The Perfect Home Base – Bad Windsheim, Germany

The type of houses that can be found in Bad Windsheim

When we were looking at visiting this part of Germany, we originally thought of staying in Rothenburg because it was the inspiration for coming out here in the first place. The last time we stayed there twelve years ago, the prices were reasonable, and we expected them to be the same this time around, but Christmas happens to be the big time of the year for Rothenburg and the prices jumped up quite considerably. So we started to look for other towns in the area that would be more affordable and came across the sleepy little town of Bad Windsheim. It is on the rail line, and only a forty minute train ride to Rothenburg, and an hour train ride to Nuremberg, so as long as the place was comfortable, it seemed like the perfect place to stay.

An impressive statue outside of a church on the main street through town

What we found was a hidden gem that many people outside of Germany do not know about. It has the same quaint houses that Rothenburg has, and the same cobblestone streets. It even has a Christmas market, just not as big as the other places, but they still sell mulled wine, and have people come to sing and play songs for the people who attend. It even has its own sites with some pretty impressive statues, fountains, and a living museum.

A depiction of the Rapunzel story

They even have a sense of humor that goes along with the traditions and heritage that comes from this part of the world. There were many references to Grimm’s Fairy Tales popping up all over the place, but my favorite had to be the Rapunzel hanging out the window of one of the stores on the main street. They even used Christmas lights to make her hair be seen for miles around at night.

The tree lines walking paths through the park on the northern end of town

On the northern part of town there was a huge walking park with a beautiful green landscape. It was the perfect place to take a walk with huge old trees that were kind of sad to look at in the winter, but I could imagine that it would be a spectacular display of color during the fall. It was even close to some natural baths that were encased in dome, but I never made it all the way over to that place.

A random statue made of wood found in one of the parks in the older part of town

There were a lot of hidden corners in this idyllic small town, and even though it did not boast a medieval well like Rothenburg or the huge Christmas market that Numerberg has, it was still a pleasant place to stay with enough to see to keep us entertained during our time there. Because it was a sleepy little town, most of the sights are restaurants had closed down on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but I think that would be found no matter where you went in Europe on these days. The place we stayed had a nice small kitchen, so were still able to have a nice Christmas dinner even though we were still on the road.

I found it to be the perfect home base for this area. It was close to everything that I wanted to see, and it was not overrun with tourists. Granted, I was there in the winter which was probably a downtime for them, and they could easily see more people during the summer months. Still, it was great for the holiday season, and I am glad that we landed here at the start of our bigger vacation through this part of the world.

One More Christmas Market – Nuremberg, Germany

As the holiday approaches, the markets in Germany get more packed as people go out to get that cheer that can only be found with mulled wine and sausage sandwiches. The sellers try to make their last sales, and the bigger acts are brought out to entertain the crowds. Last night was the last night for Germany’s biggest Christmas market, and I saved this one for last because all others would look tiny in comparison.

The city of Nuremberg seems to be designed to this specific event. Right across the street from the train station is a long walking mall that leads directly to the heart of the city, their city square. It is here where the city sets up rows of booths during the month of December, and sellers come from all over to sell ornaments, food, and of course, the biggest seller, mulled wine.

It is hard not to be distracted by all of the stalls and the wonderful smells that are coming from them, but looking beyond that, there is some of the best architecture ever collected in a European city. The cathedrals are sometimes overshadowed by the art nouveau facades that overlook the modern shops and restaurants. The place would be great if Christmas had not exploded all over the place.

Nuremberg also wants to hold on to the feeling of the original markets by making sure that the stuff that is offered is of traditional design. This includes the food and decorations even though I did see a couple of incense burners that were heavy metal in design. This only applies to the stalls that are in the main square too. There is a smaller part of the market that has stalls from all over the world that sells their favorite foods along with the traditional mulled wine, but they make sure to regulate this to another side of the cathedrals. My favorite was the stall from Atlanta that sold the traditional Christmas Pop Tarts. There were other stalls that lined the walking mall to the market, and they were not part of the same regulations and could sell whatever they wished. Either that or gimbap, the traditional Korean snack, has always been a part of the German holiday season.

