nina on the go

Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, January 29, 2018

the charm of the cotswolds...an easy daytrip from london!

One might imagine that entering a town that is brushed an overwhelmingly uniform shade of taupe would lack in something, but let me tell you that Stow-on-the-Wold has an abundance of colour oozing out of its rich history and character.


Sweet, curious cottages are the first thing I notice. They hang out on seemingly every corner. An imposing market cross stands at attention in the middle of the square - erected in the middle ages as a constant reminder for the sheep traders to remain fair and honest in their dealings.


Pubs abound, like they do England, everywhere. But, Stow-on-the-Wold is also internationally reknowed for its antiques...therefore you'll find no shortage of galeries and shops here.


Charming, charismatic, and outlandish...like in an 'Outlander'-type way (although I know that the TV series is filmed in Scotland) are inadequate words I would use to describe this town and its surrounding romantic hills.


Sitting atop the highest 'wold' in the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold's medieval church spire can be seen from miles away. This area, deeply affected and infected by the remnants of Henry VIII and the Tudor reign, the bloodshed of the first English Civil War, and Britain's obsession for the best wool to be had, makes a visit here feel like stepping back in time.


During the civil war, Stow remained fiercely loyal to the crown, which is evidenced by plaques to the fallen and buildings still proudly bearing royal names, such as the King's Arms in the market square; a 500-year-old former coaching inn. Coming here by train is the perfect day trip from London, but on my next visit I will definitely stay the night in a quaint and cozy inn, like the King's Arms, for a quick and easy break from the city.


Stow-on-the-Wold, one of many incredibly cute and picturesque market towns of the southern midlands, located in the northern Cotswolds, held for centuries the largest livestock market in Britain.


Long, narrow lanes, called "chures", run upwards to the market square from the large holding pens below, where the sheep were driven through and counted as they came to the square to be sold on market days.  Upwards of 20,000 sheep were sold on good days!


The middle ages was an incredibly prosperous time for Stow due to the high demand across the country for the special, long-haired, woolly Cotswold sheep, still a precious breed today.


The entire Cotswolds region is a maze of lovely walking trails through the high and lowlands...


among fields of sheep and horses, which connect towns with low-lying stone walls and tree-lined paths.


Just a mile from Stow is the former sheep estate called Maugersbury, which once upon a time supplied the vast amount of animals for Stow's successful market days.


Now a hamlet, it is home to the cutest stone cottages nestled among what look to be high-end, grey-stoned villas.


The architecture style of the area became known as Cotswold Vernacular, stemming from the original building method, which was wood with wattle and daub, until wood became scarce and the area's limestone was put into use. This resulted in everything from homes and foundations, to roof tiles and fences covered in coursed rubble walls.


Some of the original methods can still be found in Stow, including Tudor House on Sheep Street, dating back to the 1500's.


The town also boasts "England's Oldest Inn" according to the Guinness Book of Records. The Royalist Inn, along with The Porch House, on Digbeth Street dates all the way back to 947 AD. Isn't this the perfect place to have a pint?


The Cotswolds are England's largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) stretching from Stratford Upon Avon down to Bath. Personally, I can't wait to get back so that I can spend much more time hitting the region's meandering footpaths and combing through the treasures of its stone-walled villages.


Trust me, if you're looking for a different kind of High Street - a quieter, more peaceful one - then the Cotswolds are a perfect break from London.


If you go:

From London's Paddington Station trains run every hour to Moreton-on-March (a 1.5 hour journey). From Moreton's train station take a 20-minute bus ride to Stow-on-the-Wold.

Travel by train at 'super, non-peak' hours to get the best deal on tickets (www.thetrainline.com) which are very easy to book ahead online.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

a little light christmas (market) magic...

If someone tells you that you should check out Germany at Christmastime listen. Or just listen to me. Do it. Go. You'll love it.


Every year, since moving to Germany, I've tried to visit new Christmas markets, some far and some near. This December, I stuck closer to home...so here are 5 enchanting Christmas markets close to Frankfurt, that are my favourites.

Frankfurt

Let me start with Frankfurt. The city's historic centre, which is interesting at any time of year, comes to life when it's lit up with the warm ochre glow of twinkle lights. The central market is set up under the view of Frankfurt's 600-year-old city hall, the Römer.


As is standard at most of Germany's Christmas markets, you will find ample mulled wine (glüwein) stands, potato pancakes and bratwurst kiosks, artisans selling wooden crafts, jewellery and an assortment of other gift items.


