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

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:


Lights Out in Edinburgh

We never saw Edinburgh when it was truly light……we arrived after dark Friday evening, spent the entire Saturday on a countryside tour which departed before the sun was fully up, and departed for the airport at 8:00 Sunday morning.

But, still, we enjoyed seeing this beautifully historic city.  We found it vibrant, active and loved the architecture.  Below are a few images:

Walking home at midnight after our visit to the scotch house

Walking home at midnight after our visit to the scotch house

Sun rising on our hotel, The Carlton

Saturday sun rising on our hotel, The Carlton

A view of the Christmas fair down on Princes Street, still with the moon in sight

A view of the Christmas fair down on Princes Street, still with the moon in sight

The city perched on the volcanic cliffs.  Edinburgh castle is in the distance...

The city perched on the volcanic cliffs. Edinburgh castle is in the distance…

Castle watching the sun rise over the city

Edinburgh Castle watching the sun rise over the city

Saturday night at the German Christmas markets in Edinburgh

Saturday night at the German Christmas markets in Edinburgh

An early morning walk on the Royal Mile

An early morning walk on the Royal Mile

We had the castle to ourselves.  Gabe watching the sunrise before we went to the airport

We had the castle to ourselves. Gabe watching the sunrise before we went to the airport

If you’d like to see Edinburgh at daylight, check out this blog for some fantastic images.   If you fancy a trip to Edinburgh, M also has some great tips on off-the-beaten path places to see. 






It’s pretty grand…..Torino

Torino was our “bonus” stop on the way back from the trip to the Piedmont a few weeks ago.    Torino, or Turin in English, is actually in the heart of the Piedmont region of Italy.

Our pre-reading in the car taught us that Torino was the capital for the Dukes of Savoy, so it owes its French architecture and grand squares to this portion of its history.   However, the books referenced modern-day Torino as industrial and in need of revitalization.  With that gleaming recommendation, we decided to do a ‘drive by’ and see how it was before committing to parking.

First impressions driving into Torino

Our books told us public transportation was excellent in Torino, and we saw lots of evidence of it driving in

We were intrigued, so decided to park.    After we found a spot, we noticed lots of runners.  As it turned out, the Torino Marathon was that day.

Joining hands at the finish.

Marathon set up against the beautiful architecture

We walked around a bit, taking in the lovely streets and squares as well as the liveliness that the marathon was creating with large crowds and loud music.

Palazzo Madama, now an art museum

Covered walkways along Via Roma

Piazza San Carlo and the twin churches, with remnants of the marathon on the piazza. 

Palazza Real, a Savoy residence. Another UNESCO site. Woot woot.

The Duomo, where the Shroud of Turin is kept. This has recently been challenged with the advent of carbon dating.  Our friends told us that now the challenge is challenged.   Who knows. 

Inside of the Duomo where the Shroud of Turin rests.

Ruins of the Roman Theatre

Porta Palatina, Roman structure from 1st Century AD

Farewell glance at Torino’s symbol, Mole Antonelliana, as we departed

Our summary – if you are near Torino (within an hour), make it a stop – it has a lot to offer in terms of history and architecture.   Otherwise, probably not an Italy destination.

Reims: Not just a Champagne town

During our stay in Champagne, we selected a hotel in the city of Reims (Rheims in French). Before our arrival, we had no clue how historically significant the town was.

Main square in Reims

Our first night in Reims, with Marty & Jennifer McFly, all we knew of Reims was champagne….

However, as I stated on last week’s Gratitude Friday post, our champagne guide was a bit of a history expert.   While exploring the rolling hills of the Champagne region, we also had the benefit of a history lesson.   We learned that the tribe of Remi founded Reims.  Caesar invaded the Gauls and in 51BC conquered it with the help of the tribe of Remi, whom he rewarded for their help.

Image courtesy of peperonity.com

From then, It was a Roman city.  They built the triumphal arch in 200AD, largest arch outside of Rome.

Roman arch in Reims

In the 5th century, Clovis became the first king to reunite all the territories within France.   He was baptized at the site of the current Basilica St Remi in Reims.  His armies converted to Catholic Christianity in the same way Clovis did, per the traditions of the time for soldiers to follow their leader.  From that point on, Reims became the religious center of the region.

