Celebrating Like a Local: New Year’s Eve in Andalusia

Guest Post by Yvonne Schnoor

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Three years ago, my husband and I left Germany to run a bed & breakfast in Andalusia. We opened Cortijo El Sarmiento in late spring and had a good, but exhausting, first season.

Related: Free Downloadable German Language Cheat Sheet

When the last of our guests had left, we had to face our first Christmas and New Year’s Eve away from home. My parents, Reiner and Marlene, came over to join us. It was not the best time: we couldn’t find any of the food we were used to eating at Christmas; the weather was far too warm for us back then; and the only Christmas tree we could find was puny and quite ugly.

We decided we needed to embrace the Spanish way of life.

For our New Year’s dinner, we all went to a restaurant. It was nice enough, but it was full of expats, who, although very friendly, couldn’t offer us the new Spanish lifestyle we craved. Our first Christmas and New Year’s felt like a bit of a let down.

We decided that we would have to plan the holidays much better for the following year. But, as you can imagine, with all the work at the B&B during the summer, we completely forgot about the disaster of 2014/15! The season ended, the holidays drew near, and we had nothing planned.

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Then something fantastic happened. Apparently, some of our new Spanish friends had felt sorry that we had spent such a miserable first Christmas in their country. So, they invited us to join their News Year’s Eve party! We were happy to accept, but had no idea what to expect. We were informed that traditionally everyone brought food, but that we didn’t have to, because we were their guests. However, we just couldn’t go empty handed, so together we prepared some Spanish food and a very typical German dessert. We all got dressed up for the occasion.

When we arrived at our friends’ house it was a lovely surprise. We were greeted by their relatives, all thirty-six of them, which turned out to be less then half of their family. There aren’t that many family members between my husband’s and my family combined!

Related: Christmas in Stockholm

At first, we felt quite alien, especially as my parents spoke very little Spanish. But everyone welcomed us warmly and made us feel completely at home. One couple had lived in Germany, which was great, because they were seated beside Mum and Dad! The table was crammed with all sorts of wonderful food and they put our dishes right in the middle.

The evening started out typically Andalusian: tons of food and wine and very noisy conversation. I worried my eardrums might not survive the night. There was lots of laughter and tempered discussion, which never got out of hand. It’s just the Spanish way; they are so passionate about everything.

Midnight drew near and our friends’ daughters set a champagne glass in front of each person and filled them with Cava – Champagne is never drunk in Andalusia; there’s too much local pride. There was also a small bowl for each person containing twelve grapes.

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At the countdown on TV – Oh, by the way, I should mention that the TV is always on in Spanish houses; they are mad about their TV – for the twelve strokes to midnight, everyone has to eat a grape and make a wish. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But you try chewing, wishing and swallowing between the strokes of a church bell! We all felt really stupid, but it was great fun. It is very important to the Spanish people to eat the Uvas de la suerte (lucky grapes) and wish Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) before the completion of the twelfth chime. Then come the three kisses for everyone in the room. By the end of it, your Cava is flat and warm, but no one cares.

When everyone eventually returns to their seat, they find a bag filled with confetti, paper-streamers and hats. Then someone puts a wig on your head – so if you weren’t embarrassed choking on the grapes, you are now. Replete with wig and paper hat, the serious drinking can begin.

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Most of the youngsters head off to meet their friends to celebrate, away from the oldies, in the local bars or at a disco.

Another, more recent custom, to bring luck for the coming year, is for a man to buy the love of his life red lingerie. The woman should never buy this for herself; it has to be a gift to her. It’s the reason there is so much red lingerie for sale in Spain from the beginning of December.

When I inquired about the tradition of taking a dip in the sea on New Year’s Day, my Spanish friends looked at me as if I were mad. “Only the strange foreigners do this”, they said. “The water would be far too cold!”

So we didn’t.

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My name is Yvonne and I’m what you would probably call a true European. I was born in Gemany, grew up in Belgium, and, after a long journey through several other European countries, decided to live in Spain, where I run, together with my family, a beautiful, luxury bed and breakfast in Mojácar, a lesser known part of Andalusia’s Costa de Almeria. The B&B is dedicated to adults only, especially those who are looking for peace and tranquility. As I’ve owned a wine shop in Germany for over 13 years and have done endless tastings to become a Sommelière, you can be sure that you will always be served the right wine wherever you meet me. Living in Spain supports my hobby (for now, at least!) a lot – everything here is about eating and drinking!

