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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

'twas christmas...

'Twas the weeks before Christmas when all through Deutschland,

The sweet smell of roasted almonds and hot wine were at hand

In every big and small town, it’s Weihnachtsmarkt time,
The magical holiday markets, that are oh so fine

So narrow and cute, the most famous in Rüdesheim, 
Is the Drosselgass lane packed plum-full at Christmastime

Rüdesheim am Rhein 
Handcarved candleholders and vintage ornaments,

Children’s tin toys and gifts all a-sortiment

Carolers a-caroling, chestnuts a-roasting, 
glüwein a-simmering, all are a-mosying

Further up, the Rhine’s wide banks,
Is a markt layered in lights, beneath the dome of Mainz

In its village of Christmas, the Weihnachtsdorf,

The Meenzer all gather in barrels for warmth

There is a treat so special, so totally delish, 

The lines are so long for this applesauce, potato dish

Across the river from Mainz, in the city of Wiesbaden,
Is the Shooting Star Market, that's just so amazin’

Giant lit stars, like huge blooming flowers,
Dance in the night sky like fantastic light showers

Away from the river in a tucked-away village, 
Is a market so special, it’s a ritual pilgrimage

Its motto is fairytale, but no Disney no Grimm,
More magic and quaint, on an artist’s whim

Handcrafters, potters, glass blowers and knitters,
All sell their wares amidst wine family villas

Through narrow lanes of timber-framed houses,
With warm chocolate or wine mugs one wanders and browses

Children and couples and families and puppies,
Love the Christmas markets, even gen x-ers and yuppies

If its medieval you're after then to Bingen you'll go, 
Where old-timey food, and drink freely flow

Bingen am Rhein
Now it’s the day of Christmas, I wish you a merry night
Filled with love, friends and family, and a baby’s sweet light.


Monday, December 15, 2014

the story about a christmas tree.

Recently I got to know a tree. I mean, it has been there where it has stood for years, 47 years to be exact, but I hadn’t really been aware of it. Truth be told, I’m not the most observant person. So even a huge tree sometimes goes unnoticed.

This particular tree was planted by great guy’s parents beside their house, in front of their dining room window, back in 1967. The father had bought the little bundle of evergreen, roots and all, on a dark December evening to be the family’s first Christmas tree in their newly finished home. Great guy was just three-years-old and his sister four, as they decorated the little tree with white lights and ornaments in their living room on Christmas Eve. The tree’s first big job: providing Christmas joy to two little children who were waiting for the Christchild to deliver presents, and filling a house with the scent and hope of Christmas. A few weeks later, the father plopped the tree into the earth beside the house. There it stood and grew, alone and faithful, for decades, not really doing much except bothering the neighbours the taller it became.

“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. 

  And that of course is the meaning of Christmas. We are never alone.
  Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly indifferent.
  For this is still the time God chooses” -Taylor Caldwell

Not many people have the gift of waiting like an evergreen does. During the four weeks of Advent, whether we light a candle each week and reflect on the meaning of Christmas or not, most people at this time are waiting more eagerly than throughout the rest of the year. Children wait for Christmas presents, parents wait for children to come home or guests to arrive, or we just anxiously wait for a break from work or school. We wait for Christmas to arrive; Christmas parties, Christmas cards, Christmas concerts, Christmas meals, Christmas Eve.

But what exactly is the virtue in waiting?

Is it to be grateful for what we have and to be at peace in the stillness of waiting?

Is it to hope; to know that there is something magical coming (Christmas, love, new shoes, heaven) and to believe in that…living with our minds and one foot already in the future?

Is the point how we wait; to wait with grace and with action – to work diligently and with love towards that what we are waiting for?

Or is the point of waiting the opportunity to take the time to reflect on who we are, with what we have, among those around us?

Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things, bundled into one big Christmas gift for us.

