Happy New Year everyone
It has been interesting travelling through Western Europe in the depths of winter – where it is cold, somewhat wet and very dark. It seems a bit of overkill to talk about Christmas traditions after the event but the Christmas lights were extra special this year as they lit our darkest time. Just as the full moon is three days and the summer solstice starts on June 21 and is complete by Midsummer’s Day on June 24 (St Jean Baptist), the winter Solstice is about 4 days long as is mid summer. This year the Yule (Winter Solstice) starts on the eve of Dec 22nd and goes through to Christmas Day/Boxing Day when we have truly moved from increasing dark to increasing light (these are tidings of comfort and joy to me!). The Wiccans and Druids are all excited about this one as they celebrate the coming of the new sun and the bi- annual battle of the Holly and the Oak Trees.
I don’t want to belabour Christmas as it is over – but I must say it has been quite a marvelous experience. The season lasts a long time (almost a month) costs a fortune, brings great joy and some strife, and is filled with tradition, food and light. We were lucky to experience much of the holiday season in various countries and get to visit our boat. Our journey in Europe started when we left Britain on the ferry out of Dover – two hours got us to La Harve and close to the Belgium border. Our little Pew was glad to the driving on the right of the road (he purred) as we hit France and drove to Brugge (Brugges). Flemish (the language spoken in northern Belgium) is actually a little closed to English than Dutch and it is the language of the beautiful town of Brugges (another World Heritage site – like Avebury) . If you visit no other European city in your life you must visit Brugges – a jaw-dropping medieval/modern city that has commanded and received the respect of the all the war lords of Europe and has been preserved for its beauty and character.
We spent a night and a day in Brugges before going back to Dordrecht – of course as soon as we arrived it rained but that is life in Dordrecht. We stayed with our dear friends Erwin and Heather (and daughter Keri – remember her from the Canadian Embassy).
Happily Heather had recovered from a recent illness and looked fantastic. Of course we arrived for their Christmas Party and the Kerstmarkt – the biggest Christmas market in the Netherlands. Lots of people on the street and lots of stalls, interesting street entertainment. After a lovely party and reconnecting with our Canuck/Dutch friends we drove the Nancy stayed over and then went back to our boat in Saverne.
Going back to Skookum was a bit of a cold experience as the boat had lived through some cold temperatures while we had been away. Martin had drained all the systems (the water, heating, shower, washing machine) to winterize them and put a small low level electrical heater in the engine room. There are lots of jobs still to do on the boat – including resetting the batteries and putting in new radiators (which required a number of visits to heating stores).
We had dinner one night in Saverne with an Australian friend called Brian (former airline pilot), who owns a 22metre antique Dutch barge and is looking for someone to travel with him this summer. Legally he is not allowed to move the boat without two people on board so he needs a travel companion for the summer – someone willing to contribute to the costs of the boat (fuel, moorage and food), willing to help with moving and running the boat and willing to put up with a fit non smoking but wine drinking old fart, who likes to talk! Any takers – let us know and we will put you in touch with Brian.
After a couple of cold nights on our boat without much water or heat, we moved on the Teningen in Baden Wurttemburg Germany, where our friends Brigitte and Peter live with their son Christian (who had a birthday on Christmas Eve). Teningen is little suburban village – quite close to Freiburg in South West Germany (Black Forest). Their daughter Jana, husband and granddaughter live in the next town of Emendingen. We spent a couple of days with Brigitte and Peter before picking up my mother and Joan at Basel/Mulhouse/Freiburg airport (where the landing strip is in France and the customs gate allow you to enter France or Switzerland). The four of us had rented a small apartment within walking distance of Brigitte’s house, which allowed people to live a little separately as it is hard to shepherd seven people around for 12 days.
Over Christmas we ate very well – Venison, Ham on Christmas Eve, Turkey on Christmas day and Goose on Boxing Day plus all the trimmings – so we have eating a lot of leftovers for a while. My mum and Joan (our octogenarians) have done well keeping up with the food and drink (lots of German sparkling wine and whatever else you want to drink).
December 28 was Martins birthday we went to Strassburg to see the wonderful cathedral, a brilliant Christmas market and more lights. Martin and I went out for romantic dinner in the evening leaving the ‘old girls’ to their own devices.
We had another day out in Basel with mum and Joan – Martin headed back to the boat to do some work on the batteries and install a new radiator in main cabin. Basel is a very rich town – sophisticated and elegant, expensive and ritzy. We did a lot of window shopping while Brigitte bought herself a real Louis Vitton handbag. Our last day out was New Years Eve when we took a drive up to the ski areas of the Black Forest. The Black Forest mountains are the foot hills of the Alps – very picturesque when covered with snow. We drove up to a resort called Titisee – a Whistler-like place located beside a lake and close to the ski areas.
We have had relatively mild warm weather over the holidays – Christmas eve it was 20C – the warmest on record, some rain but not that much compared to the UK and Victoria. The temperature has been dropping since Christmas and is hovering around 8C. Titisee however was rather chilly and our Black Forest drive took us above the snowline – reminding everyone that winter was not far away in any sense.
It was also time to give Brigitte a rest; she had produced so many incredible meals so it was time to have some meals out. We went to a few different restaurants in the days following Christmas but our impressive lunch was at the Hotel Columbi Restaurant in Freiburg (Brigitte’s favourite place). It is a Michelin star restaurant with sumptuous food, impeccable service, in beautiful surroundings (all for a very high price). This was our special ‘thank you’ treat for our friends who have wined and dined us in their home for 12 days.
New Years Eve was another champagne and oyster fest (although French oysters are very small), followed by fondue, fireworks at midnight and watching the UK fireworks at 1:00 am (Germany is one hour ahead of London). 2013 started with a hang over – well earned but not pleasant (a bit different from last year when I was the DD from Joan’s House Concert.) New Years Day was a smaller more sober but delicious celebration and January 2nd was Joan’s 82nd birthday so we continued to eat.
We really really missed our family and friends in BC over the holidays but we felt very welcomed by our family and friends in Europe to share in their celebrations. Christmas and New Year have been an incredible experience and I cannot thank our hosts enough for their kindness and generosity.
On Thursday Mum and Joan return to the UK and Friday Martin and I head to sunny Spain – Granada for three months. We will have a six day drive (fingers crossed that our little Pew will make it) ‘ through France and Spain – hopefully living on fewer calories. We have rented a house overlooking the Alhambra through the Sabbatical Homes website. Looking forward to settling down for a few months and improving my Spanish, writing and learning Flamenco. More adventures to come………