L.L. Diamond

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Yes, I wanted to go to Brighton, but I didn’t need to spend several days, so we decided to make a day of it and take the train. I noticed something was up on the train and in true me fashion, I happened to plan the day in Brighton on probably the busiest day in Brighton–the day of the Pride parade.

 

Photo by: Derren Hodson

Nothing like being in the middle of millions of people for a sightseeing trip. 😉

Upon arrival, we were shunted through down the main thoroughfare from the station toward the beaches. We didn’t walk around town since it was packed, but made our way down to Brighton Pier, which was only just opening. The pier was originally constructed in 1822 and opened in 1823 as a chain pier, but was repurposed in 1866 as a pleasure attraction, which it still is today.

We walked around and took a long look around, sat down for coffee and a snack, and the kids rode a ride. The weather was lovely that day, so we spread a picnic blanket we brought on the beach and relaxed for a while.

The children wanted to go into Sea Life Aquarium, so we paid a pretty penny for admission. The old building is very interesting, however, I didn’t find the aquarium all that impressive, but I can’t help to compare it to Monterey Bay Aquarium and the aquarium exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.

When we left the aquarium, we navigated through a closed part of the beachfront north to the Royal Pavilion, which was not nearly as busy as everything around it. The Royal Pavilion was originally a farmhouse acquired by the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1786. He had it enlarged over the next eight years and purchased land around it.

When George IV was king, he had John Nash redesign the pavilion making it into what it is today. While it appears of Islamic influence on the outside, the inside is very Asian, more specifically, Chinese with the dragons and artwork displayed, keeping with the fascination with the foreign found in Regency times.

After George IV’s death, Queen Victoria disliked Brighton, and according to the infographics in the pavilion, disliked the overly ostentatious decor. She intended to do away with the building and even pulled furniture and artwork from the building which were later restored as possible.

The pavilion is a bit overwhelming in its grandeur and overblown style, but it’s a fascinating place to see. The ceilings and the ornate style were different than most old homes, making it a novelty of sorts. The dining room is definitely a must see with its palm frond and dragon chandelier.

If you travel to see the Royal Pavilion, please keep in mind that you cannot take photographs inside the building. I’m adding John Nash’s artwork of the Pavilion for you to get an idea. You can even see how ornate the stables were with the glass ceilings.

After touring the pavilion, we headed to a place I’d seen online called BeFries. Basically, they serve nothing but double cooked chips with a selection of sauces. I was crazy hungry and they were amazing so it didn’t take long to polish off a large with garlic mayo and frites sauce among my selections for sauces.

We thought to go to the beach until our departing train, but the parade was over by that time and everyone was waiting around for the Kylie Minogue concert later–on the beach of course. By that time, we were pretty tired. The train station allowed us to board a train early and make our way home.

 

Next . . . Wicked in London

 

Sources:
https://www.expertskiphire.co.uk/brighton-pier-history-facts

One thing I love about the United Kingdom is that most of the museums are free, and this includes the National Gallery and the Tate Modern. While the subject matter of both galleries slightly overlaps, the focus of each is very different with the National Gallery displaying art from the beginning of what we define as art to modern times while the Tate focuses on strictly contemporary art.

The National Gallery sits at the head of Trafalgar Square in a grand Palladian style building. The interior is just as beautiful as much of what is housed in it with marble columns and floors throughout parts. While not nearly as large as the Louvre, it is still a huge building with a great deal of artwork. We walked through looking at everything and then backtracked, asking those who worked there about specific pieces we’d missed.

On occasion certain rooms tend to be closed, which happened the first time I went to the National Gallery. Instead, we toured the portrait gallery that day instead.

The Tate Modern sits on the Southbank side of the Thames just in front of Millennium Bridge. If you’ve seen Mission Impossible: Fallout, Henry Cavill crosses Millennium Bridge and goes through a door (That doesn’t exist in real life by the way. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble!) in the tower of the Tate Modern and meets a helicopter at the top. There’s even YouTube footage of Tom Cruise being hoisted to the top of the tower for a shot.

