With the Netherlands shut down for Covid concerns, we decided to take a “safe” getaway with the boys. This was actually one of our fairly last-minute Christmas presents to them. We booked our stay for just after the New Year, picking this castle spot because: 1) I wanted to stay in a castle, 2) It was in Belgium, thus tours and restaurants not shut down, 3) It showed a large garden and forest area that I knew the boys would enjoy running around, and 4) Did I mention it was a castle??
I’ve been saving up this post because I thought, for sure, we’d visit dozens of markets and I wanted to review them all. The universe, Covid, and some European governments had other plans. Instead of dozens, we made it to four: Aachen (Germany), Brugges (Belgium), Maastricht (Netherlands), and funny enough, Valencia (Spain) where we stumbled upon one on accident. While they are all different, there are some staples that make a Christmas market a Christmas market: gluhwein and hot chocolate, chocolates and cheeses for sale, usually some sausages, small gift vendors, and usually some festive lights. Read on to see where we went and what we liked about each one!
We were supposed to go see American friends in Hamburg, but the German restrictions on unvaccinated travelers staying multiple days from the Netherlands (i.e. our children) made that impossible. While I was in the throes of a severe pity party, Josh reached out to some good friends of ours, Boo and Mikella Walker. Due to Covid restrictions and an ailing/aging senior dog, Boo, Mikella, and their son Riggs were not traveling as planned to Austria over the holiday and they welcomed us to come for a visit. Within minutes, they’d sent Airbnb links to places near their home, ideas for family activities we could do together, and started making dinner reservations, all with the promise of good wine and fun times catching up. I dried my eyes and we bought tickets.
We have reached the 4 months mark and here in Maastricht the holidays are in full force. Starting in October you can see lights and decorations popping up around the city. It may seem early, but in Dutch traditions, there is no Thanksgiving, Sinterklaus arrives to the Netherlands in mid-late November (visiting several cities), and Sinterklaus gift-giving day is usually celebrated December 5th/6th.
Italy is a hot destination for many, but getting there and around can be tricky. Here’s some things our family learned while vacationing in Rome and in Tuscany this October. Maybe it’ll help your next trip!
Many of our trips have been spontaneous but this trip has been planned for months. Matt (Josh’s brother) and Tomi (Matt’s girlfriend) were the first people to say “we’re coming to visit!” and we picked a place (Italy) and time (the boys’ fall break) to make it happen. We visited Rome and Tuscany within a week!
We are Americans living in Maastricht, Netherlands. Back home in the US, October is one of my favorite months. Not only because it is my birthday month, but also because the weather starts cooling down a little, and we get a promise of a few colder weeks ahead after a super long hot summer. Near the end of the month, my boys and I usually gather at my brother’s house with pumpkins to carve; we’ve been doing it since before the boys were born. We show up with a pumpkin per person, some wine, and Chris always has a pot of butternut squash soup on the stove. If we’re being honest here, I come more for the soup than the pumpkin carving (my artistic skills are slim). We typically spend Halloween together as well, letting our collective four boys run amuck, begging friendly neighbors for candy and trying to eat it all when our backs are turned. Often the neighbors on my street also host a pre-trick or treat party on the street with Halloween snacks, drinks, and treats. To me, all of this is the prologue to the holiday season ahead and I truly look forward to it every year.
Sometimes Josh gets an itch to get out of town and this trip was exactly that. He started researching national parks within a drivable distance and settled on the Voges du Nord area of France, about a 3.5 drive (4 with kids) from Maastricht. He found a cute small hotel with good reviews in the village of La Petite-Pierre and we packed our bags.
Our final 3 nights were in luxurious Santorini. I felt like we went from the equivalent of Islamorada in the Florida keys to South Beach. From a laid back vibe to high end everything. I’ll admit, getting off the crowded ferry at the port, I questioned our selection of the island. There were so many people, buses, drivers, it was hard to even pick your name out from the sea of name plates being held up.
This was one of the first trips we’d planned after deciding to move to Europe. I was nervous it wouldn’t be as amazing as I’d hoped, but that was a silly fear…