found something truly magical.. . . IMG_6705I probably shouldn’t tell you this since technically you’re strangers and this is the internet and I should be sensitive to my privacy and blah blah blah. But since it’s changing in 6 months anyways and I’m a trusting person, I will tell you that my last name is Ronca. And as you already know, my first name is Ali. Hence my astonishment at finding the following sign:
IMG_6727I showed this photo to my mother and she thought I had photoshopped it. And then after showing her three more identical ones she exclaimed ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU STEAL THIS SIGN?!’ Ah, I love being home! But I also love this sign, and I may have to go back so I can take my mom’s advice (isn’t mom always right?) But in the meantime this next photo will have to do, the one of me pointing to a sign that has my last name and first name (with only one extra little ‘l’) and what I presume is the word ‘place’ (German readers, is ‘platz’ place?!) Amaze.IMG_6729I seriously could have hung out on Roncaalliplatz all evening because it’s the coolest street ever. But then we saw some signs with gnomes and sheep and donkeys, and these looked somewhat interesting as well. IMG_6735So we followed our nose (mmmm currywurst!) and some adorable signs and found our way to the Old Market Christmas, a beautiful gnome themed Christmas market in front of Cologne’s town hall.IMG_6738IMG_6754This market was by far the most stunning. All of the tall trees were lit with radiant lanterns. There were wood carvings and a ferris wheel and a large outdoor ice skating rink. If we had spent another night in Cologne, this would have been our first stop.IMG_6746IMG_6756IMG_6769IMG_6734However, we wandered all around and could not find currywurst!! We had seen it three markets back and were dying for some soggy-sweet sausages and fries. So we downed two more mugs of mulled wine, and strolled back through town in a cold fuzz.IMG_6615We ended up back at the Market of Fairy Tales, which is even more so enchanting by night.IMG_6623And to every Christmas Market adventure, there is a happy ending – and this one ended with currywurst!IMG_6777Now that I’m good and hungry, I’m going to go to bed. In my next post I’ll do a little summary on the markets in Cologne and perhaps even include some special highlights on Cologne vs. Dortmund, so if you’re thinking up your own Christmas market trip you can plan accordingly. Night night for now! X

Cologne Christmas Markets Part 1

Hello from a soaring 37,999 ft above the Atlantic. I’m currently on a jumbo jet, just shy of Newfoundland. In a few short hours I’ll be reunited with my mum and dad, who are kindly driving down to Boston to pick me up from the airport. I’ve been on a tram, a train, two planes, and I still have a car ride up to Maine to go, but really, I couldn’t be more happy! I’ve missed the USA a lot, and every time I come home I question why I live so far away. But then I go back to Amsterdam and ride my bike along the canals, and wonder why I would ever want to live anywhere else. I’ve left pieces of my heart in so many places around the globe, that I will never have a true home. Or maybe everywhere is home. And that is quite a liberating thought.

On that nomadic note, I wanted to share with you some Germany pictures. Last weekend B and I rocked Cologne. We went to Dortmund last year for the Christmas markets (read here and here) and loved the wintertime adventure. So when November rolled around again, we couldn’t help but book another Christmas Market weekend in Germany. Why do I love Christmas markets? There’s mulled wine, sausages, snowflakes, and magic. Christmas markets are akin to Disneyland for big kids. OK, so maybe the rides are limited. And there’s no Mickey or cotton candy. But you get to eat and drink to your heart’s content, and there’s a feeling of excitement in the air. There are silly decorations and people in funny holiday costumes, and the atmosphere is filled with a cheerful spirit that brings everyone together. And did I mention the mulled wine? YUM.

