Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas in Salzburg

When I was last in Salzburg in the autumn of 1993, I remember thinking, “What an idyllic little place. It would be fun to spend Christmas here someday.”

Well, that “someday” was last week and Salzburg lived up to it’s yuletide expectations by providing a little bit of snow, all the “glüwein and punsch” one could imagine and most of all, a family of friends from Seattle with whom to spend the actual holiday.

As I was wandering about Salzburg mesmerized by the Christmas cheer - Austrian style, I was struck by the fact that the American idealized vision of Europe, however romantic and unrealistic it might be, is truly captured in this one small city in central Austria. Salzburg simply has it all: a castle/fortress on the hill, cobblestone streets with colored facades, a huge and illustrious Baroque cathedral, non-English speaking locals (but with enough to get by as a tourist), spectacular history and significant figures of history (Mozart was born here and wrote many of his concerts with this very cathedral in mind), Alps all around, a rollicking beer hall with very large steins of locally-made beer, seemingly ceaseless cathedral bells, never-ending arts and culture and a river running right through it. Not even to mention that one of the most beloved movies of all time, The Sound of Music, is the quintessential Salzburg showcase.

And when you add snow, horse-drawn carriages, Christmas markets, lights and the Christmas merriment of this time of year, Salzburg becomes a storybook Christmas city – and on top of all this, the most famous and translated Christmas carol worldwide, Silent Night, was written and first performed in a small church just 20 kilometers from Salzburg in 1818. Silent Night is a very sacred song to the Austrian people.

Add to all this holiday fun my friends from Seattle - Dan and Shena Hinds and her parents, John and Jean McCall - and Christmas in Salzburg was an unforgettable way to celebrate the season.
If I couldn’t be surrounded by family and friends around the Christmas tree in Southern California, Salzburg surrounded by temporary family in the form of good friends was the next best place.

So as we’re on the brink of the new year and Linköpinglivin is a step behind, I wish you one last “Frohe Wiehnachten” from Salzburg, Austria.

Pictures above:

1. The castle on the hill, the Baroque church, a bit of snow - Salzburg plays the part well.

2. The German and Austrian Christmas markets are the world's best (and most expensive).

3. Salzburg plays up its strengths and it knows that tourism is its strongest asset - there is even a store called "Christmas in Salzburg" as well as "Easter in Salzburg" just down the street.

4. My Christmas dinner was spent at St. Peter's Restaurant, one that Charlemagne (yes, Charlemagne!) mentions eating at way back in 803 making this the oldest known restaurant in Europe...

5. A big thanks to my friends Jean, John, Dan and Shena for letting me crash their Christmas party in Salzburg.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmastime in England

After being home as recently as October and wanting to fulfill longtime Christmas travel dreams, I decided not to go home for the holidays for the first time ever (another huge shout-out to Mom and the rest of the family for their understanding) . This week started a two-week European holiday travel trip of which the first stop was about as close to my home as you could get without actually setting foot in the U.S. (Sorry, England, but it's true).

When I first returned to Europe (after a college study abroad trip in ’93) for this opportunity in Sweden, my travel urge was more focused on Eastern Europe and other places not previously visited. My how things change… After two Paris weekends and this stop in London, I understand that these all-too typical destinations on the usual American itinerary in Europe are for good reason. To be in London and the smaller English town of Bath during the festive Christmas season was the clincher for my decision and the past five days have been Victorian outstanding.

After my weekend in Stockholm in early December, which I consider my first stop on this holiday trip and with visions of a Dickensian Christmas dancing in my head, I arrived to London earlier this week. The Christmas spirit could never be omnipresent in a city like this – it’s just too big – but if you know where to go, the Christmas merriment is in full swing. My favorites were the Somerset House for ice-skating, Trafalgar Square for the annual Norwegian gift of the larger-than-life Christmas “spruce,” the decorations and spirit at Covent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral and other churches for Christmas services and celebratory concerts, Oxford Circus for the bright lights - big shopping atmosphere and all of Bath, the quintessential Victorian town two hours outside of London. It doesn’t get much better than a candlelight Christmas concert in the historical abbey of a charming English countryside town.

Some other highlights, thoughts and impressions on England and the Brits:

Culturally and undoubtedly due to language, I definitely feel a kindred spirit with the English people I have met and with the experiences I have had here. My heritage is English and Scottish, so that certainly has something to do with it as well. It wasn’t just because there’s a Starbucks on every corner (literally as many as Seattle, the home of Starbucks) that I noticed an inner connection to England and her people.

