Annual Christmas Holiday Traditions in Austria with Krampus

We first noticed this devil like creature when we were in Vienna.  Next to all the Christmas decorations was this strange little fella with horns, and I thought to myself that I needed to check into what this creature might be.  Maybe it was left over from Halloween, but realized Halloween is not a big holiday here, as of yet, although it is gaining in popularity.  I never had a chance to look into it while we were in Vienna. So when we arrived in Salzburg, and our lovely hosts at the apartment where we were staying, suggested that we go to a festival featuring this creature in a neighboring village the next evening, we jumped at the chance.  Take a look at what we found…

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Krampus! They were quite a spectacle!  I have never seen anything like it.  The tradition goes something like this.  On December 6th, St. Nicholas (who is similar to Santa Claus) and Krampus come for a visit.  Children are left apples, nuts and sweets if they are good and are dragged away by Krampus to his hellish lair if they are not.  So you better be good!

There are many festivals and parades called Krampuslauf, leading up to Krampusnacht, celebrated on December 6th.  They usually begin at night fall and large groups, mostly young men, dress in their incredible costumes and prance down the street, stealing hats and scaring people along the way.  We found ourselves at the Koppler Krampuslauf, on a snowy cold night.  It was a perfect time to enjoy some delicious hot punch and the girls had the kinder punch (non-alcoholic) to keep them warm.  Once the parade started we were close to the action, as it went on we moved back a little, my youngest daughter got a little scared of these beasts.  She knew it was all in fun, but their costumes and actions can be pretty scary! They were amazing! To learn about and be a part of this tradition dating back to the middle ages and earlier, was an incredible treat!

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Sadly, it is our last day in Salzburg. Our lovely host arranged for us to go out into the forest where we were able to watch a deer feeding.  We saw approximately 150 deer.  They are fed everyday once food becomes scarce, usually starting around December 1st.  The hunters set out food as they are required to help take care of the deer during the winter, seems only fair…  We hiked out through the snow to a viewing platform, where you sit quietly, as the deer come down the hillside to feed.  Thankfully, we were given blankets to help keep us warm, since the cold took our breath away, we are not quite use to it.

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Afterwards, we drove through the lake region, which again took our breath away, it was so beautiful.  We then stopped and walked through our last Austrian Christmas Market.  It was magical with lights, carolers and all the festivities.  We are truly going to miss Austria, we have really loved being here!

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Vienna

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Austria is amazing! It has certainly left an impression on me. Currently, we are in lovely Salzburg. It is dumping snow outside and so the girls are out running around with their dad, perfect time to blog. Fresh snow falling is definitely something we do not have many chances to see, living in Southern California, so everyone has been squealing with excitement! It is a winter wonderland!

Anyway, back to Vienna. What a beautiful city Vienna is! There is a style and grace to the city that reminded me of Paris. I am so glad we made Vienna a stop on our European tour.

On our first full day in Vienna, we surprised the girls with a performance by the Spanish Riding School and their Lipizzaner stallions. The riding school began over 430 years ago and is very much a cultural tradition in Vienna. The Spanish Riding School’s name comes from the Lipizzaner horses, which originated from the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal. There were several different events showing classical horsemanship culminating with a beautiful “ballet” of 8 white horses. It was fascinating to see these incredibly trained horses jumping and prancing to the music, like nothing I have seen before. The girls were very excited! The beautiful space where the performance was held was completed in 1735 and is part of the Hofburg Palace.

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One of our favorite ways to relax and observe the Viennese culture was to sit in the wonderful cafes and enjoy the incredible coffee and sweets. I have to say these are the original coffee houses and put Starbucks to shame. One sweet you can indulge on is the Sachertorte, who has the best Sachertorte in the city is a big debate. The Sachertorte is a a soft and fluffy chocolate cake with apricot jam. The one we tried was pretty dry but I am willing to try it again, if I must. My daughters have become hot chocolate connoisseurs and my husband is on a quest to try every type of beer that is humanly possible.

