Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thinking of the French Christmas markets...

When we lived in France in 2007-2008 we were lucky enough to see a couple of Christmas markets. Sipping on warm vin chaud while standing around oversized wine barrels, eating gingerbread, wandering around the cute little huts selling Christmas goods under a canopy of brilliant lights will be etched in my memory forever - there's nothing quite like your first wintry Christmas. The French Christmas markets I think have ruined me for any other - I went walking through town here yesterday in the hope of seeing something similar (apparently the Winter/Christmas festival has started?) but it didn't quite compare. With the countdown to our visitors getting smaller and smaller (yay!!!!), we've got plans to all go trooping around some Christmas markets next week - I'm hoping they will bring back my fond memories of a beautiful marche de noel in our then home town of Avignon, France....











Monday, December 6, 2010

Ice skating on the Oude Waal

Like I said in my last post, Saturday was a very exciting day! Not only was it snowing madly, but I got to spend some time doing my favourite winter sport - ice skating!!! Ever since I found out that our local Christmas markets were going ahead zonder ijsbaan this year, I've been really disappointed - the outdoor ice skating rink that is usually set up in the Valkhof park just had to be scrapped thanks to budget cuts the year we arrived in town :-( I took up figure skating as an adult - mostly as a bit of a joke and some fun & exercise - with a friend a few years ago. I was never brilliant, but I did learn to do different turns, spins, lunges, spirals and even some jumps in my own awkward fashion. We even went as far as to buy our own beautiful figure skates - which of course came over here in my backpack when we moved to Holland.

As we were driving out to Ooij yesterday, we were greeted by a white world - the flat fields were covered in snow and the little ponds were frozen.







As we neared the Oude Waal, I spotted some tiny figures in the distance down on what is usually a lake. Within seconds I realised the lake had frozen enough to be supporting a number of people skating on it!!!! Screams of excitement were heard in our car and once we found somewhere to turn around, we headed straight back home to get my ice skates!



After a loooong drive back (snow makes traffic even more unbearable) and pulling up at the lights beside a car full of 5 grinning Zwarte Piets (very, very amusing!) who seemed to be out in force yesterday with Sinterklaas - at least at the supermarket anyway, we arrived back and I quickly put on my skates (well as quickly as I could with numb fingers) - I was pleased to discover that they still fit!!! Mitch stood at the edge with some other onlookers under strict instructions to come save me if I somehow managed to break the ice :P I did speak to an older Dutch couple (they started talking to me, telling me I looked mooi -  I think they were referring to my hot pink attire, not my stumbling skating style) who assured me the lake was well and truly frozen through.




I'd skated outdoors before in Switzerland but they were on purpose built (intentionally flooded land) rinks - this was my very first time skating on a lake. One that looked like this less then 2 months ago. The verdict: it was somewhat difficult but I soon got my skating legs back and even managed a few 3 turns - no jumps on this ice though. I practiced on some smooth uncovered spots before heading out onto the rest of the lake like the other skaters - it was SO much fun! A little interesting every time I hit a thick pile of snow (I had to kinda walk-hobble instead of skate), but fun all the same. The wind kept blowing me though and it was SNOWING!!! Mind you, this really just added to the wintry atmosphere.






I still can't believe I got to go ice skating on a lake just minutes from our home... Another entirely new experience for this Aussie! It might be freezing but I'm loving our white Christmas so far - bring on some more skating I say! Now the goal is to go find Mitch a pair of skates so that he can join me on the ice next time :-)

Oh - and here's a few little clips of me getting my skating legs back :-)

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - the tree is up!

We may have gotten in 2 days early (according to Dutch standards apparently), but... our tree is up!!!! It's covered in lights and decorations and despite being very spiky, it's filling our home with a lovely pine fresh smell and well... I love it :-)


It was a hectic but exciting day yesterday - we had planned to go to a nearby kerstbomen farm where you pick your tree out of the field and they chop it down for you. After spending the morning defrosting a weeks worth of snow and ice off the car (must never leave it that long again, it was well and truly frozen and took ages to de-ice!) and then another hour attaching our new roofracks (it wasn't a fun job in the freezing cold while it was snowing), we didn't get going til the early afternoon.



En route to the Christmas tree farm, we decided to take a short drive out towards Ooij - we had originally been planning to load the bikes onto the roof and take them out there for a ride, mostly to test out the carrier and also to see what it looked like out there in the snow. We got a case of the I-can't-be-bothered's and ended up scrapping the bikes but I'm so pleased we still took the drive as much to my surprise, it resulted in an afternoon of... ICE SKATING!!!! But more to come on that wintry activity later...


After the excitement of dusting off my skates, the 40min drive in the heavy snow to the Christmas tree farm wasn't looking so appealing in the last hour of daylight. We spotted a local vendor selling Christmas trees on the drive home where we found our perfect tree!!! The guy had a range of different sized trees and we went for a mid range one - taller then us of course. He wrapped it up using a special tree wrapping machine (I'd never seen one before!) and Mitch squished it into our little red car. It was a spiky 5min drive home with the tree poking me in the neck! It was cold outside, there was snow crunching underneath our feet and the snow was coming down - a completely new Christmas tree purchasing experience!








Once we got the tree home (and I killed a spider that crawled out of it - I'm getting more brave and killed it myself without too much squealing, I learnt a big lesson from the cockroach car accident of '03), we discovered a minor problem.


Our tree, as lovely as it was, had huge roots and a big pile of dirt attached. The pot we had for it had been sitting on our balcony with dirt in it (it once had plants too but it took 3mths of living here before either of us noticed there were plants and so sadly, the plants didn't make it :P ) and after all the freezing temperatures we've been having lately, the dirt had frozen solid. And I mean solid - we spent an hour trying to defrost it with my hairdryer and pouring kettle loads of hot water onto it to no avail. We finally settled on a smaller pot, but as our lovely tree wouldn't fit into it, we had to spend more time hacking away at the roots with a blunt breadknife. Charming. With little mounds of dirt and pine needles covering our dining room floor, we finally had the tree sitting securely in a pot and the fun could begin....

In our household, Christmas tree decorating isn't complete without carols sung by the crooners, hot wine and yummy treats. Mitch, aka vin chaud masterchef brewed us up a couple of batches of hot wine goodness and we munched on some staples - apricot balls, home made fudge, pepernoten & these funny Dutch speculaas biscuits filled with almond paste. Once the wine was steaming and the decorations were out, it was time to start decorating the tree...








I was missing all our Christmas decorations back in Australia - each one has a special meaning and I can remember where we bought them all and why. After seeing the size of our tree, I had been worried we wouldn't have enough to cover it but we did surprisingly well - thanks to some lovely packages from the family, filled with Christmas goodies and some beautiful decorations. Thanks guys, your 'happy mail' made my day on both occasions and we love it!!!!












It looks so pretty in our big front windows and with the dark dreary weather out there, it brightens up the day. We of course had to do our traditional in front of the tree snap - Nibbler was there with us in spirit... :-)


I had the best day yesterday - it was a winter wonderland out there and a great start to a white holiday season. Now to keep counting down the days on the advent calendar... It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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