First Expat Christmas

Let’s first start with a new-to-me word:

Expatriate: (noun) often shortened to expat; A person who lives outside their native country.
I had never heard this word before moving to England. And based on our patriotic-ness, I definitely thought it referred only to Americans. Yes, I know that I am typical American, where everything literally revolves around us. I am wrong; the world doesn’t revolve around Americans. Because I lived in Nebraska for almost 30 years and never truly adventured too far from home, I never thought globally before moving abroad or adventuring away from home. I’m still learning about new cultures, foods, and words.

Now it is firmly the summer months in England, where the weather varies week-to-week or day-to-day. The temperature ranges from roughly 50°F (10°C) to nearly 90°F (32°C). The sun is either out in full-force or hiding behind a blanket of clouds. Yesterday was a new one for us: it literally rained all day.

A few weeks ago when the sun was always around (from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.), I had some nostalgia for winter! When the sun is never really out but the mood is bright and warm; full of holiday festivals and welcoming pubs. Winter, but specifically Christmas time, always warms my heart regardless of the temperature outside.

However, this past Christmas was difficult for me. At the time, we had only lived in the UK for 6 months, and I had only been at my job for 5. I felt like I couldn’t ask to take more than a few days off work to go home for Christmas. Any time less than a week just isn’t worth the cost of the plane tickets nor the intense jet lag. And to be honest, El also couldn’t take that kind of time off work. Instead, we made the best of our time over here! We put up the [fake] Christmas tree that sprinkles needles everywhere, adorned it with our favorite ornaments, and blared Christmas classics on Spotify (because Pandora doesn’t work in the UK). After a trip to B&Q (the British version of Home Depot – with the orange aprons and friendly smiles), we decided to use our American lights plugged in a transformer – at the time, we couldn’t justify buying new lights for the tree – they’re so expensive here.
Christmas Tree
O’ Christmas Tree!
In the UK, the winter season comes with Christmas markets and decorations throughout the city and country. Cambridge was beautifully lit up and the daily market and stores had Christmas-themed items. A specific kind of cheese that El now loves made its first appearance, but we learned that it is only available during the winter season. There was also a special Christmas Market Day along Mill Road in Cambridge; the street was closed down for the day and evening, vendors were outdoors  on the street selling everything from decorations to gift items, antiques to clothing, and of course food and drinks were available everywhere. Just thinking about the mulled wine that was available makes me almost wish for winter Christmas to return soon. But could I please request a bit more sunshine during winter this year?
Let’s discuss what mulled wine is exactly. First of all, when said aloud it sort of sounds like you’re saying “mold wine.” I promise it isn’t moldy at all! Composed of red wine, sugar, orange juice, and seasonal spices (e.g., cinnamon, star anise, and cloves), mulled wine is another reason, or maybe THE reason, that I can’t wait for Christmas this year. It’s warm and spicy, cozy and spirited! Some recipes I’ve seen call for the addition of bay leaves and brandy. I think it is just wonderful, especially on cold, dark, rainy days. One of my co-workers even has spice bags (think tea bags) that she used to prepare homemade mulled wine while we baked Christmas cookies for our workplace. I also learned how to say Merry Christmas in German from another co-worker and found imported Christmas tins of cookies and liquor that could possibly help me get through a British winter.
Christmas cookies, German: Merry Christmas, Spice sachet, Christmas goodies at Lakenheath Commissary, German Apple Liquor
Christmas cookies, Merry Christmas (in German), spice sachet, imported Christmas goodies, German Apple Liquor
I partook in a ladies-only trip down to London to explore the Christmas Markets. We visited the markets in Hyde Park and near the Tate Modern Museum. More mulled wine. More food. More Christmas goodies and gifts. Next year, I wish to visit Christmas Markets in both Germany and in other parts of the UK besides Cambridge and London.
Hyde Park Christmas Market
Hyde Park Christmas Market
El and I also had to make other tough decisions regarding celebrating Christmas. Both of our workplaces had fancy Christmas Parties, which happened to be on the same night, so we compromised. We chose to attend the Postdocs Of Cambridge (PdOC) Society’s Christmas Party this year; next year we will attend El’s work Christmas party. The Christmas Party for the PdOC was held at St. John’s College, one of the 31 colleges associated with the University of Cambridge. There were drinks, speeches, Christmas crackers, and a fancy dinner in the formal hall that made me think we were in a Harry Potter film. The dining hall was decorated for Christmas, complete with a gigantic Christmas tree.
At our first British Christmas Party.
We took a short holiday just after Christmas. There are so many choices of where to go and what to see, but we opted for going skiing in the southern part of Germany. We made our travel plans very simple; we flew from Stansted Airport to München (Munich) then hopped on a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Neither of us speak much German (please and thank get you far though in any language). We found that traveling to, from, and within Germany easy to figure out and extremely on schedule.
Mountain view from lunch
Oh, the Alps! The view from one of the ski slopes.
Jen mountain top post lunch 2
Lunch on the ski slopes.
Kindergarten 2
Learning on the “Kingergarten” slope.

