Last year we visited the Christmas markets in Belgium and the Netherlands. While there, we were told that we needed to visit Germany if we really wanted to see Christmas markets. Well, challenge accepted. This year we traveled to Europe over the holidays and would …
In 2017, R and I spent our first Christmas on the road and away from home. As the only single gals in our respective families, traipsing across Europe for Christmas sounded like a fine idea. We love our families, but we are lucky enough to …
For 2017, we opted to try out a European Christmas instead of our usual celebrations. B and I joined together with four more people to take on The Continent during the holiday season. We’ve discussed the importance of keeping a travel journal, so we wanted to show you an example of what one could look like. The following is my travelogue (admittedly, with some stream of consciousness ramblings) from our 2017 European Christmas vacation.
Dad picked up B, M, G and me and drove us to the airport for our Christmas vacation in Europe. We flew first to Seattle, where they were having some sort of problem as planes stacked up on the runway. We never found out what the issue was, but after about 20 minutes of sitting around, we pulled into a gate. Luckily, we were fine because our next flight was delayed (luckily?).
Like me, G has the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card so we could all use the Priority Pass membership that comes along with that card and go into one of the airport lounges. We got some free food and drinks and hung out while we waited. B had made us all adorable plane kits, so we started off the Christmas festivities right by opening presents and eating candy.
Eventually we made it to Amsterdam, met up with P (G’s twin) and Mk (his girlfriend), picked up our rental cars and got out of dodge. We wanted to make sure we declined the insurance at the rental car company so that our credit card would cover the rental insurance. I thought my dutch rental agent and I were getting along swimmingly, but at the end it all fell apart. After some unfortunate miscommunication, we finally handed over the paperwork and he sent us out to the garage.
We got two little cars for the six of us; B and I had a Citroen and the rest of the crew crammed into a car basically the same size, but it ran on diesel. We ended up with some of the crew’s luggage in our backseat since four bags and four people couldn’t fit in one of these babies. It was pretty fun to drive our little Citroen C3 and since we didn’t want to pay extra for an additional driver, I was the designated driver for the whole trip (me a DD—what else is new…).
Ypres, Ieper (aka Wipers)
We first drove to Ypres or Ieper. Something that is fun about this place is that some of the names are in Flemish and some are in French–which makes it a little confusing for tourists. We went with the way the Brits pronounced it, Wipers, since we couldn’t say it the correct way either. Anyway, we got to our first cute medieval town and walked around gawking at the architecture and Christmas decorations, including our first Christmas market. A group of people dressed up like polar bears were walking around playing Lady Gaga on instruments….not sure what that was about but it was festive and a lovely start to our European Christmas!
I dragged everyone here because I wanted to see the In Flanders Field Museum. It was very well done and all about the reasons why WW1 broke out and how it involved the different nations. It was housed in the Laukenhall, or old wool mill. (Funny story about this place: when they used it for wool they used to bring a bunch of cats in in the winter to kill the mice. Then in the spring they threw the cats out the windows and off the roof because they represented the evil spirits… Poor Kitties!) The building was gorgeous and gothic. Throw interesting historical exhibits in there and I was hooked.
It was interesting to learn about the Belgians in particular and how they were affected when the Germans invaded. They really got it bad. We climbed up the 300-ish steps up to the bell tower and got an excellent view of the city before going back to ground level to check out the Menin Gate. This gate has the names of the 35,000 British soldiers whose bodies didn’t make it back home. The gate is very large and powerful looking. On the top there was a field of wood poppies and the first line of the poem, “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow, within the crosses row by row.” It was quite moving and somber. I told B I would limit the amount of depressing historical places we visited, so I crammed most of into our first day.
Somewhere in Flanders
Our next adventure took us to the Tyne Cot cemetery were 12,000 British soldiers were lain to rest. This is the largest British military cemetery in the world. Even though it is so large, we had a hard time finding the place and ended up at another war cemetery first (they are all over the place in Flanders). But there’s no mistaking 12,000 stones lined up. It was getting dark and apparently the guidebook forgot to tell us that it is closed in December and January. Oh well, we could see enough to get the gist.
This is a good time to discuss the limitations of GPS. We have come to really depend on the GPS in our rental cars. Since we didn’t have wifi turned on, we had to rely on the car to get us where we wanted to go. For the most part, one of our cars’ systems would work. We made sure to bring walkie-talkies with us so we could communicate between the cars (and because this is just plain ol’ fun.) The point is, use the tools you are given, but don’t be surprised when they fail you. Part of the fun of travel is adapting to new situations, so just take it easy and figure it out. You’ll be fine.
