Here are a few snippets of Christmas past spent in various parts of the World. The spirit remains strong and the family connections, despite whatever corner of our globe we live in. May your Christmas be Merry and Bright!
Glædelig jul – Christmas in Denmark
God jul – Christmas in Norway
Frohe Weihnachten! An Austrian, German and Swiss Christmas
And in Australia, we celebrate too even though it is hot and humid…. but we try to stay cool!
With the topic of refugees and terrorism very much in the news, this novel by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, is written for our time and makes for illuminating reading.
Two impoverished Roma boys are scavenging for something to sell in the ruins of an abandoned Soviet military hospital. Purportedly to improve the lives of themselves and their poverty-stricken families in a rural village of Hungary, one of the boys embarks on a radical plan. Far away in middle class Denmark, Red cross nurse, Nina Borg inadvertently risks her own life and those of her family, to assist a group of Hungarian refugees but little does she know her actions will have disastrous ramifications.
“Jobbik. It had to be Jobbik, taking to the streets to protest the Jews, Communists and Romas from ‘ruining out nation.’ Lusja straightened herself up pursing her lips as though she had found something disgusting on her shoe. ‘God spare us from any more racist, goose stepping idiots.’ The driver turned in his seat. ‘Jobbik aren’t racists,’ he said. ‘They’re just for Hungary.’ Lusja straightened up in her seat and stared daggers at the driver, 128 pounds of indignant humanism versus 260 pounds of overweight-but-muscular nationalism. ‘And what kind of Hungary would that be?’ she asked. ‘A Hungary clinically scrubbed of all diversity? A Hungary where you can be arrested just because you skin is a different colour? A Hungary where it’s totally okay for Romas to have a life expectancy that’s fifteen years shorter than the rest of the population?’
A novel that is carefully crafted and well-balanced, allowing you to understand both sides, their personal motives and furthermore, to feel empathy for the characters woven into the story line: The studious brother who in one brief moment is denied a legal career and betterment for himself, and his family, only because of a racially slanted agenda, his quest to save his wayward orphan brother who, by way of contrast, chooses an extremist, crash-through course of action, and the consequences for each; the innocent bystanders; the well-meaning humanitarians in Denmark, the terrorist thugs and ordinary residents of homogeneous, suburbia integrating with ‘foreigners’.
Are they all helping or hindering the cause? What toll does it take, personally, on those who help the less fortunate, the traumatized, the dangerous, and those on the fringes of society?
In the face of a changing Europe, this Scandinavian novel illuminates some salient points to ponder about inter-related events that shape our modern lives.
Other Novels by these bestselling authors: The Boy in the Suitcase
Although it was Friday and we spent most of it flying over Asia and the Middle East, we were to move backwards in time and experience Friday a second time. It was shortly after 6 am Friday when we landed, so the start of Friday again!
Our Lufthansa flight was on the then new and so enormous A-380, which has two floors of seating. With the Lufthansa CEO and his entourage taking up most of the senator class on the Upper deck, (spotted later on German TV, otherwise would not have had the foggiest who he was), it then took us almost a full hour to board this mammoth, flying monster that had just come into service; so recently in fact, that it still smelt new. I must comment that the cabin was very well insulated, which did cut down on that awful vibrative noise one gets during long haul flights.
The Crew were not very friendly, but not unfriendly either. Just a presence, could not really say a verbal one, more a physical one. As for the passengers, the man next to me was either Russian or East European and he was the best flight neighbour I have had yet. He just curled up and went to sleep, and I did not hear ‘boo’ out of him all night. The other side of the plane consisted of a large group of square-headed, severely blonde gentlemen with no. 1 crew cuts, shouting in what sounded like an angry Deutche. But then German sounds like an angry language, sometimes.
Frankfurt airport itself, is huge and extremely difficult to get one’s bearings in unless, of course, you go directly out to an exit. On passing through Passport control, we were asked about our itinerary as happens when you are a foreigner. I must say that the customs/police were very kind and friendly, as was our taxi driver, (who was hell bent on breaking the sound barrier, getting us to our hotel in Offenbach, a satellite town of Frankfurt. He was from Pakistan, ( aren’t most taxi drivers?) and he told us how he had a near fatal car accident when he first started driving… eeek! Something he tells his customers to reassure them, no doubt……
To our delight, our room at Sheraton Offenbach was made available for us straight away, at 7.15 am, which was either by good fortune, or because we were part of a large tour group that was commencing the next day. So, after settling in, we toddled out to find what Offenbach had on offer….excuse the bad pun/Dad joke.