 

 

Anyway! Tate Modern houses art dating from the beginning of the 1900s until today. It’s collection is vast and covers so many different genres and political messages. It’s definitely an interesting collection, even if you do not typically care for contemporary art. One of the coolest parts of the Tate was the large floor in Turbine Hall by Tania Bruguera. You take your shoes off and you can make imprints with your hands or feet, but unfortunately, you need a large number of people to reveal what is underneath the flooring that reacts to body heat. While strange sounds emirate from these huge speakers and almost echo through the hall. I wish I could find my photos (I’ll be honest. They’ve disappeared. I’ll post some from my husband’s when I get the chance.) so I have a link to an explanation of the installation.

 

I found my photos from the Tate!

 

Next up: Brighton!

 

So, what do you do when you have a swim meet in Germany on a Saturday and an entire Sunday to kill before a ferry crossing? Spend it in Amsterdam of course!

For this trip, we’d taken the Eurotunnel through France, but we decided to give the overnight ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich, UK a try so we could take a detour to Amsterdam. We researched a place to park where we could somewhat easily walk to the town centre.

Our first stop in Amsterdam was lunch! With three of us requiring gluten free, finding a place to eat in a foreign country is always a crazy experience. Due to a gluten free blog, we found a place called Bagels and Beans. Now, one thing the blog didn’t mention was that while they serve gluten free, it’s very easily contaminated in their small kitchen. At the time, we were hungry and decided to chance it, but it’s always better to know up front whether it’s good for celiacs or not.

From there, we walked the bridges and canals. While I saw an art exhibition I would’ve loved to see, we kept going and enjoyed the walks rather than something indoors since we spent the day before in a huge indoor pool. We did joke around in one of the souvenir shops, looking at the selection of Cannabis candy.

 

Our last stop of the day was Hard Rock Cafe. One thing about traveling Europe gluten free. If you’re in a large enough city and can’t find gluten free, Hard Rock Cafe is an option! We then bought the obligatory t-shirt before we walked back to our car to head for the ferry.

The one thing I found tricky about locating the ferry is there’s no specification for which Stena Line port is which online or when you map it. We ended up at the freight port and had to backtrack about forty minutes to get to the passenger terminal. Thank goodness we always leave some extra time!

Stena Line runs two ferries between Harwich and the Hook of Holland-Stena Britannica and Stena Hollandica. You drive on and park your car. We booked a cabin for the night which had four bunkbeds and would fit five since one is wider than the rest. We checked out the boat and my husband and I ordered a cheese plate (which they had gluten free bread for!) and a bottle of wine at the bar to enjoy before we settled in for the night. We’d boarded about seven o’clock, so we had plenty of time.

I’ve found it a bit difficult to settle in on the boat for the crossing. It’s not that it’s rough but probably that it’s a new place. We pulled into port before six a.m. and my husband was ready to jump in the car and head out, but they off-load the lorries (eighteen wheelers) before the car passengers. Meanwhile, the other passengers eat breakfast.

The ship then plays “Don’t Worry Be Happy” when it reaches time to disembark. It’s definitely not a bad way to travel and we’ve used the ferry since. The second time was for another swim meet in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sightsee for that trip since the competition took up the entire weekend. We did, however, take the ferry in both directions that time. I will say on both occasions, I found the customer service much better on the passage from the Hook of Holland to the UK versus the trip out to the Hook of Holland. The crew was much friendlier and the process when we reached port was simply better.

 

Next up . . . National Gallery London and Tate Modern

 

From Strasbourg, we made the short trek to Reims, our last stop on our Christmas market tour. Upon learning that the Reims area is famous for Champagne and the Champagne houses, we decided to see what all the fuss was about before we checked into our accommodations and set off for the Christmas market.

After researching the local Champagne houses, we decided on Tattinger. I’d read some wonderful reviews of their tour so I went to their website and booked everything there, which was super simple and quick.

We were a bit early for our 1:00pm tour so we found food and snacked before we checked in for the tour. We didn’t wait long before our tour guide appeared to usher us into the first room where we watched a brief video on the history of Tattinger champagne before he led us out and down into the tunnels under the Champagne house.