War memorial tours complete, we then headed up to Bruges and oh my goodness, this town is ridiculous. Everywhere you look is so, so cute and quaint. I really think medieval towns are my favorite. The buildings here go into a point and then go down steps at 90 degree angles and are made mostly of brick. When we arrived I had to drive through downtown amidst all of the tourists on narrow cobblestone roads. The Azores driving definitely prepared me for that moment because it didn’t even phase me.
B had researched beforehand about different parking garages that we had hoped to leave our cars at. Unfortunately, by the time we got to town it was late and people were out celebrating so we had to go to Plan B and find another spot. M decided on street parking. Turns out both our decisions had not entirely successful results, but more on that later. We ended up finding our adorable house (our travel companions stayed the same building just one floor away). This place is perfect and a great place to experience a European Christmas.
We went out to the main square that was currently dressed up as a Christmas Market to find some food. We got some delicious Belgian fries from one stand and two different kinds of waffles from another. There was an ice skating rink in the middle of the city and all sorts of Christmas lights around. This place really is a fairytale. Jet lag soon kicked in though and we headed back to the house. I got about 12 hours sleep and we spent the next day going on a walking tour of Bruges.
There are a bunch of tourists here for the holidays, but we walked through the main town markets, over the canals and into the gothic buildings, all the while avoiding the horses pulling around people on the clippity cloppity cobblestones. Highlights included the Grote Markt and the Begijnhof, which is where B and I would live because it is where semi-religious single women lived and worked. Perfect. The rows of houses really are so cute. They take one giant, long building and you can tell they are different houses because the doors and windows are painted different colors.
There are chocolate shops everywhere, which is glorious. We popped into one, just to keep our energy levels high to be able to continue walking. Then saw some of the famous swans (rumor has it that the Flemish killed a French noble who had a long neck like a swan and their curse was geese would inhabit the city ever after.) We popped into a grocery store to get provisions for tomorrow since the town will be pretty much shut down for Christmas. After lugging it all back to the house we realized there is another grocery store just around the corner. Oh well, it’s good to work off the waffles…and fries…and chocolate.
Our next adventure on Christmas Eve was to get the car and head to the coast. B and I wanted to see the North Sea so we headed east to the town of Oostend. We had a really bad experience at the car garage; we drove up the ramp and realized that the machine didn’t take credit cards. You had to pay before you left the garage. It was awful! Another car came behind us and I was stuck and the gate was closed. B had to go ask them how to pay, run around the corner and pay in a machine before we could leave. So embarrassing. It was a very rookie mistake not to pay attention to things like that and just assume they are the way they are in the U.S. Oops. We made it out, though and headed to the town of Oostend.
Our first impression of the city was not stellar. It looked like any other coastal city with high rise apartments along the water. The beach was really pretty though and we walked through a seafood row and ended up in a Christmas market where we got some croutillions (donut holes) fried before our eyes. On our way back to the car, we found a cool pedestrian road that was lined with shops. Most were closing up but I got some cute Christmas ornaments in one and had a delightful conversation with a lady who ran the shop.
Unfortunately, at this point we realized we were going to be late for our 6:00 p.m. dinner reservation in Bruges and I had to drive like a maniac to get back to the city. It’s fun to drive here; people go really fast and the left lane is only for passing. We pulled into the city in the nick of time and got to the restaurant just at 6 p.m.
Months before we left for this trip we decided we wanted to really splurge on Christmas Eve. B found a restaurant with great reviews and we started emailing Tom and Line months before Christmas so we could make sure we had somewhere special to go. We packed fancy dresses which B and I didn’t get to wear since we had to go straight from the parking garage to the restaurant. The rest of the group looked great though!
Our food was super fancy and the portions were massive. I assumed the more you spend at restaurants the smaller the portions were, but that wasn’t the case here. I got fancy potatoes in a Champagne glass and chateaubriand which was like eating raw meat. Dessert was delicious, an apple tart and or cream and a lemon cello. Basically a glass of lemon/champagne sorbet. The whole experience was great. Looking out the window at Bruges just added to it. We headed home and were pretty tired after all the walking today. I think it is time to head to bed and get ready for a magical Belgium Christmas.
Bruges and Dumpkirk
Christmas Day I woke up and lounged about the apartment and watched people walk around on the busy street below. This apartment really is wonderful. We each have our own room and there is a large living room and kitchen. Airbnb at its finest. After an hour or two of chilling, B and I opened up our presents. She had a Harry Potter theme for me and everything was executed so well. All sorts of fun HP do-dads to go with my stocking her mom had made me. HP themed of course.
