“Travel far enough until you meet yourself” is a quote that I never applied to my life before this first European trip. Little did I know, it would become the most influential meanings in my life.
I had seen pictures of gothic churches, ancient city centers and corner bakeries, but I never believed it was something that was missing in my life. I had heard of the romantic weekends in Prague, formal tea time in London and authentic French cuisine, but I did not think all of that would impact me.
On our first winter tour, we met in Christmas crazy Nuremberg, drank some traditional German beer in Munich, traveled to the snow covered Austrian Alps, celebrated the new year on the canals of Venice and ended our journey at the edge of Europe in Nice on the Côte d’Azur.
Arriving in Nuremberg, the December air was crisp, yet foggy, but our hotel (Le Méridien Grand Hotel Nürnberg) was recognizably lit up with thousands of bright lights on the corner of a busy street.
The Christmas markets, which are arguably the best in Germany, were festively decorated in the middle of the town had wooden stands with red and white coverings, and an abundance of sweet and savory smells. We eventually found a stand with traditional Nuremberg sausages a side of sauerkraut. It was scalding hot and almost burnt my lips, but it warmed my stomach and entire body in the 28-degree weather.
The Frauenkirche (women’s church), around the corner from the main holiday market, was stunning inside and out. Walking along different alleyways and small streets, you can find interesting graffiti – like the “Viva El Amor” and soccer field below.
Over the river and across the moat to the medieval Altstadt (old city), I seemed as though I had traveled back in time. We were surrounded by 15-foot handmade walls and beautiful stone arcs that lead to hidden paths.
My most memorable time in Nuremberg was dinner at the Heilig-Geist- Spital, meaning Hospital of the Holy Spirit. It was not at all ghostly nor haunted as it may sound, despite its location on the foggy Pegnitz River.
We walked in for a traditional German meal and walked out with our stomachs full! If the first night’s dinner was this good, I could not wait for the meals in the upcoming days! Before leaving, I walked downstairs to the bathroom in the basement and was in for a treat! Vibrators and condoms? Europeans sure do know how to have fun! I was laughing so hard when my uncle called me into the men’s bathroom to take a look.
Rothenburg ob der tauber
Home to filmings of Harry Potter and inspiration for the original Pinocchio, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most charming, 2-kilometer long town. The name literally means “Red fortress above the Tauber [river].” Every window had natural and handmade decor on the ledge, which is something I have never seen before to this extent. The pine stems were cut and individually placed in the wreaths, baskets and other arrangements. Pinecones, cranberries, various winter flowers and bows filled the one-of-a-kind displays and wooed tourists as they walked by.
We walked passed a few stands and smelled a sweet, doughy treat that we just had to try. They were called “Schneeballenträume,” or snowball dreams. We chose for the chocolate and powdered sugar variety. “Never inhale the powdered sugar” – my mom used to say to me. Yet, it happens every time. They were delicious once I stopped coughing.
Home to the 500-year-old German Beer Purity Law, one of the best soccer teams in the world (FC Bayern München) and a ton of history, Munich is a city you cannot miss.
We arrived at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski on Maximilian Street. The main luxury shopping street was bustling with people during the holiday season. We even managed to run into Mats Hummels – a German national team and 1st Division player! His girlfriend seemed she did not want to help us get a picture, however.
Walking around the Marienplatz area, we saw the gorgeous government buildings, and the world famous Glockenspiel (bell tower). At certain times during the day, the bells ring and a figurine show on the tower is performed. It is traditional, yet unique and proves just how much history is packed in this city. We also found street markets filled fresh fruits, vegetables, traditional German food, thirst-quenching beer and foreign cuisine. It was nearly impossible to not try a few things from each stand (but I was glad we did).
One of my favorite spots in Munich is the English Garden. The Gardens are peaceful and calming all year around, despite that many people complain about its muggy weather, frozen rivers and leafless trees. It is also one of the largest parks in the world, which makes it a natural space for jogging, cycling, frisbee and many other sports.
Below are some pictures of traditional German food – Käsespätzle (egg noodles with cheese), Schnitzel (breaded meat, usually veal), Rotkohl (red cabbage), Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup) and Knödels (potato dumplings). My favorite German restaurant is the Spatenhaus in Munich. They have elegant dining upstairs and more traditional downstairs area, both with separate menus. Make your reservation downstairs. The 2nd-floor menu prices are higher, however, the offerings are almost identical. It’s more fun downstairs anyway!
We stayed at the Hotel Altstadt directly on the Salzach River. Arriving at night, we had no idea of the breathtaking views we had of the entire region. I opened the curtains in the morning only to gaze onto the 7,000-feet high, snow covered Untersberg mountains.
Starting with a bit of sightseeing, we took a ride up to the Hohensalzburg fortress on the hill. Taking the tram was a bit scary because it was so steep (you can see it on the website above). When we arrived at the top, there were still holiday decorations surrounding the fortress walls.
We had to walk around for a few minutes before we came to the highlight of the small trip, but the almost 360-degree view of the area was the ultimate surprise. It was a clear, sunny day and you could see as far as your eyes could take you. It was absolutely stunning. We felt like we were on top of the world while eating at the Panorama Fortress restaurant. You can see in the picture below, we were eating while gazing upon the gorgeous view.