What we found was a small Christmas market, focused on food, in the “main” (again excuses for the pun/Dad joke), a wonderful Cafe at the Rathaus, where hot chocolate would be served to you for a meagre $1.20 Euro, but who am I to complain? (Especially when I am used to paying $6.00AUD).Also, a medium sized indoor shopping centre with some wonderful clothes shops, just a short stroll from our hotel. Heidi and I spent most of the day there buying jumpers and t-shirts, also some jewellery that was a bit more stylish than the mainstream shops back home. We loved it and found many a bargain and some nice new winter gear. When I visited Germany in 2004, everthing was so expensive, now…. things were very inexpensive. Was the AUD performing that well against the Euro?
It was rather cold and we started to feel it, but nothing daunted, we did spot a squirrel in the nearby Palais park, and it was far too tempting to not chase this little fellow into the park. Whilst the Autumn leaves periodically dropped around us, we attempted to get a good photo of the illusive creature (which turned out to be a blurry shot anyway). The Palais building, pictured below, is now a conference centre for the hotel, but looked like something that the Von Trappe family might have once owned. The outside temperature was about + 5 degrees, but felt a little colder, presumably after our Singapore sojourn, and we had not yet acclimatised to the cold.
Busing Palais Offenbach
Something else we had yet to learn about Offenbach was where to find good local eateries and we were somewhat put off by the name of some of the food at the supremarket and Christmas markets such as “Super Dickman.” (The mind boggles but there we have it…) Opting for something safer, we purchased some simple bread rolls from the Supermarket, (it’s always good to check out the local’s food ) and found some delicious pastries as well, which were more than satisfying. The German bakery treats were to become so familiar to us and indeed part of our permanent body shape for the next 3 weeks and hopefully not part of our body shape for three years. They are sooo good!!!Come nighttime, we dined at the hotel restaurant and the prices, once again, I have to say were moderate, compared to Australia. I had a delicious prawn pasta dish, seen below, in its triumphal glory and Heidi had a bolognaise that would have easily fed 6 people!!!
Travellers tip: If you are used to having still water with your meals, then beware, in Germany you have to specially request still water and pay for it, or they will provide mineral water in a bottle for you, again at a price.If you just ask for ‘water’, they will give you the version with bubbles, or ‘gas’, as they say. In other words, sparkling mineral water. You have to ask for ‘still vand’, or ‘still water’. Perhaps because it is much colder in Germany than at home, noone seems to drink still tap water here. You can see our requested ‘water’ in the background of this picture, where we learnt this lesson very quickly. Water was something we pondered about on our first night in Germany.
The top of the World… From Mt Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland. From there, one can see the Bernese Oberland, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland…fabulous. And this is was our destination this morning, by Cable car and Gondola. Once upon a time, citizens thought it would bring bad luck to climb Mt Pilatus, but now, millions of tourists visit every year, without any kind of disastrous consequences. In winter, one might see snow at this altitude, but not this year…. no snow to be seen in early December, at least. Nevertheless, the views are still spectacular in weather such as this: it was sunny, mild but not cold!! Ordinarily, the mountain is covered with fog in the morning, but not so today! The vistas were ours, to be seen.
The entrance to the Mt Pilatus Gondola attraction…
Going up Mt Pilatus in the Gondola
Up we go…
Our gondola’s wheels whirled and bumped along the track taking us higher and higher. Below, we could see quaint Swiss style houses with ever so neatly packed timber piles, and a summer toboggan run.
Several fellow passengers started to get a bit nervous with the ever-increasing height…. but this was not a time to opt out, so up we went, higher and higher. “Just look out, not down, or up”, I reassured them.
Up ,UP, UP, the Gondola went…until….