London just never quits. I’ve been going strong for five days and my future London itineraries just keep getting bigger. So much rich culture, history, tradition, art, theater, exhibitions, opportunities and pubs(!!!). Love those pubs! Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the first and most authentic pub in London (“rebuilt” in 1667), was tops on my list.

An overlooked exhibit in London is the Treasures of the British Library. In one 300 square meter location is nothing short of the textual foundation of Western Civilization: the oldest version we have of the New Testament and many books of the Old, the Magna Carta, some of the very first maps ever created, the Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare and other literary giants, Handel’s Messiah and other priceless compositions and the list goes on. For anyone with a remote interest in history, art or cultural artifacts, this free exhibit is a must.

You’ve heard right. London is indeed very expensive…and worth every pence.

And for someone who doesn’t like to experience cities with heat or tourists, the week before Christmas in London was simply ideal for me. I did the obligatory walk through Her Majesty’s Crown Jewels, a place that routinely has at least an hour-long line, and never had to stop! Additionally, London is known as such an international city that sometimes it's hard to find any authentic English people. This hasn't been the case at all - this week I've heard very few other languages than English.

And oh those British accents…

Tomorrow I leave for my next destination, where I will spend Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day (as the British and Canadians refer to it). See you next week from another storybook location on this European holiday journey.

“Happy Christmas” from England.

Pictures above:

1. Trafalgar Square at night, the very heart of London, and the Christmas tree from the people of Norway (an annual gift to thank the British for their help in WWII).

2. The Somerset House ice-skating rink.

3. Covent Garden, already an arts, crafts and shopping mecca in London, becomes even more so during the Christmas season.

4. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the oldest pub in London and a classic pub scene inside...

5. Bath is a picturesque town at all times, but especially at Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why It's So Cool To Live in Linköping: Part 2 - Mjellerums Gården

Sorry about the formatting, everyone. For the first time in a long time, Blogger has outsmarted me.
After my initial October post in this occasional series of reasons why Linköping is such a cool place to live, if you were wondering when this series was going to continue as November came and went and we proceed through December quickly, then you deserve an award. The second part of this five-part series focusing specifically on Linköping and its best parts takes us to a very tradtional Swedish restaurant that feels way out in the countryside, though is actually only minutes from Linköping's inner-city.
When I first arrived to Linköping, I inquired as to where was a good place to find some traditional Swedish food. A typical question for a foreigner to a new place, however, the response I got was a mix of places that have typical Swedish food (fish, meat, potatoes), but are not quite the whole experience of dining in Swedish style and perplexed guesses as to what type of experience I was really in search of. It seemed like a basic question, but the answer was a bit harder. Part of the problem is that cuisines from other countries have such a distinct taste and type of food (Italian, Chinese, Mexican, French, Indian, etc.), but Swedish food is not that distinct in nature, but if you find the right place, the experience of eating in Swedish style can be outstanding.
Eventually, Mjellerums Gården was recommended as a place to experience a traditional Swedish plate in a traditional Swedish environment. Mjellerums Gården belongs deep in the Swedish countryside somewhere, but is actually right next to the university just outside of the center of Linköping. Walking in the front door, you are warmly greeted by a hostess in traditional attire and you are immediately taken back to 18th century Sweden because of the ambience, the soft scent and sound of a crackling fireplace as well as the manor which you have entered was built about 200 years ago.
As to be expected for a place with this type of tribute-to-Sweden-of-yesteryear environment, there's no better time to experience Mjellerums Gården than during the Christmas season with the not-to-be-outdone julbord (picture above), the continual flickering of candles surrounded by Christmas greenery, gently creaking floorboards, and the occasional light snowfall seen through the window.
A picturesque Swedish scene at Christmas or any other time of year and a taste and quality of food to match. For more on this classic Swedish experience right here in Linköping, check out the website:
Pictures above:
1. Mjellerums Gården front door decorated in December.
2. The Swedish "Christmas table" or julbord. Just make sure to leave room so you can keep coming back for more...
3. The ingredients to a classic fika.
4. Mjellerums Gården is another reason that Linköping is such a cool place to live.
While Linköpinglivin' will not be taking a break during the coming holidays, it will be taking a break from Sweden as this week begins a couple weeks of European Christmas travel for me. See you next week from official stop #2 (Stockholm last weekend) on the European Christmas journey.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jul i Stockholm

It’s been awhile since I have mentioned Sweden’s largest and most well known city (notice I did not say “best,” Linköpingsborna) and there is no better time to welcome Stockholm back to Linköpinglivin’ than during the Christmas season. In what has quickly become a personal tradition, I spent this past weekend taking in the sights and sounds (Handel’s Messiah at Storkyrkan – Americans just can’t get enough concerts in cathedrals) of the holiday season in a city that just grows on me more and more, and it started pretty high on my favorites list.

