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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Christmas Adventures in Europe

Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. In fact a big reason I wanted to brave away from the tropical climates is so I could experience once again a European Christmas season. When I lived in London I absolutely loved the cheer that filled the air. London is a city that knows how to do Christmas! While living in London I got my first taste of European Christmas markets and immediately fell in love with the whole concept. During this time I traveled to Nuremberg, Germany for their festive markets and also visited several throughout London.

This Christmas season I did my best to soak in every Christmas experience possible. The only thing lacking in Europe was snow and of course my family. Lucky for me, I had both when I came home to Canada this past week!
My Christmas season always begins in October. I try to fight the urge so not to annoy people with my obsessive Christmas cheer, but as always the festive music usually starts mysteriously playing on my computer about a week before Halloween. Parties start to get planned, Elf plays on repeat and my warm Christmas pajamas somehow pop out from hiding. Come November I'm in full blown Christmas mode and am feeling like I can start pushing the Christmas spirit on others since Halloween is now over (some Scrooges still think this is too early!).

The first Christmasy adventure this season was with three of my girlfriends to some villages in Northern Italy near Switzerland. We visited Stresa and Verbania. We had read that the Christmas markets were starting this particular weekend so we took an early morning train to these beautiful villages on Lago Maggiore. Sadly, when we arrived we found out the markets were not beginning until the following weekend. We did however find ourselves some mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and enjoyed a wonderful meal as we walked around villages outlined by snow covered Alps. Despite the lack of markets, it was a great kickoff to the Christmas season!

The following weekend I flew to Warsaw, Poland and visited a friend from home who is living there. I had my fingers crossed for some snow but instead was greeted with a whole lot of rain and cold temps. Nonetheless, Warsaw is a beautiful city with a lot of dark and interesting history. The Old Town was destroyed during World War II but has been restored and is a beautiful area to tour. After a quick trip to the markets, some mulled wine, mulled beer and delicious perogies it was pretty much time to hop back on a plane to Milan and prepare for the next Christmas adventure.

My next Christmas adventure took place with four wonderful colleagues in Belgium. We took a late night Friday flight to Brussels and stayed at a lovely hotel that had incredible Christmas markets at its doorstep (Thanks Katy, Erika and Meredith for sharing your hotel!!). Saturday morning we had breakfast at a delicious pastry shop and then took a train to Bruges. If you have never been or seen a picture, just imagine a fairytale village with houses and shops that look like they are made of gingerbread. It was truly a magical village with so much Christmas cheer on each and every corner. We spent most of our time here walking and soaking in the beauty. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of mussels and beer (a Belgium favourite). We also spent perhaps too much time shopping in chocolate shops (another Belgium favourite). Belgium has as many chocolate shops as Ireland has pubs. It was pretty wonderful!! After a long and Christmasfied day in Bruges, we returned by train to Brussels. The next day before heading back to the airport we once again enjoyed the incredible Christmas markets, took a walk around the exterior of the Grand Palace (breathtaking) and enjoyed some more chocolate!

 My last weekend of Christmas season in Europe was a solo one. After a bit of a crazy month I decided to take some time to relax. I took the train to a small city about 40km from Milan called Bergamo. It is a quaint little city with a ton of character and of course... more Christmas markets! I enjoyed a relaxing night at a nice hotel near the mountains and treated myself to a spa day. Bergamo consists of two parts - Citta Alta (upper city) and Citta Bassa (lower city). I stayed in the lower city and on Sunday took a finiculare to the upper city. The city has a very medevil vibe with narrow, windy streets. The views are incredible here. The city was so alive with familes, couples, shop owners and tourists all out and about enjoying a stroll on this sunny day, shopping at the Sunday markets and enjoying a coffee break at one of the many quaint little sidewalk cafes. After a relaxing and restful weekend I went to take the train back to Milan only to find out that the trains were on strike. A few bus rides later and I was back in Milan. 

My Christmas season certainly lived up to everything I hoped it would be. My weekends were busy with flights, trains, hotels and early mornings.. but I also enjoyed all that the season had to offer in my own city. Milan is truly a beautiful city and becomes even more magical when it is full of Christmas lights, giant snowflakes outlining the streets, a massive tree outside of Duomo and Christmas markets lining the roads. Milan also hosts L'Artigiano in Fiera which is a massive Christmas fair. There are crafts and goods from all regions of Italy and also from many countries around the world. It was a great place to stock up on Christmas goodies.
Another festive night out was with the parents of my students. My school has a tradition that the parents of your class take you out for a Christmas meal or cocktail night. My teaching partner and I were treated to a nice evening out with all of the parents where we enjoyed some wonderful food and drinks, got to know the parents a little bit better and were presented with a lovely Christmas gift. The next big event was a Christmas staff social at Dolce and Gabbana's Gold bar (with flat screen tvs in each bathroom stall, it is as fancy as it sounds). My European Christmas season came to an end with one final Christmas party hosted by myself and my roommate. The next morning I boarded a plane and 12 hours later I was back in Canada ready to start my Canadian Christmas! 
Christmas season has now come to an end and I eagerly await the adventures of 2014. My first big adventure begins in just a few hours as I am about to board a flight to travel to Iceland to spend four days in Reykjavik. I have a feeling 2014 is going to be another great travel year with so many new places to explore!

Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for a safe, happy, healthy and hopefully adventurous year ahead! 

2 comments:

  1. Can't wait to hear how Iceland is...would love to make it there one day!

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