Salzburg also had its fair share of holiday spirit and Christmas stands. My favorite, though, that was unlike anything I have ever eaten before was the Salzburger Nockerl. It can basically be compared to a French soufflé, but it is 4 times the size and served on a large plate, as you can see in the picture below. My uncle and I decided to split the dish and could barely believe our eyes when the waitress brought it on the table. It was light and fluffy, sweet and not overpowering, and topped with powdered sugar. It melted in my mouth and I wish I had not eaten so much that day, so I could have finished it!
Traveling to Kitzbühel was my first time driving in heavy snow in Germany. The pictures below are amazingly not filtered. The fog lingering at the mountain’s midpoint and the trees perfectly covered in snow were enough for a Hallmark card.
Granted I had lived only in Cloppenburg in northern Germany for 1 year until this point, I had never experienced such a winter wonderland as I did in these Austrian Alps. The small mountain town was filled with skiers, snowboarders, families, seasonal workers and pets along for the ride. There is world class cuisine, people and sports. It was definitely not your average American mountain resort.
Traveling in the U.S., people are usually notified of changes, barricades, detours, blocks or any other event. On the drive to Venice, we came across what seemed like a gate or a bridge leading to something. Not being able to drive around it, we got out of the car and read the sign for any instructions or hints. “Last service 3:00pm” read the sign; it was 2:20. If we had elected to stop and grab a quick bite or coffee along the way, we would have been stuck on one side of the mountains and completely unable to cross and reach our destination. Luck was on our side for a moment and we happened to catch the last train on the last day before the storm.
This is one places I would love to visit again. The atmosphere in Venice is unlike any other city by the water and there are so many places I have yet to explore!
Throughout the canal-filled city, there were also tons of restaurants and shops. I was really surprised to learn that hosts wait outside the door in Italy and ask you to come in. Sometimes, they are warm and inviting, but others are insulted when you stop to look at the menu and decide not to enter. Every other corner was filled with bakeries or gelato stores. My favorites were the handmade chocolate custard eclairs and mint ice cream made from the best gelato makers.
We did not go on a gondola ride, but other tourists looked quite comfortable as they got a tour of Venice while swaying back and forth in the water. The gondola drivers really do wear striped shirts!
Celebrating New Year’s Eve at San Marco’s Square with thousands of people was an energetic experience. There was a concert, dancers with masks and tons of other unofficial sideshows. We were smart and lined up for our gondola back to the hotel a few minutes before midnight. As we left, the line was about 50 people long! I could not have imagined staying outside in the wind and cold.
Before our last stop in Nice, we made a few pit stops in Parma, Bologna, Portofino and San Remo. Driving along Italy’s rocky edge while peering onto the indigo blue water is a must-do experience! You can see in the picture that the buildings are right on the water. During the summer, I can only imagine having Italian food and wine at a table on the dock watching the sunset with the one you love. On the bucket list – check.
Arriving in Nice had a special meaning for me – it was the first time I could meet our loving cousins from France! I was so excited to meet more family.
We always start the day with Boulangerie Patisserie chez Maître Pierre, our favorite bakery on Rue Massena. On this first trip, I had a lemon tea, egg croissant, cream pie and a traditional pissaladière. Usually, a pissaladière is a deep dish pizza-like dish, topped with caramelized onions, sardines (I give them to my uncle) and olives. This bakery makes a thin crust version, which I love.
Our favorite hotel – Hotel West End – is located directly on the Promenade des Anglais and overlooks the sea. We are literally a few blocks from the center of town and can walk to any market, shop, art gallery or, more importantly, restaurant.
Walking in the middle of Rue Massena is energizing and fun. Restaurants with outside seating and a variety of shops fill both sides of the street. There are countless international travelers and families, which makes visiting this city exciting and adventurous. A yearly city festival was going on when we arrived. It was complete with a Ferris wheel, food stands and handmade crafts from the local artists.
A trip to Nice would not be complete without a family dinner at our cousin’s house. They always pull out the fine china and scrumptious French meals when we stop by!
Part of our day trips included discovering Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Yes, this is the place with those magical herbs and you are right! I got myself a huge 1-pound bag before we left!
Entering the village on top of the mountains, one could tell it had more of a summer vibe, with outdoor restaurants overlooking the sea.
It was also my first time trying a macaroon and I immediately became addicted. They do not taste like they look. They are dense, sweet and flavorful morsels of goodness. I tried the chocolate and rose flavors, but the latter has and probably always will be my favorite.
Our trip to the Fondation Maeght was an inspiration and opportunity for me to open my mind to new ideas. I admit I did not have a big art or history soul until after I reflected on the experience here. It was definitely not your average painting-on-the-wall museum. There were intricate sculptures, forms, art you could physically immerse yourself in and many others. I loved the 3D art the most!
Taking off at 8am, but only after a trip to our favorite bakery, we decided to take a small detour to Lake Como on our journey back to Frankfurt airport. The 3rd largest Italian lake and home to many famous and historical villas, Lake Como is a picturesque area to relax and enjoy the scenery. I remember seeing many shots of this lake in movies, but I never imagined its beauty to be quite what it was. The 12-foot wide paved road we drove on seemed to go on for days. 2 hours after entering the area, we arrived in Bellagio – a small, lakeside town that had delicious gelato and names itself the pearl of Lake Como.
Getting to the hotel parking garage at 1:15am, my aunt, uncle and I were exhausted. We had traveled to 21 cities in 14 days, had tried all the holiday snacks we could fit in our stomachs and seen enough European architecture to last a year (until the next trip anyway).
I love exploring new cities and taking in the sights, sounds and foreign air. There are amazing places in the world – you just have to find them! I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes: