Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dusseldorf Christmas Markets

Brrr! With freezing –7C temperature outside, I’m writing this entry in our warm living room while enjoying the soothing Twin Peaks sound track in the background ;-)

We just came home from Den Haag visiting Madurodam and watching a 3-D film in Omniversum. I hate to be the bringer of bad news but I have a very unenthusiastic review about Madurodam which will come later, while I got inspired to listen to Twin Peaks tonight. They were playing them as lounge music in Omniversum while we wait for the film to start.

The first Christmas market in Dusseldorf we visited in glittering silvery white decors and lights... really nice. I like the elegant simplicity.

And because the holiday season will soon be over, I thought it best to first write about my Dusseldorf Christmas Market review before I plunge into my memorable Prague experiences (actually I have not finished uploading the Prague fotos).

I picked Dusseldorf this year because it’s quite near to the Netherlands; about 2 hours drive from Utrecht via Arnhem – Oberhausen. Munster and Aachen were on my mind too, with both cities just about 2-3 hours driving distance from Utrecht.

The second Christmas market we came across have the little baby angel theme, and this time in grand gold colors.

Seriously, my enthusiasm for visiting Christmas Markets this year has dwindled down a little bit. I am not really sure why, maybe because there are so many things crowding in my mind, or could it be because I have seen them in Prague? Hopefully, the eagerness will come again next year and we’ll go to either Munster or Aachen.

The little baby angel theme and this is an open bar on the street with a revolving carousel on top adorned with life size figures of ponies, angels and a snowman.

If you are to ask me if I buy stuff at these markets? The answer is NO. My joy is simple, to walk around, bathe in the festive atmosphere, drink gluhwein and eat traditional German chows. Dutchman always says that these Christmas market vendors are only selling rubbish, needless bits and pieces, trinkets and ornaments that you will only use once, twice or never at all. Most importantly, they cost more than buying from a normal store. I have to agree with him partly though. Being a minimalist, I’m not a fan of knick-knacks in my home but I quite fancy those hand-made, ostentatious and glittering Christmas decorations for the tree. There’s originality in them and I haven’t seen the same vendors selling the same thing anyway. Come next year I will buy a new set of tree decors, hand-made ones from the Christmas markets.

This is the third Christmas market we saw, little replicas of traditional houses. I particularly like this store selling bright coloured lanterns. Christmas lanterns reminds me of the Philippines. We call them PAROL there, a customary Christmas decor for each home, usually hang on the balcony, terrace and front door. I once made them at school for a project.

There are about 5 Christmas Markets in Dusselfdorf I believe, and we visited them all. The first market was all icy white in design, the decors, the lights, all in glittering silvery white. I kind of like the simplicity, yet elegant style. We had bratwurst here and gluhwein before moving on to the second market which was just right across the street with the little baby angel theme.

More pictures here: Dusseldorf Christmas Markets, Germany

The main town square, the fourth Christmas market we visited. The impressive building with the clock in the background is the Rathaus - Dusseldorf City Hall.

The third market is an interesting one. Cute little replicas of traditional German houses (more like Dutch houses to me?) that looked like doll houses. This market leads to the main town square where the big market, the fourth market is housed in typically Christmas red colored wooden huts. The square was filled to the brim and it was almost impossible to move about without squeezing yourself in and elbowing others as you wiggle slowly through the crowd. We spent some time drinking gluhwein here while watching with smile the jovial swarm of holiday Christmas market goers. The atmosphere was really nice, very inviting and warm.

Me drinking gluhwein (mulled wine) - spiced hot red wine, a typically holiday season and winter drink in Europe.

The last and fifth market we visited was on the other side of the town center. We crossed over the canal and the theme here is quite the same as the last one in the main town square, but this one has a nice mix of green and red colours representing a very Chrismassy spirit.
There were some events in the city too. We checked out this cross country skiing competition and nothing surprising, the participating countries are the usual suspects: German speaking and Nordic countries. We didn’t linger there longer than needed and off we went searching for a place to sit down and eat.

And this is the fifth and the last Christmas market for the day!

We had dinner in a busy terrace with huge stand-alone aluminum lanterns that also functions as heaters warming our cold back necks. Right across from where we were seated just 5 meters away to our right is a choral group serenading the public. Perfect spot! They played a few songs before they retired for some drinks in the café beside ours.

Here in the last Christmas market, I found the most interesting vendors: one selling artistic, colourful, hand-made bird houses, and another one roasting chestnuts in an old locomotive wagon, very ingenious and creative!