Celebrating Like a Local: Christmas in Stockholm

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Guest Post by Susann Aavanen from The Biveros Effect!

December is here and it is time to get ready for a typically Swedish Christmas. In Sweden Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December. However, the whole month of December is a time for preparation. These preparations often start on the first weekend of Advent and they include decorations, baking, and get-togethers. However, let’s put aside the crazy shopping sprees and glittering Christmas parties. Here are three things that you should not miss if you are in Stockholm or Sweden in December. These experiences are incredibly popular among both residents and visitors and will give you a feel for what a traditional Swedish Christmas is like.

1. Glöggfika

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Fika is a great Swedish tradition. It usually refers to “having a cup of coffee” but it entails so much more that. It’s something of a cultural institution. The fika does not require coffee and usually comes with pastries, sandwiches, or other types of food. Come December, the typical fika becomes more Christmassy with glögg (mulled wine) instead of coffee and sweet treats for those with a sweet tooth. These treats include pepparkaka (gingerbread) and lussebulle (saffron bun). Add some traditional Christmas music and you’re guaranteed a cheerful atmosphere. The great thing about the glöggfika is that it happens everywhere: from at home with friends to in the workplace!

The glöggfika is especially popular on Lucia (Saint Lucy’s Day), the 13th of December.

2. Christmas Markets

There are several Christmas markets in Stockholm, which means that there is something for everyone! The most famous Christmas market is the one in Gamla stan (the Old Town). From the 19th of November until the 23rd of December, Stortorget square near the Royal Palace is filled with little red stalls selling scrumptious traditional Swedish sweets, cheese, glögg, handicrafts, and much more.

Other great places to enjoy a cozy Christmas market and get a taste of Swedish Christmas are Skansen, Rosendal, and Drottningholm Castle.

3. Julbord

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Food is probably an important aspect of Christmas no matter where you are. Sweden is no exception. As it is a country that is very fond of buffets, it should come as no surprise that the julbord or Christmas buffet is a big thing in restaurants around Stockholm. Even IKEA has one! The best food is, of course, the food that is served at home on Christmas Eve, but it’s difficult to escape all the Christmas food before the big day. So, what can you expect when it comes to traditional Swedish Christmas food? You never get away from the meatballs and Jansson’s Temptation (a casserole with pickled sprats among other things). A wide variety of fish, sausages, ham, potatoes, boiled cabbage, beetroot salad, and cheeses will also tickle your taste buds and have you queue for one more serving. After a successful Christmas meal, you might promise yourself not to eat anything ever again!

December is a month when all the streets and people brighten up. It is a cheerful time with lights, food and parties. With some luck, the city and its surroundings turn into a white wonderland where locals and tourists alike get to find their inner child as they play in the snow. Welcome to Stockholm!


What happens when a Swede and a Finn meet in Slovakia, fall in love, and move to Stockholm? The result is a story of travels, mishaps, and adventures around the world. Check out Jesper and Susann’s awesome blog here!

German Language Guide for Travelers + Free Download!

English is a Germanic language, but that doesn’t mean that German is intuitive at all for English speakers. Because English also draws heavily on many other languages, especially romance languages such as French, German vocabulary looks almost unrecognizable to any English speaker!

German is spoken mainly in Central Europe, in the countries of Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. It’s one of the most widely spoken languages in the European Union and in the world, so as you can see, it’s pretty useful to know German!

Pronunciation

If you come across these letters in German, pronounce them this way:

ä as in let

äu or eu as in toy

ei as in fine

ie as in green

ö as in worm (without the r sound afterwards)

sch as in shop

sp as in spiel

st as in sht

ü as in tea (while rounding the lower lip

z as in mats (ts sound)

ß as in moss (double s sound)

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Or, if you prefer it in PDF form for printing, click here.

Until next time, happy travels!

