Wednesday, December 24, 2014
New Year's is fast approaching, and there's no time for much. Therefore my blog will be short and sweet this week. One of the few things that almost everyone on Earth has in common, is that we mostly celebrate New Year's at midnight on December 31st. It's just the way it is. It is the one holiday that we most have in common around this globe. There are a couple of other New Year's, but the standard has been shifting over the years for everyone to have some kind of celebration on this night.
There are many customs around the world for celebrating this occasion. When I was in Russia, the locals where we were made a bonfire. It was on the night of January 6th. They took paper and pencil, and wrote down all of the things that the previous year had tested them with. I thought it was a really polite way of saying all the bad stuff. They wadded up the paper after making their list and threw it in the fire to say good bye to it. Then they made a wish for the new year and jumped over the fire to go into the new year. It was interesting.
Likewise, the Icelanders also tend to celebrate with bonfires and family gathered around. The town does not have a celebratory fire works display like many other cities. The locals all have their own and it makes an amazing spectacle. It's the community in Iceland that really counts and they all come together on New Year's.
In the same tradition as New York City, the streets of Paris are full of people celebrating the New Year. The busiest street in town is shut down for pedestrians and the fireworks are everywhere.
One of my favorite New Year's I spent was in Budapest. This town is great. At noon on New Year's Eve, they shut down. I mean there's no store open, and not a lot of restaurants. Most people have a party to go to. We had ours at our hotel that night. There was music, food, and some wonderful company. At midnight, they came around with a pig. That's right, a live pig. It was a small pig and the purpose was to pull the pig's tail and make a wish for the coming year. Not a lot of fun for the pig, but it was a very interesting tradition.
One of the most amazing celebrations that I've ever watched, even though it was on Youtube, was the fireworks in London. They do it along the river in the center of town. The fireworks are unmatched in their grandeur. They also shoot off the fireworks to music which you can hear all over the area. It's truly amazing.
Fireworks are a great way to celebrate the New Year, no matter where you are. If you're like me, and have to work way too much during the holidays, you may end up at home. I spend New Year's Eve at home with my family. We watch all the celebrations around the world on the computer and we love every minute of it. I've spent a lot of time traveling the world on that magical night, and now I spend it with my son. It's the greatest way I've found to spend New Year's Eve. We do our toasts at midnight and then we have a silly string fight. That's our tradition. We love it. Remember to drive safe, have fun, and look forward to all the great things in the upcoming year. I hope that you all have wonderful traditions of your own, and I hope that you all have a very Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 18, 2014
I love Christmas, and I love to look at lights, have a good time, get and give presents, watch old specials on TV, and eat all kinds of food I shouldn't eat. But, there's more to Christmas, and I'm sure that some of my readers would agree, so I decided to talk about one of the ultimate Christmas trips to take. For Christians all over the world, Christmas is a wonderful time to make a pilgrimage to that fabulous place the we call Vatican City.
Vatican City is the smallest independent city state in the world. It's only 110 acres of land. It has a population of less than 1,000 people. It's only been a city state since 1929. It's been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. It's been the Pope's residence since 1337. It's considered one of the holiest places on Earth. In addition to the religious side of life, Vatican City is home to several museums and holds some of the most important and famous artworks in the world. It doesn't have it's own military, so it's guarded by the Swiss. If you don't know where Vatican City is, it's right in the center of Rome. Fascinating? It is.
Millions of Catholics go to midnight and morning mass at Christmas. Thousands attend it at St. Peter's Basilica. The largest Catholic Cathedral in the world holds a whole lot of worshipers, and the ones that can't get in for the service can watch it on a jumbotron in St. Peter's Square. It's amazing how easy it is to feel like you're part of something truly special on Christmas Eve night when you're at ground zero for Catholicism.
In St. Peter's Square you will find a beautiful Christmas tree and a life size Nativity along with the televisions to view the services. Just standing in the square gives you the feeling that you've come to someplace Holy and special. This is the spot that most Christians would like to be in at some point during their lives for Christmas. Remember, this isn't just about Santa, folks. This is the night that Christ was born. This was when it all began for Catholics. This is where it all started--on this night in Bethlem. Sometimes we forget that this holiday has deep meaning. It's become so commercialized that the message sometimes gets a little lost. If you've ever felt this way, and want to get away at Christmas, then this is the best spot to do it. You'll feel reborn.
I've been at a service with the Pope presiding. It's a feeling that you can't get from anything else. You feel like you've been touched by God. Nothing is quite like it.
But, why else would you visit Vatican City? Well, you'll obviously be visiting Rome. There's about a thousand reasons to visit Rome from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum to--oh, that's right--The Vatican. In addition to Christmas services at Vatican City, you could take a tour of the Sistine Chapel and see great works of art covering every single part of the walls and the paintings of Michelangelo on the ceiling. You might want to take a tour of one of the other museums and soak up some culture. You may want to take a tour of the catacombs and see where the popes are laid to rest along with St. Peter, the first of the Popes. You can watch the changing of the Swiss Guards and if you're lucky, get to go to a mass conducted by Pope Francis. You'll always remember that.
You can run all over Rome while visiting the area. At Christmas the whole city is lit up and there are Christmas Trees everywhere. You'll love the lights, the festivities, the shopping, the food, the hot chocolate. You will. But, you can see and do all of that in any city. You can go to Rockefeller Center and see a famous tree. This time take a little time to better your inner self. Quit thinking about getting the new Iphone for Christmas and take care of you soul. Feel good this Christmas and celebrate the things that Christmas was meant to celebrate. Remember where the gift giving began.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Remember how important the lights are. Remember Christ and everything that his life stood for and still stands for. Come to the center of it all. Come to Vatican City.
MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!! AND GOD BLESS!!!!!
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Now, most of us are worried that we might be too old for something like this. Well, my son is 14 and I'm old, and we had the best time. We didn't worry about the cold--we just dressed for it. We didn't need a thrill a minute--we just had fun spending some rare time together. This is family fun, and we don't have enough of it these days.
Sometimes you just want to get out and have some fun. Sometimes when you work in a Christmas frenzied business like I do, you just want to take a minute and enjoy the season for once. This is a great way to do just that. You have to pay to get in, so no one is protesting the fact that you're celebrating Christmas. It's nice. You get to do something, eat a lot of Christmas junk food, like roasted chestnuts. It's calming and beautiful in a way. You can ride the carousel instead of the roller coasters, and it makes sense. That doesn't happen often after your kids start school.
The park is only open on the weekends from 5 to 9 on Fridays and 4 to 9 on Saturdays and Sundays, so you don't really have time to get bored or tired. The train trip around the lake is lined with light displays and there's the tale of Rudolph on the speaker for all to enjoy. You can even get 3D glasses at the gate that make all the lights look like candy canes or elves or whatever. It's cute, and we could all use a little of that in a world gone wild. If you're frugal about things like that, you can put the entrance fee towards a season pass in most parks. That makes it a bargain.
So, give it a try. Bundle up and head out into the cold to enjoy a theme park at Christmas. You'll be glad you did.
Merry Christmas and Enjoy!
Thursday, December 4, 2014
When it comes to Christmas, I just want to have fun. I love the lights, the food, the festivities, the snow, the wonder that is Christmas. This year, I'm showcasing some spots that I haven't talked about before, and the first one is an area of the Alps that runs along a beautiful lake in the Halstatt/Salzburg region of Austria. This one is dubbed the most beautiful town in Austria. Halstatt, Austria is one of the villages that sits on the shores of the lake known as the Halstattsee. The town is ancient and has the old buildings and cobblestone streets to prove it. At Christmas and all winter long, this place becomes an amazing wonderland.
Halstatt is just one of the villages along the lake, and it is a beautiful little town. During the Christmas season, the local band plays in the afternoons for the people. There's a winter market in the beginning of December where you can pick up all kinds of local delicacies and handicrafts. The village is full of stands and everyone comes out to shop. There's also a great spa in town with natural hot springs. It's a great relaxing and gorgeous spot in the world.
Halstatt and area are not only beautiful but interesting. The funicular will take you up to get an amazing look at the area. Driving into Halstatt you go through some fantastic tunnels. There are boats for hire that will take you to the other villages along the lake as well. In the winter time you can catch a sleigh pulled by horses. It's all like spending time in a fairytale.
The town is so picturesque that it almost seems fictional. It sits in amongst the Alps and hangs right over the edge of the lake. It's been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. But, there's more to this area than just it's good looks. There are some great things to see and do here.
The folks in the Alps are hearty souls, and the folks that visit them in winter are as well. We all know you can ski in the alps and hike and ice climb. But January brings balloon week to Halstatt. The area has great wind currents and is a premiere location for hot air ballooning. If you come for the holiday, stay another week and get a great ride and a great view of the entire area.
Sitting on an outcropping of an Alp at the edge of a mountain lake doesn't leave a whole lot of room to maneuver, so the local cemetery is quite small. Years of having to deal with this problem has brought about some seriously creative solutions. The dead do not stay buried in this place. The painted skulls are in the Beinhaus Ossuary and, you guessed it; these folks are from the local cemetery. They are now painted so that loved ones know who's who and they are resting comfortably in the local ossuary.
Also in the area you will find the remnants of glaciers. There are glaciers all over the Alps, and they have some interesting ways of seeing them. The Dachstein Ice Caves are just outside of town, and they are a great place to see the effects of glaciers in the region.
Not far away is the Salzwelten salt mines. This salt mine is one of the oldest in the world. The miners went down into the mine by sliding down huge slides, and that is exactly the way that the tourist get down there today. There are a lot of exhibits that help to teach the history of mining in the area, and some great sights to see including a lake at the bottom. It's a beautiful place to see, and the train ride back to the top is pretty cool too.
Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen). In Bad Goisern during the first two weeks of December, Krampus is running around frightening the children. It's all part of tradition here in the area and it's the festival that comes just before Advent. It seems more like Halloween, but it has been a tradition in the small town of Bad Goisern just across the lake from Halstatt for generations. All of the Krampen meet with good Saint Nicholas and and good angels at the end of the festival, and then Christmas as most of us know it commences.
Have you ever tried a polar bear plunge? Well this little area of the world goes one better. They have dive trips under the ice during the dead of winter in the lake. The ice is so clear that the divers will tell you that it's an amazing experience. I don't know if I personally would want to dive in water so cold that it was iced over, but I'm assured that it's a once in a lifetime experience and that under the ice is incredibly beautiful.
But, no matter how you slice it, Santa coming across the lake to Obertraun, just up the lake from Halstatt, is a unique way to get in the Christmas spirit. This whole area is interesting, unique, and one of the most gorgeous places on Earth. Getting there is easy and scenic. It's a tourist area, so a lot of folks will speak a little English. In reality, it's not far from Salzburg. If you've ever wanted to get away from your old and moldy traditions, come and try some of these out. They are centuries old traditions, but it will be new to you. Come, enjoy the view, enjoy the food, enjoy the shopping, enjoy the sights, and enjoy the people. Relax for this holiday. Come to Halstatt. Enjoy!