The evening was good so far until we were back in the car and on our way to the Netherlands.

Well, let’s just say that the Dutch concept of traffic is quite simple: a single highway stream that interconnects to the rest of the highways. This highway is designed and tasked to lead and exit you accordingly to your village, town or city center destination. Fundamentally speaking, the driver will always follow one single highway before exiting to his or her desired destination.

The langlaufen - cross country skiing competition in Dusseldorf.

Unfortunately, the Germans have a different concept, a bit complicated which unexpectedly does not sound very German at all. Their highways are simply not interconnected. They have several main highways and they have single highways too that lead you directly to the city centers. This is not the first time on the road that we (or I) got confused. In addition to this, there were not enough directional signs in the city centers! Ugh.

Last year, from Siegburg we were led straight to Cologne center. We had to turn back and luckily we found the main highway going back to the Netherlands quickly. However, this year, we got totally lost, and for more than an HOUR!!! AAAHHHHH!

We circled Dusseldorf for ages looking for the highway exit sign, and half an hour later, we found ourselves driving towards the center of Duisburg. At this point, you can imagine Dutchman and me shouting at each other, lol! I told him, “Can we just pull over to the nearest tank station and ask?” But instead this is met with a stern NO! Can someone please tell me why men always resist this very simple cry for help -- asking directions?

SIGH. We could have been home by 11PM instead of past midnight. Think it’s about time to seriously consider upgrading my Nokia Navigator from a Benelux version to a European version.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nigella and Oprah Moment

Tonight is Christmas Eve and I have totally lost touch that the 24th of December is the biggest event and the most important evening commemorated across the Christian world. I got used to the low key Christmas celebration in the Netherlands and it doesn’t help either that I am an agnostic.

I will be posting my Prague and Dusseldorf entries in the coming days. I need time to upload the fotos and work on the posts but quite happy now as I am free beginning tonight until the weekend! 4 glorious days of enjoying the holidays, hopefully not overeating as I don’t want to gain the kilos I have lost, and looking forward to some activities lined up.

At any rate, I was watching the Christmas edition of Nigella Lawson on BBC a few nights ago and I totally admired the woman for what she has achieved – bestselling cookbooks, a TV show, a reputation, and insert some GBPounds here too.

She has a big following of Nigella wannabes but what I quite find annoying while watching her, I must admit appealing and lip-smacking show is her CONSTANT use of highfaluting superfluous words to describe her cooking. Apart from her gorgeous British southern accent (read: very aristocratic and erudite), she actually makes me dizzy. Hearing those gratuitous words just sent me off to some distant la-la poetry land. It must be her English major and journalism background?

Nonetheless, I stuck to watching her program in the hopes of getting some baking tips for the holiday season. I have this idea of baking together with Dutchman, which if I may add, hurled a raucous cry from the man himself – “Dag! Ik ben geen homo!” ha-ha! (translation: Hello, I am not gay!)

Anyway, Nigella’s program is fabulous I am sure, but after watching her show, I had to boil some water and drink my afslankmix tea (diet mix tea) from Kruidvat. I think watching the show just made me gain an instant 5 kilos.

I mean, goody lordy, hello! Seeing a whole pack of rich fattening butter going down into the mixer make me cringe. I don’t even have butter at home! Well, today was an exemption as I bought a small portion of butter with herbs for the bread – its holiday season alright, but we normally don’t have any butter or any fattening ingredient at home. I use olive oil for cooking and with every thing else, sesame oil for flavouring Asian dishes, and bread is eaten without butter.

So I resigned to the fact that I don’t want to bake this holiday season. Thank you so much Nigella!

And today, this late afternoon after coming home from work early, I watched, still watching actually, Oprah.

I am not really an Oprah fan, never have been. Rarely watched her clichéd roller coaster heartrending have mercy on this weeping TV show (Dr. Phil and the likes sound so icky familiar huh?), but the topic caught me so I decided to stay glued to the tube – The awakening of America: How to be thrifty.

So OK, what is my opinion on this subject?

Um, well, let me say that I find it absurd for Americans to be awakened this way (and be slapped, kicked and cursed too), to this NOT SO HARSH REALLY reality (after all). Conserving energy, using coupons for grocery, shopping in cheap stores, budgeting, eliminating the unnecessary, cutting down on eating out, not spending on credit, not spending beyond what you earn, saving some money..., isn’t this is so rudimentary? Common sense, right?