Personally, I like the waiting of the evergreen. Its work and purpose is unremarkable. It’s huge, but quiet and doesn’t make a big deal about all that it does for its neighbours and its tenants. It provides shelter, food, warmth, support, decoration, beauty with no comment. Through storms and wind and rain and cold. No comment. It’s just there, reliable like the bestest friend. Sure, I’m romanticizing a big tree. I know that it could fall on a house, that its roots can cause a whole bunch of problems, that pinecones and squirrels can be big pains in the butt, but it’s Christmas! I’m going to romanticize the virtues of this particular beautiful tree, just because I can.

This tree touched me. Well, more specifically, I touched it. Its many coloured rings from where it was cut from its stump, the soft needles from the very tip of its 17 metres as it lay beside me. This tree’s steady patience was remarkable. It diligently did all a tree should do in its neighbourhood, for forty-seven years.

And in the end it became a Christmas tree again. A really big Christmas tree.

One early morning at the end of November, city workers arrived at a house high above the Rhine, with a mighty crane and a John Deere tractor. They cut and lifted the tree over the houses and laid it down onto a trailer. 

The neighbours came out to watch as the massive branches swept alongside the low stone walls on each side of the narrow street, even saving some of the tree's smaller twigs.

Then slowly and very carefully the tractor pulled the tree down the hill, through the city streets and into the town square. 

Then it was pulled upright again, inserted into the ground and decorated with lights, brightly wrapped presents and basketball-sized golden ornaments.

The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each other’s burdens, easing other's loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas. -W. C. Jones

A few evenings later, the father and ms. marion christened their tree with a bottle of sekt, as they sat on a bench in the square. People gathered to take in the new Christmassy sight, while the fruity scent of hot mulled wine wafted from the winestand underneath the tree’s wide branches. Now the tree will stand in this place, bringing smiles to every passerby and a place to gather and meet friends, until the new year. Its entire life the tree waited and worked and was ready.

Do whatever comes your way as well as you can. Think as little as possible about yourself and as much as possible about other people and other things that are interesting. Put a good deal of thought into happiness that you are able to give. -Eleanor Roosevelt

P.S. Only in Deutschland would there be cognac offered to the city workers at 8am on tree removal day! Cheers!


Friday, November 28, 2014

new york, new york! my top 10 list.

Magic happens when you least expect it.

Are you hoping to visit New York City in 2015? If you haven’t thought about it, you should. I've been lucky enough to visit many interesting cities, but NYC is still one of my favourite and most-visited spots. I’ve always thought it would be fun to do a Top Ten list, so here it is.

The Top 10 things to do and see in New York City:

#10. Park parade – There are so many great parks in Manhattan, some are like hidden gems and others as obvious as the proverbial elephant in the room. There is the never-ending Central (taking up half of the island), the intimate Christopher (at Christopher & Grove St, West Village), the dog crazy Carl Schulz (East 86th St, Upper East Side), and the unique High Line (Gansevoort to West 34th St) just to name a few. In Manhattan’s concrete jungle you will be constantly surprised when you turn a corner and see a lush, leafy enclave of folks just chilling with a hot dog or a book. And the New Yorkers can get pretty creative with their green spaces. A must-see is the High Line – a converted, above-ground, abandoned railway which is now a haven of regional grasses, bushes and cornflowers. The wooden daybeds and benches, on the slatted boardwalk will tempt you to stop and smell the green.

My tip: Walk the High Line starting in the West Village all the way to the Meatpacking District. Along the way, while cabbie horns bellow below you, the Hudson River seascape will draw you out on one side, while incredible architecture will pull you back to the other. Gehry’s most striking glass-enclosed iceburg, the leaning metallic Denari-designed luxury apartment or the Standard Hotel which straddles the High Line like an open book provide just some of the great ‘starchitecture’.

#9. Shopping! – Of course you’ll walk down Fifth Avenue and wander through Greenwich Village and Soho where great shopping is as certain as finding a beer at Oktoberfest. But, what you also can’t miss is Century 21 (22 Cortlandt St) located across from the World Trade Centre site. Here, all of the top designer rags come to live out their last days, hoping finally to find a good home. Discounts!