….we came to the end of the Gondola cable. Then it was time to get out, of the Gondola, but the ride was not completely over, as we weren’t yet at the summit of Mt. Pilatus. Now we were to squish 40+ people into another cable car, that had the maximum capacity of only 40. Slightly disconcerting to say the least, as it swung back and forth, like the pendulum on a clock, in mid air. It reminded me of thescene in one one of those James Bond movie scenes…. when was Roger Moore going to pop his head through the roof to rescue us?
And then, the thought struck me, we have to go down in this thing, again…..with 40 + people….
Don’t you just love the shadow Mt Pilatus throws in the next photograph? It looks like some ancient mythological giant..
the incline suddenly became EXTREME…. but it was only moments later that we arrived at the summit…
The summit views were mind blowing! And we still weren’t at the very,very top. That required a short walk, about 50 steps, (Seniors are warned!) that took us to the very highest point possible, where a small hut, possibly containing metereological instruments, is located. This is where the incredible photo opportunities abound.
A small cafe and souvenir shop is located inside the building, where you alight from the Cable car. It was here that I bought a rather lovely Swiss watch, one that had a leather band with edelweiss and the Swiss emblem embroidered on it. And no surprise: it keeps great time! Well, I confess I also did HAVE to get the mandatory T – Shirt, to say I had made the 7000 ft Ascent. Possibly my highest ascent to date. (We don’t have too many high mountains in Australia).
On the way down, I pondered why the return journey passes ever so much quicker. Then just a short coach ride took us back to the Astoria hotel in Luzern itself.
The breakfast we had earlier,that day, provided by Hotel Astoria, in the building next door, was nothing to write home about…. ( so much for Swiss cuisine) so we headed straight for the Bakery, opposite Bucherer. And yes, we did collect both THOSE souvenir spoons, on the way. What did I eat…? I could not resist a Berliner donut, deliciously decadent, and so incredibly unhealthy, don’t you agree? Sitting on the shores of beautiful Lake Lucerne, in the glorious sunshine, temperature an almost perfect 6 degrees. The moment so fabulous, I decided to text my work colleagues back home in Australia. Just thought I should share…..did not think afterwards, it was the middle of the night and probably woke some of them up…oops..
SHOPPING in LUCERNE
If you arrive in Lucerne late on a Thursday night, you will find the shops open til late, but many shops such as Casa grande, which is one of the main souvenir shops do close during the daytime around lunch for 2 hours, so you are warned!!! The Swiss are quite protective of their midday siestas. As for what to buy here: it is expensive, but if you stick to locally made goods, (ie. Swiss made), you can snag a good buy.
Souvenirs to buy include: Swiss knifes, Swiss watches, Swiss army knives, ( I bought one for each of my family, with a variety of gadgets suited to their particular needs). I got myself one of the very best kitchen knifes you could possibly get, at Bucherer.http://www.bucherer.com/ It is fine quality, not hideously expensive, perfectly weighted, and will last forever! I love it. Also a great souvenir. Made a mental note not to forget to declare it to Customs, did not want to tell my husband I would be late home as I had been arrested!
I am repeating something from the previous post, but feel it warrants a seondary mention: You simply must try a Swiss fondue which I had tried the night before
I can say that I enjoyed my breakfast particularly the rolls and pastries, but I am not sure the Casino crowd could stomach such sweetness given their nightly binge. First stop was the ethereal and spectacular Wilten Basilica, which was built in 1751. To fully appreciate the ceiling, it is necessary to lie on the floor, which is hard to do, given the throngs of tourists. So I settled for a crick in my neck and some standard photos. Apparently the Austrians fought the Turks for many years, finally defeating them in 1600’s. Then the Catholics fought the Protestants, ( who were very austere), and thus the Catholics embarked on a mammoth Church building program. The more lavish and ornate, the better the chances at keeping the masses within their doors. The inspiration for the Crown of 12 stars in the Basilica, was from the Book of Revelations.
From this point, here we had a great view of the Ski Jump from the graveyard, opposite the church. Following this, we boarded the coach, and drove up the Inn Valley following the green river “Inn”.
