Riding In On A Broomstick: Italy’s Christmas Heroine

I thought I had completed my Christmas market circuit across Europe.  That is until we hit Rome for New Years.   On an evening stroll, we came across market stalls in Piazza Navona.

“Christmas markets!”  I exclaimed with glee.

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Carousel & game stalls

Carousel & game stalls for children

Upon closer look, we were a little creeped out.   Witches were covering the tents, stacked in baskets, and the proprietors were waving their hands in the air, prompting them to all howl and cackle.  What the heck?  Delayed Halloween Italian-style??

Witches, everywhere!!

Witches in the air

Baskets of witches

Baskets of witches, everywhere!

A rack o witches

A rack o’ witches

We spotted a cute cappuccino ornament and got it for our travel tree to remember Italy.    When the shopkeeper responded to my bad Italian by saying, “eight”, I got the courage to ask her  in English what the meaning of the witch was.  She looked perplexed.  I indicated to the hundreds of old ladies riding brooms hanging from her booth, with puzzled eyes.

Strings of Befanas

Strings of witches

“Ah, Befana,” she said, “Good luck for New Year.”

I Googled it later.

In Italy, “Befana” is not a witch, but merely an old lady who rides a broomstick and delivers presents to good Italian children. There are many interpretations of the legend, one being that the wise men wanted to stay at her inn, but she was too busy doing the housework/sweeping.  She later realized the importance of their journey and then seeks to find Baby Jesus to deliver presents but never found him.  The story nowadays is that she searches in every house looking for Baby Jesus, leaving small presents if she doesn’t find him, as the presence of Christ is found in all children.

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The friendliest Befana we found

We bought a little broom to remember Befana.    For more interesting Christmas figures, be sure to check out Schwingen In Switzerland’s Schmultzi, St Nicolas Vigilante Style.

 

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Gratitude Friday: Christmas in the French Alps

We spent Christmas in Morzine, France, just a short hour’s drive from Geneva.   We were fortunate that some of Gabe’s colleagues and partners/spouses were also interested in spending a joyeux Noël skiing, so worked together to select a place and it ended up being the French Alps.

The village of Morzine, France

The village of Morzine, France

We couldn’t find a chalet for the group on short notice, but the hotel, Le Tremplin, ended up being a fabulous location:

Hotel Tremplin

Hotel Tremplin

The slopes literally run into the hotel, making it really convenient for the skiers

The slopes literally run into the hotel, with two different lifts, making it really convenient for the skiers

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

The hotel also had several restaurants attached and a cool patio.  While service wasn’t hot (they were still ironing out some beginning-of-the-season kinks), the heaters at least were.

Hanging out on Le Tremplin's patio

The guys with their beer

The ladies with our wine

The ladies with our wine

Le Tremplin's patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Le Tremplin’s patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Our room had a village view so it was neat to wake up to the sun rising and setting on the town:

Morning in Morzine

Morzine in the morning

Morzine at night

Morzine at night

The skiers had a good time, enjoying a nice variety of slopes accessible from the town.  While I wasn’t skiing due to an injury, I still was able to get access on foot to witness some of the beauty.

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift, I saw some nice panorama

Gabe and friends skiing.  Photo courtesy of J.

Gabe and friends skiing. Photo courtesy of J.

One of the members of our group even organized a gift exchange so all shared in that on Christmas Eve night.  It was fun to open something!

Having fun at the gift exchange

Having fun at the gift exchange

We had phenomenal food, in the Haute Savoie style.   We enjoyed the hearty meals, although I wish I could have been skiing to burn them off!!

Rack of meat from L'Etale

Rack of whisky meat from L’Etale

 

Grilling food at L'Etale, an traditional alpine meal

Grilling food at L’Etale, an traditional alpine meal

We also had a nice traditional meal for Christmas Eve at a local restaurant, La Grange.   It was nice to have the treat of turkey which is uncommon here.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Our French turkey dinner

Our French turkey dinner

The cheese plate that came after dinner

The cheese plate that came between dessert and dinner

While we missed being with our family this Christmas, we are grateful for all God’s blessings, especially this special experience of seeing this beautiful area of the world.

Wiener Christkindlmarkts

Vienna tops the best destinations in the world for Christmas, so we knew we wanted to see it our last holiday season in Europe.

During the month of December, the city is filled with small Christmas villages, selling everything from ornaments & gifts to Austrian-style fair food & hot toddies.  Lights fill the trees and booths, providing a holiday glow all around. Smells of spices and delicious foods permeate the chilly air, inviting you to try everything.