We met up with G and M and opened some more presents (mine also HP, ironically). I ate a traditional European breakfast of some baguette and Nutella and we decided since we didn’t really have anything else to do we would visit France. Because… France. B and I knew how to do the parking garages after the debacle the day before and M got a hefty ticket for street parking the night before, so after both cars successfully exited the parking garage we hit the road and drove on down to Dunkirk, France.
It was only an hour or so away, but the towns are miles apart in cuteness. M dubbed it ‘Dumpkirk’ because it wasn’t cute. We were able to find the beach where the soldiers all waited to be rescued so that was very cool, but at soon as we could we got out of dodge.
The next stop was our first visit to a gas station in Holland. I’m not gonna lie, it didn’t go smoothly. We pulled up to the pumps and were overwhelmed by the options of fuel you can pump into your vehicle. There were lots of different abbreviations and colors that we had no idea what they where. At one point, I tried to fill the car up with natural gas, with a nozzle like when you are using a propane tank with your camping gear…fortunately nothing came out. Anyway, after driving to a few pumps, pushing a bunch of buttons, trying all of the credit cards we had, we eventually filled up the cars. It’s a really good thing that these little fellers get excellent gas mileage because I don’t want to repeat this process multiple times this trip.
Once we were back on the road, I didn’t do a very good job of being lead car and ended up losing the team on a roundabout. They took a wrong exit and got lost. I felt really bad.
Eventually they made it back and G, B and I wandered the market before meeting back up for a roast P and G had made. It was so nice getting a lovely home-cooked dinner amidst our vacation. I really appreciated the effort. They had to go to a butcher and buy the meat and to a grocery store for the other stuff and scrounge in the kitchen for utensils. We had a salad in a wok…but it was all so good. For dessert we picked up chocolate covered marshmallows on a waffle that were delicious.
Tomorrow we head to Brussels. Bruges has been wonderful. I would definitely come here again but maybe not during Christmas as it is crazy full of tourists. Next week they will all be gone. I really loved the cobblestone alleys and gabled buildings. The church bells go off pretty much non stop but it adds to the ambiance of the place. I would have loved to have wandered around more—we did a little before dinner and got to wander on some less traveled roads, but I would have loved to have done more. Oh well—I can always come back!
Today we packed up and headed out of Bruges to go to Brussels. We stopped in at Ghent along the way and explored the city for a bit.
We started in Het Gravensteen, an old castle where the count of Ghent used to live. It was really cool to climb up and down the castle stairs and all around. Castles would have been a pretty awful place to live. But I guess in medieval times everywhere would have been awful to live so at least these guys had some space to themselves. The torture room was no good, I feel really sorry for all of those people back then who got tortured. Well, I guess I feel bad for people tortured these days too, but it is just wild to see the metal collars with spikes in them and pit where people used to live strung up with shackles until they eventually died. Rough going back then.
After the castle we headed over to St. Baaf’s Cathedral, at least we tried to. We weren’t really sure where we were headed and so when we got to Cathedral 1 we thought it was it. Nope. Cathedral 2? Nope. Our third guess on a stretch on one road 10 blocks long was the right one.
I don’t get how there were enough people to keep all of those cool churches going and how much money it took to build them. I wanted to go to St. Baaf’s because the Alterpiece the Adoration of the Lamb was there. This three-screened piece of art by Van Eyck is the jewel of Ghent and has a history of being swiped by different people, most recently the Nazis until the Monument Men found it in the salt mines (Thank you, George, Matt and Brad for teaching me that!) It was very pretty, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about art to really get it. We then had some pizza at a cool restaurant next to the castle then hit the road for Brussels.
When we got to Brussels, we experienced some crazy traffic. There was a Santa Fun Run tonight and people were either here for that or for all of the Christmas festivities still going on, I’m not sure, but this place was packed. Our hotel is right by the Grand Place square and we are in the thick of it here. After decompressing from the stressful drive, we headed out to explore. We came across two big Christmas markets where I ate fries, chestnuts and hot chocolate. The chestnuts were not great, but I was so excited to try them out. Roasted on an open fire!
This town really takes Christmas seriously because there are lights everywhere around town strung up and the amazing Grand Place has a choreographed light show on all of the 16th century buildings. So cool! We then went on a quest for the little statue of a boy peeing that for some reason is famous. We had to dodge racing Santa-hatted runners but eventually got there. Pretty lame actually. He was wearing something I didn’t recognize today (I guess visiting dignitaries get to pick out his outfit). Kind of silly. After diving through some more of the racers we got back to our cute hotel. I’m hoping to get some sleep as long as the party going on downstairs doesn’t keep me up!