We passed the Oetztal which is the Valley where the Bronze-Age, Ice Man: “Frozen Fritz” was found on the Similaun Glacier. Fritz caused quite a stir between the countries as the debated which country controlled the area where he was found. The Italians wanted him, but in the end the Austrians who found him, succeeded in having him relocated to the Museum in Innsbruck. Fritz had killed four people before he died as he had the DNA of 4 people on his person. He wore furs and had a dagger. arrowhead and flint. I can see why people would be attracted to this area, and why the pass between the mountains would have been traversed by billions of people over the evolution of man. An easy pass through the mountains, and it made me think of the children’s films, ” Ice age.”
which is a privately owned autobahn stop. Downstairs in the cellar, Tiroler Speck (ham )was hanging along with local cheeses. The food selection at this place, is fantastic and you really need to allocate a full meal here and not just a “snack” or at the very least, if your tummy is sensitive, a photo stop. You will find the ubiquitous Heidi cups and other souvenirs here as well, just in case you need to fill up more room in your suitcase.
“Trofana Tyrol” is located between Imst and Landeck in the upper valley of the Tyrolean “Inn” River Valley and the rest stop will jump in your eye when driving along highway A12. It is beyond being an ordinary rest stop. It is a diverse and romantic world by itself. A meeting point for locals, tourists, gourmets and travelers. If only our bland, character-less, generic, “golden arches type bp” rest stops would take a leaf out of this decorating style, we would all be better off. Tradition melded with modern functionality. I could have spent hours there!
Next we decided not to drive through the 15 km Arlberg Tunnel into the province of Austria called the Vorarlberg, but, in an attempt to find some snow for those who have not experienced the pleasures of the frozen white stuff, we drove over the gorgeous Arlberg Pass Road passing the world-famous resort of St Anton am Arlberg. At 1800 metres, we did manage to find an oh= so small patch of snow which one of the fellow travellers managed to toboggan down with a plastic bag lodged underneath his bottom as a makeshift toboggan!
The skiing towns of St Anton, and St Jakob, were busy making artificial snow for the children to play in, due to a lack of the natural snowfall this year. I so enjoyed this vast Tirolean valley of shingled roofed houses with an icing sugar dusting of snow, and the ever-present fortified Church atop a high hill. Minus 2 degrees was just a perfect temp for me.St. Christoph is another resort in the valley where all the resorts are linked, when the snow is falling. Apparently, all accomodation is 5 star there! ( not seen in this photos)
The last town in Austria was Feldkirch where everyone goes home for lunch. Women do not work outside the home, once they have had children. The way into Austrian society is Krist, Kinder and Kuchen or perhaps it is Kinder, Kuchen, and Krist. ( Children Cooking and Church) I could deal with the first two, but maybe not the last.
Shortly after which we entered the 4th smallest country in the world called Liechtenstein, indicated by the initials F.L. Population 33 456. Capital is called Vaduz. A short stop was all that was needed to view this tiny principality,which is just 17 km long.It has the highest rate of tax at 18 % and the biggest producer of false teeth!!!!!!! One could easily see the medieval castle belonging to the Lords of Vaduz from the main street, even though the Prince “bought” this land and the Principality that went with it, when he was appointed Prince. His family is originally from Vienna. Fancy going shopping for a Principality.
I noticed that things were quite expensive here and there was not much to buy unless you wanted a tacky souvenir, so we were quite content to window shop and view the architecture of the main street,whilst, some members of our group decided to have their passports stamped at the tourist office. Even that cost them 2 Euros.
It was easy to spot the Liechtenstein Parliament. This country has a hereditary constitutional Monarchy. They are affiliated politically, with the Swiss. An ultra modern building, which to me, lacks the character of this previous parliamentary structure, which is pictured here with its historically relevant gables and strong striped walls. Why does modern architecture have to be so “boxy”?
Lake Zurich is often called the Gold Coast, and although the lunch stop at Garnerland rest stop smelt of cow dung fertiliser, there are apparently many famous people living along the lakeside, such as Tina Turner. I hope they don’t fertilize the fields too often!
On through “Heidi” country and past Hirzel where the author Joanna Spyri was born. and C.H. and the city of Lucerne, Switzerland was now firmly in our sights
C.H. is used to indicate the Confederate of Helvetia and has been used since Roman times to indicate the united cantons of Switzerland.
