Saturday, December 21, 2013

CHRISTMAS

         
           This special time of year always brings back memories of days long past; of all the traditions that are fading while new ones are being born. Christmas brings us hope, peace and comfort, as Christians everywhere celebrate the birth of our savior with family and friends. For children, it is the absolute best time of year and those childhood memories help to make the season bright.       
          One cherished childhood memory of mine is of a homey Christmas Eve night I shared with my big brother. Christmas was magical at our house. The family income was modest and with five kids, four at the time, we did not receive many indulgences throughout the year. But at Christmas time my parents pulled out all the stops. They saved all year to make all our dreams come true for this one enchanting time each year.
Not my real family
            The cookies were baked, the holly was hung, and the tree was twinkling with lights and tinsel. The Christmas Eve activities were winding down and begrudgingly, we kids were sent off to bed. My sister immediately fell into a sound sleep as she always did, and I lay awake anticipating what treasures awaited us come morning.
            “Sis, Sis, are you awake?” It was my brother peeking in to see if I was as restless as he was. “I think I hear Mom and Dad putting our presents under the tree”
            We were pretty young, but I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus. I was always a realist and knew that it was Mom and Dad playing Santa. Our cozy house was kept warm by a gas heater located in the wall between the bedrooms and the living room. There were slats in the upper part of the heater that you could see through. We stealthily crept up to the heater and peered through the slats to see what goodies were being unveiled.
            We stood in the warmth of the heater, holding hands, silently watching until the last gifts were tenderly placed around the tree to insure maximum impact on Christmas morning. Suddenly it was time for us to rush back to our beds to avoid being caught in the act.
            Even though we had been up so late, my brother and I were the first ones up in the morning. There were still lots of surprises despite our secret preview. I am not sure why I remember that Christmas Eve so clearly after all these fifty some years. Maybe because it was a time of innocence, security and bonding that only a loving family can provide a small child. What would I give to feel so safe again, if only for a little while.
            Merry Christmas everyone and make some wonderful memories with your loved ones.

Monday, December 9, 2013

EUROPEAN ADVENTURE 2013 - PART 3


To my great relief, I awoke the next morning feeling fine with an enormous appetite. I soon discovered I was in the right place to be hungry. We made our way to the ships dining room to be overwhelmed by the breakfast choices. The food on this river cruise was surprisingly delicious and more than abundant.

My husband and I usually travel on our own, with me doing all the planning and navigating. It can be a tremendous amount of work, since I am very protective of our vacation time, and want every hour to be spectacular. I can wear myself out planning every detail of a trip. This river cruise was a huge deviation from our history of independent travel. And what a relief it was to have everything planned for us and an opportunity to relax…or so I thought.

After a sumptuous breakfast that first morning, we hit the deck running. Traveling down the Rhine River Valley, we visited many villages, wineries, and historic sites, first in France, and then into Germany. Not wanting to miss anything, the idea of relaxing was soon forgotten. The timing of our cruise had been a concern as this area can be cold and rainy in October, but again luck was with us, and the autumn weather was sparkling and bright. The Riesling vineyards were golden, the sky was blue, white and silver, and the hills were as green as green can be. The colors of the villages were highlighted with the reds and oranges of fall.

We did enjoy one afternoon on board the River Queen, sipping champagne, while the mighty castles of the Rhine River Valley loomed above us on either side. Our tour also included the Mosel River, and an afternoon on board viewing the unbelievably steep and picturesque vineyards of this region.

All in all, we very much enjoyed the river cruise experience. It helped that we met many interesting people and made some wonderful new friends. The scenery was all we expected and more. Being pampered on board was an added bonus I had not considered. Our journey ended in Amsterdam, just in time for hurricane force winds and rain. This put a damper on our visit there, but we took a day trip into the countryside of what I still call Holland and explored windmills, fishing villages and even tried on wooden shoes, which they still wear in this boggy country. I was enchanted by the wild and windswept landscape and left it with fond memories.

This marks the end of another amazing trip that I will never forget, but once again I am appreciating the comforts of home, all the while pondering where our next great adventure will be.

Monday, December 2, 2013

EUROPEAN ADVENTURE 2013 - PART 2



As we continued eating and drinking our way across France we encountered some magnificent scenery and were blessed with cool, crisp, and mostly gorgeous fall weather. Who knew France was so stunningly beautiful? As lovers of history and natures’ magnificence, we were in heaven as we explored the sites of Joan of Arc’s military victories, and the villages that escaped destruction during Frances’ war torn past.

Our route from the village of Noyers towards Switzerland took us into the Franche-Comte’ region of France, and into the sub-alpine mountains of Jura. Our next stop was at Chateau De Germigney, which was used as a hunting lodge by French aristocrats in centuries past. Today the chateau is an enchanting hotel run by a delightful transplanted English manager who directed us to some of Frances hidden treasures. While researching this hotel, reviewers were raving about the restaurant on the premises, and once there, we checked it out. The d├ęcor was quite formal and the prices were quite astonishing. “How good can it be?” we wondered. Upon returning to the hotel after our days of touring, we noticed the restaurant was packed every night and we decided to splurge and made a reservation for our last night.

We spent our days in Jura outside hiking and exploring this breathtakingly beautiful area and planned to end our time there with a gourmet dinner at our hotel. We put ourselves at the mercy of our servers as there is not much English spoken in the French countryside. Well, the courses just kept coming, each being more fabulous than the last. We had no idea what we were eating, but it was so rich and delicious we couldn’t resist anything, a true adventure into gastronomy…and the adventure did not end in the restaurant.


We settled into our lovely room for a good nights rest before heading out the next morning to meet our river cruise in Basel, Switzerland. The weather forecast predicted a rainstorm and we did not want to miss our boat. The rumbling in my stomach woke me a few hours into the night and I knew this wasn’t going to be good. I spent the night in the bathroom reliving all the dishes we enjoyed at dinner. I was so sick I thought it may have been food poisoning, but Mark was sleeping soundly, totally unaffected, and was of no help to me. Is it possible to overdose on French food? I did not overeat, but the rich, unfamiliar dishes must have overloaded my system.

Still in the bathroom when our alarm went off, I managed to get packed, and with the help of our kind and caring hostess, who supplied me with Coke to sip on our drive, Mark got me to our stateroom on the Uniworld River Queen where I collapsed on our bed and slept for a long, long time.

Part 3 coming soon.