Panama Experiment

Although I am not there yet, I am experimenting taking pictures with my Blackberry (OK, it’s not exactly a Nikon and the photos are not being taken by Ansel Adams) and adding them to the text. Please bear with me as I go through this learning curve. If any of you has has similar experiences, please let me know. MIKE
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Dear Travelers,
I have not posted an entry since my return from the GERMAN and AUSTRIAN Christmas Markets. The winter has been great for skiing so I have been out having fun in the snow.

My next adventure, however, is to a destination I never thought I would visit…Panama. I will be there Feb 7 to 14 to teach German. I will add to my blog as often as possible and hopefully will be able to add photos. Please send your comments if the comment button works. Much more later, Mike
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More on the German and Austrian Christmas Markets


4. December 2009DSC02568

The Munich Christmas Market is one of the largest and the best.  The city alone is a showcase with the beautiful Rococo church Michaelskirche, the Gothic Frauenkirche with its 600 year old 50 story twin towers, the magnificent mock Gothic City Hall and world-famous Glockenspiel, Karlsplatz and the outdoor skating rink, and the lovely Newhauser-Kaufinger Street lined with beautiful shops, boutiques, grand department stores, smart coffee shops and old world restaurants.  Along this pedestrian street are countless wooden stands, brightly lighted and decorated, selling roasted almonds, walnuts and pecans; Christmas cookie shops; hand-made Christmas tree ornaments from 17th century designs; scarves, hats and gloves of all fashion, finely detailed wooden crèche figures and, of course, hot mulled wine, or “Glühwein” after the Munich recipe, in a distinctive navy blue mug emblazoned with the twin towers of the Frauenkirche, Munich´s icon.  DSC02587

Friendly crowds fill the streets with cheer, families browse the little stands, carolers sing every few blocks and, with the snow falling, there is the cozy, happy feeling of “Gemütlichkeit” throughout the town.  DSC02590
Take an afternoon break to sit in a charming café, enjoy a torte and a cappuccino, and watch this magical world of the Christmas market out the window.  It´s a great way to start the Christmas season. 

5 December 2009 SaturdayDSC02596

On the Fraueninseln or “Ladies´ Island.  In the middle of Chiemsee in southern Bavaria, with the snow capped Alps in the background lies the Fraueninseln.  Dominated by the ancient convent, the island is home to one of the unique Christmas Markets in Europe.  About an hour southeast of Munich via autobahn, the exit to Prien am Chiemsee leads to the harbor.  From there the ferries glide over Chiem Lake, a Monet painting glinting with sunshine, to Frauen Island.  The island is ringed with over one hundred wooden stands, each offering its own items.  There are booths with hand made wool sox, glass ornaments painted fro, m the inside, jewelry from North Sea red coral, and wooden childrens toys painted in brilliant lacquer.  The food stands offer fresh roasted lake fish, dark breads with melted cheese and tomatoes, Lebkuchen cookies, the famous German ginger bread confections, hot spiced cider and, of course, hot mulled wine in the special Chiemsee boot-shaped mugs.  Follow the strings of white lights around the island until you want some heartier refreshment, then stroll into the Wirtshaus, the restaurant near the pier, and enjoy some wonderful gulash soup and thick dark bread along with a refreshing  beer. 