If you love books or even just kind of like them, then you must enter the Strand Bookstore (828 Broadway Ave, south of Union Square). Wall to wall to wall books of every kind will greet you down every book-crowded aisle. Books. Everywhere. Every book. If you are one of those people (like I am) who dream of someday having your own private library then this is a must see. It’s one of my favourite places…on earth.

For some alternative shopping check out the great vintage boutiques like Screaming Mimi’s (382 Lafayette, Noho) or the funky Eye Candy (225 W 23rd St, Chelsea). One of my favourite things to do anywhere is to hit a fleamarket, and in New York, the best one I know is Hell’s Kitchen (every Saturday and Sunday, W 39th between 9th & 10th Ave). Here, over the years, I’ve picked up vintage costume jewelry, a 1940’s skirt, even a wildly weird wedding dress – think Cyndi Lauper meets Snow White. I wonder if I’ll ever wear it.

My tip: Soak up the neighbourhood experience wherever you choose to shop. Take a side road, move off the beaten path and see where the New Yorkers live, shop and coffee. The best places are just around the corner.

#8. Getting out onto the water – to Ellis Island, to Lady Liberty, under the very many bridges (Brooklyn, Queensboro, George Washington, Triborough, etc)…use the ferry to get to another point on Manhattan Island while soaking in the one-of-a-kind skyline that is NYC.

My tip: Get off the ferry in Brooklyn and walk back across the incomparable Brooklyn Bridge. It’s almost as trippy as walking across the Golden Gate, but with more cabs.

The Brooklyn Bridge
#7. Eating! New Yorkers love to eat. I’m not sure how they do it since they all seem to be super skinny. I’ve heard that no one in Manhattan actually cooks for themselves – everyone gets take-out in the evenings and they lunch and brunch on the weekend. For this reason, the many, many take-out joints and food carts dotting Manhattan like craters on the moon, are actually excellent places to eat. If you have time, then definitely experience some of the tried and true New York restaurants. To name a few great ones, not all expensive, but all delish in my opinion: Bar Pitti for pasta fantastico (268 Ave of the Americas), Carnegie Deli for a classic pre-show cornbeef on rye (854 – 7th Ave at 55th St), Waverly Inn in the West Village for its exclusivity (16 Bank St), Gemma located in the Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery) or Pastis (9 9th Ave, which is unfortunately closed until September 2015). These are some of my faves…I’m getting excited just typing.

My tip: Go for breakfast. It’s not as expensive, but just as tasty.

#6. Broadway-ing ('Broadway' really should be a verb) – It is a universe unto itself. Classic theatre, over-the-top musicals, intimate shows and huge superstar productions are all to be found in and around the blocks on and off Broadway Avenue. Times Square bookends one end of the unofficial official Broadway, where 7th Ave and Broadway Ave smash into each other in an explosion of glorious light and sound. There are billboards 7 storeys tall, millions of moving lights, bells and whistles, like being stuck in a really fun, giant pin ball machine ...with a naked cowboy walking around strumming his guitar (sorry, I've never taken his pic). After pushing your way through Times Square head to Jack’s (147 W 40th St) for a pre-show drink – where the locals hang out - or enjoy pre-theatre discounts at restaurants like Barbetta (321 W 46th St).

My tip: Before your trip, cruise the internet to find out what shows will be running while you’re there. Tickets are not more expensive online than at the door, but you might be able to find an online deal. Do your research, and if you don’t get around to doing that, just head to the box office, buy a ticket in your price range and enjoy the show! They’re worth it.

#5. Art hopping. Why NYC is called the ‘Big Apple’ and not the ‘Big Easel’ I don’t know. Art is superfluous here; in mesmerizing museums and every sort of gallery, in commissioned open-air spaces, and on building facades where it might creep wickedly. Pop in at the Modern Museum of Art where admission is free every Friday from 4:00-8:00pm – don’t stand in line, just show up at 4:10 when all of the tourists are already inside and walk on in (MoMA, 11 W 53rd St). Or amble through the most incredible Metropolitan Museum of Art, the outer stairs are a landmark in itself. Located on the Upper East Side, the Met lies halfway up Central Park on 5th Avenue. Take in the great view from the rooftop terrace – a Kodak moment unlike any other. (Met, 1000 5th Ave).