It has been fun to put all of the regular tourist stuff behind to enjoy the sights, smells and feeling of the holiday season in Germany, and the Christmas markets have been a great part of this. The Nuremberg one was probably my favorite because it was the best organized and had some of the best food offered at any of them. And this was followed by the one in Rothenberg because of the feeling of the medieval city, but I am sure that there is no way for me to know what all of the markets in this country would be like. It seems like every city, and small little town puts on their own market, and it would take a month to be able to understand and judged them all, and I don’t know if I could drink that much mulled wine.

It has been a fun way to build up to the final big day on Thursday, and I am glad that I have been able to experience Christmas in this way. I wish all of you the same type of joy that I have been able to experience during your holidays, and that it holds surprises and new experience just as mine has.

Happy Holidays!

Inspiration – Rothenburg, Germany

Way back in 2007, a very broke couple decided to take a fifty backpacking trip throughout Europe. They went to eleven different countries, had many strange and eventful adventures, and saw many amazing sights along the way. At every stop they would ask themselves if they could live in each of the spots they stopped at. It became the seed that eventually led to them seeking jobs as teachers overseas, and transplanting in Asia. But there was one town that they came to that captured their hearts. It was a medieval city preserved over the ages, and ever since the couple of nights that they has spent there, they always want to go back.

Why would anybody who saw this place, not want to come back? The people were cheerful, the food was amazing, and the atmosphere transported them back into time. There was a wall surrounding the city that overlooked a moat that was originally used to keep invaders out. Though people still lived in these walls, they had retained the original buildings and the markets still had that medieval feel of large tables and fireplaces to keep them warm.

There was one store that really captured the heart of this city though. It was so popular that it had three different locations within the small confines of the wall, Kathe Wohlfahrt. It specialized in Christmas. It sold ornaments, cuckoo clocks, and various forms of decorations. Even though it was the middle of summer, the couple could feel the warmth of the holiday season just by being in this store, and they knew that one day they would have to return to this place when the weather was cold and snowy so they could experience it as it was meant to be, a holiday wonderland.

This was the seed that was planted in my mind twelve years ago, and ever since then I always wanted to return to Germany for Christmas. When we got the jobs in Thailand, it seemed like the perfect place to go to get away from the heat and really get to feel what it should feel like to experience Christmas. More specifically, I wanted to return back to this specific medieval town, Rothenburg, and see how they celebrated this holiday. I knew that they held one of the more popular of the Christmas markets, but I had no idea what that meant. This town packs to bursting with the people coming here to drink mulled wine, eat German sausage and spaetzle.

I was not disappointed either. It was exactly the way I envisioned it. Children were running all over the place as there parents gathered around tables to talk about the events of the season as they sipped their hot spicy drinks. The only thing that was missing was the snow. I found out later that this was not really a part of how the market has ever worked. This part of Germany is more inclined to have misty rain this time of the year rather than snow. It does come from time to time, but those moments are very rare.

It did not stop me from coming out and to enjoy this little corner of the world. The place was even more magical than it was when we were out here twelve years ago. The smells of roasted nuts, and fresh chocolate just added to the excitement of the day. I do have to say that a lot of the Christmas items were way overpriced, but that is due to the fact that it is only a couple of days until Christmas, and people travel from all over the world to spend there money here. But as long as you resist the temptation to buy any of these trinkets, the food and the drink is reasonably priced, and it just adds to the flavor of the day.

And when the lights came on, it made the picture complete. I was transported to those small little ceramic towns that people put up during this time of the year, and Rothenburg had to be the inspiration behind them.

I am glad that I have been able to come back here during this time of the year after that trip so long ago. It should be the goal of every Christmas enthusiast out there because they will get to experience Christmas the way they see it as they decorate their house. And if you are one of those enthusiasts, I hope that this post has inspired you to one day try to make it out here one cold wintery day in the future.

Mid-Life Crisis

What does it mean to get one year older
And reflect back on the time that was spent?
Did I take my life and live it bolder,
Or do I ponder on where my time went?
Did I hold the moments worth savoring,
And pack them away to define my life?
Instead, did I linger on harboring
On harder times that brought nothing but strife?
There’s a lesson learned as I continue
To stroll down the path I laid before me,
That as a younger man, I never knew,
Is the way to make life worthy to see.
Life is a collection of memories,
And it’s better to pick the ones that please.

