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Europe, soul searching, Uncategorized

Chasing Christmas

December 20, 2017 • By

It’s Christmas time. The streets are crowded with bumper to bumper traffic and stores swarm with frantic people, Starbucks offers eggnog and gingerbread lattes and red and green bows and decorations adorn entryways as fir trees fill homes and plazas everywhere. As Andy Williams says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the hap-happiest season of all…” but sometimes it seems like a busy and lonely time for people and we forget the significance of the season.

Fantasy Aisle, Nuremberg Gingerbread, only place where it can be called "real"

Nuremberg Gingerbread, only place where it can be called “real”

I discovered the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas movies last fall when I was going through a difficult time personally and professionally. The movies deliver hope, promise, love and happy endings without violence, swearing, sex or drugs although the characters indulge in their share of wine. As I binge watched movie after movie for hours on end, my deepest desires came to the forefront and I was reminded of all the things missing from my life — no kids, no spouse, no cute little home with garland and the perfect Christmas tree shining through the front windows. I cried through the Christmas Blessing and Christmas with Holly and fantasized about the possibilities with a Princess for Christmas but realized I had my shot at moving to Buffalo years ago and much preferred the Palace at Castlebury. I sat on the edge of my seat with Christmas Incorporated only to roll my eyes through a Boyfriend for Christmas. Why couldn’t Douglas Firwood tell the truth?

Determined to work for the Hallmark Channel, I researched the company’s history and went so far as to Google every actor’s biography blurring the lines between reality and make believe. Most of Hallmark’s storylines revolve around a widow or career dominating women who must make an important decision during Christmastime. The characters are named Holly and Nick and scenes take place in New York or Chicago and quaint imaginary villages like Cookie Jar or in the mountains at Snow Valley Lodge. By a stroke of luck, a local do-gooder handsome man interacts with the desperate but dazzling attractive woman, steals her heart and the entire town rejoices in the Miracle of Christmas. The movies always end with a special kiss. What’s not to enjoy?

Fantasy Aisle, Friends at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting in NYC

Friends at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting in NYC

I wanted my own Christmas Miracle and I believed if I forced myself out into the world I could find it. The movie—my movie, Chasing Christmas would feature me as the lead actress, the successful career oriented woman who finds happiness and joy through Christmas. I kicked off my journey at the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony in New York City with friends and then jumped on a plane to Germany where people celebrate the weeks leading up to Christmas with markets in the center of town or in front of iconic churches and museums.

Fantasy Aisle, The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The Christkindlmarkts in Germany offer visitors handmade arts and crafts like glass ornaments or winter gloves and hats, Advent wreaths, gingerbread and other local delicacies like sauerkraut and glühwein (hot mulled wine). Each market embodies its personal story filling colorful wooden decorative stalls with food and gifts representing its history and traditions. I braved the winter elements and wandered my way around medieval towns, large cities and Hallmark worthy villages. The warm glühwein served in keepsake mugs warmed my heart and soul, the schneebälle, a snowball-shaped ball of chocolate filled my belly but the sounds of carolers and people laughing embraced me in a tender hug. I wanted hugs.

Fantasy Aisle, My first Glühwein in Rothenburg

My first Glühwein in Rothenburg

People venture to the markets to spend time with family and friends and the entire community comes together to observe annual rituals, enjoy food and drink specialties and to buy gifts. Couples hold hands and kiss, generations of families gather around hot chocolate and punch stands to talk and share stories. Tourists delight in trying Spätzle, a cheese and egg noodle dish for the first time and Eierpunsch, a thick spiked eggnog liquor. It is a time to believe in magic.

Fantasy Aisle, Checking our my families Christmas Market in Karlsruhe

Checking out my families Christmas Market in Karlsruhe

After visiting several markets, I joined my German cousins in Karlsruhe. My family proudly and lovingly showed me around their town square and we toasted the season with glühwein and Nutella crepes. We modeled Santa hats and took pictures smiling and laughing before the cold chased us away. There were fun conversations of politics and catching up on the children’s school and music activities. In Mannheim, I joined forces with my German-American friend Frank who showed me around his hometown forcing me to indulge in Kartoffelpuffer, a type of potato latke with applesauce. Frank provided all the translations I had missed and explained the significance of spices and sugar cookies. He also informed me that gingerbread is more for decoration than eating, which could have spared my teeth in Nuremberg. We also conquered the six markets in the Old Town of Heidelberg and hiked breathlessly to the castle gate before ending the night posing with several Santa impersonators. I met up with my dear friend Annette in her hometown of Flensburg, a picture perfect village on the Baltic Sea near the Danish border. They served hot Bailey’s and Grünkohl, a stewed kale and sausage dish unique to Flensburg. Annette and I celebrated our upcoming birthdays with a special dinner and vowed to make a habit of seeing each other somewhere in the world yearly. Lastly, I reunited with my adorable friend Corinna in Hamburg who ushered me from the train station to her apartment. We visited several of the city’s markets clinking glasses and spilling glühwein onto our gloves and coats while taking selfies and talking about life, love and travel. The City of Hamburg is bold and bright and buzzing with an electric energy.

