Who’s That With Old St. Nick?

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Krampus in Austria

“Up on the rooftop reindeer pause, out jumps good old Santa Claus”, but who is that crazy character that came with him? In many parts of the world children have a very different vision in their head, when Santa Claus comes to town.

Santa Claus is a tradition celebrated here in the United States, while many other countries observe St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop, whose generosity of giving worked its way into the traditions that are celebrated today.  There has definitely been a blending of Santa Claus and St. Nicholas but they are very different, indeed.  In Western Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th.   Often, St. Nicholas has a counterpart, who is the bad to his good, the yin to his yang.  You better watch out when St. Nick and his associate visit, especially if you were less than nice this year. Many of these traditions date back to the middle ages where there were strong themes of good versus evil.

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Krampus

These not so friendly acquaintances can be quite creepy. In Austria, for instance, there is a horned, hairy creature called Krampus, who takes the kids on the naughty list to its hellish liar. If you made the good list, which hopefully you did, then St. Nick will leave you fruits, nuts and sweets.

In the Netherlands, there is Sinterklaas (said to be part of where our version of Santa Claus came from) and his counterpart Zwarte Piet (translates into Black Peter, and political correctness is a definite issue with this, although the black is soot from going down chimneys, not the color of his skin) who will drag you off in a bag and teach you to be good, if you didn’t make the nice list.

In parts of France, there is the very scary Père Fouettard, a horrible child killer who is making up for his sins by eternally being St. Nicholas’s helper, not sure he will ever make that up for that though! Those that have been naughty should expect a whipping from this boogieman instead of any treats.

The Czech Republic has a tradition where Saint Nicholas comes with an angel to protect the children from the devil, who also comes, but is chained up; showing once again that good does overcome evil. Here the naughty ones get a lump of coal or a sack of potatoes and the real naughty ones get put into the devils sack and taken to hell, if that doesn’t make you want to be on the nice list, I am not sure what else will.

In parts of Germany, St. Nick travels with Knecht Ruprecht.  There are various traditions throughout Germany but they usually go something like this- Knecht Ruprecht carries a bag of ashes and a basket containing switches (branches used for whipping). He will ask children if they know how to pray, if yes, St. Nicholas gives them treats, often fruit, nuts, chocolates or gingerbread. If not, then Knecht Ruprecht beats the children with his bag of ashes. They are given coal and a switch is left for the parents to discipline them with.

So if you decide to be naughty, take caution, you are dealing with the forces of St. Nicholas, and his acquaintances don’t mess around. My advice, be good and have a wonderful holiday season whatever your beliefs are!

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Beautiful Seville

DSC_0037 I was super excited to return to Seville, which I had been to once before, years and years ago (about 20, I believe) with my mother and brother.  I remember it being a vibrant and colorful city, full of ceramics and Flamenco, although it has definitely become more modern, I wasn’t disappointed.  Seville is such a vibrant city where the locals really seem to take time to enjoy life! On Saturday, we enjoyed hanging out in a square close to our apartment and watched big groups of friends sitting at tables eating, drinking and having fun.  There was a soccer match going on (Barcelona playing Madrid-a big rivalry) and everyone seemed to revel in the competition.

The following day, Sunday, typically is the day for family, again we saw large groups relaxing in the square taking time to enjoy the company. It was lovely to feel the emotions of this city with such a big heart. We stayed in the old quarter where small cobblestone streets wind their way by Flamenco shops, antique shops, ceramic stores, clothing stores, cafes and more. The Flamenco stores carry Flamenco dresses of all fabrics and colors.  Some are quite expensive and beautifully made.  In April, there is a huge Flamenco festival that takes place and it seemed like everyone was getting ready for that.  It was nice to see so many fabric stores, as they seem to be dying out in the States. There is still a huge presence of traditional craftsmanship in this lovely city. We very much enjoyed getting lost in the streets of Old Seville.

DSC_0040We did find our way to a wonderful Flamenco Show with live guitar that moved us all. We cheered with the locals during the soccer matches and drank and ate tapas in the squares. We toured the Alcazar, a stunning example of Moorish architecture, with its beautiful gardens, while in contrast viewed the thoroughly modern Metropol Parasol Marbol, designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann. Seville is definitely a city of old and new, for me the old is what I like most in this tradition rich city.

Please note this was a blog entry that was started during our European trip (over a year ago) and just finished recently, after our return.

 

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Getting Back Up Again

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Returning from our European adventure was quite an emotional experience for me. Traveling throughout Europe for 7 months was a dream come true. We had planned and saved for years and I really wasn’t sure what we were going to do once we got back. We moved back into our old house (literally, it is 106 years old) without much of a plan.  Now back to the drawing board to get it going again.

First things first, we needed to get the girls back in school and figure out how we were going to make money again. Our finances had dwindled down from our travels, so we sold a piece of real estate to help get us going again.  My husband set out with a new job and I struggled to get my grounding, feeling uninspired and lost.  I had dreamed of traveling for so long and now I knew that had come to an end, for now. We promised our kids to stay in one place until they were out of high school, so we were here to stay and had to settle in.

 

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The shift from being constantly on the go and experiencing new things everyday to going back to old routines and familiar places was quite huge.  We were excited to see family and friends again and have some downtime. We were also very happy to get back to being with our family pets that we had to leave behind, the girls were happy to play soccer again, and just gearing down with the ease of familiar foods and no language barriers made things simple. My husband was completely burnt out on loading and unloading the car (we only had to pack and unpack 48 times, not sure why he was complaining, ha!) and I was getting tired of always feeling a little lost, so our customary ways are not so bad.