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After relaxing in a cafe we enjoyed viewing Gustav Klimt’s work at the Belvedere Palace which was the summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy. There are actually two Baroque-style palaces separated by a formal garden. Gustav Klimt’s work is in the upper palace with a collection of work by other Austrian painters. I was really taken by Klimt’s work, with his use of mixed media and different artistic styles it was incredible. The whole city of Vienna seems to be taken by his work too as he is a huge part of the culture of the city.

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We also were able to see an opera and a ballet at the gorgeous State Opera House or the Staatsoper. Having heard about the possibility of having standing room seats for 3-4 euros each, from a Rick Steve’s podcast, we decided what a great way to go. Not being an opera fan and wanting to just give a little exposure to our girls, you cannot beat it. We figured we could just stay until intermission and not feel bad for leaving. It is an interesting process getting the standing room seats, so if you can handle that, it is a wonderful deal. Some people line up three hours before the tickets go on sale to be the first in line. You can also arrive when the tickets do go on sale, 80 minutes before showtime. We opted for the latter and with the kids we were lucky enough to get in the front row. There can be a lot of pushing and shoving for position. We even saw people running in to get a good spot, it reminded me of a rock concert, not an opera… The 4 euro standing room area is just behind seats costing up to 150 euros, and are on the ground floor with a great view. The amazing thing was though, that we stayed for the entire performance of both the opera and the ballet. The girls loved it! I think it helped that the opera was L’elisir d’armore (The Elixir of Love) which is not so serious nor tragic. The ballet was interesting also. I think we have a whole new appreciation for the arts. I really love how Vienna makes the arts accessible to everyone in the community, not just those with big bank accounts.

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Traveling in the winter has allowed us to see how other countries celebrate the Christmas holiday. One of these very special traditions, are the Christmas Markets, and Vienna has some of the best. They are quite a spectacle. Christmas Markets are called Christkindlmarkt or Adventmarkt and have been a part of the Christmas tradition since the Middle Ages in German speaking countries. They are open air markets filled with seasonal goods and food. We found different markets all over the city. You can find Christmas decorations, ornaments, nutcrackers, gingerbread cookies, and handmade crafts, just to begin with. There are food vendors serving different types of wurst, potato patties and roasted chestnuts. You can also try the hot wine (Gluhwein) hot punch (Punsch), and for the kids a warm punch (Kinder Punsch). Delicious on a cold day!

We truly enjoyed our week in Vienna. It is an incredible city! I will never forget our special time there and can’t wait to go back!

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Princess for a day!

It was suggested that when traveling with kids, a good idea might be to give them full reign for a day (or two or three).  We decided while we were in Paris, this would be a great place to do it.  There is so much to see and why not change up what we normally would have put on the agenda and let the kids be in charge for a change. Good for them to have the responsibility to figure out what interests them about the city, where to find it on a map and to plan out the day.

First up was our youngest daughter and her day went a little like this:

1. Musee Rodin

2. Walk down the Champs Eysees and Avenue Montaigne for some window shopping.  Or as they say in France, “faire du leche-vitrines” which literally translated means window licking, although we only drooled a little…

3. Stopped for a sweet crepe.

4. The Eiffel Tower at dusk!

It was a truly great day!

Next, it was my oldest daughter’s turn to be princess for the day.  She chose another amazing adventure and it went something like this:

1. Jardin du Luxembourg

2. A special French lunch

3. A visit to the English bookstore Shakespeare & Co. (it was just across from Notre Dame so we stopped in there also).

4. The Sorbonne

I cannot wait to see where they pick to go next!

The Tower of London

There is something for everyone at the Tower of London. History, drama, trickery, weapons, torture, death, royalty and lots and lots of diamonds. Since we did not arrive until the afternoon we ran out of time to see the “rack” which my husband was tortured by missing (pun intended, sorry…).


We took the walking tour with a Beefeater, who is also known as, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (what a name…I would go with Beefeater too!). He showed us around the incredible grounds of the Tower and then we headed inside to see the Crown Jewels. There are over 11 tons of gold and some of the largest diamonds in the world, absolutely stunning! We viewed Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, which she will wear for the State Opening of Parliament in early November.

