Friday, December 25, 2015

Why I love Christmas in London

Yes, another post about London!  Here are some of my favourite things about Christmas in my favourite place on earth in no particular order.

The Lights....


Fun fair in Leicester Square
















The Culture...

In the winter London's theatre scene comes to life and at Christmas the variety of live performances is staggering.  You can see everything from a pantomime to performances of the Nutcracker to weeks of beautiful concerts at the Royal Albert Hall.


The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden


I've been here to see the Nutcracker, Swan Lake and this darling Beatrix Potter ballet.  Meant for children but I adored every minute!  I mean, look at them!


The Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall



Christmas Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall - absolutely wonderful!  The Royal Albert Hall has concerts nearly every evening in December.

The decorations...



Covent Garden


Santa and his reindeer  - made from Lego!  At Covent Garden

Reindeer, Covent Garden 2014


The Reindeer at Covent Garden in 2012



The Christmas tree at Liverpool St station.


The markets...

Whether it's the German market on South Bank, Borough Market all tarted up for the Holidays or just a local neighbourhood market, visiting London's markets at Christmas is a must.



The German market on Southbank...




Winter wonderland in Hyde Park...good if you've got kiddies...




And my fave rave....




The tree in Trafalgar Square....




This tree is presented to the people of Britain from the city of Oslo in Norway as a continuing token of  thanks for Britain's assistance during World War II.   It is simply decorated with lights.




Local choirs sing beside the tree most nights in December.

Store windows....







The above photos were taken in the John Lewis window...surprise surprise being as that was the year of the Monty the Penguin ad...if you haven't seen it you must google it and see it.


Okay I cheated and this was inside the store...but how cute...


Hamley's toy store...I have a confession to make.  Of all the times I have been to London I don't think I've ever been beyond the ground floor of Hamleys.  It is huge but it always seems to be busy and well, it's not like I need to buy toys... but their Christmas windows are pretty cool.  I never did make it to see Harrods' windows this time - I heard there were mice. I love mice!  However when I finally got there they had the windows papered up for the next display. (sob!)

And those are my SOME of my  favourite things about seeing the Christmas season in London.....hope you enjoyed!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How to do Christmas in Germany

For years my German friend Claudia had invited me to come and stay for Christmas.  And for years I would politely decline because 1) I had other plans and 2) couldn't get the time off work.  Finally in 2011 I phoned (Claudia isn't on the internet..) and said "does that invitation for Christmas still stand as if so I'd like to come this year".  And that's how I found myself in Heiligenstadt in Northern Bavaria over the Christmas holidays.

I've spent Christmas in other countries...Costa Rica, Nepal and England spring quickly to mind but this is the first time I had actually experienced a traditional Christmas in a family home.

Due to respect for Claudia and her mum's privacy there won't be any pictures of them on here.

So if you were in Germany over the Christmas holidays what would you do first?  Have some glühwein (mulled wine) you say? Thought so!  So off we went to the Nuremberg Christmas market. Claudia used to live in Nuremberg so I am quite familiar with it and I had been to the market way back in 1999 when I visited on a pre-Christmas trip.  Nuremberg is the second largest city in Bavaria (after Munich) with a population of over 500,000 and has wonderful medieval architecture.  Before we tackled the market we walked around to visit my favourite sights....



My favourite view!!!  The city has its modern parts with lots of wonderful shops but I love the gorgeous old buildings.


As you can see it was a drizzly dank kind of day but we still made the most of it.



Then because you are in Germany it's time for coffee and cake ...the German cakes....oh my...we met one of Claudia's friends at a cafe in the shopping district and had a nice chat.


Now well fortified we headed off towards the market as darkness started to fall...







Traditional smoking men..you insert a piece of incense in a slot within the ornament.  I bought one my first time in Nuremberg in 1983 but just use it as part of my Christmas decorations.  It doesn't smoke!  I wish I would have bought another one...oh well, next time!



Grilling the bratwurst...


Drinking the glühwein...I still have the mug and use it for my tea during the holiday season. (not big enough for the amount of coffee I need in the morning!)  The deposit for the mug is included in the price of your drink and if you want the money back you return the mug, if not it's yours!  I restrained myself to keeping one in Germany and one from the advent market in St Gilgen.


Church of our Lady in the background - built between 1352 and 1362.


So many goodies...so little time...


I even did a double take here - but the London Underground sign is actually a shop.

Christmas Eve was spent relaxing and going for a walk along the nearby bike paths.  These paths connect the towns in Upper Franconia.  Rather a dreary wet day but I enjoyed the walk and with the amount of food, chocolate and wine I was shoving in my gob I needed to walk every step!  I did this walk on my own as I need to get out in the fresh air...little did I know this would be my last long walk for a while....





Came back to a lovely meal of grilled sausages, warm potato salad, rolls and salad.  Claudia's mum is a wonderful cook!

Time to open pressies!!!!  In Germany you open your presents on Christmas Eve.



Here is a beautiful wooden hand made nativity scene (complete with candles) that Claudia gave me..I also got wonderful hand knitted socks from her mum (which I still wear to this day) and loads and loads of chocolate (I had to laugh later...as Claudia just watched me buy up Milka chocolate like a mad woman knowing full well I would even get more on Christmas!!!)...in fact my suitcase was so heavy from all my "loot" that when it fell on my right big toe (the sensitive arthritic one...) while getting off the train at my next stop (Paris) it ended any serious walking for the rest of the trip....which did not please me at all.  Not quite death by chocolate (now wouldn't that be a great way to go?) - just temporary disablement by chocolate!

Later that evening we attended the Christmas Eve service in Claudia's church (Lutheran)...it was absolutely beautiful.  Didn't understand a word as my German is pretty basic (to put it kindly).  I will never forget the very end...the lights were turned off with just candles burning and the congregation sang "Silent Night" in German of course...I sang along..in English.  It was just one of those moments in life that I will always remember...Afterwards we slowly walked home through the town square and it was such a wonderfully delicious feeling.  Back home we had more wine and more home made sweets and chocolate....and enjoyed these beautiful candles...



Below is a picture of the church and the interior taken the next day.




The next morning Claudia and her mum went to church while I relaxed and did some repacking...I had a lot of chocolate to pack!

Then it was time for Christmas lunch!  Roast duck, dumplings and red cabbage.  It was all good!


We then wandered around the town to try to burn off some of those calories...the duck was good and I did take more...just wanted to be cautious!!!


We walked through this square the night before after the church service...



View of the local castle that overlooks Heiligenstadt - Schloss (castle) Greifenstein...the current owner lives there and tours are available.


Another Santa trying to get into the window...I think they've got some pervy Santas in Europe!


And here's Santa walking his dog...


This was a lovely part of the walk.  It was a dull dank day but hey this is life and not every day is a pretty day or a perfect day...

Then back to Claudia's for home made pizza for supper and more wine and chocolate....all in all a fabulous Christmas in Germany thanks to Claudia and her wonderful mum!

The next day we visited Bamberg...stay tuned for a post on that!