Is there a better build-up to Christmas than visiting a European Christmas Market? If so, I’d like to know what it is. Maybe it’s all that Glühwein and Orange Punch that I can’t pass by that helps, but even as a devout atheist I can’t help but respect the Austrians for adhering to the meaning of Christmas more than I do.
I absolutely love Austria at Christmastime, especially in places like the Tyrol, but if you like to add some culture to your bratwurst and beer, then Vienna is hard to beat.
When we were here the week before Christmas in 2016, it even snowed to give it the magical icing on the Christmas cake.
There’s no point in waffling on about what market is where, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. As for the culture, I’ll be dealing with all that later – hopefully.
For someone who didn’t even like sport, it might seem somewhat surprising that Adolf Hitler was able to stage one of the most successful, albeit controversial, games in Olympic history; they were so successful in fact, that the format has been followed in much the same way ever since.
The background to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in many ways goes back to WWI, and the Langemarck Hall at the Olympic Stadium is a telling reminder of how Hitler had never forgotten his time in the trenches.
Langemarck was a WWI battlefield in Belgian Flanders and somewhere I visited several years ago. The war cemetery there holds 44,000 German soldiers including many inexperienced young men.
When the stadium, and the Langemarck Hall, was constructed in 1936, Hitler was known to turn to a few confidants to proclaim that there would be “Revenge for Langemarck”.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh is world renowned, but Christmastime is pretty good too, and what’s more, by booking in advance, travel and accommodation costs are a fraction of the price that they are for the New Year celebrations.
The main Christmas market centres around East Princes Street Gardens and has everything you would expect – and more.
We enjoyed our visit here in 2015 so much that we’ve decided to come back again this year (2018).
To conclude my tour of Edinburgh Castle it seems appropriate somehow to finish with the magnificent Military Tattoo.
As its name suggests, the event is based around the Scottish armed forces, but don’t let that put you off because it’s more to do with kilts and bagpipes than warfare. That said, there is also a solemn side to the proceedings, especially towards the end when recognition of those who have lost their lives in combat are remembered.
For the most part though, it’s an extravaganza of music and dancing, and not just from Scotland either. In fact, it involves more international participants than you might have imagined.
The first Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle took place in 1950 and has grown from strength to strength ever since. The spectacle has become extremely popular and consequently in order to get a good seat, or even any seat, it’s best to book well in advance. This also applies to hotels as well at this time of the year, as it coincides with the Edinburgh Festival.
I can still remember seeing the joy on Ken Livingstone’s face when London won the selection to host the 2012 Olympic Games, so why wasn’t I jumping up and down for joy with him?
Call me an old cynic if you like, but the legacy of the 2004 Athens Games is a stark reminder of how emotions can change from joy to despair in such a relatively short space of time. The debt that Greece accrued for putting on the world’s greatest sports event was a heavy enough price to pay without the knowledge that the sporting venues quickly fell into disrepair as well.
I’m pretty sure that Ken wasn’t thinking about the sporting side of things when, as Mayor of London at the time, he put the bid in: in fact, I don’t think he even expected to win it. The reason behind his thinking was that the event would focus minds on giving a much-needed boost to rejuvenating a part of East London that was in desperate need of some extra cash, so I think his wide smile was for a different reason to those involved in sport.
I’m also pretty sure that the powers that be were only too aware of what happened in Athens and would have been determined that London’s legacy would be different.
With all this in mind a 500-acre site at Stratford was given the go-ahead as the home of the Olympic Park, the main venue for both the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics.
I intimated in my Introduction to Kew Gardens that I was intending to follow it up with some more detailed posts about other aspects of the park, and as Christmas is on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to show people what Christmas at Kew is like.
2018 will be the sixth year it’s been running and has already established itself as a firm favourite with everyone.
Basically, it involves a trail that is festooned with illuminations of all descriptions, but rather than explaining what it’s all about I’ll leave you with a link to the website and some pictures from 2017 that will give you a taste of what to expect.
The Tower of London Pt 5 - Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red
To commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I the Tower of London created an art installation called ‘Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red’.