Today B and I woke up and scampered off to the train station to head for Luxembourg. We decided that since M and G (P and Mk had to catch flights back to the states) didn’t want to go, we would take the train instead of the car since it would be less stressful and more fun for me.
We had a little confusion at the train station (side note: There is a Luxembourg City, Belgium and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. Make sure you know which one you buy tickets to) and when we got in line for tickets the lady was slow and so we figured we would miss the train we wanted. She took her time and then said, “The train is two minutes late, go go!” And so we went went and jumped on, and as soon as we sat down the train pulled out. It was a close one!
The scenery was not really that great as we were leaving Brussels. There was a lot of graffiti and it looked kind of dumpy. After three hours we started to see things tighten up and then we arrived at Luxembourg City.
It is kind of crazy how you can just pass between countries in the EU now. Anyway, we arrived and were a little befuddled. I paid 1.20 Euro to pee in a men’s room at the train station, since the women’s room was locked and then went and asked some nice guy at the info desk how to get to downtown. Luckily, Luxembourg City is very compact and we just had to walk down the road. We found a tourist info center, got a walking tour handout, and proceeded to walked all over this compact capital. Interesting things about Luxembourg:
- Lots of ethnicity, lots of people from Africa (enough that I realized I hadn’t see them in Belgium).
- Very classy old town.
- The royalty are everywhere. Goofy postcards that who knows who would buy with portraits and family photos.
- The guard in front of the palace walked around like the British ones do.
- Everything was expensive. We walked down a row of designer stores and didn’t even bother going into any. Gucci, Louis, Cartier, etc. were all there.
There weren’t many striking differences between Belgium and Luxembourg, so it is no wonder they always get lumped together. I did like crossing the pedestrian bridge under the car bridge and the main Cathedral reminded me of the castle in sleeping beauty.
After three hours we made our way back to the train station and hopped on, hoping it would take us to Belgium. Wish granted. We got back and picked up some food at the corner grocery store and after a brief stroll around went back to the hotel. It was rainy and cold so I don’t feel like we were missing much. Tomorrow we’ll go out in the daylight before we head north to Netherlands.
Today we left Belgium and returned to the Netherlands. I woke up bright and early (read 9:00 a.m.) and headed out to see the city in the daylight. I wandered over to the Grand Place and was treated to the sun making its presence known on some of the gold capped buildings. This plaza really is pretty spectacular. The buildings are unique with styles from different centuries showing up.
Oh, side note: when we were watching the light show here two nights ago we watched some man drop to his knee and ask his woman to marry him. The friend was filming on her phone and we will be forever on that footage cheering and whooping. I hope they’ll be happy.
Anyway, today it was very quiet in the plaza. I then leisurely wandered the area around our hotel and stumbled upon a bakery. I asked for a “croissant avec creme.” She responded in French whether I wanted to partir or ici and I replied partir. The ruse was up when she told me how much it was going to be, I in fact, cannot speak French so she then said in English. “1.45 Euro.” Madame Anderson would be so proud I remembered that much from 20 years ago in Sophomore French!
Overall I enjoyed Belgium. I liked that I could kind of understand the French and just loved the gabled buildings and canals. The people were friendly and the driving was fun. It is really nice how everyone knows the left lane is for passing and they better get out of it if they aren’t actively passing someone. If only U.S. drivers would follow those rules!!! Le sigh.
After gathering up our suitcases, we made our way back to the Citron in the parking garage. I had done a little research into cute towns we might want to stop in on the way to Amsterdam. We chose Delft and I think it was perfect.
This town is one of the cutest I’ve been to. It has canals and such but had great cathedrals also. Delft is famous for blue and white pottery and Johannes Vermeer. We arrived and were charmed by cheap prices at several stores and I picked up some Christmas ornaments and a few pieces of the pottery. We then wandered the farmer’s market and ate and drank at Bagels and Beans. Tasty. It was pretty chilly so we didn’t wander much but we did go across Vermeer’s guild and place where he was born. So cool. Girl with a Pearl Earring spoofs were all over. I just love the canals and cool brick buildings.
We needed to get to Weesp, an outskirt of Amsterdam, where our hotels were. The GPS failed us once more and we got pretty lost doing so. It should not have taken as long as it did, but we eventually drove the wrong way down a one way ramp, got to the edge of a parking lot and stopped in front of a gate that waited until I just about gave up hope of it opening when it finally did. We then drove down some crazy narrow alley for a few miles and ended up in town, thank goodness.