What seems to be a highly complicated matter considered a new discovery that couples had to hire a financial adviser to tell them they are spending beyond their means (I have to shake my head) is a no brainer! This emotional spending awakening fracas is no new news! Please! Here even, in this small inconspicuous below sea level country, this tightening the belt is an ongoing albeit very normal daily reality for many people, including me.

Many Dutch families living only with an average income between €33K and €40K a year with 2 or 3 kids are able to lead a quality and healthy life, go on holiday once or even twice a year, enroll their kids in artistic related and sports activities, and still have savings left in the bank.

Crunching daily is like breathing for many locals here (also something for high spending Filipinos to emulate). When it is about spending, the mental calculator begins to tick and work, doesn’t really matter if they are rich, have enough, are earning only the average income, or have less than most.

Money is a hallowed thing in this country. A culture where the penny pinchers are applauded and the big spenders and show offs are booed, seriously.

I think Americans can learn from the parsimonious, modest and cautious Dutch. OK, I give in, cheap Dutch ;-)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Prague: Amazing buildings in Stare Mesto

Amsterdam to Prague is just over an hour’s flight. When the KLM pilot informed the cabin crew to take their seats for landing, I right away looked out the window but helaas I only see a blanket of white. It is supposed to be snowing in Prague so I can understand that visibility from the window is almost zero. Then, as the plane slowly glided down losing more altitude, I saw landscape formation, in immaculate expanse. The fields, trees, and houses covered in white snow slowly emerged from our sight as our plane meets the runway.

Wow, this has got to be the most magical landing I have had so far.

My favourite building on the old town square.

After collecting my luggage I boarded a cab to the centre. It is snowing in Prague and taking the train and bus would be the last thing in my agenda. I took a shared taxi service and paid 480 CZ one-way. The roads in Prague are narrow and not well maintained compared to the Netherlands. It is something that will right away strike you upon arrival. Infrastructure here is somewhat behind.

The drive was half an hour and I was at my hotel around 10 in the morning. I didn’t waste time. After settling down a bit in my hotel room, I was ready to hit the streets.

My agenda for the day: Explore Stare Mesto, the old town district of Praha.

I didn’t have a lot of expectations for Prague but when I set my foot on the streets of Stare Mesto, I was amazed at what welcomed me. BEAUTIFUL and AMAZING ARCHITECTURE!

The old buildings were all a feast to my eyes and surely to my camera as well. So grand, so opulent yet so dainty, fragile, and feminine. The unchanged old town centre looks and feels like a town straight out from a fairy tale book.

Baroque, Renaissance, Rococo and Romanesque styled buildings, they all come in rows of pastel colours. What an incredible festival of architectural and art influences.

Enough of the babbling, let me know you my photos:

My view from my hotel room window. It is snowing outside.

Travel Period: December 2008
Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Markets in Prague, and the Food!

Yup, I was in Prague last weekend and I have so many stories to tell about my visit.

True to its fame, Prague is indeed a fairy tale city. I could imagine kings and queens, prince and princesses, knights, magicians, personalities from the old world prancing about in this place. It’s a magical place and no wonder there are so many visitors here.

Because its December ergo the Christmas season, there was a Christmas Market in the Old Town Square or Staromestske Namesti. I love Christmas Markets so it was a delight to see the stalls, and of course the food!

Of course, it’s just apt to start my Prague entries with the Christmas Market as Christmas is fast approaching.

Out of curiousity I sampled a piece of ‘Trdelnik’ or ‘Trdlo’, a cinnamon coated delicacy. It was okay I thought. I am not really fond of sweet pastry stuff but it was something I vowed to try as it was local and popular. I have read that this pastry ring is a new invention mainly targeted for tourists (trap?) . They are usually sold during big outdoor events in the city and is not a traditional treat to begin with?

I was eyeing on some ‘Langose’. It’s a deep fried bread cake that looks like a pizza but I never got to try it. The deep fried dough is served with garlic, ketchup, and cheese toppings. I also heard that this is actually a Hungarian treat although many Czechs would for sure debate its origins.

I will blog more about Prague later but let me post some fotos of the traditional foods in the Christmas markets there. Not that I am a believer of Christmas but it’s a nice time and way to end the year.

Christmas Market on the Old Town Square.

Cinnamon ring pastry: Trdelnik or Trdlo.

Yummy eats!

Meat grilling is a Czech thing I suppose.

This is another Christmas Market located near the main shopping street.

Travel Period: December 2008

Link Within

Related Posts with Thumbnails