I consider Stockholm the first stop on my European holiday adventure 2007 – 08 that will take me through continental Europe during the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s holidays. A quick shout-out to my Mom who has just been awarded “World’s Best Mother-2007” for supporting this decision of mine to be away from home during Christmas for the very first time in 34 years…

The experience of Christmas in Stockholm is centered, not unlike other European cities, on the lights, the Christmas markets, delightful window displays (though NK’s is arguably the best!) and the ever-present and merry food and drink, gingerbread cookies and hot mulled wine (pepparkakor och glögg).

While anywhere there’s capitalism there will be commercialism at Christmas, Stockholm’s representation of the season is understated, refined and always carries a nice mix of class, wintry magic and childlike delight. There are lights, but they are not blinding. There are festivities, but not overwhelming carnivals. There is shopping, but you can get away from it if you want. Finally, there is way too much pepparkakor och glögg, but no one is complaining about that!

For a Christmas season spent in Europe, Stockholm is a fantastic first stop.

I continue to realize that I was born into the right family in the wrong location. There’s just something about the beauty and sparkle of light during wintertime this far north that makes me appreciate this season all the more. Fire and ice, which are everywhere in their various forms this time of year, bring with them such a romantic, almost-mystical atmosphere. If only the snow would come back…

The sun is setting during the 3pm hour in southern Sweden these days. It rises at approximately 8:45am. When the days are short, it must mean Lucia is somewhere close by…

Pictures above:

1. Even in Stockholm, the larger-than-life Christmas tree welcomes incoming cruise ships to Stockholm Harbor.

2. The saffron bread sold at a classic Swedish julmarknad in Stockholm’s old city of Gamla Stan.

3. If Sweden is a fairy tale, which some have proposed in the blogosphere before, then Skansen during Christmas is the height of that fairy tale….

4. The most well known department store in Sweden is Nordiska Kompaniet or “NK.” I had recently heard all about their window displays during the Christmas season, and from very objective sources, so I decided to go find out what all the fuss was about….

5. Expecting nothing more than creative commercialism, what I found was nothing less than a creative and artistic achievement of colors, themes, games, goodies, surprises, decorations, fun and visions of sugar plums dancing in children’s heads. A must during any visit to Stockholm this time of year.

Sunday, December 02, 2007 Visits Sweden (via Linköping)

A popular and still-growing website and weekly podcast that explores the world of travel and places is, based in San Jose, California and run by Chris Christensen. I discovered when seeking information and travel education primarily for my iPod. This podcast has been running for two-and-a-half years now, but this past week journeyed to Sweden for the first time.

I had the pleasure of doing a half-hour long interview with Chris as we discussed travel to and within Sweden including edible reindeer, Swedish holidays, the dark and light of winter and summer, Stockholm, smaller Swedish towns like Linköping and Uppsala and, of course, the wonder and enjoyment of fika.

I want to thank Chris and for this opportunity and new experience. The best part is that anyone out there reading Linköpinglivin' can check out and listen to episode #115: Sweden!

And if you are visiting Linköpinglivin' for the first time because of, welcome to this little part of the world.

In the United States, most people would tell you that the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving and increases as December 25th approaches. Well in Sweden, the first day of the Christmas season, which both starts and finishes strong, is the first day of Advent which is always four Sundays before Christmas, today.

"Nu är det Jul igen" in Sweden and nothing like the Gamla Linköping Julmarknad, "Christmas market," to get things started right. For more about a Swedish Christmas, please see my December postings from 2006, including the Top 10 words you must know to experience Christmas in Sweden, including ljusstake, pepparkakor, glögg and Julbord.

Pictures above:

2. Sean enjoys some fika, despite the size of the picture.
3. Gamla Linköping's Christmas market children's choir.
4. The crowning of Therese, Linköping's Lucia 2007.
5. The Gamla Linköping Advent crowd watches the arrival of Lucia.