Reims was once a huge chalk mining town so underneath the city is approximately 200-250 km of tunnels that are now used as wine cellars for Champagne. These tunnels were also used as refuges for the citizens of Reims during the world wars, giving them a place to hide from bombing raids. In WWI alone, nearly 80% of Reims was destroyed by bombs. During the tour, it’s easy to spot graffiti left behind during the wars.

The tour was extremely thorough, teaching the exact process of how Champagne is made and taking us through the different cellars all the way down to the lowest cellars which were chalk mines dating back to the 4th century. These caverns are 60 feet below the surface and are incredible to see. It’s no wonder the caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site since they’re steeped in so much history.

Tattinger Champagne House is also built on the ruins of the St. Nicaise Abbey which originated in the 13th century and still has old staircases and embellishments from that original structure. The monks who lived there also made wine so the site is steeped in history when it comes to the tradition of making wine.

When the tour ended, we enjoyed our glasses of Champagne before we found the flat where we were staying the night. Once we settled in, we walked a mile or so to the town centre for the Christmas market.

Unlike Strasbourg and the German markets, the Reims market wasn’t spread around town but was isolated around the amazing cathedral. After clearing the security checkpoints, we wandered all through and toured the cathedral while we were there. It’s a beautiful Christmas market with lots of wares and great food to sample. The location really made it magical but all of the Christmas markets we visited had their own charm.

We roamed until we were tired and walked back to the flat. The next day we drove to the Eurotunnel and left France behind so we could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day at home. It was a long trip but worth it to see the mixture of European Christmas markets. I want to do it again but maybe not so many in one go! It made for a long trip.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk/discover/weekend-town/reims/cellars-champagne-reims
https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/champagne-caves-wine-cellars-france
https://www.taittinger.com/en/emblematic-sites#saint-nicaise

 

I’m back! Sorry for the interruption in posts but it’s been crazy around here.

After Heidelberg, we drove into France, stopping at a small hotel just outside of Strasbourg. I would’ve loved to stay closer to the town center but finding a place with parking wasn’t possible and we learned why when we walked into the town center that evening.

Now, I’ve studied French but my speaking is weak compared to reading and I had several different reactions to my attempts at trying to speak. The first was when we checked in to the hotel at 3:00 in the afternoon and I said, “Bonjour” only to receive a crabby “Bonsoir!” in return. Fortunately, most of my attempts were more politely taken 🙂

Once we were settled in, we walked out to the Tram station just in front of our hotel, bought tickets, and boarded when the next train came to the platform. A nice gentleman pointed us in the right direction when we reached the town center and we followed his directions. We knew we’d headed in the correct direction when we came to security posted around the middle of town.

Strasbourg had been the site of the terrorist attack this past Christmas and we had to let them look in our purses/handbags as well as open our coats before we were allowed past.

I do feel that Strasbourg is one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets we visited. The atmosphere around the various markets, the Baccarat crystal chandeliers hanging down the middle of one of the streets, and the cathedral all make the place rather magical. It’s just a neat place. I’d love to go again just to take in the ambience of the town. I think the only thing that could’ve made it better was snow!

Unfortunately, my attempts at photos of the chandeliers didn’t come out well at all. If you’d like to see what it’s like, they have some great photos online and here.

We walked around the stalls and ate sauerkraut with sausage and potatoes and drank the different variations of mulled wine. We enjoyed chocolate covered fruit. I had fraise (strawberries) with dark chocolate (noir) and my daughters had strawberries with milk chocolate (lait). This was one of those markets where we grumbled at being celiac because of the amazing bread with melted cheese at some of the booths. It looked amazing. Before the evening was over, I added another Santa to my collection. He had a face not hidden beneath his hat but he was too cute to pass up.

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Our only confusion was trying to find where to catch the return tram to the hotel.

 

Next up . . . Reims!

From Cologne, we drove a short way to Heidelberg. Because of the morning we spent in Cologne, we arrived in Heidelberg close to dinner time and checked in to the small cottage where we would be staying. When searching for accommodations, I found a small Airbnb just up the hill from the town center, which had a forest in the cabin feel and a great view. As much as I loved the space, the climb up the stairs was a workout! You definitely didn’t need the gym when you stayed there! (There are more steps going up that you can’t see in the picture!)

