So, as of December, we have been engaged for 2 whole years. It seems like a long time, but sadly, it was necessary, with us living in Japan so long, and then living abroad. It meant that, while we had beautiful engagement photos in kimonos in Japan, we hadn't had our traditional, American style engagement photos. Thankfully, this Christmas, our wedding photographer was in town again, and so were we - at the same time. After scouring Pintrest for months and months, trying to decide what to
do for engagement photo locations, we settled on an orange grove. I had wanted row boats, but sadly, it's not a "thing" in Florida, like it was in Nara. So the orange grove it was. We got there a little early, and checked out the big store they have for the grove. It's got all sorts of fresh juices, orange ice cream
and orange themed gifts! It was super cute! We got a crazy little old lady in a golf cart to trek us around in the grove, as we couldn't go there ourselves. We were a bit worried that we weren't going to find any nice big trees full of oranges, but right near to the owners
house, we found a huge tree. And it was perfect for the photos. We had a good time taking photos in the orange grove, and then we changed outfits and took some near a funky tractor! It was only a few days after that I got the email with all the photos - and I loved them so much! I loved them all! We chose 15 of them, and I've already got an order in to be printed so we can hang them up on our walls!
Mummy always complains that she doesn't have enough photos of us all together. So, becasue Josh and I were heading down to Florida on the 27th, and Shelby was heading back to the UK to visit with her friends for new year, we decided to take some nice family photos. Two years ago, we took really nice, color coordianted photos. Well, this year we weren't so good at the color coordinating, and so they are best in black and white! It was nice to have a photo with Josh in because it comemorates his first Michigan Christmas!
Josh is exceptionally tall compared to the rest of our family! He got on really well with Jackson the puppy - he absolutely loves him! We tried so hard to take photos of Jackson, but he's a bit wriggly, so we settled for lots of him in Grammies arms. I love these photos in front of the Christmas tree - it's now becoming a nice tradition!
I am always really excited for Christmas Morning. Although, as I get older, Christmas becomes more about the run up, than the actual day, it still is really fun. I got all sorts of nice presents, and Josh really enjoyed the day too! It's always a bit boring after all the presents have been opened, but then, there comes the food! I love turkey, but most of all I love cranberry sauce and potatoes! I think I could eat that every single day!
I think, since the Christmas morning I recieved my camera, I have loved taking photos of my grandmother's Christmas tree more than anything, ever. I probably take the same pictures all the time, but I still love to take photos there. We had already done one Christmas party,
and the Peil family Christmas party is on Christmas Eve. It's a good time. A long night, but a good time and it was Josh's first time to meet everyone! We thought it was really nice that we coordinated so well for Christmas and with the tree, so Mummy took some photos of us in front of all the pretty Christmas lights. It took a lot of tries, because my camera was a little broken, but a few came out ok in the end! We (somehow) were ready much before everyone else, and so were able
to hang out in the living room, read a few books, and chat with Shelby.The Christmas Party is always good fun, and everyone was really excited to meet Josh after so long. I know he did really well, and was chatting to people and acting so much more social than me! We got to see lots of cousins that live really far away,
and it was lovely to see my cousin Carly again too. She is now back from Prague. I will be sad not having a cousin close by to travel with! We stayed really late at the party, but at least this year, when I got home, I had already done all my Christmas wrapping for the next morning!
One day, while we were still in Germany, Josh gave me this link to this funny Christmas sweater with a sloth on it, since he loves sloths. I ordered it, and sent it to America. Once we got there, I was able to give it to him, and he was so excited to have a Christmas sweater finally! It's so hard to find non-religious or sweaters adorned with Christmas trees, so this was perfect for him! I think this picture is best because it shows how happy he was to have a cheesy sweater too!
Mummy came to visit us for a weekend. I was so excited she was coming, especially before Christmas. It meant, while I had my Christmas tree done, she could help me add some more finishing touches to the house, as well as put a wreath on the door. We
were a bit worried about her being bored, so we decided to go to Koln Christmas markets on the Saturday, and then relax and do some wedding planning on the Sunday while she was here. We invited Steph, the PE teacher at our school to come along. She's a great travel buddy and good friend we've made
while living in Germany. Christmas markets are THE thing to do in Germany in December. Since we did so many last year, on our drive around Germany, it is good they only happen once a year so we don't get too bored of them! We arrived at the train station early, only to have our train delayed.
But once we got there, it was super easy to find the Christmas markets. Not only are there one Christmas market, but several, and they all have a different feel to them. The one near the Cathedral we found to be quite, touristy. There was a very old one which had beautiful lights in the trees, but my favourite was the wooden houses ones, which had an ice rink in the centre! We didn't buy much while we were there, apart from a few presents, but we did shop a little at TKMAXX!