From July to November 2014, the moat around the tower was covered with 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each of the British and Commonwealth personnel who were killed in the ‘War to end all Wars’.
The creator was Paul Cummins, with assistance from designer Tom Piper, and the idea was to sell all the poppies for £25 each with the proceeds going to service charities.
The poppies were hand made in Cummins’ factory in Derbyshire, where the unknown man who coined the words of the installation came from. In his will he wrote the words “The blood swept land and seas of red, where angels fear to tread”.
You might have noticed that I haven’t called this post ‘Christmas Shopping in London’ and that’s because Easymalc don’t do shopping in London at Christmastime, in fact I don’t do Christmas shopping anywhere – and come to think of it, I don’t do shopping anywhere at any time.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, you may well wonder why I’m bothering to write anything at all about the subject, especially as I’m not a lover of the over-commercialisation of this time of the year either.
Well, the first reason is that whether I like it or not, the second week in November is when the Christmas lights start to be turned on in London, and the second reason is that Easymalc’s household has been having a family day out up in ‘The Smoke’ at Christmastime for a few years now, and both my wife and daughter have a different concept of wandering along Oxford street to me, and so I content myself with taking a few pictures of the lights and pop into a hostelry or two while they’re wasting their time in the shops.
November can be one of the most miserable months of the year but around the third week into the month Truro’s ‘City of Lights’ festival lifts the gloom with a parade of glowing lanterns made out of tissue and withies.
Usually coinciding with the switch-on of the Christmas lights this small city comes alive with dance and music from local groups and bands. It’s a real community spirit with many schools taking part, not just from Truro but also from many villages around. Hundreds of school kids bring their lanterns and join up with the professionals who make some much larger creations.
This procession is not a competition to see who can build the biggest and best lanterns – just a simple and effective way for people of all ages to take part in the build up to the festive season – and leave the gloom behind. Wonderful!
The tradition of making a garland for the Tudor Hall at Cotehele House only started in the 1950s, but has since become a firm annual favourite at Christmastime.
People come from miles around to see this 18 metre (60 foot) long decoration that starts its life in the Cut Flower Garden at Cotehele. The seeds are sown in February, the flowers cut in the summer, and then hung in the potting shed to dry until the Autumn.
The aim is to get around 30,000 stems, but it will depend on the conditions which can vary from year to year.
In early November a 12mm diameter rope is laid out on the floor where bunches of evergreen pittosporum are attached and then hoisted up to the ceiling where it is hung in swags.
The flowers are then cut, sorted, and placed individually amongst the evergreen.
Apparently, the process from planting the seeds to the last flower being attached involves staff and volunteers working an equivalent number of hours to one full time employee a year.
The garland is usually on display from around the middle of November until the 12th night (Jan 6th), except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Christmas 2015 saw Coleton Fishacre venture into the festive spirit for the first time and throw open its doors to show people how the D’Oyly Carte family would have enjoyed their Christmas in the 1920s and 30s.
In today’s modern age it all seems a bit low key which of course was how it was meant to be. To brighten things up a bit the gardens are illuminated, but don’t expect to see an extravagant sound and light show. Apart from anything else it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway.
The walk around the garden will probably take around 45 minutes or so, but that doesn’t include a mulled wine stop at the gazebo.
I’m not somebody who likes to lie around on the beach much these days, but for families, Paignton seafront has all the ingredients to make a perfect holiday.
The sunny, south facing beach has sand that’s perfect for making sandcastles, and its Blue Flag status makes the sea perfectly safe for even the tiniest of tots to paddle and swim in.
If the youngsters get tired of playing on the beach, then there’s always the 780 ft long Pier to wander along. It first opened in 1879 and was initially used as a place for music and dancing, but those days have long gone, and instead there are now video games, rides, and money-grabbing slot machines. The Pier never fails to attract holidaymakers in large numbers, and it never fails to amaze me how so many people enjoy losing their hard-earned cash to those coin- pushers and cranes that seem to have the ability to pick up the object that is of absolute no use at all, and yet that £10 note you like the look of always seems to be a bit too heavy to deliver all the way to your pocket.