Prior to this ski trip, El and I had only ever skied once. In Iowa. For those of you keeping track, Mt Crescent, Iowa is not a mountain range. It is barely a bunny hill. Let’s just say that the ski instructions in Garmish-Partenkirchen were well worth the money spent. We skied for several days at Zugspitze on the Garmisch-Classic. We picked up the sport quickly and have plans to return! El has even proclaimed that skiing is his new favorite sport. By the end of a ski-cation (our fourth day of the trip), El went down the face of the entire mountain with our ski instructor, Jon-O. I gleefully took the ski lift down the mountain with my eyes tightly shut most of the way down, humming songs to myself to preoccupy my brain. Heights are scary for me. And I was alone in the cable car with no one to distract me.

Jen and El skiing
Selfie on the slopes

We were told that our timing for our vacation was impeccable. The schools would be starting on our second day on the slopes, so the ski lifts would be relatively empty. They couldn’t be more right! On that second day, the weather was perfect and there were very few people on the mountain. It was blissful. Being able to see the whole town and Munich from the ski slopes and lift was priceless. The next time we go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we’ll try to stay for a full week and book it just after kids are back in school.

I can see for miles!
I can see for miles!

After the ski-cation was over, the rest of the time we spent in München. We stayed near the Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt in a wonderful bed and breakfast. The lady who ran the B&B was so inviting and made some of the best breakfast platters on our travel adventures so far. If you’re ever in the München area, contact us and we’ll give you the name of this cute B&B.

In München, we did plenty without having a real agenda or itinerary. This El’s style of vacation, not mine. However, we agreed to it prior to going, so I made due without knowing where we’d be going (wherever the wind blew us that day), what we’d be doing, or when (and what) we’d be eating that day. Overall, it was great! Even without knowing, we essentially saw most of the city. The first night we were in München, we stopped by the Haufbrähaus for an “obligatory” brezeln und biers (pretzels and beer).

The outside of Haufbrahaus.
The outside of Haufbrahaus.

We also toured the Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace) and strolled through the Englicsher Garten (English Garden) complete with watching crazy surfers on the river.

Nymphenburg Palace
Nymphenburg Palace

We also toured the Residenz München (Munich Residence) and Neus Rathaus (New Town Hall) – with the Glockenspiel am Rathausturm. We climbed the tower of St. Peter’s Church to get a bird’s eye view of the Glockenspiel and plaza.

Inside the Neus Rathaus, there is an American stained glass window.
Inside the Neus Rathaus, there is an American stained glass window.
Bird's eye view of Neus Rathaus.
Bird’s eye view of Neus Rathaus.
I smiling even though terrified.
I’m smiling even though I’m terrified.

We also visited München’s Botanical Gardens and ventured over to the BMW Museum and Welt. Somehow, Elliott was able to talk me into going up the Olympic Tower in the Olympiapark. The top of the Tower a great view of the city and the stadium while having some really awesome pictures and signatures from famous artists.

The view from the Olympia Tower.
The view from the Olympia Tower.
How far is Garmisch?
Olympia Tower at dusk.
Olympia Tower at dusk.
BMW Welt.
Outside the BMW Museum and Welt.

Dear Santa,
Below is my Christmas list for this year. I promise that I’m on the nice list!
1. A real Christmas tree to decorate
2. A week in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to refine my skiing skills
3. Attend Christmas markets in Germany
4. More sunshine during the British winter
5. World peace






2 responses to “First Expat Christmas”

  1. Lynn Avatar

    You’ve somehow made me a bit nostalgic for Christmas in England! I think all this Italian sunshine has fried my memories 🙂

    Funny you post this today, I just booked us a night in Garmisch next month as a stop on our family trip to Legoland Deutschland. Zugspitze is at the top of our to-do list, and I’m even more excited after seeing your photos! Let us know if you make it back to southern Germany this next winter. We’ll be “stuck” in Europe, too.

    1. Jen Avatar

      Lynn – I wasn’t sure I could make you miss the British winter! I’m curious to see what you think of Italian winters and how they differ from English ones.

      Legoland Deutshland? That sounds awesome – I hope your boys will love it there! If you’re looking for a way to burn off steam before going back into the van on your adventurous road trip, there are plenty of hiking trails on Zugspitze. Our ski instructor said that they’re really awesome (he was from Utah, so I trust his opinion), so Garmisch would be a great place to be in the summertime.
      If you’re staying in the resort, we were told in January that “sometime in the near future” they were going to need to close down the pool and hot tub area to fix a large leak in the pool. One night without a pool wouldn’t be terrible, but you may want to inquire about that!

      As for going to Germany in the winter, we’ve tossed around plenty of ideas of what to do while being “stuck” in Europe. I’m hoping for a skiing vacation again, but seeing some sunshine might be more important to us. We both went someplace sunny in February, so we haven’t actually spent the entire winter in England yet. As you know, our schedule is definitely not up to us. And it continues to be busy. We will definitely keep you guys in the loop for our winter plans!

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