See why Switzerland is the most beautiful place in the world

It’s no big secret that I adore Switzerland, maybe even more than my own native country (but don’t tell my fellow Canadians that!) Mountain ranges, skiing, villages that look like they haven’t changed a bit since the 1800s, chocolate, Bern, a hodgepodge of languages, fondue, the rail system, cobblestones, fresh air, and being able to avoid human contact are some of the reasons I love Switzerland as much as I do.

Are you not sold yet on the idea of the great Swiss country? Allow these photos to convince you otherwise.

The Matterhorn peak towers above Zermatt, on a blue sunny beautiful day in Switzerland.
Are you convinced yet, looking at the Matterhorn’s jagged beauty?
The picturesque vinyards of the Valais region in Switzerland border Lake Geneva and feature mountains, rolling hills, and small villages
How about now, staring at the lush green vinyards?
The characteristic architecture of Bern against a lush backdrop of trees and greenery
What about now, seeing Bern from above?
An empty street in Bern with cobblestones, cars, and classic architecture
Looking at this beautiful empty street, are you convinced?
A sailboat in Lake Geneva near Lausanne, against a mountainous cloudy backdrop
Are you imagining yourself in this sailboat on Lake Geneva?
Snowcapped mountain peaks  shrouded with clouds near the Jungfrau in Interlaken, Switzerland
Or climbing the Jungfrau, high above the clouds?
A ship temporarily housing the Olympic Museum in Lausanne is docked in the calm blue waters of Lake Geneva, against a backdrop of blue skies and mountains
Do you feel like visiting the Olympic Museum now?
Rolling green hills dotted with homes, trees, and mountains shrouded with mist on the way up to the Jungfrau in Interlaken, Switzerland
Or what about herding sheep and living a rustic life in these beautiful foothills?
The Chateau d"Yvoire, a French castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, as seen from afar
Maybe gazing at the Chateau d’Yvoire will convince you that Switzerland is the most perfect country.

Did you enjoy this post? Give us a thumbs up and tell us how much you love Switzerland in the comments below! Happy travels!

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Conversational French 101

 

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Going along our previous train of thought from Paris Do’s and Don’ts, I thought it would be a good idea to break out a very basic guide to speaking French. After all, trying something new can’t hurt, plus, you’ll earn brownie points from the locals for trying!

Bonjour (bohn-joor): Hello

Comment ca va? (kom-mon sah vah): How are you?

Je voudrais… (juh voo-dreh): I would like …

Ou est… (ooh ay): Where is …

Je ne comprends pas (juh nuh kom-prahn pah): I don’t understand

Parlez-vous anglais? (par-lay voo ong-lay): Do you speak English?

Les toilettes (lay twa-lette): The washroom

S’il vous plait (seel voo play): Please

Merci (mehr-see): Thanks

Excusez-moi (ex-kew-zay mwa): Pardon

De rien (duh ree-ehn): You’re welcome

Au revoir (oh reh-vwar): Goodbye

Oui (wee): Yes

Non (nohn): No

Je m’appelle… (juh mah-pel): My name is…

Now go! Be free! And be armed with your new French vocab!

If you’d like to check out what you should do with this fancy new vocab, click here! If you’re looking for something a bit different, click here! And if you want to know where you are, click here!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Paris

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Before you head on over to the city of light and love, make sure to check out these do’s and don’ts to get the most out of your trip!

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Do pick up a few phrases of French.

I always find the stereotypical rude and condescending Parisian to be ludicrous and hypocritical. Parisians are lovely, but only if we break out our common courtesy as well. Remember to greet people before you begin talking. It doesn’t hurt to learn a few simple French phrases as well to earn you brownie points and make daily interactions more comfortable.

Don’t overspend on your hotel room

Unless that’s your intention, of course, in which case, spend away! Parisian real estate is notoriously pricey and a single bedroom in the Latin Quarter can cost you over 200 euros! Fortunately, Paris has a beautiful metro system, so staying in the suburbs and commuting in can save you a fortune.

Pro tip: Check out my one secret to checking out later and getting maximum value from your hotel room!

Do your research

Lines for attractions such as the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower can stretch for hours, so figure out how to beat those lines and avoid paying inflated prices. Lots of websites can direct you towards the best way to enjoy everything you want, at a fraction of your time and budget.

