December !

Christmas bauble

It’s 1st December. A man is selling Christmas trees on the square nearby. The street lights are up, which makes the early dark evenings more tolerable, sparkly & pretty even.  And most importantly, it’s two weeks till I’m out of the office. Yay!

~ Spotted Cow

Vienna. Eating to stay warm.

Let’s go back to somewhere seasonally cold.  Vienna in December is -1°C to 3°C.  It didn’t take away from the atmosphere of the Christmas markets, but honestly, it felt colder than that. Brrr. Regular pitstops at the hot chocolate and mulled wine stalls were essential. We’d linger for warmth at the stalls cooking large pans of potatoes. I could barely get my fingers out of my gloves to take photographs.

It brings to the fore, food as fuel. We dropped into the Esterhazykeller for lunch. It’s a traditional Viennese wine tavern that’s been around since 1683.  It’s subterranean – well, it’s a cellar –  and you sit in cosy wooden booths among the caverns of vaults. We ate roast pork with dumplings and cabbage, as suggested by the guidebook, and we drank beer.  It was probably delicious and nourishing, but I don’t remember. All I could think was that I needed to get in some food to pad the sides for another foray into the cold.

~ Spotted Cow

Esterhazykeller sign Esterhazykeller insideVienna Christmas market Vienna lebkuchen stall

Christmas, neither at home nor away

Baby Cow closing in on little deer

Ever fancied not having any responsibility on Christmas Day? Let someone else organise the food, the tree, and the entertainment. We did it one year when the idea of all of us in a small London flat with nowhere to go seemed a bit crampy. Plus, we were due to fly out on Boxing Day.

Our choice was Ashdown Park Hotel in East Sussex where we stayed from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. It was marvellous. The grounds are enormous and on the doorstep of Ashdown Forest.  This is Winnie The Pooh country.  You can borrow mountain bikes and cycle on the bumpy forest paths.  There are plenty of secret corners and hidden gardens to explore, and you’ll encounter the wild deer that roam the estate.  We had a go at croquet – badly. There’s a golf course. And we discovered a llama park nearby.

The youngsters can use the remainder of their energy in the swimming pool while the adults enjoy spa services or one of the reading spots in front of the fire.

It goes without saying that there is an abundance of food. We didn’t go hungry and the children had far too much chocolate and cake, as well as surprise treats under the tree and on their pillows – both from us and courtesy of the hotel.

We don’t know if we’d do it quite like that again. But it suited us on that one occasion and the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.

Spotted Cow


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Cologne Christmas markets

Seven weeks till Christmas, someone said.  I reckon it’s  time to start posts with Christmas and winter themes.

I love the German Christmas markets.  I say that, but I’ve only been to the one in Cologne and it’s my blueprint for how all of them should be.

Cologne has seven Christmas markets, and my favourites are the big one in front of the imposing Cologne Cathedral and the somewhat nostalgic one in the Old Town.  The markets are open all day, but they’re most atmospheric at night. It’s the combination of the crisp cold air, the Christmas trees & lights, children laughing in the skating rink and smells of gluhwein (mulled wine) and roasting potatoes and spitting sausages. It feels like Christmas in a movie.

I love the stalls that sell crafts and wooden toys and Christmas decorations. I bought a wooden woodpecker which pecks down a pole … and it was subsequently named Zoe Woodpecker by one of our youngsters.  I also buy the ginger biscuits called Lebkuchen, which are almost an art form.  They’re so pretty that I don’t want to eat them.  I still have stale ones, still in their plastic wrappers, the souvenirs of Christmas pasts.

Spotted Cow

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