Arriving in the early evening, to Lucerne, a city of some 68,000 people, we were settled into our Hotel ” Astoria” with ease. Mind you, it was hard to facilitate social contact with the other guests from our group, as the hotel is located in three separate parts and the elevators do not connect at all. There was free wi-fi in the foyer, but internet was not available in the rooms, so a cluster of 10 or so guests sat around the ‘2001 Space Odyssey’ Swiss designed white furniture in the lobby and surfed the net, emailed and uploaded photo content at will. Breakfast was to be in another building located around the corner. Such was the life in a city as old as Lucerne, I guessed. We were to spend two nights here.
Pilatusstrasse 29, Lucerne 6002, Switzerland
Hotel report: The rooms were pretty spartan and the nightclub close by did its darndest to make sure our eyelids did not close, until the wee hours, so some guests questioned the 4 star rating. There is a penthouse bar on the roof top, which has nice views of the city. The breakfast provided was tasty but very light on, compared to the establishments in Germany. The good: This hotel was located close to the city centre so we were walking distance from the lake and Bucherer. Couple this with the fact that we were in Switzerland, and this probably explained why the 4 star bar had been lowered, comparatively speaking. Rating: 2.5 out of 5
On our first evening, we took a five minute walk til we were right on the lake, opposite Bucherer and the Chapel bridge. Our tour director took us on a walking tour. Bucherer and the mandatory
souvenir spoon was high on most people’s lists. But what is Lucerne know for but the famous Chapel Bridge? Built in 1333, it is so very old, well that goes without saying, and painted with biblical type paintings inside its gables. Tragically, most of it burnt down in 1993, 660 years later.( I am glad it wasn’t 666 years, or some conspiracy theorists/devil worshippers, would have had a field day). Only a small part of the original bridge remains, and you can easily see charred spots here and there on some of the older parts that they managed to save from the flames. How many millions of people have wandered through its arches from one side of Lucerne to the other?
Much photographed, I had little time to take in the paintings, and their glory, as our group kept a sprightly pace, but a later opportunity came a few weeks later when we passed through the city of Lucerne again. The paintings are really a marvel and I wonder at the treasures that weres lost in the fire.
Our dinner this night, was partaken at a Swiss restaurant, in the same medieval vein as the paintings. Restaurant Fritschi on Sternenplatz 5 so delighted the artist in me.
Historic pictures of jesters, jugglers and town’s people of old, adorned the exterior walls, and timber panelling with more medieval themed paintings could be found alongside traditional Swiss furniture, in the interior. I loved it. This was the place to have an authentic Swiss fondue. Traditionally made with a mixture of three cheeses, Gruyere, Jarlsberg and Emmenthaler, this dish was served with a crusty baguette, thickly sliced. I ordered a fondue for one, and for my young daughter, they graciously served “hot chips” much to her pleasure, while I struggled to finish the deliciously decadent and hearty fondue. It was no surprise that the Swiss army is held in high regard, as one of these fondues, could easily have fed a battalion! It was so rich and so delicious, yet I only managed to eat about three slices of bread, before my stomach said “Whoa there!!!! ”
Wandering the streets at night in December, is not a lonely experience. Not only were there Alpine horn blowers to entertain us, but some other traditional Christmas musicians, which you might just make out in the following photo. To me they looked a bit like Chefs, carrying large gongs, and they played a percussive tune as they crossed the traffic bridge (covered in a net of Christmas lights) Even though the Christmas markets did not commence until 3rd Dec…( a day later) there was already such a festive atmosphere.
The Jesuit Church, built in 1667-68 was another stop, and featured a fascinating light show, which delighted my daughter. A different pattern was illuminated on its walls, every few minutes, including one of the swiss flag. They told me the church interior was open for viewing, even at night, but when we entered, it was so gloomy and dark, and devoid of tourists, that we felt a little unsafe and exited rather quickly.
Another amazing day, but I do have to ponder the safety of me and my daughter when travelling alone in a foreign land. I almost got lost making our way back to Hotel Astoria, but the map saved us. Safety of woman travelling alone is something we should ponder about before we leave home.