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Heidelberg is a town in western Germany and home to one of Germany’s oldest universities, Heidelberg University (founded in 1386). Located in the Rhine Rift Valley, Heidelberg is surrounded by the Königsstuhl and Gaisberg mountains. Heidelberg is divided into six sections of town, with the Christmas market being located in the Altstadt, or the old town center.

We headed down the hill before it got dark, quickly finding the first section of Christmas market, which was nearly a straight line from where we were staying. Heidelberg is a With the mountains surrounding us and the castle seemingly watching over from the hill across the river, it makes for a scenic and amazing backdrop to the festivities.

We browsed the stalls, drank Gluwhein, and even looked around a comic book store while moving from one square to another. My children wanted to ice skate, but unfortunately, the weather was warmer in Heidelberg than it was in Gothenburg so the ice was slushy so they didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. Kind of a waste of money for the skates since they used them probably 15 minutes and decided they were done.

Heidelberg’s Christmas market is smaller than Cologne, but no less special. Honestly, I preferred it with the smaller crowds and the scenic atmosphere. It had its own magical quality and is not to be missed.

 

Next . . . Strasbourg

 

One of the most interesting parts of traveling Europe is seeing the actual spellings of some towns. I’ve always heard Cologne and never seen the true spelling until we traveled there for the Christmas market. It’s actually Köln and pronounced kœln

My daughter, who takes German, thinks I’m hopeless when I try to pronounce it so I found a video to help 🙂

The trip between Copenhagen (København) and Cologne was about 9 hours but we didn’t let it stop us from exploring. We had a difficult time finding the parking garage next to where we were staying but it was in a tricky, though convenient, spot since it was right beside part of the Christmas market.

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The Cologne Christmas market is spread around the town center and has some of the biggest sections around the amazing Cathedral and was the first that didn’t require admission (Yay!). We also lucked out in that our flat was right across the street from the parking garage as well as the market.

We started with the section closest to us, and let me tell you, it was crowded! We squeezed through revellers and had to push our way through the people standing at the gluhwein stalls for drinks.

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Once you get to Germany, they have a great system for the gluhwein cups. Instead of disposable paper, plastic, or styrofoam, they have commemorative cups. You pay 2 euro for a mug. When you finish your drink, you can either trade it in for another full cup, you can keep it, or you can turn it in to get your 2 euros back. The mugs are also collectible and each featured a different carnival character and a description of them.

While we walked around, we looked at all of the crafts and wares spread out around that section before we caved and went to dinner at Hard Rock Cafe up the road. With 3 of us requiring gluten-free, we didn’t see anything at that moment we could eat. Fairs are difficult for us anyway so we went with the safe bet but that always means we spend a fortune on t-shirts, too.

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My purchase from Cologne – A lotus flower candle holder

After dinner, we returned to the Christmas market and explored a bit further toward the cathedral until the market closed down. That was when we found skewered meat that was awesome. I’ll be honest that we didn’t take the time to learn what it was really called because it was so nice to be able to eat something at a street vendor. Our favorite was schwein or pork, though little did we know we were supposed to take bread with it.

The next morning, we explored the cathedral, which began construction in 1248 but wasn’t completed until 1880.  The gothic cathedral is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the world’s tallest building until 1884.

After touring the amazing cathedral, we found the Christmas market stalls opening for the day and had more “meat on a stick” and explored until we needed to hit the road for our next town and Christmas market.

 

Up next . . . Heidelberg!

 

The drive to Denmark had been rainy and sometimes had a little snow but we made it in the early evening to our hostel. This hostel was a good bit different from the first. The rooms were considerably smaller and my children described our beds as eggs. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but I did like having the extra room of the first hostel but we were only there one night.