I was super excited to set up the Christmas tree this year. Steph and I went shopping weeks and weeks in advance, picking up some Christmas ornaments here and there. I was so excited, at our cheap store, they had all sorts of pretty rustic ornaments, made of wood and with animals. I know that mum had bought me some ornaments with deer on them and some twine, but I was really excited to have these pretty ornaments. I got these cute sparkly birds and pretty gold glitter pinecones which I
found at Primark! I always get so excited about Christmas! Josh and I went out and we bought a great Yankee Candle which smells just like a real Christmas tree! Now, I have the tree up and am ready for the Christmas season!
On Sunday, we had a really relaxing morning, and hung out with Kerstin's family. Before we left, Cathy gave us advent calanders that she had already filled with chocolate for us! It was so sweet and full of yummy stuff for every day in December.
Then, we headed off to their very cool science museum, which was all hands-on. It was so much fun, and thank goodness almost all of the explainations were in English! We had a lovely day, and got some food at the local Christmas Markets. Sadly we had to go home, and they were kind enough to drop us off at the train station. I was so sad, because I love seeing Kerstin, but they are heading to Florida in April for our wedding!
Since I moved to Germany, I have been waiting to visit Kerstin, my german pen pal, but our schedules haven't matched up yet. So finally, in November, we trained to meet her. And I was so excited - and to meet her boyfriend Stephan! It has been a whole year since I've seen her! We went to Hannover Zoo.
Hannover Zoo is a special place for us - every time I visit we go. And it's wonderful. But boy, was it cold! Seriously, seriously cold! It was pretty miserable in the end! So we headed home, and her mum Cathy had made all these millions and millions of little tiny cookies. So while the boys hung decorations, Kerstin and I iced and decorated all these cute cookies, putting sprinkles on them and dipping them in chocolate! It was so nice to be with her family, and really put me in the holiday spirit!
Our final stop on Sunday was the Atomium. It was built for the World Fair, and is just out of town. When we were younger, Shelby and I visited Mini Europe, and the Atomium - in the summer. It was so pretty and so much fun. Sadly, we visited the Atomium this time in the rain, but it did bring back so many nice memories! We walked around a little, and went into the very cool gift shop for a while before heading back into town, and catching our train home for school the next morning!
We kind of ran out of things to do in Brussels. We had intentions of going to Brugge, but because of the bad weather, it wasn't a smart move, so we walked around a little, saw a couple interesting things and then....well....we ran out of stuff to do. After scouring the internet while sat in a cafe, we learned that one of the top rated things to do in Brussels was take a chocolate tour. To do that, it costs 90 euros! So we decided we could do just as good a tour ourself! We found the chocolate district, where there are one of each of Belgium's finest chocolate shops. We went into each shop, and asked for their most popular chocolate, and bought it. It was so nice to try all these yummy chocolates, and there was even a Lauduree, so we got macaroons too!
The weather was a bit rubbish in Brussels during our time there. Lots of rain and lots of cloud, so we ended up inside some museums, as well as going bowling. It was fun, because it was glow bowling, but it was still a weird and fun thing to do regardless. We did a little bit of shopping, and walked
around the town a little bit more before heading back to the hostel. It was nice to have a little break and we tried to decide where to go for dinner. We settled on a nicely priced Chinese restaurant, which was very popular with everyone it seems! It was yummy, and then we headed back to the square. It was so, so beautiful at night! Of course there was a lot more people out and about, but the weather had cleared up, so there was a beautiful clear sky and some moonlight. The buildings are
lit up so beautifully! It really is one of the most beautiful squares that we have ever visited! It seemed like we had seen a lot of Brussels in just our first day there, so we went back to the hostel to plan some more sightseeing for the next day!
Lots of people, when you ask them, will say you should go to Brussels and try waffles. Well, of course we did. We took a break from the rainy, rainy day and found a cute little cafe called the Chocolate Cafe. We had to wait a while because it was a really popular place! And there were several types of waffles, chocolates to go on them, and toppings. We all tried something a little different, and they all were super yummy. Interestingly enough, when you ask lots of Germans,
they tell you to try the chips, because they are double fried or something like that, and come with tons of sauces. We had had them in Vienna before I think, but this was great to get Belgium frites right there! We found the most cliche tourist cafe ever for frites, but they were still amazingly yummy!
The Grand Palace is probably the most famous building in Brussels. I was so sad that when we first arrived at it in the morning, it was a) quite cloudy and b) jam packed with people, neither of which make for good photos. During our walk around town, we managed to arrive back at the square just when there was a break in the clouds for some glorious sunshine! It was perfect for a few snaps with my cousin Carly. I was so glad that we had gotten to document some of our fun travels together while she was in Europe!
It's not very often that we get to meet up with other people to travel. Often it is just us (we are the best adventuring pair), or with work collegues, so it was lovely to just spend more than one day with Carly, which is usually all we get time for at Christmas!
My cousin Carly was doing a semester abroad in Prague for the fall season. Since we had already been to Prague, we decided to meet up with her somewhere fun. We dediceded on Brussels because it was easy for everyone to get to. We set off Friday night on the train. It was a weird, weird train station, but we made it to the train station and then crashed. In the morning, we took a lovely walk around the city to get a feel for it. It was a great way to start the weekend!