The Holidays in Thailand

Thailand is definitely a Buddhist country. Yes, there are hints of other religions represented in this country, but most of the citizens give their faith over to the man under the bodhi tree. The image of Buddha is everywhere and might even be more prevalent than images of Christianity in America. I like to point this out because it has come to me as quite the surprise when the Christmas season came around and I saw all of the decorations that were being brought out to prepare the people of Bangkok for this great holiday.

It is weird to see how much the people in Bangkok really get into Christmas. They obviously do not celebrate it for the same reason that many Christians supposedly celebrate the holiday, but they like the idea of giving each other presents and getting together at the end of the day to have a meal with their family. It does not matter what religion it comes from, it just matters that it gives them another reason to celebrate.

Of course, the Thai people put their own little spin on it. I still have run across the usual snowflakes, and pictures of Santa Claus. They have even brought out the big fake plastic pine trees to decorate them with lights and little baubles, but they have also added a menagerie of animals all painted in pastel colors that I do not usually associate with Christmas, but it does not really matter because it is still festive in its own special way.

I am not really sure I know why it happens out in Thailand. It could be that the companies like to promote the holiday to pack people into the malls so they can make a little extra money, or maybe it is there to respect the cultures of other countries around the world. It could be a combination of both of these things, but I think the real reason is that they just want to celebrate, and this gives them a reason to do so. It is a lesson that the rest of the world could learn from. Does it really matter why we celebrate Christmas anymore, or is it more important that we do celebrate? Should we discourage other cultures because they do not celebrate the same holiday that we do, or should we join them in their celebration? It might mean that we might get fatigued by celebrating too often, but in the long run is anybody ever really sad when they celebrate these holidays? We might be a happier world because of it.

I know it is the beginning of the holiday season, and no matter holiday you celebrate, I hope you have a happy one, but please take the time wish everybody else the same thing. Share in that kind of joy.

Traffic – Downtown Bangkok

Traffic coming into downtown on Sukhimvit Road on a Friday night.

Bangkok has become one of the premiere destinations in the world to go on vacation to. It is a big, exciting city with many cultural sites worth visiting, and a lot of great food to experience. Once you get to the downtown area, it is a lot of fun to travel to all of the spots and to enjoy the nightlife. As a city, it is constantly growing, and because of this, there are more and more vehicles on the road. The city did not really plan in advance for this kind of growth, and because of this, a trip downtown on a Friday night could turn into a nightmare stuck in the backseat of a cab. The traffic jams that happen in this part of Thailand make moving from one place to another almost impossible, and it is the biggest headache that this city has to offer.

One of the many klongs that can be found in Bangkok. This is another option for getting around downtown.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that Bangkok is an old city that was designed with canals, or klongs, that would be used to transport people from one place to another. They are still in use today, and if you go down to certain spots, you are still able to catch a water-taxi that can take you to many of the sights that you will want to see. It is part of the appeal of this big city, and part of its charm. It is not the fastest way to get around normally, but during the snarl of rush hour traffic on a Friday, it could save a person an hour of time that could be spent doing something more productive like eating pad thai or have a drink with friends.

The Jim Thompson house, one of Bangkok’s many sights and is easily accessible from a klong, or the BTS.

Bangkok is doing a lot to modernize the city so it allows visitors to get around more freely, but they are still in the process of making this happen and it has not quite been completed yet. They have two line of elevated trains that are called the BTS, and yes, they are the original BTS, not the boy band from Korea. It will take you to many of the bigger sights, but it is situated only in the downtown area, and has not made it out to the suburbs yet. They are working on bringing the line all the way down to Min Buri right now, but until it is completed, it is just causing the road that it follows to be a bigger mess than it usually is. They also have two subway trains that will take you to many more locations. The only problem is the BTS and the subway system are owned by two different companies which makes transfers between the two a little difficult. Despite this small problem, it is helping with the congestion problem in Bangkok, and taking the BTS is a great way of getting a bird’s eye view of the city while traveling from place to place.

The sun setting over Bangkok from the view of one of the many rooftop bars in town.

Bangkok is a great city that blends old Siam culture together with the conveniences of modern times. It is going through some growing pains right now as it tries to figure out all of the intricacies to put it on the map as one of the greatest destination cities in the world, and even though the traffic is its biggest problem, it should not discourage people from coming out here and enjoying everything that it has to offer. If you do, just make sure that you understand that you will not always get around as fast as you would hope, and a little patience is in order.