On our way out, my husband and daughter met the first female Beefeater and then a gentleman who worked at the Tower and he gave my daughters a special pin from a recent opening of an exhibition at the Tower. The same pins had been given to some of the members of the Royal Family when they attended the opening. We felt very lucky! He then brought us up to a private area in the Middle Tower, which is where his office was located. We were able to climb to the top of the Tower and had an amazing view of Tower Bridge. He told us about meeting some of the Royal Family and his experience as an expert on Admiral Lord Nelson, the infamous royal naval hero. It was quite an exciting afternoon! One we will always remember!

Long Live the Queen!

We have been in England for two weeks now and really love it! Arriving into England, after driving off the train, which took us under the English Channel from France, we found it really nice to see road signs that we understood! Although, there are still several words that got lost in translation… Several times we all looked at each other and said, huh what did he say? We are all speaking English but that doesn’t necessarily mean all things are understood! There are many books out there to help us Americans as we travel through beautiful England.

We are staying in a lovely cottage in the heart of Kent, owned by a wonderful couple. The cottage is a refurbished barn and the main home is approximately 700 years old. It is so green here and coming from Southern California, green is a very nice change. My sister and her really good friend Karen came to visit us. It was so great to see some familiar faces! We spoke with the owners of the cottage about getting a cot for them to sleep on. They asked if we needed a high chair too and we went, uh oh, I think we got off track somewhere. As we found out, a cot in England means a baby crib and no my sister is not a baby sister…so we opted for a blow up mattress instead. We are getting quite use to the language differences now and of course, love the accents. Once, we pulled over to ask for directions, and this sweet girl said she loved our accents, I have to say I have never heard that one before!

We have seen some amazing places. The richness of the history is so striking from Dover Castle, Leeds Castle, the City of Canterbury to the British Museum. The City of London itself is a museum, with its amazing buildings and tradition, and the Royal Family, I am in awe.

It is incredible to experience a country that has had so much history and importance. Dover Castle’s history spans over 2,000 years from the Old Roman Lighthouse to the World War II tunnels it was fascinating to see.

The English love their sports and we enjoyed visiting Wimbledon and watching a football match (soccer…) at Wembley Stadium, such a treat! We heard lots of “outstanding” and “brilliant” as the English football team easily defeated Italy’s San Marino team. We heard a lot of other words too that we’re not “lost in translation” but I am trying to keep this a family friendly blog.

We are here for another 10 days and are planning to see Windsor Castle, the Tower of London and will also be visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour for my oldest daughter’s 11th birthday. What a life I am living, feeling very lucky!

The Joy of Eating in France

Our experience of eating in France has been no less than a delectable celebration of food. Every meal we have had here has been incredible. Food is very regional and being in Normandy, we have certainly enjoyed our fair share of Camembert cheese. One of the most delicious meals we enjoyed was a stew with chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms all sitting in melted Camembert cheese. I am afraid to know how many calories.


Baguettes have quickly become part of our daily ritual. We watched families buy 5 or more baguettes in the markets and at first we thought they were crazy, and now we completely understand how you must eat a baguette with pretty much everything. Cheese, of course, but with soups and for sandwiches, also. It is a staple for us now!

We have become friends with the waiter at the local Creperie. Since we are eating with kids, we have to make sure there is something for everyone on the menu, and this place has it all. Galettes are savory crepes and you can have them several ways. Ham and cheese being the most common but the choices go way beyond my French translation. Our girls had the most amazing pizza served on a puff pastry instead of pizza dough, it was out of this world. My husband and I shared a puff pastry filled with goat cheese and tomatoes and I about died, yes from my arteries being clogged and also the euphoric sensation of every bite, it was truly that good!


The fun doesn’t stop there though because for dessert it is time for the sweet crepes, which you can have with a multitude of toppings, plain sugar to caramel to Nutella and bananas. From there you can add ice cream or even have it flambéed, quite lovely indeed.
We have been to several of the weekly farmer’s markets. You can find one any day of the week. Fresh cheeses, dairy, meats, produce, pastries, bread and local ciders are just some of the treats you may come across. It is great to watch the locals collect their delicious ingredients to take home. Many of the vendors have beautiful displays showcasing their goods. It is a busy place with so many interesting things to experience. I am really looking forward to checking in on some of the markets in Paris, when we return to France in November. That should be another unforgettable time. I better get in some exercise before then…