Christmas in Scotland.

For at least a month our Christmas plans were to go to Innsbruck, Austria for a few days followed by another short trip to Zurich to celebrate New Year's. But after having a really hard time finding anywhere that was still accepting reservations for Christmas dinner in Innsbruck and struggling to get excited about yet more Christmas markets, John had a brilliant idea: Scotland. I went to Scotland in 2006 with my best friend, and John has seen pictures and heard endless stories about that adventure. And since his ancestors come from Scotland, he's had an additional interest in visiting. 

We couldn't be happier to have been able to go to Edinburgh for almost a week. It was a great break from being surrounded by German (slightly less confusing after 2 months of daily German classes...but only 0.0001% less confusing), and it was especially nice to have a larger apartment (with a fireplace, no less) to spread out in. We stayed in the best Airbnb--our favorite one yet!--near the University of Edinburgh, and were able to walk to the center of the city in about 20 minutes. 

The weather was mostly grey and sometimes rainy, but we still managed to get out for long walks. We hiked up Arthur's Seat (see the two photos below) and enjoyed gorgeous views of the city. I love the green and gray palette of the U.K.

After telling John so much about the Highlands, he wanted to visit. Unfortunately, we didn't have all that much time to make a special trip to stay out there. Looking through some of the travel/restaurant brochures our hosts left for us in the Airbnb, we saw a tour company that takes you out of Edinburgh for the day and into the Highlands, with stops in Glencoe, Ft. William, and Loch Ness. Here's where we should have used our common sense and what we know about ourselves: the tour said it lasted 12.5 hours. 12 and a half hours...because it takes a while to get up to that part of the country (duh). And while it did say there would be stops, we didn't take into account what kind of stops these would be: quick, packed with other bus tours, and at the tackiest gift-shop-and-really-bad-but-expensive food stops. That's a really long day, and we're pretty slow travelers. In other words, we love the freedom to have a long lunch, sit for an hour somewhere to read, and I whip out manual mode on my camera when I see flowers. Believe me, there was no time for manual mode on this tour.

We both cringed when we got to the bus pickup area in Edinburgh the morning of the tour and saw not one but three buses, two of which were 60-seaters. Thankfully, we got seats next to each other, unlike some other late-to-the-tour travelers. Our bus driver/tour guide (yup, all-in-one!) didn't seem particularly happy to be up at that hour of the morning, either. The day was filled with half-hearted stories of Scottish history, Enya songs piped through the sound system, stern reminders that he would leave us at a location if we were late to get back on the bus, and "Oh Yes This Is An Important Place Get Out and Take a Picture NOW! 5! MINUTES!" moments. There was also an American seated directly behind us who regaled her Aussie seat mate with a history of everywhere she had ever traveled. Ever. We had a running monologue behind us of "and THEN I went to [fill in country] and I saw [fill in monument/site/museum] and the people were SO NICE!" 

Guys, I will never pay for this kind of tour again. However, the scenery was priceless, so see below. And John and I have a story to tell posterity, so that's always good.

We visited this little pub in the village of Duddingston, an easy walk once we descended Arthur's Seat. It dates back to 1360, making it the oldest remaining public house in Scotland! Lots of character inside, and so warm after our chilly walk up and down Arthur's Seat.

We visited this little pub in the village of Duddingston, an easy walk once we descended Arthur's Seat. It dates back to 1360, making it the oldest remaining public house in Scotland! Lots of character inside, and so warm after our chilly walk up and down Arthur's Seat.

We found out about a popular walking route in Scotland called the West Highland Way, and you get to walk through scenery like this.

We found out about a popular walking route in Scotland called the West Highland Way, and you get to walk through scenery like this.

Ridiculous tour day/bad decision aside, we had a wonderful time away for Christmas. We're so thankful we were able to go explore Scotland together and would love to go back one day to see more. Next time: the Isle of Skye.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year!

I say Nuremberg, you say Nürnberg.

I'm writing this as Christmas has already (already!) come and gone, and every one of the Christmas markets in Germany has been packed up and stowed away for another year. I'm glad we were able to experience so many markets within Munich and in cities close by, because I've never experienced anything quite like it in the U.S. I think I've had about all the Gluhwein I can drink, though, and I'm ready to say hello to 2016!