Florence is THE place to see art - we had no real idea about art nor Florence, but we did know enough to book our tickets for all the museums in advance, so by the time it came to see the statue of David, we just walked right in. I was a bit sad to see that at the entrance, it stated "No photography", but was super super excited to see that they relaxed that in the area where David is placed. It's in this, kind of rotunda which has all this beautiful light.
And it seemed a shame to come all this way and not take any photos. I remember from last time, that just off to the right was this great room full of scultped heads of famous people - I loved the museum! We had a great time in Florence, but sadly soon it was time to come back to Frankfurt!
Josh and I know nothing about art, especially historical art - but we do know that Florence is the place to see it all. They have all sorts of great museums, so on our second day we headed over to the Uffuzi museum (which is a great name, I must say!). There were lots of lines
to get through the security, but after that, we had no problems. We were really fortunate in that it wasn't particularily busy, and that we were also able to follow another English speaking tour group around. So at least, we got to know a little about the art in the museum. And there is just so,
so, so much art. If you wanted to spend any time looking at any time then you could be there for days! The best room was all cornered off, and it was this red walled, huge ceiling room which was like an octagon - it was full to the brim with statues and paintings and priceless gifts from around
the world - it was great! But noone could go in - it was just one opening for us to stop and pop our heads in! I also loved all the carved statue heads - rows and rows of great craftsmanship that we certainly don't see nowadays!
Right at the top of these gardens, on our walk out, we came across this random tea cup museum. I could have bet money on the fact that Josh wouldn't want to go in it, so instead we just looked at the gardens around it. To be fair, it was October, and they weren't the best -
but they would be by springtime. However, what caught our eye to go up there was this beautiful view over the side, over Tuscany. It has really been on my bucketlist to visit Tuscany so I was excited to see those cool vertical trees! The sun was really starting to set, so we headed back into town to go to this awesome restaurant in the city. We had a great dinner (almost all our food was great in Italy), and made a mad dash through all these little tiny alleys searching for a toilet for me before heading back out of the city to our tiny B an B!
We headed off on one of the side roads in the gardens, which went on further up the hill. There was this little...almost tower and a big sloping field with the most amazing view of the city. I am so glad we decided to walk over there - because it was the most amazing
view. So in the nice, low afternoon sun - we sat on the grassy knoll and just watched the sun set over the city. It was one of the nicest places I have sat in the world - just us and this beautiful view.
We stumbled across these gardens, kind of by accident. They are set up out of the city - and we wandered over there one afternoon- with really not a lot of time to spare. There were tons of steps, and a long way around, but eventually we made it to these gardens. They looked very small and inconspicuous at first, part of a garden on the back of a pretty house. Eventually, we realised that there were all sorts of side inslets and side gardens to the main gardens, so off we wandered!
At the end of the main road in Florence, where all the shops are, there is this adorable little bridge with all sorts of covered shops - and I would say ninety percent of them were jewellery shops. We didn't buy anything but did walk along the sides of the river , behind all the art museums. It was so pretty there!
Florence has the prettiest town hall I've ever seen. It's so pretty.It is really one of the more important places in Italy, so they say. We tried to go inside, as it has all sorts of pretty paintings along the walls, but it was all under construction, which was a shame. It also has a copy of Michealangelo's statue of David out front, which is a big hit with the tourists! It's one of my favourite places because there is a Venchi right nearby! We were able to get this shot from one of the museums nearby - it gave us a great view of the square and the town hall too!
THE THE THE place to go in Florence is the Duomo - this giant church in the middle of Florence. It is this huge, huge cathedral sized building covered in all sorts of these marble chunks - like a giant mosaic. And it's so incredible! It shines so brightly and white in the sunlight and it just rises out of the square so large. On one side of the square there are all these little cafes and such, and the other side is just....very normal! I really loved doing this
big three hundred and sixty of the whole place - seeing the difference between the front, which is jam packed with tourists, and the back, which is just - so different. Florence was so different than Rome - a really different style than Rome - all the buildings
and such. We went to the inside of the church, and it was very basic and plain on the inside. I was quite shocked by how different it was. We did't pay to go up to the top of the Duomo tower - but I was able to read that it is the largest brick roof like it in the world. It really was pretty impressive. On all our walking about in Florence, we ended up here in front of it again and again - it really was kind of the centre of everything!
The next morning we took a train from the main station to Florence. It was easy to get to the train station - but it was very. very busy - but we made it. Once we got to Florence, it was a nightmare. We really didn't know where our next B and B was - and it seemed no one else did either! In the end,
we got a taxi to our bed and breakfast very, very far out of town. We settled in and made our way back into town on the bus - which turned out to be our best mode of transport. Just next to the bus station was this amazing church - with the same name as the train station - so we knew it must be important!