Gluhwein for a German Christmas

There’s nothing quite like the magic of a German Christmas Market. At night. In the cold and snow. With a cup of steaming gluhwein.

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I tried the Christmas Market in Vancouver, Canada and while it was delightful, it wasn’t the same as my experiences in Weisbaden and Cologne, Germany where the tradition of Christkindlemarkts go back to the Late Middle Ages. Originally a place for villagers to meet and craftsmen and farmers to sell goods, today’s outdoor German Christmas Markets still serve their original function. There’s been an update with the addition of electricity – twinkling lights.

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And rides. While there are still the charming traditional carved wooden Christmas toys and sweets in many of the stalls, there are also modern updates of machine made handicrafts and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers when the choirs aren’t singing.

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Every Christmas Market serves Gluhwein, a traditional Christmas mulled wine served in a special ceramic cup intended to warm your hands and insides on cold December nights while strolling the Market.

Gluhwein, which literally translated means “glowing wine”, is thought to have originated as a solution for red wine that was going bad. Adding honey and spices and cooking them in the wine with hot irons made it drinkable. Today it’s sold mit Schuss (with a shot) of brandy or another liquor for an extra dose of warmth.

Snow is predicted for my area again this week – a perfect time to pull out my gluhwein mugs, stock up on brandy and spices and make my favorite recipe (mit Schuss of course):

  • 2 medium lemons
  • 2 medium oranges
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 2 (750-milliliter) bottles dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Beaujolais Nouveau
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • Cheesecloth
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons and oranges in wide strips, avoiding the white pith; place the zest in a large saucepan. Juice the lemons and oranges and add the juice to the pan. Place the cloves and cardamom in a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it tightly with butcher’s twine, and add the bundle to the saucepan.
  2. Add the sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks, place the pan over high heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the red wine and brandy, stir to combine, and bring just to a simmer (don’t let it boil). Remove from the heat and remove and discard the spice bundle before serving.

Salamanca Spain’s Art Deco/Nouveau Museum

I’ve become a regular contributor to the regional magazine, WestSound Home and Garden. For me, travel is anything that takes me to new places or forces me to see the familiar with fresh eyes, no matter how small my travel distance. The magazine’s editor recently assigned me an article on art deco buildings in a nearby community. Often kismet plays a role in my travel experiences as it did with this assignment. It just so happened that I spent a day at the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco in Salamanca Spain when I was there this spring immersing myself in art, fashion, jewelry, dolls, fans, furniture and architecture of those two influential styles.

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The museum is located in the Casa Lis, a building originally designed as a mansion for Don Miguel Lis, a wealthy Salamanca merchant fond of Art Nouveau. Restored in 1992, the building’s exterior stained glass windows are worthy of a few hours of inspired awe.

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You can begin your tour in the museum’s artfully decorated tearoom next to a stained glass window contemplating the guide pamphlet while lingering over a cappuccino.

I began with the doll collection first, not so much because I’m a fan of dolls, but because I never realized that Art Deco and Art Nouveau had any influence on children’s toys. There is an entire section of display cases filled with elaborately dressed bisque headed French dolls used to showcase miniature Parisian fashions to the aristocracy and German dolls called character babies because of their realistic facial expressions.

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Collections range from decorative cloisonne embedded with precious stones such as this egg with rubies to elaborately painted bronzes like the Nativity scene figure below:

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While many European museums can be pricey, the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco is free on Thursday mornings and at other times costs 4 Euros for adults and 2 Euros for students. It’s a beautiful gem inside and out – worthy of an entire day of contemplating two influential styles that emerged from the Industrial Revolution and World War II.

Canada for the Holidays (because they won’t let me live there)

In the wake of the U.S. election, I’ve been thinking about Canada, the compassionate, progressive northern neighboring country only a three hour drive away. For a few days I considered moving north for the next four years until I logged onto their immigration site and using the Canadian Immigration Points Calculator, discovered I wasn’t qualified to obtain a work permit. It turns out I’m too old (over age 47 = zero points on the calculator) and my last ten years of employment isn’t listed on National Occupation Classification list of Skills 0, A or B. Canada’s progressive values apparently don’t include encouraging union organizers to come rabble rouse. Zero points on the calculator again.