Ornaments for sale

Ornaments for sale

Yummy gingerbread

Yummy gingerbread

These markets are called Wiener Christkindlmarkts or Weihnachtsdörfers.  To help with the translation, in Austria, Wien is the name for Vienna.  So anything Wiener is Viennese.
We visited four Viennese (or Wiener) markets during a mid-December weekend in Vienna:
Rathaus Christkindlmarkt 
Rathaus, or town hall, market

Rathaus, or town hall, market

The town hall surrounded by stalls

The town hall surrounded by stalls

Happy Christmas-market goers

Happy Christmas-market goers

View at daytime

View at daytime of the Rahthaus (town hall)

And view at night

And view at night

The market was glowing, even with the rain

The market was glowing and full of people, even with the rain

Schloss Belvedere 

Markets surrounding the palace

Markets surrounding the palace

Schloss Schönbrunn
Schloss

Schloss Schönbrunn’s tree & market

Weihnachtsdörfer @ Museumquartier
Adorable stalls

Adorable stalls

More authentic artisans

More authentic artisans were found at this one…

We got recommendations for Karlsplatz and Spittelberg but didnt have enough time.
One can’t help but feel full of Christmas cheer after spending a few days in this lovely Christmas capital.
Related post:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Colmar’s Marchés de Noël

Colmar is a picturesque town in the Alsace region of France known for its lovely Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets.     I have wanted to check out the town for quite some time, regardless of the season, but it never worked out.   Now with a departure date ticking down, I knew this Christmas would be my last chance.     I’d set up two potential dates to go.  The first one called for rain/snow and temperatures of 33.  It wasn’t very appealing to have a temperature hanging at the freezing mark but not committing to freezing ( and thus snow which is better than rain), so Plan B became the fall-back.

I awoke last Thursday (Plan B) to another forecast of rain and 33 degree temps.   But a little freezing rain wasn’t going to stop me this time, especially with it being the last chance!   I took off, connecting in 3 towns, for a trip of about 3 hrs & 45 minutes through Northern Switzerland and into Eastern France.

I had about five minutes of no rain where I captured a few photos.

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Then, the rain showers came…and continued.  It even started snewing, which is my word for the wet thick fat snow / rain combo.   While I love snowing, I don’t love snewing.  It doesn’t stick, but just makes everything wet.  It was interesting to balance the umbrella and take photos!

 

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I ended up staying a few hours to visit all five of the markets in Colmar, and coming home very soggy.  However, I am happy to have gotten my fill of Alsace Christmas beauty, as evidenced in these snapshots.

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If you are ever in Alsace, I have heard from friends that the wine road is really cool.    My PT recommended biking it in the summer.  S & S loved exploring it as well as some of the other quaint Alsace towns.  While I didn’t have it in me this trip, I’ll provide a few related posts to this area below:

Related posts:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) 

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Colorful Colmar

Schwingen in Switzerland: Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

Schwingen in Switzerland:  The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country of Birth During WWII.

Lyon’s Fête des Lumières

We recently attended the annual Fête des Luminères, or Festival of Lights, which honors Mother Mary every year on the eighth day of December.  Four million people attend each year!

This festival originates back to 1643, when Lyon was hit by the plague.    The townspeople said that if Lyon would be spared, they’d pay tribute to Mary.  The tradition of honoring Mary happens every year since on December 8.

It was beautiful – they had over 65 light installations, ranging from light shows projected onto the old buildings, to independent light sculptures, to a moving parade.   The video at the end of the post does it more justice than the photographs.  Due to the crowds, it wasn’t possible to use a tripod.



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And here is the video – it is long – but shows the variety and technical genius of those behind this event:


It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s officially Christmas season in Geneva.

My favorite addition is the large Sapine de Noël (Christmas Tree) at Place du Molard.   Each morning I walked to the gym, I noted its progress.

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Day 1….Tree going up

Tree being decorated

Day 2….Tree being decorated

And...magic

Day 3..magic

In our household as well, our tree has been fully decorated.   However, it pales in size compared to the one in Place du Molard.   While we bought the largest the store offered, I am still taller than it.

Most people don't have to bend over to decorate their tree

Most people don’t have to bend over to decorate their tree.  Our fern is also almost bigger than the tree. 

Tree with a snowy backyard in the background

Daytime tree with a snowy background

Because we did not bring any decorations with us in the move, we have been accumulating ornaments from some places we’ve traveled, to complement our paper ones we made last year.  These include a bike from Brugge, some tiny clogs from Amsterdam, a snowy chalet from Chamonix, a hot air balloon from Chateaux-D’Oex:

Sometimes, when we couldn’t find an ornament, we had to get creative.  Take this airplane bottle of Scotch for example.   Hey, we had to have something from Scotland!

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We will miss going back to the States this year for sure.  However, it does feel good to be surrounded by the signs of Christmas already in Geneva.

Gratitude Friday: Thanksgiving

We weren’t able to make it home this year for Thanksgiving.   It is the first time for both of us not seeing family during at least one to two days over the long weekend.  To boot, Gabe doesn’t get Thanksgiving off as he is on the European system.

Instead of being sad, we decided to infuse Thanksgiving into Geneva by hosting a traditional dinner at our flat.   Our group was comprised of 5 from the United States, 1 from Ireland, 1 from Finland, and 1 from Germany.  Oh, and a Swiss dog!   It was our first International Thanksgiving.

Those of us from the US made some traditional dishes –  green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.   It was my first attempt at making turkey and we used the recipe from this site.      Many thanks to the friends and family who sent me recipes over email since I was nervous.

My “Virginia biscuits” didn’t turn out so hot, due to the fact they don’t have self rising flour here.  Oopsie.    The pumpkin pie had a crater, but oh well. It still tasted like a piece of home, and was fun to share an ‘authentic’ Thanksgiving with our friends from other countries.

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While we miss our family and friends back home, we feel fortunate to have been surrounded by wonderful friends and good and plentiful food.

Bon weekend everyone!