This year we chose Cologne as it’s known for having some of the most beautiful Christmas markets, especially the ones outside cathedral. In my next post, I’ll give you details on the markets and some advice if you’re planning a trip to Cologne – but I’m going to split this post into two, as there are a ton of pictures, so let’s start with Saturday day time. IMG_6382^ ^ We started with Starbucks (sigh, so unfortunately American) to keep our hands warm as we wandered into town. We then literally followed our way to the cathedral, winding and guessing the shortest route based on the cathedral’s high, guiding towers.IMG_6408IMG_6407It was stunning, a sight to behold, the highest towers dipping up into the clouds. And there at the base of this magnificent structure was a quaint and crowded Christmas market, where our sausage fest began!IMG_6422 IMG_6423 IMG_6424 IMG_6427After devouring some long sticks of meat (we couldn’t tell if it was pork or beef, but it was AMAZING) we headed into the cathedral.IMG_6435 IMG_6436Entrance is free, and donations are accepted for informational brochures which I highly recommend scooping up. It’s not until you see phrases like ‘4th century’ do you really understand the gravity of this holy spot. IMG_6448Construction of the cathedral as we see it now begun in 1164, almost 900 years ago. While the structure itself is breathtaking, even more inspiring is the thought of those who helped construct the cathedral. It’s  incredibly humbling. The Cologne Cathedral was built before cranes or modern technology, one heavy piece of stone at a time. Truly a homage to God and man’s devoted power.
IMG_6438 IMG_6461B and I admired the stained glass and strolled under the spacious archways, as I babbled off facts and figures about the site.IMG_6469After our stop at the cathedral, we wound back into the city center, and were soon tempted by jelly donuts, ice cream cones on buildings, and the aroma of sweet, deep fried batter.IMG_6489IMG_6499IMG_6502So we splurged on a massive sticky bun, topped with warm custard and cherries. IMG_6505 IMG_6510And a chocolate banana.IMG_6513And some potato fritters dipped in garlic sauce!IMG_6536IMG_6545IMG_6551IMG_6555Admiring cathedrals makes you hungry!!IMG_6570Absolutely stuffed, we strolled around, walking off our calorie feast. IMG_6577We spent our afternoon at one of the cutest Christmas markets in Cologne, The Market of Fairytales. Shortly after the Romans founded Cologne in 50AD, they built a wall around the city. As the city grew over the centuries, a series of gates were erected along the wall. The most important gate was built between 1235 and 1240, and today is known as the Hahnentorburg – the beautiful medieval structure that overlooks The Market of Fairytales. IMG_6563IMG_6564IMG_6520IMG_6571IMG_6573Fortunately our hotel was right beside The Market of Fairytales, so when our toes went numb, we were only a short walk away from our accommodation!IMG_6582Which by the way, had some beautiful views of the city :)IMG_6592However, this was my favorite view! B and I don’t have a tub at home, so we really enjoyed sinking into the deep hotel tub and using some of their other spa facilities. We spent the early evening unthawing and relaxing before venturing out into the night for more mulled wine and delicious German treats. Part 2 to come ;)

German Christmas Market: Day Two

Sunday is a slow day in Germany. The shops don’t open till later, people wake up slowly, and the streets are eerily quiet until well after noon. B and I wanted to enjoy one last day of the Christmas market, but happily embraced Germany’s sleepy Sunday sentiment.

After another lazy lie-in, we slowly made our way out, with a pit stop in the hotel lobby to make some fishy friends.

IMG_1266I could watch fish for hours, and our Vegas-imitation hotel had several mesmerizing aquariums right in the lobby.

IMG_1275B kindly dragged me away from fish-gazing, ready to find adventure and more importantly, food!

I’m sure I’ve told you all before, but my favorite part of Sunday is brunch. However, Christmas market brunch is a bit harder to come by. We wandered around in the drizzle, trying to find something appropriate to eat for breakfast.

IMG_1295We found a stall with massive, smoked rotisserie hams, which looked delicious and close enough to brunch-fare for me!

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After finishing up our browned and buttery ham bulkies, we realized that we were seriously parched and in need of some Sunday morning caffeine  After a bit of window poking, we stumbled across Koehler’sIMG_1339

A passerby might assume that Koehler’s is just another touristy gift shop. But a peek inside reveals that Koehler’s delicatessen is out of this world! With loads of decadent chocolates, heavenly cakes, and lots of sweet and savory gifts to-go, you won’t know what to indulge in first!

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The best part of Koehler’s is the café, tucked away in the back and only obvious to those who chance a venture inside.
IMG_1324The cafe is a cross between a teahouse and your Gramma’s dinning room. The atmosphere is quaint and cozy, and even though the furniture is pretty and the decor is dainty, you still feel at home.

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There was a mixed crowd in the café, ideal for people watching – lovers having a drink at the bar, families with little kids bopping around, and frumpy old men, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper. IMG_0953B and I both ordered hot drinks, and picked up a few chocolates to go.

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Toasty and refreshed, we bundled up again for a bit of final market roaming,

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We stocked up on last minute gifts, and did a bit of speedy window shopping.
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This little elf holding a German sausage made me laugh!IMG_1142

We also returned to some of our favorite stalls from the day before, picking out treats for the train ride home.

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We humm’d and ha’d over what our last Christmas market meal should be, and decided to split one final German sausage. IMG_1381IMG_1377As expected, it was delicious, and the perfect note to end our Germany holiday on!