We knew we didn’t want to deal with driving around Amsterdam so we picked an outskirt town with hotels that had free parking. The best ones we could find were in this little town. Weesp is really small but it looks like it is going to be really cute. I’m excited to see it in the daylight. It has canals all over also, so maybe everywhere does and Delft wasn’t that special? Not likely.
Yesterday morning the weather said the wintry mix was going to start at 11 a.m. So we decided to try to get to Amsterdam as early as possible to enjoy it without snow. Our town of Weesp (pronounced Vesp) is a quick, 20-minute train ride from the Central Station. We met there at 9 a.m. and the sun was just starting to come up. It sets at 4:30 p.m. so they really only get about 7-8 hours of daylight in the winter. Yuck.
We got to Amsterdam and starting a walking tour. We saw a few interesting houses and cool canals. But then it got really cold. We made our way to a canal boat tour operator and bought tickets for a tour and waited in a warm cafe until it was time. I ordered Dutch pancakes and they were little puffs of dough and a lot of butter. Delicious, of course.
Our canal tour was great. It was covered and narrated so we learned lots. The houses along the canals can’t be changed on the outside or inside to keep the historical integrity. They are all so cute and tall and skinny with the next one squished in rows. The smallest was only two meters wide! They have windows and use tricks like making the top windows smaller so they appear taller than they are. We noticed they still have those lifting crane things on the top and it turns out they still use them when people move! Crazy that they are using the 17th century technology just as they did back then. Although I bet now they have winches rather than the oxen or whatever they used for the brute force.
The weather started to turn at this point and when we finished it was raining on us. We looked all over for a place to eat and got so freezing cold in the snow and wind. We found a place that made soup that did a good job and after my pumpkin sweet potato soup I was okay going outside again. For a few minutes. Weather like this is definitely the downside of a European Christmas.
We went to the red light district and I saw some ladies of the night offering their wares. So weird! There were tons of people walking around and these girls were just sitting in these little glass boxes staring at us all in their seductive clothes (if they had any at all). People were advertising tickets to a live sex show and there was a big line for a prostitute museum. The whole area felt sad to me. I just felt sorry for those girls in the glass boxes with everyone staring at them. That would be horrible. B saw one guy walk out of one of the doors like it was no big deal. So weird that we all know he just got serviced. At this point, it was really coming down and G and M called it and went back to Weesp.
We pressed on and went to a cafe and got a pot of tea to warm up. When we went out again, I was still miserable after seeing the Van Gogh museum line was outrageously long, so I decided to take a hard pass on it. There was no way I was waiting 1.5 hours in the rain for that! Instead we went to the Modern Art Stedjek museum.
Neither B nor I really like/understand modern art but there were some pieces from the 1800-1900s in the permanent collection so we went for it. And there was no line and we were instantly warm so it was worth the 17 Euro to me right there. It started out rough with stupid (sorry!) modern art pieces, but then it got better. It was interesting because this collection had stuff by Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Chagall, but it also had stuff by women contemporaries, some of whom were their muses or even were doing the techniques before the guys but no one knows about them. Typical. I liked a lady, Suze Robertson. I hope she has shows sometimes. Also interesting is that this museum hid a lot of the art from the Nazis to protect the pieces from their greedy hands. It saved a lot of pieces.
After the museum, we went outside and it was like a different day. The cold, windy rain had stopped and we could walk around without freezing. We went to the I am Amsterdam sign and then headed back to the train station. We were waylaid at a restaurant with a yummy burger and a cook who listened to groovy reggae tunes and danced around and sang. Very Pleasant experience.
We then wandered back to the train station through a cute lit up road with lots of stores and Christmas lights. It is interesting to see the old gabled buildings with McDonald’s or H & Ms in the bottom. I’m glad they can use these so they don’t fall into disrepair. After such a long, cold day I was so happy to make it to the train station and back to our place.
Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer and dryer but we are taking it easy and won’t catch a train back to Amsterdam until later since we have tickets to the Anne Frank House tonight at 8:45 p.m. Hopefully, the rain holds off!
We decided to sleep in a bit and relax after our previous long day. We woke up and explored our town of Weesp a little bit. B had noticed a WW2 monument across the canal from our place so we trudged across the Brug (bridge in Dutch…Bruges, lots of bridges, get it?). The monument was a bust, we didn’t know what we were looking at and it was labeled 1860s, so a little early for WW2. However, it did give us a viewpoint of Weesp and we noticed two windmills pretty close. So we decided to go check them out.
