Winter Wanderings

The winter holidays have ended and the kids are now in their second week back at school. It’s amazing how quickly things slip back into routine and the break feels like so long ago. We had Christmas at home in Munich this year. Then it was off to Italy to celebrate the New Year with old friends. We got back to Munich just in time to have a few snow days before going back to reality on the 9th of January. I’ve decided that while I love summer and sunny holidays winter may now be my favourite time to travel.

Leading up to Christmas anyone who follows me on Instagram is well aware that for the second year in a row I was obsessed with Christmas markets. They are everywhere and each has its own personality. Last year it felt like we only got to see a few as we left to spend Christmas in Seattle. This year we did the full Weinachtsmarkt experience. Over the course of the month we met friends for glühwein, spent date nights out, and had Sunday family outings at markets around the city. They ranged from the super family friendly market at the Chinesischer Turm with Oma and Opa huts where kids could either build wooden toys or listen to story time. There was the market at Münchner Freiheit that everyone told me was very arty, although the impression I got was much more art collector than artist. This year we had to go back to the market at the Residenz as well where we met friends for some preschristmas festivities. I also learned about the pink market this year but unfortunately it was closing as we arrived and we didn’t manage to make it back, next year for sure, a nightly drag performance in the middle of a Christmas market is something that can’t be missed. But it isn’t just the glühwein that keeps drawing me back to the markets, I love the feeling of people meeting and spending time just enjoying the season. I was out near Marienhof doing some of my final Christmas purchases and all around me where friends taking a few moments to stop and chat and enjoy the lead up to Christmas. It is the opposite of the experience of rushing around a mall trying to buy as much as possible as quickly as you can. It can be cold and dark in Munich in December but there is also something a bit magical in the air when around every corner there are markets and lights. We had visitors for Oktoberfest this year but I would say if you can only come to Munich once you should come for the Christmas markets.

After celebrating Christmas, we were off for a week with two nights in Venice and the rest of the time in Florence. While we were planning the trip I was hesitant about going to Venice. Jamie had never been and while I remembered it being beautiful I also remember it being super crowded and super expensive. I was pushing that we only spend one night there and leave as soon as possible. In the end we booked two nights and really we could have stayed three. The city was even more beautiful that I remember from 15 years ago and maybe it is the difference from going as a university student and then going back as an adult or maybe it was going in the winter instead of the high season, but it was amazing. The city was gorgeous and yes it was more expensive that our time in Verona over the summer but it wasn’t drastically more. We were careful about where we went but Italy tends to be more affordable than Germany so I didn’t notice the price as being so outrageous this time. There were crowds but traveling over the holidays has its benefits. Trying to stand on the Rialto Bridge was next to impossible and everything that drives me crazy about large crowds of tourists but outside of that we were able to walk around and see everything without much trouble. We also decided that family pictures were long overdue so Jamie booked us with a family photographer while we were there. The experience of posing for family photos is infinitely better when done on a gondola. The pictures themselves turned out great and we could get Patrick’s senior pictures done as well so it was a productive day of sightseeing. From there we were off to Florence for the rest of the week to meet friends.

I found myself enjoying Florence so much more than I usually do and besides seeing it with friends I realized the difference was the lack of crowds. Of course, surrounding the Duomo was crowded with people but overall it was so much nicer to walk around and be able to stop on the Ponte Vecchio. A friend of ours here in Munich who is originally from Florence gave us some great recommendations so we had a wonderful evening out at Il Latini eating traditional Tuscan fare, including rabbit which somehow I hadn’t tried up until now. There were a lot of late evenings just laughing and catching up at the apartment which was so much fun. Overall it was a very relaxed trip of taking stroll in the morning and usually some downtime in the afternoon followed by a great meal at night, pretty much my ideal pace.

As we drove home on the 4th of January it got colder and darker the closer we got to Germany and by the time we hit Austria there was snow. We arrived home to quite a bit of snow and an apartment that I had turned the heat off in before we left. Once everything warmed up it was nice to be home and huddled inside while the snow kept coming. By that Friday it was clear and sunny so the kids and I decided to take a walk. We live just a couple of blocks off the Nymphenburger Canal and when we moved in we heard that in the winter the canal freezes over and some people ice skate. What we learned was that over time the winters have gotten more mild but in the ‘olden days’ every winter there was snow on the ground for most of the winter and the canal would freeze solid. Last year we didn’t see it freeze at all. This year it was totally frozen and there were not only a few people ice skating but it seems like the entire neighbourhood was out. We saw ice skating, curling, hockey, and families out for walks. The canal was packed and it as beautiful down there. It has been like having a new park down the street that popped up overnight. It seems like everyone has been taking advantage of the chance to use it. Just a few days ago it looks like a club set up 20+ curling lanes and as it was midmorning on a weekday there were mainly retirees out there playing in what looked like a tournament. While this year is markedly colder that last year it is also bright and crisp and brings with it a whole new aspect of Munich which has been so much fun to experience. Even the Schloss park we have walked so many times is a whole new experience as we pull the kids on sleds instead.

I know the summer is the big tourists season and it makes sense as that is the easiest time to travel with kids but if anyone is thinking of coming to Europe consider coming in the winter. The summer can be so hot and crowded and this year traveling in the winter has been so much more enjoyable. It did rain one day in Florence but we put our hoods up, bought and umbrella, and got on with it. Now that we are planning our summer holidays it is amazing the difference in availability and price. We may just have to rethink our whole strategy next year and plan our big family holiday over the winter and drive somewhere south in the summer.

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