17:00  Less than an hours drive from Prien is the incomparable Berchtesgaden.  This mountain village is famous (and infamous) the world over.  The positive side is the unsurpassed mountain scenery, the charming medieval buildings and the cobblestoned streets.  There is also the exciting Sommerroddelbahn, the Alpine slide, where you sit on a sled and race down the side of the mountain, the 500 year old salt mines (think: mini trains, huge slides, elevators and great history all inside a mountain of salt) and the relatively new “Eagle´s Nest”, perched on a mountaintop nearby, given to Hitler by the Nazi Party on the occasion of his 50th birthday.  But in December the city comes alive with the Christmas spirit,   The streets are festooned with strings of large white lights, Christmas trees are put up in the town´s squares, and in front of the double-steepled church appears the delightfully composed Christmas Market.  DSC02607
Here you can sample not only the typical red Glühwein but the unique white Glühwein, warmed on the spot by the vintners.   The aroma wafts across the square and warms the entire atmosphere.  But there is something even more special about the Berchtesgaden Christmas Market.   On St. Nikolaus´ Day, December 5 and 6, the Teufels, or Devils, come out to play.  This tradition is hundreds of years old and is still played out today as it was during the Middle Ages.  Groups of men from surrounding towns dress up in Devil costumes.  Sometimes they appear as “Strawmen” , wearing toe to head outfits of straw and a whole head devil´s mask with horns and nasty teeth and hair.  Other times they wear furs, giant shoes and the whole head devil´s mask.  The devils represent all of the bad events of the year, all of the negative feelings and nasty human tendencies.  They parade through the streets “attacking” passersby by rubbing black soot on their faces and making animal noises.  But not to fear.  Goodness and kindness are not far behind in the person of St. Niklaus.  He follows the devils and drives them away, replacing all the nastiness and evil with goodness and happiness.  It is a wonderful way to celebrate the season and usher in the new year. 


06. December 2009  In far western Austria on a spit of land between Germany to the north and Italy to the south lies the mountain paradise and two time host to the Winter Olympics, Innsbruck.   The town is a snow-lovers delight with mountain peaks several thousand feet high, covered in pure velvety snow.   Today it is packed with Italian tourists everywhere, children, grandparents and moms and dads who have come to experience an Austrian Christmas experience.  The booths fill the town square in front of the iconic Little Golden Roof, with its backdrop of snowy mountains and enormous Christmas tree.  DSC02635
The arcaded sidewalks, protecting walkers from snow and ice, line the square and lead to lovely shops and boutiques.  The Christmas booths fill not only the main square but up and down side streets and even down the middle of the newly pedestrianized Maria Theresa Street just south of the Alte Stadt or old city.   As sundown comes early to this part of Europe in December, the lights come on early, the chestnuts are roasted and the season begins. 

07. December 2009  The setting for today´s market is perhaps the most different of all the markets.  About an hour north, through plains of Bavaria, lies the little village of Halsbach, outside of which is a beautiful forest on a hill.  In this forest every Christmas season the Waldmarkt or “Market in the Woods” is celebrated.  Vendors from throughout Bavaria come to display their wares in what has  become a real art fair, not just a Christmas Market.  DSC02640
Bonfires are everywhere, an enormous “moon” is lighted over the middle of the market, and glass items, ceramic items, torches from steel, candied breads, hand made woolen items are on display.  As the sun sets the candles along the walks are lighted and families stroll the paths and visit the food booths.  German Christmas music wafts over the forest and puts everyone in a festive mood.

08. December 2009  The cathedral bells resonate over Salzburg, one of the most famous cities in the world.  DSC01748
The town council has carefully selected each booth to achieve the maximum amount of diversity among the presenters.  The setting could not be lovelier.  Located between the Salzach River and the Alps, Salzburg is dominated by the 1300 year old Hohensalzburg, the fortress that protected the city from the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages.  The town is a maze of fascinating side streets and alleys that wind through picturesque neighborhoods, past fruit and vegetable markets. the 1200 year old elegant Peterskeller Restaurant (the food is excellent), the old town cemetery and catacombs, the ancient monk´s bakery still in operation, the stupendous Salzburg Cathedral and finally the Tomacelli Café, home to perhaps the best torte and coffee in Austria.  The booths have excellent clothing articles, chocolate specialties and salt products unique to this market.  If you tire of shopping, visit the wonderful Impressionist collection in the Residenz Museum or take the funicular up to Hohensalzburg for a great view of the city and mountains.  The Mozart Birthhouse and Museum is also a great way to spend an afternoon and is right in the heart of the city.  A final stroll through the main town square, decorated with all sorts of lighted ornaments, listening again to the clang of the Cathedral bells, is a great finish to a wonderful experience.

Germany in December

It may be December in Germany but the atmosphere makes up for the weather.  Everywhere you look the lights are up, the wine is being mulled, the ornaments are out and the Gemütlichkeit (friendliness, warmth) is in every village and town.