Standing in the courtyard in front of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon (Palais des Papes), it’s not hard to sense the power and influence that this building was meant to symbolize for the Catholic church. Its grand and imposing architecture spans 15,000 square meters and stands 50 meters high. Soaring into the blue Avignon sky, one wonders if its meant to give the impression that it’s reaching for heaven.

Medieval Carcassonne has been considered a strategic location since Neolithic times. Its first settlement dates to about 3500 BC. This ancient rocky hilltop is steeped in history and lore. The Romans were the first to build ramparts around the cité (walled town) in the 1st Century BC. The prime hilltop location made it easy to defend, and its strategic position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea, as well as between the Massif Central and the Pyrénées made it an important trading place as early as the 6th century BC.

Our experiences in 2014 have been rewarding beyond our dreams. Taking the time to look back over all of our blog posts, Facebook posts, and photos has made it all seem even more unbelievable. It’s been a Year of Nomadic Family Travel and it’s hard to believe all that we’ve done and the amazing places that we’ve visited. We are truly grateful to have spent the year exploring and learning together, living abroad, and making friends.

There was so much to cover in our year-end review, that we felt that our recollections needed to be broken up into two parts for easier reading. If you haven’t read Part 1, which covers January – June, then you can find it here. Otherwise, read on as we cover our adventures from July – December.

Avignon’s Christmas nativity scenes and Little Saints are a must-see. These elaborate and traditional displays are also known as the crèche Provençale or Provençal crib and they have been around since the French Revolution. At that time, churches were forcibly closed and sacked. Both masses and nativity scenes were banned. In response, devout Christians created their own crèche to keep the tradition alive in their homes. They crafted “santons”, or little saints, made of clay. These figurines not only included the Holy Family, shepherds and Three Kings, but also the ordinary peasants of Provence.

We could go on and on about how beautiful Budapest is at night. The buildings, monuments, and bridges are lit up, showcasing the beautiful architecture. The city bustles with activity, but it never feels hectic or overwhelming.

The evenings offer ruin pubs, cafes, restaurants, world-class opera, concerts, night cruises on the Danube, or any variety of nightlife that you can think of. And, it’s very easy to get around by foot or public transportation.

How did we end up spending the holidays in Budapest? Well, it was September and, after spending 6 months in the extreme heat and humidity of Southeast Asia, the idea of spending Fall and Winter in the northern hemisphere didn’t sound bad at all. Plus, it was difficult to imagine that it would feel “Christmasy” to us in a tropical climate. I suppose that comes from growing up in the NE and NW regions of the United States.

When you decide to travel long-term, many wonderful experiences lay before you, but you must also be willing to leave behind the comforts of home and loved ones. We enjoy seeing what everyone is up to on Facebook and scheduling calls with friends and family, but the absolute best treat is hosting friends while traveling abroad. We love it when people come to visit.

People choose to travel for a number of reasons, but it often includes a desire to expose oneself to new experiences and cultures. It gives us an opportunity to grow and learn. To us, it’s what makes travel such a rich and worthwhile venture. However, putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you don’t always know the language, can sometimes cause stress and frustration. In fact, travel challenges are guaranteed. How you handle that stress and frustration will determine your success as a traveler and the satisfaction you get from traveling.