Don’t leave too little time to visit your must-see attractions

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Places like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Montmartre generally take up less time to visit than the real heavy-hitters, such as the Louvre and Versailles, which can take you, especially if you are a museum buff. Figure out where you want to spend your time, or risk leaving Paris disappointed.

Do keep an eye out for pickpockets and scammers

Nothing says “rob me” quite like a tourist. Ditch those sneakers and fanny packs and opt to dress like the Parisians. Try using a cross-body bag that you can keep a hand on at all times and stay alert in particularly crowded spaces, where it’s easy for pickpocketers to rip you off.

Don’t spend 10 euros on water

Tap water is safe and there are dozens of outdoor water fountains in Paris where you can refill your water bottles. Trust me. 10 euros for a bottle of water? Not worth it.

Do eat real French food

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So you’ve come to a gastronomical delight only to eat McDonald’s every day? What a waste of a trip! If you have the room to splurge, do so at one of the restaurants; otherwise, choose a cafe or bistro to sit down and spend some quality time enjoying life. If that doesn’t fit your budget either, buy some groceries and have a picnic in a park or on the banks of the Seine. You’ll have a great time.

Don’t join the hordes of people standing right in front of the Mona Lisa

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Instead, enjoy a less cramped but equally nice view of the painting from the side. If you’re not an art buff, it will feel exactly the same.

Do disconnect

Facebook and email will still be in existence wherever you are (unless, of course, you’re behind the Great Firewall of China) but Paris will only be there for as long as you are. Whats the point of travelling anyways if you’re experiencing the world through your devices?

Don’t stay in when it gets dark

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You’re missing the fantastic light show, especially the one that the Eiffel tower becomes. Plus, there’s so much activity and hustle and bustle outside. Go! Enjoy yourself! Be free!

Do leave the passport and plastic behind

Make photocopies and stick them in the safe. They’ll be safer (see what I did there?) there than being carried around the city.

Don’t forget how Parisian tipping works

Gratuity is built into your restaurant bill, though extra tips are appreciated by your servers. Remember to tip guides, porters, and taxi drivers though!

Do you have any do’s and don’ts for travelling in Paris? Let us know in the comments!

7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Belgium

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2 months ago, a coordinated bombing attack occurred in Brussels. In the aftermath, controversy surrounding Belgium and its security issues began to swirl. Some travellers I know have put off their trips to Belgium because of their fears for their safety and security. However, my opinion is different. Read on to find out why I will still continue to visit Belgium!

#1 Gorgeous architecture

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Europe is ubiquitous for gorgeous buildings everywhere, but in Belgium, there’s an even better reason: not only are the buildings gorgeous, their architectural styles vary from town to town so you will never be bored.

#2 Waffle trucks

To be honest, I think this might be my favourite part about Belgium. Their waffles can be a little bit pricey, but they’re all over the place, and really, who doesn’t enjoy waffles day in, day out?

#3 A flower carpet

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Every other year, a flower carpet blankets the Grand Place in Brussels. There are some things in life that are just so majestic that you can’t really imagine it unless you see it in person. This is one of them. I have never seen so many flowers in my life, grouped together at one time. Never, except for in Brussels.

#4 The most beautiful public transit system

So the Belgians get a kickass railway, bus, and metro system, as well as a fancy flower carpet? No fair!

#5 Delicious chocolate

I kid you not, chocolate is a reason to live, and Belgium is full of it! At home, we fawn over Belgian/Swiss/Peruvian/[insert faraway country name here] chocolate, but in Belgium, most of the chocolate is Belgian! Their chocolate is just a beautiful way to replenish all the calories you just shed by walking around.

#6 Cheap but still amazing hotels

In Brussels, I stayed in a clean, reputable, nice hotel that went for under 70 euros a night, which is pretty good for a hotel close to the epicentre of the city. Good hotels in Belgium are everywhere, if you know how to find them!

#7 Because acts of terrorism are incredibly rare

My stance on acts of terrorism is this: Terrorism is rare, but it is always going to be a risk. In a global context, Belgium is one of the safest countries there is. I think that it’s important to be aware of risk, but also to understand that disproportionate fear should not impact how we live our lives.