But, you will also be able to experience specialty items...sometimes gourmet, sometimes whimsical, to either eat, drink or gift to someone you love. In Frankfurt, I stumbled across a Swiss fondue stand, smelling heavenly with the strong scent of Gruyere and Emmental simmering in huge bronze cauldrons. Served with large chunks of fresh sourdough bread, this was an unexpected Christmas treat!


Wiesbaden

Just half an hour west of Frankfurt lies the elegant city of Wiesbaden. Their Christmas market is called the Sternschnuppenmarkt, which is sweetly translated into 'Shooting Star Market'. The state flower is the lily and huge lit blooms hover over the market stands, lighting the way each evening in December for friends to meet for an after-work glüwein.


Many Christmas markets in Germany offer specialty glüwein mugs which easily turn into collector items. Sometimes medieval terracotta goblets, other times painted ceramics, in shapes of boots or St. Nicholas heads; each year these mugs, filled with steaming wine or cider, add an element of hygge to an already enchanting setting.


I spent one Thursday evening with co-workers at the Wiesbaden Christmas market in the city's main square, and it was the perfect location to kick-off the season of peace, tranquility and friendship.


Mainz

On the south banks of the Rhine River you will find one of my absolute favourite Christmas markets. Under the impressive Mainzer Dome cathedral, the market spreads across the centre square underneath a blanket of twinkle lights. This market is always packed full of parka-clad revellers come rain or shine because the setting just feels so magical.


The people of Mainz LOVE their city, their football (soccer) team, their wine and their wurst. This is one of the two hubs of German carnival and the largest city (but still quite small) in Germany's largest wine region. The folk are proud and they celebrate their city almost every weekend with wine festivals of all shapes and sizes. Their Christmas market is no different. It is beloved.


Just beyond the dome you will find the oldest parts of the city, with rows of half-timbered houses decorated with large bows, lights and mistletoe. The first time I visited Mainz, it was a week before Christmas, and there was powdered sugar-dusting of snow on the cobblestoned lanes of the Altstadt (old town). I remember telling my bf that I felt like I had walked onto the film set of a Christmas movie. It had seemed so surreal, so beautiful, and I had felt so blessed to be there at Christmas.


Rüdesheim

Further down the Rhine, about an hour south-west of Frankfurt, nestled between the river and the hills of Germany's finest Riesling vineyards, is Rüdesheim. This is a town which is very popular with tourists. It is beyond cute...almost too cute. And it's Christmas market doesn't disappoint.


Down the narrowest of cobbled lanes, the Drosselgasse is the star attraction of the town. Authentic (and some not so quite) handcrafted Christmas ornaments and wooden nativity scenes line the gasse (lane) interchanged with wine taverns and quaint restaurants offering all the hearty German fare one can dream of.


Out in the town square a larger than life nativity sits among the wine and food stands, competing for the attention of the many visitors. But, what I love about Rüdesheim is that you can find wichtels (German elves) in almost every shop window. They are the cutest things about a German Christmas, in my opinion, and whether ceramic or felt, with long beards or pointed hats, they add an element of elegant whimsy to the season...


for all ages of child.


A Moselle Christmas 

If you're in Frankfurt and you have the time, I would highly suggest taking a day trip to the Moselle River. At any time of year this winding river valley is speckled with the quaintest, most lovely historic wine towns. But, at Christmas, these towns turn into a fairytale.
Bernkastel-Kues
On one of the looping twists of the river, amid terraced hills of lush grapes and castle ruins, is the tiny town of Bernkastel-Kues. In the small main square an advent calendar comes to life on the facade of the largest half-timbered building. Musicians play below, while visitors stop, stare, and take lots of pics. It's difficult to put into words how even the smallest details create a capricious feeling in the air.


Traben-Trarbach's Underground Magic

But if you want whimsy and magic, then the Moselle town of Traben-Trarbach is your place at Christmas. Another historic wine town, once one of the richest areas of Europe, dating back to the Roman Empire, this town does Christmas underground. Through a maze of connected wine cellars and caverns, long aisles of vaulted ceilings, some with antique wine casks, others with Christmas wares of handicrafts, wine or food, this is just another incredible Christmas market to get lost in. 

Wine cellar market

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, whether in Germany or not, I wish you a peaceful, reflective and thankful season filled with love and family and, well, wine!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!
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