The hostel staff informed us that there were three Christmas markets within walking distance. We found the closest, which like Gothenberg, appeared to be in another amusement park, and also charged an admission. Unfortunately, the entry was once again rather costly and didn’t include any rides. img_5915

The Santas I’d so loved in Sweden changed in Denmark, having more of their faces showing than Sweden. I wasn’t as big of a fan of them as the ones in Sweden, but I did love some of the Christmas ornaments I found along the way and purchased a few of those instead of Santas. The toadstools were a common ornament we found and I thought they were really cute. My husband wasn’t too sure, but I bought them anyway 😉

We walked the stalls and enjoyed Gluhwein and Grog, which was still lovely, though contained alcohol since we were no longer in Sweden. The atmosphere was beautiful with the flocked trees and Christmas lights. I think we walked the entire market just to see everything. The only drawback was somehow one of my daughters got flocking all in her coat. When we returned to the hostel, it ended up all over the floor and my bed since she had the bunk over mine.

We did go to bed a bit early since our longest drive of the trip was the next day and we needed to get an early start. Nine hours and one ferry ride between Denmark and Germany would get us to Cologne and an entirely different Christmas Market Experience.

 

Next . . . Cologne, Germany

 

 

When most people think of Sweden, they probably think of Oslo, but we took the opportunity to travel to Gothenberg for the start of our Christmas market road trip. Honestly, we didn’t see much of the town center since we flew in, traveled to our hostel, went to the Christmas market, picked up a car, and started our drive to Copenhagen for the next Christmas market—all in 24 hours.

We stayed at the Spoton Sports Bar and Hostel, which was my first hostel experience, but a good one. Our room was a generous size, clean, and comfortable. We ate lunch at the sports bar downstairs, which had great gluten free pizza. The best part of the hostel’s location was the proximity to the Christmas market. It was practically across the street!

My husband had experience with the Christmas markets in Germany, but Gothenberg’s was totally different from those. Instead of being spread around in the town center, this Christmas market was held in an amusement park that’s normally shut down for the winter, but reopens for the Christmas markets every year. Unfortunately, that meant an entrance fee on top of paying for rides, ice skating, food, and whatever fun goodies we found while wandering around.

 

Sweden wasn’t as cold as I expected that evening, but we didn’t do the rides since it would only make the cold weather colder. The temperature also dropped during the evening and the rides would have only become more unpleasant. Instead, we drank hot chocolate, coffee, and glog (In Sweden, it was a warm mulled berry juice) while we browsed the different shops and stalls and the children ice skated (tried to ice skate really).

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One of my favorite parts of Gothenberg’s Christmas market was what we originally thought were gnomes. They were so cute everywhere and no one bothered to correct me until I bought this little candle holder and the shop owner told us those were Santas. Oops! I’m not sure why there would be a circle of Santas around a candle, but I still couldn’t resist buying one!

 

Overall, the Gothenberg Christmas market is beautiful and amazing to walk around, though quite expensive because of the entrance. My husband estimated that we spent almost $100 just to go in. It’s not terribly crowded though and was a lovely experience.

The next morning, we ate breakfast downstairs at the hostel before we picked up our car and started the rainy and sometimes snowy drive to Copenhagen. I wish the weather had been better. We drove through a good bit of rain and snow along the drive, but the scenery was beautiful.

From Gothenberg, the trip to Copenhagen took about 4 hours and included a short ferry ride. There is a bridge to Denmark, but we would’ve had to drive another hour south to Malmo before crossing and would’ve been a much longer trip.

 

Next up: Copenhagen!

This year, we decided to explore the European Christmas markets. We started Thanksgiving weekend in Brugge. We traveled to Brugge for a swim event, but in the days leading up to the meet, we had a great time wandering around Brugge. We’d only been once before for an hour or two and really hadn’t been able to do much exploring.

We stayed just outside of the town center, so it was an easy walk to everything we planned to see. The Christmas market was spread out over several squares filled with stalls that housed everything from wares, to food, to gluwhein, seasonal mulled wine, and other alcohol. Unfortunately, they used styrofoam cups for the gluwhein and didn’t have collectible mugs like the Christmas markets in Germany, but it was still good stuff!

We browsed the stalls for two days as well as walked the streets and visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is said to hold the blood of Jesus that was gathered at his crucifixion. The tour is free and you can go through the chapel downstairs as well as the upstairs church and view the Holy Blood that is under glass.

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Basilica of the Holy Blood

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