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.

DSC_0103

DSC_0107

DSC_0115

DSC_0118

DSC_0139

 

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!

 

DSC_0144

DSC_0149

DSC_0150

 

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.

DSC_0152

DSC_0162

DSC_0174

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.

Christmasy Carouge

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Geneva is Carouge.   It just has a beautiful feel to it, with an influence of Mediterranean in its architecture and its many artisans for residents.  In fact, you can often see them working away in their shops, making everything from hand.

As December arrives, Carouge dresses up in the finest Christmas decorations to show its spirit, and also make its lovely shops inviting.  Last week, my photo group met up for a drink and to take some photos of this great neighborhood.   Here are some of mine:

DSC_0071

The moon and the Christmas tree

DSC_0054

An example of the lovely storefronts

DSC_0016

Frosty leading the way

DSC_0035

Many have beautiful garland like this

And also there are the Santas!  Every shop has one, but they are slightly different in dress.

DSC_0014

DSC_0052

DSC_0050

Some are even themed to their shop!

 

DSC_0083

Santa at the eyeglass store

DSC_0082

A pink Santa

 

Merry Christmas!!

 

 

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.



DSC_0886

DSC_0892

DSC_0873

DSC_0869

DSC_0836

DSC_0847

DSC_0863

DSC_0864

DSC_0834

DSC_0833


DSC_0824

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


Scotland’s Countryside

We thought as long as we were all the way in Edinburgh, we should see some of Scotland’s countryside.    We’d booked a small bus tour, a twelve seater, out of Edinburgh on Grey Lines for Saturday.   It picked us up at 8:45 in the morning.

Our first stop was Glasgow where we saw the cathedral where St Valentine is buried as well Georges Square.    We were then onto Loch Lomond and had the option of taking a boat tour.   Although chilly, we decided to take the plunge into the water on the small vessel.  We delighted in lovely Scottish views.

Taking off down the river towards Loch Lomond

Taking off down the river towards Loch Lomond

Chilly mountains in the background

Chilly mountains in the background

Castles abound

Scotland has great architecture

Why not have a scotch on the boat?

Why not have a scotch on the boat?  When in Scotland….

We then continued to the town of Aberfoyle and onto Duke’s Pass where we viewed ‘the Highlands in Minature’.    Our uber-short time in Scotland (36 hours on the ground) didn’t leave time to go to the Highlands, in the North part of the country.    Nevertheless, the scenery in the midlands was really neat and we enjoyed the unique animals.

Duke's Pass

Duke’s Pass.  Our driver said not to worry about the ‘slipping’ as we rounded each bend on the icy pass. 

Why, hello.

Why, hello.

We ventured on to Stirling and had an opportunity to explore.   While we didn’t go into the castle, we had a good time meandering around.  We tried not to fall down on the rock solid ground and icy paths.  And, when we got too chilly, we headed to a local pub for a scotch.

Monument to William Wallace, near Stirling

Monument to William Wallace, near Stirling

A path leading to Gabe, taking it all in

An icy path leading to Gabe, taking it all in

Beautiful sunset on Stirling castle

Beautiful sunset on Stirling castle

While we were continually cold that day, we’ll always have warm memories of Scotland.

Finding shelter in a scotch house

Finding shelter in a scotch house

Gratitude Friday: Scotch with Cousins

This Gratitude Friday, we are grateful for seeing family.   My cousin and her husband live in Edinburgh.  We had wanted to visit Scotland for awhile and it finally happened last weekend.

We had the chance to meet up at their local haunt, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.     The society is a private club which purchases full casks of whisky from local distillers to provide a special and rare taste to its members.  Thus, as a member, you can come to the society and enjoy tastes of scotch by the glass, or order them via post by the bottle.

Image courtesy of insidebars.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of insidebars.wordpress.com

Because of the agreements with the distillers, they don’t disclose which distiller/brand at the bar.  You simply have a guide indicating the characteristics of the whiskies, each given a very creative name.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of insidebars.wordpress.com

We got a kick out of the copy written to describe each.   Intense discussions were had on whether or not our whisky tasted like “a fine leather handbag”, “creme brûlée” or “a newly wrapped tin foil pack”.

My taste of

My taste of “in a sweetie shop”

We were advised  by my cousin’s connoisseur husband that if you like something, you have to buy a bottle fast.  They have limited quantities and the good ones sell out quickly.

It was very nice to catch up with my cousin.  It occurred to me it has actually been about 16 or 17 years since we’ve seen each other.    She has been in the U.K. for quite awhile, having met her husband in London.  They recently settled in Edinburgh about 2 years ago, finding a nice balance versus the bustle of London.    We also enjoyed meeting her hubby and getting to know him.  We don’t have a lot of personal contact when we travel, so this was very special.

Good times

Good times

We are grateful to the two for showing us such a lovely time in Edinburgh!  Although, I will have to fault them for now making Gabe so fond of Jura scotch.  We came back from Scotland many pounds lighter…in the wallet.

Bon weekend, everyone!

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.

IMG_1266

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!

DSC_0700

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.