And so I’m reduced to admiring my northern neighbor from my southern vantage point making an occasional foray past its borders to pretend I live there. One of my favorite Canadian cities is Vancouver and one of my favorite haunts there is Granville Island, particularly over the December holiday season. If you’re lucky enough to visit then you can also take in the outdoor German Christmas Market and support indigenous tourism, both subjects of previous blog posts.

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Granville Island was a former industrial manufacturing center. Today it’s home to more than 275 businesses including theatre venues, galleries, brewpubs, shops and restaurants. What remains of its industrial history has embraced the thriving Granville arts community.

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I like arriving to Granville Island by Aquabus, the city’s maritime transportation system with multiple waterfront docks. Commuting by Aquabus gives you a bonus – a waterfront tour of Vancouver.

My first stop is always the Granville Island Public Market, a farmers market of permanent retailers and over 100 day vendors selling artisan foods and handmade crafts.

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Sri Lanka Warning Signs

You’ve likely seen them in your travels. Those warning signs literally translated from the country’s native language into awkward English. I’m always glad to see them (particularly when it involves my safety).  I discovered these travelling in Sri Lanka:

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Iceland: Xmas & New Year 2016/2017

Iceland isn’t the first destination that comes to mind as a place to spend Christmas and New Years. Yes, its THE place to visit now, but normal people venture there in the high season of summer and fall when you can circumnavigate the nation on the Ring Road. When all roads are passable, the temperature is pleasant and everything is open. On the downside, the airfare is more expensive, the accommodations aren’t cheap and the island nation is over run with tourists.

We’re going in the dead of winter when the temperature hovers at freezing and there’s only six hours of  daylight. When its the low season and many of the rural museums and sights are closed. We’re going then because Iceland has quaint Christmas traditions and one of the world’s best New Years Eve fireworks shows, all research subjects for future travel articles I’m writing.

Of our ten days in the country, half will be spent Reykjavik and half will be spent seeing the sights outside the capital. For part of the trip, we needed a 4 wheel drive, budget accommodations for four outside of Reykjavik and some idea what’s open in the off season. For that I turned to a surprising and very helpful resource – Hostelling International Iceland. 

Their website is filled with information including a country map of all the hostels, detailed information and links for each one, a comprehensive downloadable booklet, suggested trip itineraries and the offer to make all of your hostel and vehicle rental reservations. As I’ve been researching their possibilities, they’ve been responding within 24 hours to my various questions. How far between the hostels that are open that time of year? It’s on their website. What’s their advice about driving from Hostel A to Hostel B a distance away? They reminded me there’s limited daylight and suggested there would not be much open on that road that time of year. Do the hostels have a private room (for me) and dorm room for the three young adults who are part of my intrepid band of fellow travelers? Yes! What’s their recommendation about a travel guide? Their downloadable itineraries provide detailed information and they give you a travel CD as part of their service that explains the sights. What are the hidden fees? There aren’t any. They provide the reservation service for no fee and the vehicle pick up and drop off has no extra fees because some of our group is staying at their Reykjavik hostel.

We leave in two months. I’m looking forward to finally seeing the fabled northern lights, Elf School (more on that later), rural hostel living, hip Reykjavik, a glacier tour and the quaint Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve!

A Message From Van Gogh

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View of the Sea at Scheveningen

During my recent week in Amsterdam I wandered through five museums; four in Amsterdam and one in de Hague. I had a vague understanding of the Dutch painters, but seeing their work up close in Dutch museums is completely breathtaking.

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Dutch master and Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Willem van Gogh has an entire Amsterdam museum built in 1973 devoted to his works and that of his contemporaries conveniently located a 10 minute walk from my houseboat accommodation.

