The past few months have flown by so quickly, and although we have more photos of trips and adventures that we want to share, we thought it would be a good idea to write a month-in-review for the past few months we’ve been living on two continents.
November is the start of planning season at my job, and Manuel’s project was in full swing, so we both had our hands full with work. Whereas I was working 60-80 hours a week at the same desk every day, Manuel had a trip to Shenyang, China where he was treated to balmy Northern Chinese temperatures that dipped to -20C every night.
Meanwhile in more-temperate South Carolina, I celebrated Thanksgiving with family and neighbors, and met up with two of my bridesmaids for another celebration later in the day.
The rest of November and December flew by in a whirlwind of work and school. I had a hectic month-end closing the first week of December, wrote my final exam for Advanced Financial Topics the second week of December, and had a round of presentations due the third week. Manuel kept my spirits high by sending lots of encouragement and some gorgeous photos of Aschaffenburg, Germany, where he spends some of his work-weeks.
Somehow in the middle of all that, Mum and I managed to go shopping and snag a wedding dress. I was more than happy to scratch that off the to-do list. And then on the 21st of December, I left work early, drove to Charlotte, and got on a plane to go visit Manuel. For our grand European Christmas vacation of 2014, we were fortunate to visit Paris and Amsterdam; however, this year we decided to spend more time in his village near Cologne. It gave us more time with his family and friends, but also gave me a chance to visit the venue for our wedding (and try some of the restaurant food!), and afforded us the chance to meet with the coordinator, florist, and bakery. Manuel has done almost all the legwork on planning, but it was nice to make some of the smaller decisions together while we were both in the same place.
Since I arrived in advance of the Christmas holidays, this year was my first experience with a German Christmas Market (complete with sweets and mulled wine). It was also my first experience with the way the entire country shuts down for a few days to celebrate the holiday. The concept of nearly every store and business and grocery store (and most restaurants) being closed for 2-3 days completely baffles my North American mindset. We decided to use the Annual German Christmas Shutdown as a reason to go explore a country that doesn’t close for the holidays – Belgium. We spent part of a day exploring the Old City of Brussels, and then headed on to Bruges.
Belgium is not a country that messes around, y’all. They’ve had hundreds of years to figure out what they are good at, and they decided to pick 5 things and perfect them: gothic architecture, painting gold on things, lace, beer, and chocolate.
Then the Belgians decided to also make delicious waffles, just to ensure that no one left the country with their waistline intact.
After watching the dark comedy In Bruges, Manuel and I put the city high on our to-visit list. We never anticipated how utterly charming and romantic it would be. It was absolutely gorgeous, far more affordably-priced than similar sized cities in Europe, and offers all the canal tours, beer and cheese tastings, chocolates and architecture anyone’s heart could hope for.
I also tried fondue for the very first time. Obviously it was terrible and I have no idea what everyone raves about, or why everyone and their parents registered for a fondue pot when they got married.
(Just kidding. It was delicious.)
After a few days in Belgium, Manuel and I headed back to Germany. We spent a night in Cologne, where we spent some time touring around the Dom, eating Berliners, and tasting kolsches at Frueh. As my Christmas present, Manuel took me to Hotelux Sovietbar (a Russian restaurant with tons of vegetarian options, and a fond nostalgia for the food I enjoyed when I was studying abroad in St. Petersburg) and we enjoyed a night at the Symphony. We saw an experimental jazz group perform, and it was equal parts amazing and insane (towards the end, I think it was a competition to see who could make the weirdest noises), but thoroughly entertaining.
With New Years’ rapidly approaching, Manuel and I met up with some of our friends at a health spa in Bad Bergzabern to celebrate the end of a wonderful 2015 and welcome in the new year.
One of the best parts of this trip was getting to spend a little time with Manuel’s Oma. I really like her – she’s one of those women who manages to be kind and funny, but you know she’s tough as nails. It’s so interesting for me to hear stories from her about the War, and learn what her life has been like. She cooked a scrumptious Christmas dinner for us (literally one of the best potato salads I’ve had in my life – and that’s a bold statement for someone who lives in South Carolina to make). And one evening, when Manuel and I were over at her house, she told us some of her family’s history and showed us some of the wedding rings that have been in her family going back 3-4 generations.
Unfortunately the arrival of 2016 meant my imminent departure and the end of a wonderful 11 days together. We said some very sad goodbyes, made promises to buy the next plane tickets soon, and then I was wheels up.
Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland!
That takes us to January, which will be an entirely different post. As for now, that’s enough text for poor Manuel to translate into German, and I need to get off the computer and make myself some dinner.