A Northern Hemisphere Holiday

Category: Ships Log
 

December 2015

This December we got to experience a wonderful Christmas in the northern hemisphere with real winter again.

 

The last couple years, we’ve been in tropical climates so we haven’t had a real winter for a while. I know for many people this sounds great, but I find myself really missing the changing seasons. And as natives of the Northern Hemisphere, having the Christmas holidays during the summer just doesn’t feel right. This year, as luck would have it, Chris had a work conference to attend in early December in Switzerland. Because he had plenty of work he could do remotely, he was able to stay and work in Vienna, Austria (where he used to live) after the conference was over. In mid-December I flew over to join him and we were able to enjoy a proper northern hemisphere holiday season!

We started in Vienna where we hit up the Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace, a former summer residence of the Habsburgs and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was a chilly 4ºC and we loved it! Decked out in down coats, long underwear, and jeans we sipped hot gluhwein (spiced wine) while enjoying the beautifully lit Christmas tree, a choir singing carols, and the market stalls selling various holiday decorations and foods. It was finally starting to feel like Christmas!

 

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The Christmas market at Schönbrunn, the first of several we would visit during our stay in Austria and CZ!

 

The next day we boarded a bus and headed to Prague to my aunt Miluska’s house. My aunt is an incredible organizer and had a complete itinerary planned for our time there. The day after we arrived she had most of the family over for an early Christmas lunch to make sure I could see everyone. It was great catching up with my cousins and seeing how their kids had grown up, and seeing my step-grandma again. Not to mention enjoying my aunt and uncle’s incredible cooking! The last time we had seen everyone was at our wedding, two and a half years ago. The next day my aunt took us to the small town of Horicky, about 2 hours north of Prague, where she renovated a historic farmstead and runs it as a bed and breakfast. She still uses it as a farm as well and has a dairy cow, pigs, rabbits, chickens, geese and ducks. She even grows her own wheat and gets it ground at the local mill! This is where we were married and my cousin Jitka manages the farm/bed and breakfast with her husband since my aunt still lives in Prague most of the time. Upon arriving, my cousin put us to work making dough for vanocka, or Czech Christmas bread. Typically our grandmother would make the vanocka, but she passed away last winter so this year it was up to us. My cousin had pulled out my grandma’s recipe, and with my aunt’s expert eye for the correct consistency of the dough, and my cousin’s incredible ability to braid between 6-8 strands of dough, we pulled off a fair approximation of my grandmother’s vanocka. Later that evening we all sat by the fire with wine, chatting and enjoying the fruits of our labor.  It really doesn’t get much better than this!

 

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Enjoying a wonderful lunch of rizek (schnitzel) and homemade potato salad at my aunt's house in Prague.

 

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Toasting to a wonderful year with my family in Prague.

 

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The view from my aunt's B & B in the village of Horicky.

 

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The beautiful front gate - we had our wedding picture taken here.

 

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Making vanocka dough with my cousin Jitka, her kids and my aunt. My aunt is checking the consistency of our dough to make sure it is correct.

 

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Adding the final garnish of slivered almonds to the ready-to-bake vanocka.

 

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Relaxing by the fire after our day of making vanocka and exploring the grounds.

 

After two days at Horicky, we returned to Prague with my aunt and spent our last days with family and strolling through the city, enjoying the Christmas decorations, the hot spiced wine, and the chilly air. :)

 

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Bird's eye view of the Christmas market in Staromestske namesti (Old Town Square) in downtown Prague.

 

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They had a lovely tree decorated in the center of the Old Town Square market.

 

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Walking by the Prague Castle and St. Vitus's cathedral.

 

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A manger scene of straw in front of the cathedral.

 

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Another Christmas market inside the castle courtyard. There are no lack of opportunities to enjoy some hot spiced wine around here!

 

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As you walk out the backside of the castle, you are treated to a lovely view of the Vltava River and Prague.

 

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Down by the river, the swans and ducks were still in residence.

 

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The Charles bridge lit up at night.

 

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The view from the opposite riverbank, with the Prague castle and Charles bridge.