When we walked up to the first one, it was moving around, so cool! Some guy was coming out and climbing on a bike and pointed and said ‘go, it’s okay.’ So we went on up and walked into a moving windmill!
There was a little gift shop and we got some really cute things and some legit pizza meal (we think) that was ground right there. When we were paying the little Dutch ladies working stopped filling up their bags of flour and tried to ring us up. They were pretty old and the cash register computer seemed a bit much for them, but they eventually got it. They gestured we could go up the stairs/ladder thing and check out the mill. Up we went two flights and watched as the belts spun around and ground up something. It was so loud but so, so cool!
Then, to top it off, some guy who worked there scampered up to get something and we noticed he was wearing the wood clog shoes! How perfect! We had bought some bread so we swung into the grocery store and picked up some cheese to make sandwiches before we went into Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, Part Deux
Luckily the rain held off for the most part the rest of the day and it was a good 20 degrees warmer than it was the day before. We wandered all over the old town of Amsterdam back and forth between the small cobblestone streets and canals. We hit up a few bike stores and I got two new bells and a bike bag and some lights. I also took away a vow to bike around more like the Dutch. It is crazy how they just cruise along and pedestrians have to watch out for them. They even have little bike lanes with little bike stop lights.
We visited the Dutch Begijnhof, which, like the Belgian one, was a place for single women who didn’t want to be nuns went to live. B and I would totally fit in there, so I felt an affinity to it. I really learned to appreciate Amsterdam this day, since the day before was touch and go because I was so miserable in the weather. But it really improved and was really fun to walk all around and look and what was going down. I still don’t like the red light stuff—it is so depressing to see poor women and gross men. Bleh.
G and M met up with us and we popped into an Irish pub for dinner before our time at the Anne Frank House museum. Note to future visitors of Amsterdam: you MUST buy your tickets to the Anne Frank House museum on line and well before your trip. They sell out super fast. Dinner was good and as we walked to the museum in the dark we enjoyed taking peeks into people’s houses on the upper floors of the cool houses since their lights were on and it was dark outside. I can’t imagine living there—and probably would never be able to since it would be so expensive.
The Anne Frank house was really moving. They lead you through the part of the building that was Otto Frank’s pectin factory and you learn about the situation and the people involved. Then you go through the secret passageway—a false bookcase and then you are in their living quarters. I can’t imagine living like that for two years. They had to be so quiet during the day and never go outside for two years. So hard. The people who helped them were so brave.
What was interesting is the secret annex wouldn’t have been that big of a secret, since the back of the building is clearly bigger than the factory. If someone would have gone in there they would have seen that. I’m glad there were brave people in the world who decided to help them. I wonder who told on them—-but I guess everyone does. Of the eight people in hiding, only Otto survived. It must have been so horrible for him when he tried so hard to keep his family safe. The whole thing is just awful. Anne and her mom and sister went through Auschwitz, the most horrible place I’ve ever been. What that must have been like for everyone, it is just too terrible to think of. Anyway, after the museum we walked back to the train station and took in our last views of the city.
Amsterdam Schipol Airport: last stop for European Christmas
This morning we just barely got our bags to close (after loading them up with chocolate and stroopwafels) and drove the Citron to the airport. The GPS was great when it worked and really awful when it didn’t. We had another hiccup today and decided to just turn it off and trust the road signs. Luckily, they steered us right and we made it back to the airport. I successfully drove in three countries and didn’t hurt anybody or wreck the car. There was that slight roll forward into the parking garage wall, but we weren’t going fast enough to do any damage. Phew!
I’ve shown my passport to more people at this airport than I ever have before—it has been quite repetitive. At least five different people who worked for Delta and then we had to answer questions about our travel by some Dutch people. Pretty intense. I guess this is the heightened security I’ve heard about.
Conclusion (New Years Eve, over Greenland)
I really did enjoy this trip and I enjoyed having more people to travel with. It’s changed things a lot, but has been a lot of fun too. B and I were getting used to our travel routine, so it was great to shake things up a bit. I decided that going somewhere over Christmas is really the way to go for people like B and me. You can celebrate with family a little early and then experience a holiday in an entirely new way. A Dutch gentleman mentioned that the Dutch Christmas markets were nothing compared to the German ones, so….challenge accepted. Here I come, Germany!