Basilica St Remi

Inside the basilica, with Sunday services in the front

From then on, all kings were coronated in Reims.   Most occurred in the Cathedrale Notre Dame.   Most famously, Joan of arc stood by King Charles XII during his coronation ceremony after her vision to help him become monarch and overthrow Britain’s control.

Cathedrale Notre Dame in Reims

Visitors are able to see the structure on Sundays, but just not the back where the service takes place

Inside of the cathedral with its’ magnificent stain glass windows

Soon, Paris overtook Reims in size and became the most prominent city in France. However, this change didn’t keep Reims safe in WWI when it was seen as a symbol of France’s rich history and bombed 1051 consecutive days in a row, destroying over 90% of it.  This was known as the ‘crime of Reims’.   Since, they have repaired and rebuilt, but the impact was devastating.
As discussed last Friday, also in WWI, Reims saw the 1st battle of the Marne and advent of trench warfare.   Sadly, Reims and the surrounding countryside has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed.
WWII treaty was also signed in Reims after the German surrender.

The Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy is one of my favorite places in the world.  I first discovered it with friend R in the summer of 2007 during our girls trip to Italy.   Cinque Terre means 5 Lands in Italian and the area is comprised by five small towns perched on cliffs above the Ligurian Sea.

The area is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the early civilizations’ ability to build, live, and thrive on landscape that has the odds of being inhabitable.

I wanted to share it with Gabe, so we had selected it for one of our Honeyfund trips for our wedding.  We planned to go after my feet had fully recovered, which ended up being this Fall.    While we had some stormy skies our entire trip, I found the lack of tourists and cooler weather to be an refreshing change.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE, #5 was the town we stayed in.  It is the biggest, and I picked it due to our late arrival as it had more hotels that accomodated late check-in as well as actual parking lots for our car.   We arrived around 9pm and found that we couldn’t drive through town to the side we were staying in.   Note to future travelers: the Old Town and New Town are not connected for the average driver, only with special permit can you open the chain / gates.   It is a 20 – 30 minute deviation to drive back up the mountain to come back the other side.  So make sure to note that in your driving plans!

We checked into Hotel Baia.  It was a basic Italian room, but in a suberb location on the water and near the Monterosso train station.

Beach town of Monterosso

Early the next morning, we  put on our rain gear and set out to hike the seven mile Trail 2 from our hotel to Riomaggiore.  We were greeted with a locked gate.  The trails were closed due to the mudslides last October and continuing bad weather.   Oops.  While I researched the affects of the mudslides on the towns, I had not specifically looked into the trails.

Luckily there is a fantastic transportation solution – a regional train connects the five towns with an hourly train.   While they aren’t quite always on time, it was a very nice back-up to get to see the area with the trail closings.

The next stop, VERNAZZA, #4,  was my favorite of the five towns during the 2007 trip.  It has a natural harbor and I adore the bell tower from the church and how it looks over the coast.   We saw a large poster detailing the devastation the mudslides caused in this particular town.   It showcased homeowners and shopkeepers standing in the mud which once was their home/shop.   The beach was still a little damaged, but otherwise, there were scarce signs of the horrors they experienced last October.  They’ve done a remarkable job cleaning up.

In the harbor of Vernazza

Still too early for lunch, we climbed to the highest point of the town – the castle.  We loved seeing the ominous skies surround the colorful buildings.

Above Vernazza at the castle

Birds-eye view of Vernazza’s port

We enjoyed a lovely lunch at Gambero Rosso, the same restaurant where R and I had enjoyed a meal five years prior.  We both ordered the fresh pasta with pesto, a Ligurian specialty with a glass of local white wine.   Deliciouso!

After lunch, we scurried to catch our train.   Due to some technical difficulties which I’ll chalk up to not reading the board properly Italian chaos and mis-direction, we missed the hourly train to the next town of Corniglia.   We opted to catch the next train which bypassed the other two towns in order not to lose another full hour.

RIOMAGGIORE, #1, is the first town on the trail and supposedly the least touristic.   We watch a fisherman for awhile and reflected on the colorful boats and buildings which trailed upwards.