Fantasy Aisle, Toasting the season in Flensburg, Germany

Toasting the season in Flensburg, Germany

The people of Germany are affectionate, spirited and disciplined. That is how I describe myself.   As I talked with Annette and Corinna about why I wanted to see the Christmas markets and why I had this urge to live a Hallmark movie they empathized with my mission. But the more I talked, the more I realized I don’t actually want to compare myself to “Holly and Nick” on television because I never wanted children. Most spouses cause grief at some time or another and if I really wanted a Christmas tree in my house I could pick one up on any street corner and cover its branches with a lifetime of collected ornaments. What I wanted and what I found in Germany was love—not the romantic kind but the fill my heart bring a smile to my face love. The early morning snowfall on the cobblestone streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the surprise serenade by a musician in the Old City of Nuremberg, the rock hard gingerbread treat I nearly lost my tooth biting, the bond between Frank and his mother, the generosity and welcome hugs from my cousins, the conversations and shared experiences between friends who keep in contact despite time changes and long plane rides. This is the magic of Christmas. This is what allows people to be present in life. It’s the connection to people –contact with friends and family.

Fantasy Aisle, Celebrating Christmas with my friend Corinna in Hamburg

Celebrating Christmas with my friend Corinna in Hamburg

I still adore the Hallmark Channel and I am thankful for a Countdown to Christmas to remind me of the meaning of Christmas. It’s about coming to together, delivering hope and determination, experiencing love from the heart, family, tradition and even cookies, and angels.  It’s not about the shopping malls and gifts under the tree.


Africa, Europe, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

What to see and do in Malta?

December 20, 2017 • By

What to See and Do?

  • The Malta Experience – Overview of Malta’s history about a 20 minute video
  • Fort St. Elmo / Malta at War Museum – History of the Knights of St. John and the Ottoman Empire – Interesting WWII exhibits.  Malta was sandwiched between Italian and German forces by land and sea during WWII
  • St. John’s Co-Cathedral – Famous Caravaggio painting of St. John the Baptist.  Elaborate interior and decoration, served as main church for over 200 years to the order of the Knights of St. John (of Jerusalem). Knights were nobleman from the most important families from all over Europe.  Their mission was to protect the Catholic Faith and Europe from the Ottoman Turks
  • Grand Harbour –  Cruise ship docking point, great views, tourist shops and restaurants
  • Grand Master’s PalaceHouses the Parliament, the Armory and the offices of the President. Visit the Palace State Rooms and don’t miss the tapestries
Fantasy Aisle, Mosta Dome, Third Largest Unsupported Church Dome in Europe

Mosta Dome, Third Largest Unsupported Church Dome in Europe

  • Mosta Dome – Third largest unsupported church dome in Europe.  Site where a WWII bomb was dropped during a mass and miraculously did not explode
  • Three Cities – Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (L-Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla) – Old villages mostly flattened during WWII.  Narrow streets.  St. Angelo Fort.  Fun bars and restaurants at night and great views of the Grand Harbour
  • Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum – BOOK IN ADVANCE OF YOUR TRIP only 80 visitors allowed daily.  Columns like Roman structures, very advanced, calendar system for summer solstice, winter solstice, an elaborate system for burying dead.  Three levels of formations.  Used as shelters, playgrounds.  Construction very artistic
Fantasy Aisle, An artist at work in the crafts village of Ta' Qali

An artist at work in the crafts village of Ta’ Qali

  • Ta’Qali Crafts Village – (near Mdina) glass, silver, woodworking and plenty of local crafts to purchase
  • Mdina – Silent City, Arabic architecture, Medieval city served as capital until 1530 when Valletta was constructed.  At the far end of the main gate, take in the most beautiful views of Malta’s countryside
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Mdina – 17th Century Baroque Church in heart of Old City
  • St. Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat
  • Rabat – Cute narrow roads, cafes, restaurants, wine bars, decorative colorful doors, plants outside homes
  • Dingli Cliffs – Enjoy views of the Mediterranean and crushing shoreline
Fantasy Aisle, Seabass, veggie, and wine!

Seabass, veggie, and wine!

What else?

Where to Eat and Stay?


To Eat

Italian influenced and Mediterranean diet.  Seafood, Pasta, Fried Calamari, Rabbit Stew, Fish Soup, Capers, Garlic

La Sfoglia Restaurant – Family run specializes in seafood.  Fun outdoor spot

Taproom Brasserie and Bar – Casual food and a variety of pasta dishes – nice side street location

Trabuxu Wine and Cheese Bar – A favorite spot – romantic, casual good wine

67 Kapitali Artisan Café and Craft Beer Bar – Hot spot, burgers, beer what could be wrong?

To Stay

Grand Hotel Excelsior  – Ideal location, beautiful pool and amenities.  Hotel a bit dated for 5 stars.

Hotel Phoenicia Malta – Recently renovated.  Located in front of old city walls.  Leading Hotels of the World


To Stay and Eat

A.D. 1530 Trattoria, Xara Palace Hotel – Old world class and charm, great location

St. Julians/Paceville/Sliema/St. George

To Eat

La Dolce Vita – Sinola Bay, St. Julians – High end: Oysters, bread, meat, seafood, great ambiance and views overlooking bay

BarracudaRestored 18th century villa, located just over the water edge and overlooking the spectacular view of Balluta and Spinola Bay.  Make sure to get a table on the outside porch or near the windows

To Stay


InterContinental A little bit off the crowded tourist stretch

Le Meridien– Sits on the bay steps from the tourist action

Westin Dragonara Resort

More moderate

Marina Hotel

Radisson Blue

Bay Street Hotel