As we might have mentioned once or twice, we spent Christmas this year in the Benelux region of Europe. Apparently, these countries are pretty small and close to each other geographically and culturally, so they get their own cute acronym. (BElgium, NEtherlands, LUXembourg.) We had …
Are you looking for the perfect gift for that traveler in your life? Gift giving in general can be a little overwhelming. It can be especially overwhelming if you are trying to delve into a world that is a bit foreign to you. I have certainly gotten some strange travel gifts over the years from friends and family who meant well. I have also gotten some awesome stuff—but those gifts were usually from fellow travelers. If you are looking for Christmas gift ideas for female travelers, we have a few suggestions below. I even included some DIY projects. Happy shopping!
Note: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you buy something through one of these links, we may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.
Practical Christmas gift ideas for travelers
If you are looking for something practical that the traveler in your life will find useful, well, there is really no end to your options. So many travel accessories out there make travel easier, lighter, etc. You could go with something as simple as a water bottle (make it cute of course). R wrote a post about different water bottle options that work well for traveling and a good one makes a fine Christmas present. Other practical Christmas gift ideas for travelers include:
- Storage: packing cubes, drawstring bags, compression sacks, jewelry cases, etc. all make packing light and traveling a little easier. Some are more functional than others and some are definitely cuter than others. I mentioned before how much I love my Shoe Sac by Eagle Creek. It is a staple when I travel and very functional (although not very cute). These Waterproof Storage Bags on the other hand, are very cute. You really cannot go wrong with either one.
- Neck pillow: when it comes to travel pillows, there are many options out there. Some certainly work better than others. A coworker of mine recommended the Cabeau memory foam pillow and so far, it is the best I have used. It is a little bulky when you are trying to travel light, but I am grateful for it on those overnight flights.
- Toiletries: there is a very good chance that the traveler in your life already owns every travel accessory you can think of. However, toiletries tend to run out (in part because they are so small) and everyone needs these when they travel. Burt’s Bees makes a great little set (Fabulous Mini’s Travel Set) or you could go with something a little different like a Pod set.
- Travel razor: small and compact, the Venus Snap travel razor is one of my favorite purchases. I put on a new blade whenever I go on a trip and call it good. It works better than any disposable razor I have tried. Plus it’s cute.
- Waterproof phone case: we all travel with an expensive, minicomputer in our pocket (known as a cell phone). Most of us use it for everything from an alarm clock to a currency converter. Keeping it safe from the elements (or a thief) is crucial, and that can be difficult whenever beaches, pools and water sports are involved. I purchased this Waterproof phone case for a trip to Hawaii. Not only did it keep my phone dry, but I was able to take underwater photos and store a couple of things.
Fun gift ideas for travelers
Maybe the traveler in your life has every practical gadget and gizmo on the market. Or maybe a practical gift just is not your thing. Instead, you could go with something a little more fun. Really, anything with a map, travel quote or the word “wanderlust” on it gets me excited. Etsy has thousands of options for travel-related signs, jewelry, clothing, home décor, etc. If you are looking for something more specific (because yes, Etsy can get a little overwhelming), try a few of these Christmas gift ideas:
- Magazine subscription: you could go two ways with this one. Either go with a subscription for a travel-focused magazine (National Geographic Traveler anyone?) or pick out a magazine that your traveler would like to have when they go on a trip (my cousin loves her a People Magazine when she’s on the road). Either way, you are a winner. Plus, it is a gift that usually arrives 12 times a year. It is hard to beat that.
- Travel journal: I prefer a small notebook to record my experiences. Of course, the cuter the better. Since I use a separate one for each trip I take, I am always looking for new ones like the adorable Urban Cities Mini Journals. You could also pick up an official travel journal, but I would recommend it not be too bulky. If you want something really unique, pick up a copy of I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded.
- Something personalized: luggage tags, passport covers, lingerie bags, jewelry, etc. I could go on and on. If you have the option to personalize something, do it.
- Books: so many options here. You pick up a travel memoir, a guidebook or your favorite novel. A playful option could be a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
- E-reader: items like a Kindle Fire have gotten so cheap over the years, that they actually make a viable gift option—especially if your traveler has ever mentioned a dead cell phone battery or the hassle of hauling around a bunch of books.
- Games: R and I are not big into games while we travel. But I think we may be anomaly because there are so many travel-sized games out there to entertain while on the road. Even a deck of cards can be handy to have on hand during an extra-long layover.
Post-travel gift ideas for travelers
Reminiscing about a trip is almost as good as the trip itself. Something that encourages a traveler to remember their trip or experiences is a gift that keeps on giving! This could be something as simple as a photo album (although you may want to make sure your traveler is the kind of person who will actually print off some photos). Or try one of these suggestions for Christmas gift ideas for travelers:
- Photo book: After we return from a trip, R creates a book full of stories and pictures. We love looking through them and R often shares them with her family. If you know a traveler who is good with a computer, a gift certificate to service like Shutterfly is an excellent idea.
