The cold and rainy weather up here in Northern California, warm wintery concoctions of mulled wine and eggnog that I've been drinking too much of, and the in-your-face holiday merriment of Americans during the entire month of December have got me reminiscing HARD about my last three European winters.
After a long summer backpacking around Europe in 2013, I decided to stay, move to Prague and take courses to become an English teacher. In Copenhagen in October, I realized I was going to need to invest in something other than the one emergency windbreaker that added .4 lbs to the 25 I carried on my back for 3 months. I found a thrift store and bought a men's wool sweater that was made in the USA, ironically, and an old Italian leather bomber jacket that I've since refused to let go of and which hangs in my California closet. Well, Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities ever so with no money left for winter shoes, I had a hell of a time bearing the below zero temperatures in Prague in my Converse. I should be so lucky to still have all my toes.
In the winter of 2014, with a week off of work, a friend and I searched the web for the cheapest round trip flights out of Istanbul, which was Zagreb. Croatia is one of the most sought after vacation destinations... in the summer. So we flew there in January for $50. It was amazing - we had the city to ourselves and drank all the mulled wine. Probably the best thing about Zagreb in the winter though is its proximity to Slovenia by train. Capital city Ljubliana is so very underrated, with its fine dining restaurants, pubs with a million beers on tap, and metal concerts that begin at 2am, and is still one of my top three favorite cities in the world. When we arrived in Ljubliana and found the town's best pub - and were coerced into playing rounds of pub quiz - we learned that everyone was anticipating the biggest storm of the season in the next day or two. We left the bar that night with two kind souls willing to drive us back to Zagreb should the trains stop and we come close to missing our flight home. One was the husband of an American woman who'd left the states, fell in love with little Ljubliana and never returned.
In 2015, I lived in Istanbul, the city of 20 million that still completely shuts down in the snow. Outside my Tarlabasi home the main street was usually in a constant state of chaos. But when snow covered the ground - and after the first few cars failed to climb the incline of our road and crashed into parked cars which set off a series of car alarms, yelling, and probably fist fights or men running at one another with metal poles - it was completely quiet. We loved the snow because it meant our brick roof wouldn't leak water as quickly as it did when it rained, so maybe we could manage to fit five or so people in the living room for a movie. We would stay up as late as it took for the mayor of education to declare whether school was closed the next day or not. And if a snow day was declared a celebration would commence but first we'd argue about who was going to go out for wine and a 10 gallon jug of water for drinking and maybe showering should the water get shut off.
So even though I'm as comfortable as I could be here in California, where 35 degrees fahrenheit is warm in comparison but just in case there are two wood stoves in our home, all of the clean drinking water I could ask for to heat up a tea, the fuzzy Polish slippers I bought for $5 before they became trendy and $80, and all of the other things that allow me comfort that I have to be thankful for, I am still really missing my European winters.
So, I went through the endless Dropbox and iCloud folders to bring you...
My 5 favorite European winter places: a photo exposé
City view from the castle
Castle view from the city
Every inch of this city has something beautiful to look at
Even advertisements promote kindness and positivity
A Slovenian snowman, "Zdravo!"
Slovenian cuisine is amazing; fresh breads, local goat & sheep cheese, and tons of yummy veggies and roasted squashes with sauces and even excellent domestic wine too.
Then there's a magical castle on an island in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountain peaks
Lake Bled, low visibility
Stairs of death
He gave us an hour to explore the island and I swear that after 56 minutes he was ready to leave us
Scenes from the bus
Metelkova, where I met awesome people who'd never met an American before. I think I represented us well, drinking too much honey mead until the sun came up
Where there is art everywhere
Those are mountains, not clouds, in the distance
Eating fried potatoes on an eastern European train is a sure way to find happiness
Zagreb : tram traffic
So surprised we didn't get lost and freeze to death
One of the perks of traveling to these lakes in the off-season is no crowds; well, really no one at all...
A Croatian snowman, "Zdravo!"
Back in Zagreb
A church at dusk
Museum of Broken Relationships .1
Museum of Broken Relationships .2
Not memorable, but probably also not bad or expensive
You can eat well in Zagreb...
...or you can eat grilled cheese sandwiches at 2am
Caught the full moon
Early morning market with very cheap, very good quality lavender oil
What a concept
Drinking beer makes the sun come out in Croatia
Peaceful & pleasant are both the people and scenery in Zagreb
Whaaaa? (I didn't learn any Danish at all before I hopped on a train to Copenhagen from my family's home in Sweden.) Tip: you should try learning at least "hello" in the native language of the country you're about to step foot in before you do. Yes, even France.