A lone fisherman

The vertical town of Riomaggiore

We explored the height of the town, certainly the “most vertical” of the five, and sat for a quick glass of vino, another Cinque Terre white varietal.  After, we caught the train backwards to town #4.

MANAROLA, #4, was Gabe’s favorite of the Cinque Terre.    Back when we were single girls on our Italian vacation, R and I had headed straight for Manarola’s beach to catch all the summer action.  Now, it was a ghost-town, but it left us more time for exploration.  We wound around the vineyards surrounding the village, getting every vantage point.  I’d have to say that this trip, Manarola was  my favorite.

Foamy waters surrounding Manarola

Gabe, checking out the village

Ominous clouds covering Manarola

Because we liked it so much, we opted for a longer stay in Manarola versus hitting the fifth town of Corniglia.   My husband prefers to enjoy fewer activities for longer…..quality not quantity.  And for me, it’s a good lesson for me to remember as I never want to miss anything.    Gabe joked it would have to be Quattro Terre for him.

We were able to see Corniglia from a distance.

View of Corniglia #3, from Monterrosso #5.

View of Corniglia #3, from #4 Manarola. We saw the evidence of mudslides taking out the trails between these two on the hills to the right of the photo.

Good thing we opted to leave.  The skies let loose after we got to Manarola’s station.   In order to reach Corniglia, there are 400 steps.  So, I am thankful we weren’t caught in that exploring the last remaining town.

We returned to Monterosso for a wonderful dinner at Ciak and drinks at Enoteca da Eliseo.  We ended up seeing the couple who’d taken our photo in Vernazza.  They were photographers from Indianapolis who were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary.  We had a few drinks with them comparing travel notes.

It was an awesome weekend.  A big thanks to our Honeyfund contributors from our wedding.  You really made our 18 month anniversary (Nov 7) very special.   We appreciate it!

Pirenópolous

One of D’s familly’s favorite spots to get away is the little town of Perinópolous.  This town dates back to the 18th century, when it was popular due to gold conquests in the surrounding area.  This trade then made Perinópolous the richest city in the land.

The church

The riches didn’t stay for long.   In the following century, there was a downturn.  The work and prosperity swapped to nearby Anápolis and the population moved to be closer to work.   However, Perinópolous still existed, just without the growth.  It reminds me of our trip to Brugge with the goods & diamond trade moving to Antwerp, but Brugge still staying adorably cute.

You may or may not know that the city of Brasilia was actually built to be the capital of Brazil.   The city was planned and once completed, the capital was moved from from Rio de Janeiro in 1956.  Since the little town of Perinópolous was only two hours away, it started to rise again as a tourist destination.

Today, Perinópolous is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a wonderful weekend getaway to experience traditional Brazilian architecture, lively squares brimming with cafes and restaurants, and a gateway to the nearby waterfalls.

The streets were filled with arts & crafts shops

Lovely night scene in Pirenópolous

Lively cafes in the main drag

Just outside of the little town, D’s family rented us an adorable B & B.  There were 10-12 rooms which was great as we all could gather in the common areas and easily visit between rooms.

Cute little B & B

View from our door to the common area, complete with breakfast porch, hammocks and a pool

While the Americans were in the B & B, the rest of D’s family rented a huge party house where it seemed like dozens of aunts, cousins, and friends stayed.   The house had an indoor/outdoor kitchen area, a pool, and numerous bedrooms.  They barbecued and cooked all day and partied at night.

Someone pointed out that they were not sure that our group would be up for the all nighters and noise, so that is why they found a close B & B for us to settle.     And we heard the prediction was true – – they stayed up to the wee hours of the morning.

You see, many of D’s family and family friends have moved to nearby cities.  So these special occasions like the wedding were a fantastic opportunity for them to come together.  The weekend was a celebration of the marriage, as well as a special time to visit their closest friends, many of whom were considered (and titled) family.

And such, because our group was going to be going to nearby Perinópolous, at least half of the wedding-revelers also traveled to the city as well.   I think we were over 35 in number between the multiple homes / B & B’s rented.    What a neat tradition!

They also rented a 15 passenger van for getting our large groups around, to town, and to the waterfalls.  It made it easy to keep us in the same place.

Party bus!

We had a lovely time in Perinópolous.   Thanks to Mama I and Dashing Dad for providing us such a great experience.