- Scratch map: it is almost impossible to do a search on the internet for travel gifts and not have some sort of scratch map pop up. I actually have two, both given to me as gifts. There are different sizes available and you can choose the entire world or just the United States. Either way, it is a pretty cool gift.
- Map or globe: R was given a world map as a gift that allows her to mark all over it with a dry erase marker. For Christmas one year, my mom gave me a vintage world map on a tapestry. There are so many different options out there. A regular old paper map and some push pins or a globe of some sort all are good choices for a gift.
- Picture cube: (warning: what you are about to read is blatant self-promotion.) I make custom vintage picture blocks that I sell on Etsy. I do them for all sorts of occasions but some of the neatest I have done over the years have been for people’s vacations. They make a unique keepsake.
Weird Christmas gift ideas for travelers
I have a friend whose family gives each other the most weird and random gifts. There is really no explanation for most of them. If this is your cup of tea, then there are certainly options that fit the bill. Weird Christmas gift ideas for travelers include:
- Shewee: yes, R and I both have one of these. However, we have not found a whole lot of situations in which they are actually useful. In fact, I rarely remember to pack mine. But that is not to say one wouldn’t make a perfect gift for the outdoor-obsessed female in your life.
- TravelJohn Disposable Urinal Packs for Women: this is along the same lines as the Shewee discussed above. Only I have never used one before and cannot give an account of how they work. However, they definitely fit the “weird” bill so it probably does not matter if they work or not—assuming weird is your aim here.
- Personal luggage tracker: in my opinion, airline companies are getting better at keeping track of your luggage (they should be with all of the technology available out there). But losing a bag is still a risk you take every time you check one. That is where a personal luggage tracker comes in. I am not sure what you are supposed to do if your luggage is declared lost by an airline but you can see its location on some sort of app map (chase it down!?!). Regardless, a luggage tracker makes an interesting gift for the techie traveler in your life.
- Socks: airplanes can get chilly and even on flights to warm-weather destinations, my toes tend to get a little cold. There are so many weird and wonderful socks out there and they make great gifts. And soccer socks, we recently learned, are a great alternative to compression shocks. If you want to play it safe, pick up some merino wool socks. Anything Icebreaker will make the traveler in your life very, very happy.
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry: this is not the cheapest option on the list, but offering to pay for either service would make a great gift—assuming they are not already enrolled. To learn more, read up on a post R wrote about TSA PreCheck vs. Global Entry.
DIY gift ideas
I am kind of a DIY junkie. Unfortunately, not everything I make turns out quite like I planned. Oh well. However, the following DIY travel gifts are pretty easy to manage and may even spark your creativity to make something else. Plus, something handmade makes a gift extra special in my opinion:
- Travel fund jar: I have a change jar at work that is simply a mason jar with gold stripes painted on it. My change jar at home is a slightly bigger jar with a cork top. I went ahead and added a photo to the back and a label to the front. It is adorable and I love it. The label I made is available as a Free Printable. Enjoy!
- Snacks: if you know your traveler’s snacks of choice, you could put together a little goody basket of all their favorite treats. Everyone who knows me knows I love Swedish Fish and I never leave home without them. You can read more about snacks on the road in a post R wrote earlier this year.
- Cord holder: I do not know anyone who does not travel with some sort of piece of technology. Most of us travel with several (e.g. cell phone, e-reader, MP3 player, etc.). Where there are gadgets, there will be chords and some sort of cord holder makes an excellent gift. Last year I made my brother-in-law a simple earphone holder with leather and a snap. Then I tooled his name on it. I have been meaning to make one for myself since it was so darn easy and cute.
- Luggage tags: there are many DIY luggage tag options. Just Google it. You can keep it simple or go all out. A couple of years ago, I made leather luggage tags for R and S (and myself) with travel quotes on them. They were not the easiest DIY project I have embarked on, but they were cute and have held up after multiple trips. Anything personalized is usually very appreciated.
- Gift basket: you could always gather a few things from the lists above and put together a travel-themed gift basket or box. Better yet, put everything into a drawstring map bag!
I hope this post helped you come up with a few Christmas gift ideas for travelers. There are practical gifts as well as fun gifts. Or you can make something if you prefer. The important thing is to keep your traveler in mind. Trust me, we appreciate any effort made to choose something related to this crazy world of travel that we love.