Is this the Best Christmas Market

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While the Nuremberg Christmas Market has been our favourite the market we visited at Goslar had some of the ingredients we had been missing at all of our previous markets.

Goslar is in the Harz Mountains so it was still very cold when we arrived here during the middle of the day.

As we walked to the markets in the walled city which is filled with beautiful Tudor-style buildings it began to snow a little.

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We had wanted to experience some snow while we were at a Christmas market so it was nice to finally get to be snowed on while we walked around.

Something else that has been absent has been Christmas music, that was also rectified at Goslar and we enjoyed the Christmas Carols as we walked around. It was a little ironic that the first time we had heard carols at a Christmas market was actually after Christmas.

Goslar was a great place for us to experience our last European Christmas Market.

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Even More Ice Fun

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Our last night in the Harz Mountains was in a little town called Schulenberg (about 320 residents). There was a nice little camp spot with a view over the mountains and a lake which was very pretty.

While we were here we experienced what people who live in cold climates have to endure.

Our first experience was when we pulled up for the night. I went to get the ramps out to get Max level but could not open the side bin because the door was frozen shut and there was no way it was coming open – I decided we were level enough.

I have said before that it has been very cold, but here it was very, very, very cold. At about 9 am it was minus 6.5 degrees Celsius outside. All of the icicles that had been hanging on Max from Christmas were still there and had grown bigger and been added too, we even had ice on the inside of the windscreen – which MiniMandM took some good photos of.

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Earlier in the year we discovered that Max has a feature which protects the boiler (yes we have a boiler and central heating – just like a European house) from freezing should you leave the motorhome and the battery goes flat during winter. The feature will drain all of the water out of the system if the battery goes flat – we learnt this when we heard the pump working and noticed all of our sometimes hard to source water flowing down the hill.

While we were at Schulenberg we discovered a further feature of this system. If the temperature gets too cold it will again dump all of the water. We discovered this in the middle of the night when I heard the switch go off, the pump come on and then water running on the ground – a nice wake up call. In hindsight we should have had the heater running all night, instead we have just been running it before we went to bed and then it has been warm enough while we have been in bed; earlier in the year we would leave it on all night but then end up hot. So since we could not do anything about it we turned the pump off and then went back to bed.

In the morning the first job (after turning the heater on) was to swap the toilet cassette. Warning: This may be too much information for some.  Anyone who has spent time in a motorhome knows that the toilet will fill up at the most inconvenient time (I have learnt to check before going to bed to make sure there is sufficient room). On this morning the loo was quite full and Legoboy needed to go so I braved the cold and went out to swap things over (with a family of five we can need to swap cassettes fairly regularly so we have two spares in the boot). So I swapped them and Legoboy did what he needed to and then went to flush. In a motorhome loo part of the flush mechanism is in the cassette. Unfortunately as the cassette had been in the boot where it was very cold the mechanism was frozen up and it would not flush. I won’t give you the detail of how I had to rectify this situation, but needless to say I was glad it was a number one.

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Next was to put some water into the tank. In the boot we carry a couple of 5 litre bottles so we always have some water because you never really know when the water in the tank will run out. I got the bottles out which were partly frozen, but I figured that I could get some water into the tank. Next problem was that the lid on the tank was frozen on and I could not get it open – so I just took the 5 litre bottle inside and bypassed the tank.

Next issue was that even though we had water inside now (thanks to a big water bottle) the drain pipe from the sink was frozen so the water in the sink would not drain and we had to scoop it out.

Once we had overcome these obstacles we headed off to the service point to empty things and hopefully fill up with water. Things had warmed up a bit so we were able to get the cap off the tank now so that was a good start. We got the hose out which was very stiff. After putting our money in no water came out, all service points are different so it sometimes takes a few goes to get things working, considering that all of the instructions are in a foreign language. But nothing we did would make things work so we decided that it must have been frozen up.

So we headed off with not too much water and the hope of finding some later in the day.

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During the day we decided to have a bit of a snack, someone asked about the packet of chips that we had bought before Christmas but hadn’t eaten. We looked in the cupboards but couldn’t find them anywhere. In the back of one of the cupboards in Max there is a gap at the top. I got a mirror and was able to see down the back and discovered that the chips had fallen down there, so the only option was to pull the shelf out and the back of the cupboard out – so we could have some chips. I have no idea why someone would build a cupboard with a huge gap at the top which would allow things to disappear, possibly never to be seen again.

After visiting the Christmas/Winter Markets in Goslar (another post) we headed out of the Harz Mountains.

We found a camp spot which had water so we went to fill up. Once everything was hooked up and we paid our money, there was still no water. We discovered that our hose was not only stiff it was actually frozen, so we had to use our bottles to get the water into the tank, but we didn’t get too much in before the money ran out (some pumps measure the amount of water and cut off accordingly but others, like this one, are timed so if you are not organised when you put your money in you don’t get much water). We brought the hose inside and sat it in the shower so it could defrost in the warmth.

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The drain pipe in the sink was still not draining so I thought that maybe there was some issue other than the pipe being frozen, so for the second time I had to pull out the tools and pull the back of the cupboard out. After doing that I was able to confirm that the pipe was in fact just frozen as it ran outside uninsulated underneath the floor (another dumb design feature), and the next morning everything had defrosted and worked again.