Overall it was a fabulous trip, and I have a feeling a winter pilgrimage to the German Christmas markets will be a new-loved holiday tradition!

German Christmas Market: Day One

Around this time last year, all of my friends started to take off for long weekends away to Germany. I was puzzled. What was so great about Germany during this bitter-cold time of year? I was a newbie to continental Europe, and hadn’t yet discovered the spectacular German Christmas markets that take place every holiday season.

A German Christmas market is a sight to behold. Hundreds of stalls are packed along narrow shopping streets and throughout big squares, creating cozy pop-up Christmas villages that sell a schmorgesborg of German food goodies, Christmas crafts, and warm dizzying drinks. It’s a big outdoor winter-wonderland party, where everyone stays warm by celebrating over a hot mug of mulled wine.

My confusion soon turned to envy, and I silently willed the next holiday season to arrive so I could experience this snug German tradition first-hand.

This past Friday, B and I packed our bags and snuck out of work a bit early. December had rolled around and it was finally Christmas market time! We popped up to Central Station, and in no time we were on the high speed train, cruising down to Germany.

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IMG_0819In less than two hours we had arrived in Dortmund, home to one of Germany’s biggest Christmas markets and the world’s largest Christmas tree.

However, as it was a bit late, our Friday night festivities were confined to the hotel room. This was perfectly fine, as we had splurged on an executive suite at a fancy-pants hotel. The lobby was crammed with over-the-top decadence – every surface was smothered in marble accents, lavish red carpets, and brilliant chandeliers.

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When we opened the door to our room, we were royally-surprised to find a space fit for a sultan! Plush pillows, dark mahogany wood, and ornate moroccan decor transported us from frosty Germany to a rich and colorful scene from 101 Arabian Knights.

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IMG_0825I couldn’t decide if the room was tacky or tasteful, until I found Haribo on my pillow.

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Why yes, I would stay here again!

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We spent the evening lounging about in fluffy robes, drinking cheap champagne, and arguing over who got to christen the spa-tub first (we both won).

IMG_0843The next morning we lazed around, listening to music, reading up on local attractions, and getting ready for the day.
IMG_0872Luckily, our hotel was quite centrally located. We headed out, and after three minutes of brisk strolling, we were smak in the middle of all the Christmas fun!

IMG_0926We found ourselves immersed in a sea of people, surrounded by vibrant colors and rich, seasonal smells.

IMG_0918IMG_0915IMG_0935We dodged through the market, taking in the sights, trying to decide where to go next and more importantly, what to eat first!

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IMG_0932IMG_0944We opted for giant wurst sausages, served on crispy bread rolls and slathered in ketchup and mustard.

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Condiments were easily dispensed from giant tubs – suspended from the ceiling!IMG_0907

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However, this was just a starter. We then moved on to crispy potato pancakes.

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And creamy jacket potatoes.IMG_0988Absolutely stuffed, we walked it off, popping into random shops and stalls along the way.

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Loaded up with bags of gifts and goodies for the road, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of down time.

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We lifted our feet, soaked in the tub, and finished up the champagne.
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Relaxed and refreshed, it was time for Christmas market round two! Once again we bundled up and headed for the center. As we drew near, a giant-lit Christmas tree emerged on the horizon and grew and grew with every step we took. Up close, we were completely awe-struck. IMG_1098

This is the largest Christmas tree in the world – it towers above the surrounding infrastructure and dwarfs all nearby trees. In total, the tree is 45 metres tall and is made of over 1,700 individual fir trees! Completely glamoured by the awesome display, we happily made our way through the crowds in search of some warm gluhwein.

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IMG_1088Served in little snowman cups, gluhwein is a deadly delicacy. One mug and you’re light headed, two and you’re fuzzy as a sweater.

IMG_1102We smartly paced ourselves, indulging in food as well as drink.

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We stuffed up on currywursy, fried cheese, and nutella crepes.

IMG_1108And stumbled from stall to stall, drunk on wine and merriment.

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We filled our mugs again and again, getting lost in the crowds and the holiday spirit.

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We stumbled across a German-Christmas rock band.

IMG_1190And just when we thought the night couldn’t get any better, it started to snow!!

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Little by little, we noticed the lights turning off and the stalls shutting down – it was time to retire to our palace for the remainder of the evening. We picked up one last little snack.

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IMG_1240And then hurried home, slipping and sliding along the way – ready for another day of Christmas market adventures to come!