21 December 2014

Christmas baking - getting into the festive spirit

It's that delicious time of year again when my kitchen continually smells of mixed spice, cinnamon, butter and sugar. Yes December is my favourite time of year to get my bake on!!

This December I've  pushed the boat out with five baking sessions that include some traditional recipes as well as a few new ones...

homemade Christmas gingerbread

jammie dodgers
jammie dodgers

Christmas stollen
Christmas stollen (hubby baked this)
{image via BBC Good Food}

homemade peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies

homemade Christmas shortbread

Hope you're all having a fab Christmassy December.

I'm off to Turkey today. Gobble gobble!

17 December 2014

Germany Christmas markets - why you should go now!

One of the best things about living and travelling in Europe during the Christmas season are the Christmas markets that pop up in most cities, towns and villages spreading Christmas cheer and 'jollyment'. The twinkling lights and festive smells make me swoon - think warm gingerbread mixed with mulled wine and a dash of cinnamon.

My country of choice to visit at this time of year is Germany, hands down. For me nothing beats a traditional bratwurst wrapped in a crusty bun, sipping on a steaming mug of glühwein and indulging in some long overdue gossip with my friends while cheery Christmas tunes play on... ahhhh.

Christmas snow domes on display at the Nuremberg Christmas market, Germany
Christmas snow domes on display at the Nuremberg Christmas market, Germany
{image via LolliTop}

My top five Christmas markets things...
  1. The mulled wine, aka glühwein.
    In Germany glühwein is served in festive ceramic mugs, and almost every stall at a Christmas Market will be sporting a different design. These are a great Christmas souvenir if you want to keep a few and forfeit the two Euro mug deposit. Glühwein is also served in a variety of ways - red and white, with rum, amaretto or melted sugar... oh yes... Christmas heaven.

  2. The crowds of happy, jolly people, children included.
    People are happy at Christmas markets! Everywhere you look you'll see people stamping their feet to keep warm while engaging in happy conversation and enjoying delicious food without a care in the world to how healthy it is/the number of calories. Taste is the most important thing at a German Christmas market.

  3. Did I mention the Christmas Market food?
    Bratwurst, Currywurst, Thüringer Bratwurst, ½ Meter Bratwurst, Stollen (German Christmas cake), Lebkuchen (German gingerbread), roasted sugary nuts, chocolate dipped fruit, raclette (often served with bacon), sauerkraut with bacon, potato pancakes... the list goes on...

  4. The beautiful traditional wooden toys and decorations.
    Every year I pick up a few more decorations for my tree. I love the beauty and simplicity of wooden decorations - often painted red or white. Classic!

  5. Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread hearts) - declarations of love everywhere!!
    Lebkuchenherzen are very popular at the Christmas Markets. They hang in big bunches from ribbons and carry cute sayings written in icing in the centres. Traditionally Germans give Lebkuchenherzen to friends or lovers to express their feelings.
the festive city of Nuremberg - home to the world-famous original Christmas market
the festive city of Nuremberg, Germany - home to the world-famous original Christmas market
{image via Bavaria Travel}

So have I convinced you to jump on the next plane to Germany, or maybe somewhere else in Europe? If you're keen to get going, but not sure which Christmas market to visit read on...

My top five Christmas Markets...
  1. Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt - one of Germany's most famous and traditional Christmas Markets. About 180 wooden stalls decorated with red-and-white cloth have given the Nuremburg Christmas Market its name of 'Little Town from Wood and Cloth'. Just beautiful.

  2. Vienna Christmas Markets - famous for being the best city to visit for Christmas in Austria the Christmas Markets here date back to the Middle Ages when in 1298 Albrecht I granted Vienna's citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or 'Krippenmarkt"'.

  3. Cologne Christmas Markets - there are seven Christmas Markets in total in Cologne, and you can easily fill an entire long weekend in this charming German city. My favourite of the seven is the Angels Christmas Market that sparkles with it's unique 'stars at night' theme.