But the weekend before Christmas we spent a Saturday in nearby Nürnberg, which is easily accessible using the Bayern Pass (26 euros for the first person, and then 2 euros per person after that to add people to the ticket--you cannot beat round trip transportation for that price!). Our friends from church joined us for a quick but fun day trip to see the massive Christmas markets in the center of Nürnberg. A German coworker of John's told us not to bother, that the Christmas markets there weren't all that great, but I'd say these were hands down my favorite markets that we visited this whole season. (Maybe 25 years of visiting these markets every year does that to you!) If you're in southern Germany during the Christmas season, Nürnberg's markets are a great choice to visit because they're accessible and expansive, and I think the choice of products was less mass-produced and more extensive than other markets we've seen.

A very merry Christmas season.

Christmas season is still in full swing here in Spain, and will be through the 6th of January, Día de los Reyes (King's Day), when the three kings/magi parade through the streets and throw children candy and families gather to watch children open their gifts. Until then, the lights stay up, the trees remain decorated, and you may even glimpse some of the magi walking through the streets (I'm guessing this was a dress rehearsal that I viewed this morning when I walked out the door):

School was busy leading up to the break. There were candy canes and gingerbread men to color (students), gingerbread houses to construct (yours truly), and a few activities to prepare for my classes. Teaching second graders words like evaporation and condensation and precipitation in a second language meant singing a song and dancing, because even then, it's still all Greek but at least we had fun.

When in doubt, have kids color. They love it. And I like quiet time in the hallway decorating the wall...but  shhhh , don't tell!

When in doubt, have kids color. They love it. And I like quiet time in the hallway decorating the wall...but shhhh, don't tell!

When in doubt, I color. Because it's so much fun. And yes, those clouds ARE 3D; thanks for noticing!

When in doubt, I color. Because it's so much fun. And yes, those clouds ARE 3D; thanks for noticing!

I did not know that Severus Snape attended this elementary school! He left his dictionary. (I'm finally getting around to reading  Harry Potter --only a decade late!--so I can make nerdy jokes like this.)

I did not know that Severus Snape attended this elementary school! He left his dictionary. (I'm finally getting around to reading Harry Potter--only a decade late!--so I can make nerdy jokes like this.)

One really big deal here in Spain is having a belén (manger scene) in many places, especially in schools and some churches. I've noticed that they, well, have a different feel here than the traditional manger scene I'm accustomed to. Ours growing up had the three wise men, a couple of shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The belén at our school was a little bit busier. It's definitely pretty impressive, but it's like playing "Where's Waldo?" to find the central people in the scene! Have a look:

If this is the busiest manger scene you've ever viewed, welcome to the club.

If this is the busiest manger scene you've ever viewed, welcome to the club.

We did not try out this speciality for our Christmas dinner ( cochinillo ), tempting as it looked at the grocery store; I cooked chicken instead. I like pork, but I can't eat a baby pig...reminds me too much of Zoology class in 12th grade.

We did not try out this speciality for our Christmas dinner (cochinillo), tempting as it looked at the grocery store; I cooked chicken instead. I like pork, but I can't eat a baby pig...reminds me too much of Zoology class in 12th grade.

Now look at something pretty:

The Christmas tree in the central plaza.

The Christmas tree in the central plaza.

We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas day celebration with our friends Joe and Leah who, like us, didn't return to the U.S. It was a great time of catching up on stories from trips, school (always chock-full of stories), and daily life. It is such a blessing to have friends here and it was a fun time of looking back over the past few months to recount all that we've seen and done in a short amount of time. 

Our Christmas dinner table. Covering our table in brown paper and writing "Merry Christmas" in different languages is a very cheap way to decorate and a super easy way to clean up quickly!

Our Christmas dinner table. Covering our table in brown paper and writing "Merry Christmas" in different languages is a very cheap way to decorate and a super easy way to clean up quickly!

Nearly-free table decorations.

Nearly-free table decorations.

OK, so I didn't do as well this year with my planned reading for Advent (sigh), but I did enjoy listening to some sermons that I'd recommend to you. I'd even recommend listening to them as the New Year starts, because Advent isn't just something we celebrate and ponder in December--we still anticipate Christ's final coming! I liked Reality Church San Francisco's set of sermons on Advent found here: Advent and the Kingdom of God (#107), Advent and Waiting in Faith (#106), Advent and the Prophets (#105), Advent and Worshipping the King (#104), and Advent and Living in the Already but Not Yet (#103).

I hope you are enjoying this Christmas season! New Year's is nearly upon us. Look for more posts soon about our recent trip to Belgium, what's on the bookshelf, and adventures with our friend, Ashley, who arrives from the U.S. tomorrow!