 

Too soon, it was already time to leave Prague and we boarded a train for Chris’s hometown of Graz in Austria. The train ride was beautiful, winding across the countryside and through the mountains. Graz itself is a lovely city, nestled close to the foothills of the Alps with a large river (the Mur) meandering through the middle of it. From the apartment of Chris’s mom, which is up on a hill, there is a lovely view of the city to the south and the “house mountain” of Graz (called the Schöckl) to the north. We arrived the evening of the 23rd, just in time to help with Christmas Eve preparations. In both the Czech Republic and Austria, most of the Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. This is when either Ježíšek (Czech; aka Baby Jesus) or the Christkind (Austria; aka Christ child) arrives with the fully decorated tree and gifts. We got to help decorate the tree and place the all-important chocolates, candles and sparklers on the tree. That evening, Chris’s brother, sister, and grandfather arrived for the festivities. Chris’s mom shooed us all out of the living room so the Christkind could come and when the bell rang, we were allowed back in to find the tree engulfed in flames. Well, not really, but with the sparklers and candles it does lend that appearance at first. :) After unwrapping gifts, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and later a trip down memory lane with lots of laughing when Chris’s brother Sigi found a stash of old photo albums from their childhood. I also learned some interesting trivia about Chris: you would never guess it, but he was terrified of water and boats when he was a kid!

 

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Chris horsing around with his siblings and grandfather on Christmas Eve. It seems some things never change no matter how old you get! :)

 

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The Christmas tree lit up with candles and sparklers.

 

The next few days we enjoyed hanging out with Chris’s family and got treated to amazing dinners by each of his siblings. We spent a day hanging out on the Schöckl where Chris’s sister introduced us to her horse, Grisu, and saddled him up for us for a lovely ride through the woods. We had another wonderfully relaxing day at a thermal hot springs resort with Chris’s mom and sister, and we also spent time walking through Graz and hanging out at the pub Chris’s brother owns.

 

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Wandering around downtown Graz on Christmas Day.  It was a beautiful afternoon and even though all the shops were closed, many people were out to enjoy the lovely day.

 

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Riding Grisu through the woods with Sabina keeping a watchful eye on him. :)

 

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Chris taking Grisu for a ride.

 

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After the horse ride, we went to the top of the Schockl with Chris's mom and Abbas.

 

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On top of the Schlossberg in the center of Graz. This used to be the site of a large castle built in the 16th century that was never conquered. Unfortunately, it's clever fortifications worked against it and when the Napoleanic Wars ended, France required the castle be torn down as part of the Treaty of Vienna (because they were mad they were unable to conquer it). All that is left now is this clock tower and a bell tower.

 

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There are lovely views of Graz from the top of the Schlossberg.

 

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A cafe in Graz that is built in the middle of the river Mur.

 

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Sigi's pub in downtown Graz called Herr Siegfried. Chris is enjoying a beer with his stepdad (the big Siegfried), who often works the early shift at the pub.

 

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Sigi and his meter of schnapps. :)

 

Our trip was rapidly coming to an end, but we had one last destination before it was over. We were spending New Years in the town of Bad Mitterndorf, nestled in the Austrian Alps, with our friends Judith and Ruud (they drove from their home in the Netherlands). Judith is a friend of mine from grad school and she and Ruud love to travel as much as Chris and I. Just six months earlier, they came to Australia where we spent a week exploring the Cairns region together. This time we only had three days together, but we packed in plenty, including skiing at Tauplitz, making cheese fondue on New Year’s Eve and walking through town watching fireworks being let off all around us, and touring the nearby town of Hallstatt.

 

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The view near the gasthaus in Bad Mitterndorf where we were staying.

 

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Skiing at Tauplitz. There wasn't much snow when we were there, but it was still great to go skiing again. It'd been quite awhile for Chris and me!

 

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The town of Hallstatt on Lake Hallstatt. Historically this was a salt mining town, but now it is a UNESCO heritage site and an incredibly popular tourist stop. In fact, it is so popular that China actually built a replica of the town!

 

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The tourist walk. It is very beautiful!

 

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On our way back we paid a quick visit to Chris's biological dad, Franz Rinke.

 

On the 2nd, we sadly left the Alps and headed back to Vienna for our flights home the next day. We were lucky that for most of our stay, temperatures were above freezing during the day and we had sunny, clear weather. As if telling us it was time to go home, 2016 started off colder than usual and overcast. The drive to Vienna was grey and foggy and temperatures had dropped to zero. By the time we reached Vienna that evening, it was -5C and there was a fierce wind blowing. The same was true for the next day, which was good because it made it easier to leave and appreciate the sunshine we were flying back to!

 

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Comments  

0 #1 David 2016-01-24 00:58
Great pictures. We certainly agree that our Northern Winters have their charm - - especially if you like Winter sports. Tons of snow here at Whistler! Happy New Year!

David & Michelle
SV Pelagia
sailing-pelagia .blogspot.ca
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