  4. Prague Christmas Markets - there are several Christmas Markets in Prague, but the biggest and best is in the centre of the city at Staromestské námestí (Old Town Square). Here you'll find traditional Czech food such as barbecued pork, Czech muffins, beer, mulled wine and mead. Oh my!

  5. Ludwigsburg Christmas Market - if you're looking for a slightly smaller and more local Christmas Market that still has all the trimmings then I highly recommend stopping off at Ludwigsburg (just 20 minutes by train from Stuttgart). This is my favourite Christmas market of them all, it's so easy to feel at home here.
Hope you're having a lovely December!!

4 December 2014

celebrating the festive season abroad!

If you ask me Christmas is the perfect time of year to sneak in some cheeky travel!

While everyone else is heading home, munching on mince pies (yuck!) and generally having a few too many bubbles or whiskeys, I'm normally on a plane headed somewhere new and exciting...

In the Northern Hemisphere the Christmas travel season starts at the beginning of December when Christmas Market season officially begins. Germany is my country of choice - if I had my way I would drink gluhwein and eat stollen every day. Last year I made it to Ludwigsburg for it's gorgeous traditional Christmas market and Cologne - where I visited seven Christmas Markets in total!

German Christmas Market - Cologne
my first mulled wine at Cologne Christmas Markets - 2013

As Christmas day draws nearer, my anticipation grows. Here's where I've spent Christmas most recently...

Christmas 2009 - Cusco, Peru
After four months on the road we settled into Cusco for a few days over Christmas, and were amazed by the famous Christmas eve markets...

women sell grass and moss for making nativity scenes - Cusco, Peru
women selling grass and moss for making nativity scenes - Cusco, Peru
{image via The Only Peru Guide}

Christmas 2010 - skiing in Bulgaria
We took our Christmas presents up to the top of the mountain and opened them in the sunshine while sipping on hot chocolate...

Christmas 2010 - Borovets, Bulgaria
Christmas 2010 - Borovets, Bulgaria

Christmas 2011 - sunny Madrid
In Madrid we found a whole square of Christmas stalls selling festive hats. We bought wolf hats - perfect for keeping our heads warm after sunset...

Christmas stall - Madrid 2011
Christmas stall - Madrid 2011

Christmas 2012 - Hong Kong
Spurred on by Air NZ premium economy flights that were a fraction of a regular economy seat we headed to Hong Kong on Christmas night 2012...

Christmas in Hong Kong, 2012
Christmas in Hong Kong, 2012

Christmas 2013 - skiing in Val Thorens, France
Last year we opted for a all-inclusive week of fabulous skiing in Val Thorens...

on the slopes - Christmas 2013 - Val Thorens, France
on the slopes - Christmas 2013 - Val Thorens, France

And this year? Christmas 2014...
This year we are heading to Turkey for two weeks, including some Christmas ballooning in Cappadocia. I can't wait!

winter hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
winter hot air ballooning in Cappadocia
{image via Anadolu Agency}

Speaking of the festive season - I'm off to Germany tomorrow for a few days to indulge once again in the fabulous Christmas Markets. Frohe Festtage!

Thanks to Emma and friends for this lovely festive blog hop.

1 December 2014

#AtoZtravel roundup

Here it is - a roundup of my November #AtoZtravel challenge. There's nothing like travelling the world to expand our minds and hearts...
{V} Vanuatu
{Z} New Zealand

Peru 2009
Peru 2009

I'm now busily planning my 2015 travel schedule. Any suggestions?

Hope you're all starting to get into the swing of the 'jolly season' :)

And if you haven't already and enjoy reading my blog I'd really appreciate a vote in the 2015 UK Blog Awards. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

28 November 2014

New Zealand - #AtoZtravel

I couldn't finish my month of #AtoZtravel stories without a post dedicated to my homeland New Zealand...

So here it is - the top 10 things I love and miss about living in New Zealand, the beautiful country I was born and grew up in. And 10 good reasons why you should visit one day if you've never been to Aotearoa - Land of the Long White Cloud.