My tip: Browse Time Out magazine, online at to see what exhibits are showing when you’re in town and then definitely take in that venue. You won't be able to visit all of the great art galleries and museums, so pick one or two based on exhibits that interest you. The location will be the bonus!

#4. Square squatting – Union, Washington, Times. The squares are NYC’s meeting points; hubs of activity, music and people watching. Influenced by their location, New York's squares are each a bit different. Washington Square is eclectic, young and hip where NYU students float through on their way to a lecture or some great party. Union Square has a garden fresh, healthy vibe going on, most likely due to the Green Market taking over on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. I will usually grab some take-out and perch on a bench at Union Square, giving my feet a much-needed rest.

#3. Neighbourhood-ing – West and East Village, Soho, Nolita, Upper West, Chelsea, Meatpacking. You won’t be able to explore them all, so pick 2 or 3 for this trip and get to know them the best you can. Each is like a town unto itself, with a unique energy. Wander the side streets, ask a local about their favourite café or restaurant, duck into small shops and take a break in a neighbourhood park.

My tip: Loop. Take your city guide and make a plan for the day, hitting a few neighbourhoods on your must-see list, in a large loop. For example: Start your day with breakfast in the West Village, then wander over towards Soho and through Nolita (North of Little Italy), grab lunch then head north into Noho (North of Houston – pronounced Howsten). In the evening grab a cab and head uptown. New York City at night is spectacular.

#2. Soak up the free! Save your money for shopping (that’s what I do) because there is so much free entertainment in and around New York City. In the summer months there are free movies in Bryant Park and on the beach at Coney Island. On certain summer nights you’ll come across free salsa dancing at the Bandshell in Central Park (located between 66th & 72nd Streets), which I also stumbled across. What an experience, watching hundreds of ordinary couples shimmy and sway and groove to the Latin DJ tracks. They were having a blast, as was I just watching. Another treat is watching the Dance Skaters who rock ‘n roll throughout the park. The Skate Circle is just north of the Sheep Meadow and beginning in April roller skaters and bladers, young and old dance to boom boxes or their own tune – your time will fly watching the beauty of them (

Or if TV is more your thing, find a taping of a talk, late night or daytime show – New York has it all and the tickets are usually free. Do your research beforehand because the best shows (think SNL, Letterman or the Tonight Show) have pretty specific, jump-through-hoops kind of procedures in order to maybe land a ticket. If you persevere you’ll be right there laughing along with Fallon. (A great free guide of things to do is

My tip: While not free, if it’s your first time in NYC then it’s so worth your money to buy a hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus pass. You’ll drive through and hear about all of the great New York neighbourhoods (Harlem anyone?). Just jump off at any of the stops in an area you want to explore a bit more. For 24 or 48 hours you’ll save on subway and taxi fares while seeing and hearing about all of the intricacies of NYC from the audio guide on the bus. When your time runs out, hail a taxi whenever you need to get uptown or downtown quickly – it’s a hold-your-breath, hang-on-tight amusement-ride in itself, and not that expensive. Otherwise walk. It’s free.

#1. The very best thing in NYC is to people watch! Models, Wall-Streeters, dads pushing baby carriages, gym-goers, strugglers, celebrities (wherever one or two slimy guys are lurking, holding big-ass cameras, you know there’s a celeb around), artists, blue-collars, intellectuals, students, fashion designers, and plain old normal folks – Manhattan is like musli. There are a whole bunch of completely different things thrown together in a small space, resulting in a strange, interesting, some-hate-it, some-can’t-get-enough-of-it, got-to-try-it-once experience.

My #1 tip: Don’t plan too much. Allow time for just being…and be open to the magic that you just might see when you least expect it. And have fun!

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