Plenum is the best coffee shop
I spent the afternoon here drinking Irish coffees instead of catching my flight back to America.
When wandering Copenhagen if you start to believe that you're in a magical land or have been sucked into a fairy tale, just find a Jeep and some Ikea lighting and that will ground you back down to planet earth.
Dusk at the waterfront, .1
Dusk at the waterfront, .2
Home sweet home
Picked up this American-made wool sweater at a thrift store in Nørrebro to keep myself from freezing during my solo bicycle adventure across the city.
Never did find Hans Christain Andersen
Love the corner of this non distinct school building
Bob! (the walls of Christiania)
Inside [Freetown] Christiania, .1 (if you don't know what Christiania is, you should look it up)
Inside [Freetown] Christiania, .2
Blending into commuter traffic on these fast and winding streets amongst castles and parliament buildings. My most memorable bicycle ride in life thus far.
When in Prague, look up
Christmastime outside St. Vitus Cathedral, .1
St Vitus, .2
St. Vitus, .3
Old city at dusk
I was thrilled about life 99.9% of the time in Prague; more than any other city I've ever spent a significant amount of time in.
commute scene, .1
commute scene, .2
Prague is where I met my Partner in Crime Forever who successfully convinced me to move there after only one night of drinking and singing in the street. He also helped me make up my mind to move to Istanbul, instead of Bangkok, by flipping a coin & is part of the reason why I believe in magic.
They have a cake cart here with Sacher Torte on it. And they put whiskey in your coffee almost without you asking. And that guy in the blue shirt is the manager and told me to delete this picture since they are not allowed to be taken.
Christmas market and a really old church
Prague street staples: bread, wurst, potato, sauerkraut, beer
Favorite building: Žižkov (TV) Tower
View from the top
Another view from the top
Nightfall in the main square
Full course meals in fancy restaurants are so very affordable and fun
I will never forget nights spent at Termix
Bright & chilly mornings
Dali exhibit off the main square; my favorite quiet place
Jindřišská: my tram stop, home of the best tuna/hardboiled egg/pickle sandwiches on earth, & where I finally became fed up with the cold stares of the Czech population and began my three year stint of smoking cigarettes
Best beer shop is in Prague 2
I lost my wallet this night and someone created a lost and found so I could get it back and they didn't even steal my cigarettes out of it and then I bought all of my friends White Russians. So I learned the Czech death stare is just a front.
Seen @ Meet Factory, an art residence/gallery/venue/bar/nightclub that hosts fun parties and where people paint your face against your will
My TEFL instructor is also a good DJ and would get us into shows for free
A metro selfie that distracted me from the cold and proved the Czech death stare wasn't contagious
Definitely left a huge chunk of my heart here
Okay so this wasn't winter per se. It was September. But anyone who has spent time in Amsterdam will tell you the cold and rainy weather persists all year round, so really any month could be confused for winter. I went to Amsterdam again in the actual winter in January 2016 and it was as beautiful as it was wet, and just too cold to take my hands out of their pockets to take any photos. So these will suffice for the purpose of the post.
One of my favorite things about Amsterdam are the window decorations which makes it easy to imagine the insides of places.
A favorite little piece
Street art keepin it real
Sheltering from the rain
we went in just because it said darlings
Converse should pay me, really. Made it through 6 years and 23 countries with these babies, and counting... Besides that, my shirt was a thrift find with a tag from the 70s and my jeans were handmade by union employees in North Carolina. Not until I lived with 20 pounds of things for 6 months did I believe quality over quantity more than ever.
I was fascinated with tiles before I moved to the country that does tile right, Turkey
@ Pancakes! Amsterdam. This is either the best or worst crepe I'd ever tasted based on my expression. Nah, it was the best. Until I had the same combo of lox & creme fraiche in Paris which topped it barely. Why don't we eat crepes in America? Also, I used to be so cute when I turned my Palio di Siena flag into a headband.
If only I could go back in time and save half of that for later...
Some good bathroom stall advice
Favorite Van Gogh. His last painting before he died when he started to lose his mind. I just realized I hung the print I got upside down in my apartment in Prague. Couldn't justify carrying my backpack on airplanes with this thing so I gave it to my British friend who made me love eggplant.
Tiny house on water