The Beaches of Rio de Janeiro

We had planned to go to the second wedding in Goiania, Brazil.  We had a few days before the rest of the guests and the bride & groom arrived to Goiania, so decided to hit another Brazilian locale.  We chose Rio de Janeiro as we had heard a lot of good things about the oceanfront city.

It was winter in Brazil, but temperatures were still warm in the upper 70’s.   It was cooler than it had been in the States but not too cool for swimming.

We stayed at Copacabana Beach.  This was mainly due to the fact that we had Marriott points and the JW Marriott was the only option of the chain in Rio.   Our hotel was right across from the famous beach.    It was nice…we ended up taking a walk daily down its 6km length.

Copacabana Beach. View from the JW Marriott.

However, our favorite was probably Ipanema. As I have mentioned before on the blog, I love it when beach landscapes have terrain adding to the panorama than just the ocean.  And Ipanema fit my “perfect beach” because of this quality.   It also had gorgeous blue water and felt a bit safer than some of the other beaches that we visited.

Ipanema Beach and Two Brothers mountain

Swimmers in Ipanema

We also took a walk on Praia de São Conrado.  It is more southward of the city and located just under one of the 1500 slums in Rio.   It stands in the shadow of Pedra da Gavea, which is the world’s largest monolith sitting on a coastline..  Again, I enjoyed it because of this feature.

The Sao Conrado beach falls on the other side of this giant mountain. The favelas, slums, surround the mountain. At least they have water views!

Sao Conrado beach

Lusi drove us by the 22 km Barra da Tijuca beach, but we ended up just taking a drive  because it was so long and we were limited on time.

A few tips on beaches:

–       Pack sunscreen – the sun is intense!!!!  We had a lot of haze but the sun still can penetrate your skin.

–       Wear the right flip flops.  The Brazilian brand Havaianas is famous.  You can purchase them for 15 R and up on the streets.

–       Be careful.  We had heard never to walk on the beach after dark.  Also, we were strongly discouraged to take a camera on a walk on the beach or any money, watches or valuables.    These photos were taken from high rises, or either when our tour car was in sight.

–       As far as attire, anything goes.  We saw everyone from five year olds to grandmas sporting the famous Brazilian thong (called fio dental translating to “dental floss”).   No one lets weight or age stand in their way.     Plus, speedos are the norm for the fellows.

Notice anything?

Gratitude Friday: Introducing Frau Hilda

This Friday, we wanted to express our gratitude for our car, Frau Hilda.   While we use the public transport quite a bit, it has been super nice to have a set of wheels during our time in Geneva for weekend trips.    Also, we are lucky enough to get the option to rent a parking spot near our building which is quite a luxury in Geneva.  We are very appreciative of this benefit.

What happens if you don’t have a spot near your building?    You have to buy what is called a macaroon.  No, it is not a tasty baked treat by Lady J, it is a 180 franc yearly pass to park on the street in certain blue zones.   You can only park in the particular zone  that correlates to your neighborhood.  However, this macaroon parking is not guaranteed.  We know people who have searched for over 45 minutes and not been able to find one remotely close to their house.   Yuck.

Why?   Geneva is not car friendly.  They are proactively trying to reduce spaces and convert people to use public transport.  For more on this and the hierarchy of who and what is important, check out Switzerland Hughes.

So how did Frau Hilda come about?   When Gabe accepted his job, they let us know we would have a company car in Geneva. We got to pick it out from three models: sedan, minivan and SUV.  We picked the only SUV option, swayed by the proximity to ski resorts.  We selected it in March, before we left.   We were notified that even though it was a BMW, a German brand, it was actually made in South Carolina.  About an hour from our house in Charlotte.  So it would take 9 months to make it to Europe.  Our furniture only took 2 months.

We like to name cars.  Gabe wanted it to be female.  We were debating whether to name her a South Carolina name or a German name.  We went German….Frau Hilda.

Has Frau Hilda ever starred in a film? Why, yes. Since her arrival in December,  we have made a video about her adventures entitled “BMW 007”.   Our favorite part is Frau Hilda “escaping” from the Monte Carlo Casino.Check out her film debut!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday: A Great Ski Season

Post by Lauren

Ski season is officially over for our household.  With temperatures warming up, the local slopes are slushy by lunchtime.

However, we wanted to dedicate a post in gratitude to the Alps and the ski opportunities that we have had this winter.

Last winter, it was unusually warm.  We heard people say that it only produced about 2 decent snow days and even still, the slopes weren’t ideal.

This season is a stark contrast – there was wonderful skiing to be had pretty much every weekend from the beginning of January until now.  Over the last 3 months, we have visited:

  • La Clusaz, France
  • Les Contamines, France
  • Megève, France
  • Chamonix, France
  • Verbier, Switzerland
  • Saas Fee, Switzerland

We feel lucky that we have had the chance.

Our friend A has major talents with the camera while skiing.  I don’t possess such talents as I always have to concentrate on not falling.  However, since I have a lot of time in the chair lately, I mixed her video footage with my own to create a recap video of our ski exploits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trPb_eHtZsw

Au Revoir Ski Season – until next year!

And bon-weekend to all.