1. New Zealand's changeable, awe-inspiring, calming, fall head-over-heels in love with landscape...

fishing in the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
fishing in the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
{photo via my mum}

sea view from Amodeo Bay, New Zealand
sea view from Amodeo Bay, New Zealand
{photo via my mum}

taken from a moving car driving between Hamilton and Wellington, early winter
taken from a moving car driving between Hamilton and Wellington, early winter

2. New Zealand's home-grown favourite foods, that are unique and embedded in the kiwi culture...

New Zealand steak & cheese pie (my favourite) in Island Bay, Wellington
New Zealand steak & cheese pie (my favourite) in Island Bay, Wellington

3. New Zealand beaches.
Never too crowded, and always clean, kiwis take pride in New Zealand's coast. In summer and winter the beaches of New Zealand are the best places to take some time, and enjoy the crash of waves/gentle lapping of water and find some harmony...

Foxton Beach in Winter - New Zealand
Foxton Beach in Winter - New Zealand

Tahunanui Beach in Summer - Nelson, New Zealand
Tahunanui Beach in Summer - Nelson, New Zealand 

4. Kiwi-style summer holidays...
In January the population of New Zealand heads to the beach for a month of outdoor living. One of the most popular holidays is camping - which most commonly means pitching a tent just a short walk from the beach and living off the BBQ for several weeks. Bliss!

camping at Ohope Beach. New Zealand.
camping at Ohope Beach. New Zealand.
I spent every summer from age 6 to 16 at this camping ground

5. Snow-capped mountains.
Lord of the Rings may have made New Zealand landscape famous, but us kiwis have been enjoying these snowy views for years...

view of Mt Ruapehu in Winter from the Desert Road - central North Island, New Zealand
view of Mt Ruapehu in Winter from the Desert Road - central North Island, New Zealand

6. Slightly cliché - but there is something about a Spring morning in the New Zealand countryside.
The sun is shining, dew sparkling on everything, a chill in the air and quite often the bleating of lambs as they look for their mums/next feed...

feeding my sister-in-laws lambs 'Poppy' and 'Bertie' - Spring 2008 New Zealand
feeding my sister-in-laws lambs 'Poppy' and 'Bertie' - Spring 2008

Poppy and Bertie enjoying the New Zealand Spring sunlight
Poppy and Bertie enjoying the New Zealand Spring sunlight

7. Pohutukawa - also known as the New Zealand Christmas Tree.
This beautiful tree - found on the New Zealand coast blooms at Christmas time and it's not unusual to see the beautiful red-flowered trees overhanging the beaches at this time of year.

Pohutukawa tree - New Zealand
Pohutukawa tree - New Zealand

8. New Zealand arts and crafts.
You can't beat New Zealand corrugated iron, #8 wire and wool as good materials to turn your creative inspirations into something awesome!

Kiwi corrugated iron New Zealand art.
Kiwi corrugated iron New Zealand art. Note the spider webs!

9. The simple life.
Sometimes you just need to get away and New Zealand is the best place to do this. No power, gas or running water. Just nature to keep your food cool, and a couple of good kiwi beers...

keeping our Mac's Gold (kiwi beer) cold on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
keeping our Mac's Gold (kiwi beer) cold on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

10. New Zealand cafe culture.
New Zealanders know their coffee and food like the back of their hands. I often forget just how good coffee can taste until I go back to New Zealand. Check out this list of Auckland cafes if you need some inspiration...

lunch at a cafe - somewhere in Auckland's North Shore
lunch at a cafe - somewhere in Auckland's North Shore

flat white at Devonport Stone Oven Bakery & Cafe

11. (One slightly more personal). Family.
There's nothing like spending quality time at home with the people you love. Living abroad is not always 100% amazing. Re-connecting with family when we go home is the most important thing.

hubby walking Willow, my sister-in-laws dog on her farm, New Zealand
hubby walking Willow, my sister-in-laws dog on her farm, New Zealand

So that's it! My November  A to Z of travel. I hope you've enjoyed this journey of the alphabet as much as I have!
I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!
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