I learned about Gluhwein from my daughters who traveled to Germany and surrounding countries over the holidays but this December was my first chance to sip the potion first-hand.
We visited the Christmas market in the museum district on our recent trip to Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s Museumplein transforms into a charming little Christmas village, complete with an ice rink, market stalls and plenty of festive food and drink to keep us warm. The I Amsterdamletters, the city slogan, are located here too but for some reason we could never time a group picture in front of the letters either due to crowds, lack of organizational will or sore feet.
But we did sample the Gluhwein directly from the cast iron pot hanging over an open wood-burning fire in the middle of the very crowded holiday market. Upon ordering, the attendant dipped in and filled a cup for me directly from the simmering pot. It had a glowing effect for sure. This set-up would not pass code compliance in Fort Worth but for me it was so charming. And alcohol burns off a multitude of sins including bacteria, right?
So if you are hankering to make your own Gluhwein, combine the following in a pot and warm to just below boiling. Serves 4-6. You will glow! And warm your toes on these chilly nights in Texas.
1/2 medium orange – juice and zest
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup turbinado or granulated sugar
20 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine
On holiday recently, while based in Amsterdam, we took a day trip by high-speed train, via the Thalys route, to Antwerp, Belgium. It’s a little over a 100 miles distance between the two cities. We purchased 8 tickets in advance of leaving the states to be sure we had seats on the train during the busy Christmas season. We were a group of 8 which required we have advanced reservations to nearly all of our activities including dining out. Yes, you must plan ahead.
The best cities in the world are founded with a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. The legend has it that, to cross the river Scheldt, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant Statue of Brabo — Antigoon by name – or risk invoking his wrath and losing your hand. Of course a hero was needed, and he arrived in the form of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the River Scheldt. And given that the Dutch for ‘hand thrown’ is ‘hand werpen’, a city’s name was born. The story has led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city.
The day trip worked out well as we departed on time from Amsterdam Centraal a couple of days past Christmas, around 8:30 a.m., and arrived in a little over an hour at the venerable Antwerp Station. We had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city. But first, we took time to admire the architectural wonder of the Antwerp train station itself. The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station), was first used in 1905. The structure is made from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.
After arriving and getting our bearings, we walked toward the central plaza of the city but first stopped off for a visit to the artist’s Ruben’s home who painted around the same time as Rembrandt. The house contains many of his masterpieces along with artwork from artists that he trained in his studio also located here. Ruben favored religious figures, some landscapes, a few self portraits, as well as hunting scenes and animals. Lots of grays, blues and greens — too dark for my taste. You could still smell the oil paint in the house or at least I imagined I smelled it — the paint was so thick on the paintings and so many oil paintings in such a small space. Many famous artists passed within these old walls over the years. If walls could talk, eh?
Afterwards, we devoured Belgium waffles from a local street vendor (if you could only smell the warm waffles, sweet chocolate and winter air) and then, partially sated, we traveled on toward the popular plaza area where the Christmas market is located at the base of Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp. The north church spire towers into the blue sky above us and we put on our sunglasses for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands. We welcomed the sun. Inside the cathedral, the spiritual space is impressive with its grizzly crypt, artwork by Rubin and other baroque masterpieces and architecture.
Outside the cathedral there are ample chocolate, diamonds and lace shops surrounding us on all sides just enough to satisfy the tourist shopper in all of us. Needing a break, we found an old tavern, squeezed up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a small second floor overhang to sample some of the famous Belgium beers with the locals. Our favorite was De Koninck bolleke. We even found the local brewery later in the afternoon, took an interactive, quirky tour and sampled even more of their beer offerings. The tour ended with purchases from their gift shop for friends back home.
The day was so full of festivities for locals as well as tourists. The trains and sidewalks were packed with families enjoying a day off, eating and drinking samples from the Christmas market stalls and enjoying carnival rides. Many in our gang, bravely went up on an old Ferris wheel to get a better view of Antwerp even in the cold and windy, late afternoon winter weather. I tried the famous Belgium fries with curry catsup and mayo dipping sauce and found them top-notch especially eating them from the classic paper cone.
After walking miles on cobblestones exploring the city, we headed back to the station for the last train back to Amsterdam. Sore feet and tired legs but a great day exploring a little bit of Flanders with my sweet family.
Home alone this Christmas. Not exactly alone, but RM and I are spending Christmas eve and Christmas day alone together for the first time since C1 was born back in 1987. That is nearly 30 years ago. We didn’t plan this, it just worked out this way this year. Where did the time go? Seems like yesterday, that I was giggling along with my girls to the relatable scenes from the movie, Home Alone. Take a heap of a Christmas movie, add a dash of kid-appropriate fun, a sprinkle of family drama, and a pinch of caper action, and you’ve got Home Alone.
Over these years, we have celebrated these holiday times in many intriguing ways. Traveling to see family in Kansas, going skiing in Colorado, traveling to New Mexico, staying home as a family of five, hosting guests, visiting friends, hosted by our daughter in Mesquite, recovering from health concerns, or just hanging out but always with our children and many friends, exchange students and family over the years. But this year, since our girls are traveling and visiting with friends, we both rather relish the idea of two consecutive days, just the two of us, reminding ourselves of why we first decided to spend a lifetime together as a married couple in our little cottage on Ashland.
When we first started dating back in the early 80’s, we played long and competitive games of Scrabble, we cooked together (still do), read out loud to one another, completed each others crossword puzzles when we got stuck, worked on home improvement projects, did crafts, listened to Beatles albums (the older ones), watched MASH, and scoured flea markets and antique shops for items for our new home together. Now, we do pretty much those same things since we have successfully raised our children. We both have full-time jobs that we enjoy that provide us with purpose and financial resources to make our lives meaningful and relatively stress free. We do engage in social media, blogging and subscribe to Spotify and Netflix. I guess I need to get on Twitter so I can find out what our future President is tweeting next. We support our chosen personal passions, for me the interests of women and children, for RM, woodturning and working on his two small businesses on a part-time basis.
But we still just enjoy the simple things. With the dip in the temperatures, our time together may just be two days in front of the fire, watching football and cooking shows, or perhaps starting a small project from our list of to-do’s, going for a walk if the weather warms up, or reading a book. Whatever, we do, we will appreciate the precious gift of time together, and home alone.
Happy Holidays to each of you and please wish for safe travels for our girls and their families and friends and to you and yours as well.
As the temperatures begin to get colder, aspen, cottonwood and willow in the eastern Sierra Mountains suspend production of chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis, and attempt to save energy in anticipation of the coming winter. As the chlorophyll left in leaves breaks down (and with it the green coloring), other colors begin to shine through. And boy do they.
RM and I had the opportunity to drive over 1,000 miles this last week exploring over a 1100 square miles of Yosemite National Park along 214 miles of paved roads as well as the surrounding areas near Milo Basin and Mammoth Falls to the east of Yosemite. We also drove through the Fresno Valley area and found it to be traumatized by the infamous California drought. Very sad to see first hand.
But the leaves. Oh, my.
We timed our trip in hopes of experiencing cooler temps and a bit of a nip in the air in mid October in the mountains and we were not disappointed. We had sunshine nearly all week with just a dusting of snow on the highest elevation the night before we departed. Nearly a perfect week of viewing the changing season up close and personal.