Now, after being back for just a little more than a year, we have jumped back into our always changing, yet everyday life. The girls got right back into school, friends and soccer. They have done great and have had a better understanding and appreciation from having seen so much from traveling.  My husband has now started his own business which is getting off to a good start, but of course, has its stresses.  I though, am still struggling to get a foothold, but think I have finally found a way. I really enjoyed writing this blog about our travels and have not felt able to write since we have been back. I guess it is just that I haven’t had much to say. It has been really hard to switch back into my old way of living, I have been struggling and stuck, instead of appreciating the fact that I even had this opportunity to travel in the first place and am so lucky in my life. I feel like traveling is such a big part of what makes me happy and now that our incredible journey is over, I just haven’t been able to figure out what to do next. I have a plan now though, and it starts with getting back to what I really enjoy doing; blogging, taking pictures and I have started writing a travel guide for kids. I figure if I cannot travel at the moment, at least I can dream about it. Oh, and I do need to fix up our old house too. So now I am ready to get going again! Okay, here we go. I am really going now. Let’s go. For real this time. That is it, committing now! 1-2-3! Go!!!

Walking along the Costa Brava

Gorgeous, breathtaking, moving and complete awe for this beautiful planet we live on gives you a sense of what we felt as we walked along the coast of Spain’s Costa Brava.  We are heading out for another hike today, but wanted to share a few photos of yesterdays tour.  Hard to capture it’s true beauty. Reminded me of parts of California’s coastline, which we will be back to soon! Again feeling very lucky!

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Celebrating Carnival in Spain’s Costa Brava

Today, we enjoyed watching all the fun of Carnival in Spain.  Carnival is celebrated all over Europe (and of course, Brazil) where each country puts their own twist to the celebration   It is a wonderful celebration of family and community.  We saw all ages dancing and singing through the streets, it was great! The different towns compete for the best costumes, dance choreography, and floats.  Tough competition this year in Lloret de Mar.  We felt very lucky to be part of this great tradition!

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I’m in love with Mallorca

When we just really needed some warm weather and sunshine we found it in Mallorca.  This incredible island off the coast of Spain, a quick 30 minute flight from Barcelona, is a very special place.  It is part of the Balearic Islands which also includes, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera.  It is the home of Rafa Nadal and Carlos Moya, both who have been #1 in men’s tennis.  We were so lucky to have warm weather and even a touch of spring.  The almond trees were just beginning to bloom and we found fields covered in white and yellow flowers, so nice to see, as it has been a long cold winter.  For those of us from Southern California, any winter is a long cold winter, and we have had our share of snow and cold this year traveling through Europe, so this warming trend was very much appreciated.

During the busy summer season, tourists can outnumber the locals 15 to 1. There are lots of German and English visitors, and many have bought second homes on the island.  One of the really nice things about us traveling during the winter is that we are in such an off season, that there are no lines and the beaches are almost deserted but it is also a little chilly.  It was nice to have the island to ourselves, but many of the restaurants are closed or have shorter hours.  We ended up just grabbing some fruit, baguettes and cheeses and headed to the beach, we made the most of it…

We played tennis, went swimming, hiking, enjoyed the beautiful beaches, explored caves, did some wine tasting (Mallorca has several types of grapes only grown on the island) and we had some really nice meals.  It was wonderful and we did not feel like leaving but we did.

Mallorca Dragon Caves

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Traveler’s Log

Heading westward in southern France towards the end of our incredible European adventure has me thinking upon a few things.  Our travels have taken us 13,000 kilometers and we have stayed in 17 different places, including, apartments, villas, homes and hotel rooms. By the time our trip ends, in Lisbon, Portugal, we will have stayed in 24 places and have traveled close to 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles).   My kind husband is becoming quite tired of loading and unloading the car (34 times so far and this does not count our trip in California before we left for Europe along with packing up our whole house into storage).  Sometimes we are parked close to where we are staying and it is easy, but other times we have hauled our bags down the side of a mountain, through busy city streets, and up several long flights of stairs.  I have to say that this packing and unpacking is the worst part, even though, at times, we are ready to try our next location, it can get pretty tiresome.  We have all become professional packers though, and I really am proud of how little the girls complain as they resign themselves to the task at hand.

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With staying in so many different places we have had to get use to lots of different kitchens and lots of different beds.  I do appreciate nice cooking utensils and appliances, it really makes a difference.  We have learned a lot of what works and what doesn’t for vacation rentals…

We will have gone to the supermarket in 10 different countries.  The most unusual market so far has to be in Prague.  We have had to really rely at times on the pretty pictures on the packaging in order to have the slightest idea of what might be inside.

One of the most useful tools we have used is the translation app on my iPad  this has come in handy when having to read cooking instructions in Czech…  Also, a very handy app, has been the conversion app on our iPhone.   Whether being used for temperature (cooking or weather) distances, weights or currency, it has been very helpful. We have used the Euro, the British Pound (GBP), the Czech Koruna (CZK), and the Swiss Franc (CHF).  Hopefully helping our girls to build good math skills in the meantime.

The most memorable gift from our travels, along with all the incredible places we have seen, the time we have spent together as a family, and the food, has to be the wonderful people we have met.  We have met lovely people all over Europe.  It really has helped to make our experience so special.  With the language barrier being very tough as times, these connections with people have helped us so much to enjoy and understand the places that we have been.  It gives me such faith in humanity…there are good people everywhere!

Well, I must sign off as we have to go and pack…

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