In 2002 thieves scaled the Van Gogh Museum wall, smashed a window, evaded the security system and stole two works of art including View of the Sea at Scheveningen, one of only two Dutch seascapes painted by Van Gogh. While the thieves were caught in 2004, the paintings were never recovered until the news broke of their recovery while I was in Amsterdam. According to Smithsonian.com the theft was linked to the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples. This wasn’t the first time a Van Gogh museum theft occurred. In 1991 twenty paintings were stolen from the museum and recovered 35 minutes later in an abandoned car.

I attempted to sketch the mural side of the Van Gogh Museum when I was there and gave up feeling not at all up to the task. Returning home a quote from Van Gogh popped up on my Facebook feed; a message I wished he would have delivered in that moment of intimidation that discouraged me from pressing on with my drawing.

“If you hear a voice within you saying, “You are not a painter”, then by all means paint….and that voice will be silenced.”

 

Dutch Shoes

In Gulliver’s Travels, author Jonathon Swift’s character, Gulliver found himself a giant on the island of Lilliput in the South Indian Ocean which was inhabited by tiny people 1/12th the size of regular humans. As a tall woman, I’m often aware of my height when I travel. In certain countries I feel like Gulliver.

But there are other places in the world where I don’t stand out – places where the people grow tall and sturdy and our eyes meet on the same plane when passing on the street. I’m often asked if I’m Dutch when I travel so finding myself with a week to spare when transiting through Amsterdam this past month I decided to spend it among my tall peers. And to test the mettle of the height accepting Netherlands, I went shoe shopping. It’s one thing to grow your people taller, but do you offer them size appropriate footwear?

I once thought Paris would be my shoe nirvana. Its an epicenter of the fashion world. Tall, lithe women grace their streets and wear the most fashionable shoes going about their daily business. They bike in stiletto heels and sip wine at outdoor cafes in high leather boots. It was Frenchwomen who popularized the ballet flat as a global trend.  But when I walked into shoe stores in Paris, saleswomen would look at my feet, purse their lips and, with a note of pity in their voice, inform me that they never carry shoes in my size. Never. Jamias. One place pointed me to a store in the Republique district of the city with a backroom that had a single dusty shelf of black oxfords. The same thing happened in Switzerland. There the salesman eventually found a pair of bright pink Sketchers in my size. In Spain I was forced to buy men’s Nikes for an unexpected hiking trip.

Amsterdam would surely be different. The Dutch, who come from a Germanic ethnic group, became the tallest Europeans in the 1980s, a dramatic turnaround from their former status in the first half of the 19th century as the shortest Europeans. Smithsonian Magazine as well as other researchers claim the reason is natural selection. In theory I should be able to walk into a Dutch shoe store and inquire about shoes without the look of pity I got elsewhere. My first stop was a mild success. The saleswoman had some styles in my size but she recommended that I check out a store called Caland/Schoen that specialized in fashionable larger sizes for women and men.

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Caland/Schoen is shoe heaven for anyone who has experienced the look of pity from shoe salespeople; the look that says, “Your feet are gargantuan”. There was an entire room of shoes in my size. Snappy red ankle boots, breezy navy ballet flats, stylish multi-toned heels, flattering European styles and not a single dusty black oxford on the shelves. It’s a self service store if you choose to not ask for help. I gushed about the variety and sheer volume of shoes in my size and the friendly saleswoman left me alone for two hours happily trying on all sorts of styles. I bought a pair of stylish black veterschoen and had I had more room in my suitcase and on my credit card, I would have come home with much more.

The owner of Caland/Schoen, Anke Griffioen, is a woman with a taste for fashionable footwear who had difficulty finding shoes in her size. She opened up her first Caland/Shoen store in Rotterdam and eventually a second storefront in Amsterdam. Calend/Schoen also has an online store.

Amsterdam Store: Bilderdijkstraat 66 (trams 12, 13, 14)

Rotterdam Store: New Shortcuts 14