Even though it was warmer here we were surprised to wake up the next morning surrounded by snow again.

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More Ice Fun

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We woke up with snow around us again, which is still a nice experience.

While we have been in Europe we have enjoyed a lot of the glass art that we have found here. In Clausthal-Zellerfeld (it is actually two towns right next to each other, like Albury-Wodonga) there was a glass studio which also had glass blowing demonstrations, which was interesting to watch but also very warm because of the huge furnace.

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Even though it is now past Christmas Clausthal-Zellerfeld still has a Christmas market which I think they now call a winter market the highlight of which was the ice skating rink which was set up in the church square.

The kids spent about an hour skating here while SWTTM and I stood and froze – the temperature was well below zero. Only MiniMandM had skated before but all of the kids did a great job and had a great time. Legoboy had a bit of help from a local girl who adopted him and helped him get around, which was nice. Bookworm did a great job finding her feet but did end up with a couple of bruised knees.

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Fun in the Snow (and Ice)

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Our White Christmas continued and we had more snow overnight which was nice to see in the morning. We planned to go to some nearby snow fields and we had loosely arranged to meet up with the family we had met in town. Our only form of communication was via email so it was a little irregular.

To get to the snow we had to drive up the steep hill through town. Max’s heavy rear end which results in his lack of front end grip has been documented in this blog previously. The hill in question has a 15% gradient so is pretty steep, I was a little worried before we set off about how Max would handle this hill. When we got there the road was covered in snow and ice but cars were driving up and down there and didn’t seem to be having any problems so off we went. The road we were traveling on went across the hill and then kind of merged with the steep hill, so we were able to hit the hill with at least some momentum on our side. We travelled maybe 100 metres before we came to a stop because the front wheels were just spinning and we were no longer going onward and upward. Our lack of forward progress of course meant we had to reverse back down the hill. SWTTM got out and directed traffic around us while I slowly reversed back to a point where we could turn around. I was glad we had winter tyres on as we had plenty of grip to stop us sliding on the hill even if they didn’t enable us to get to the top. So we went back along the road we had been on and decided to give it another go. I decided to make a few changes to my driving style in my attempt to conquer the mountain. First I went faster (of course faster is always better), I had to balance this with the fact that I had to make the corner onto the hill which while not tight was still a corner. The extra speed did cause a bit of a slide onto the hill but it was easily controlled and we surged up the hill. Our original stopping point was quickly surpassed but we still had a few hundred metres to overcome. As we continued our climb we started to lose traction again – I tried everything: modulating the throttle, more, less it didn’t seem to make any difference just varying degrees of wheel spin; sawing the steering wheel back and forward; even had the kids come up into the cabin in an attempt to move some weight forward (pity the biggest lump was already in the cab). But all to no avail. We made it significantly further than our previous attempt but that just meant we had to reverse further. So we headed back to the campsite in defeat, it looked like we would not be going to the snow this day. To make matters worse we received an email to let us know that the family we were meeting were on their way to meet us at the snow.

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Doesn't look very steep in a photo

Doesn’t look very steep in a photo

Once we were back at the campsite we tried to work out what to do. We had a town map and it looked like there may be an alternative route, but as we had already experienced the town’s steep and often narrow streets  I did not want to just charge off in the ice and snow and get stuck so I decided to go for a walk. I discovered that there was an alternate route that was still covered in snow and ice but nowhere near as steep. So we headed off. Once we got to the main road it was cleared so no more snow troubles.

Our next dilemma was finding the family. You know how you can make arrangements to meet someone somewhere you have never been before and in your head it seems quite clear, but when you get there things are nothing like what you expect. Well that is what happened to us. We came to a carpark as arranged and we saw a car there that matched the brand they owned (we had seen their car at their house but it was covered in snow, so while I knew what make and model I had no idea what colour it was), so we stopped and headed off.

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There were a couple of different ways we could go and eventually we covered all of them and enjoyed the snow as we went – but we never found the family which was a real shame.

We headed further down the road and discovered another carpark, still no family here but there was a great toboggan slope; well actually it was a ski slope but there were no skiers because there wasn’t really enough snow, but it was great for the toboggans we had. The slope was very fast and we all had some great runs down it.

It was disappointing that we did not find the family but we had a great time in the bit of snow that we had.

We finished our day at a town called Clausthal-Zellerfeld where it was very, very cold.

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Christmas Day – again

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I posted on Christmas day and wished everyone a happy Christmas and then again later in the day when we were blessed with some snow, but now I will fill in the rest of our Christmas day.

We got up Christmas morning and spent some time remembering and reading about the birth of Jesus.

We had pancakes for breakfast because we just cannot find Australian style bacon here to have bacon and eggs.

It was good to spend some time on Skype talking to family back in Brisbane as they were getting into their dessert after Christmas dinner.

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Once we were packed up from breakfast and had finished the Skype calls we settled in with some chocolate and a kids Christmas movie. The movie was the only slightly Christmassy one we could find when we were at a supermarket a few days before Christmas and it was in English so that made it even more appealing.

As we sat and watched the movie together and ate our chocolate and nuts we looked out the window to discover that it was snowing for real. The movie was soon forgotten and in record time we had our jackets and gloves on and were out running around like crazy people. I am sure that the other people that were parked near us in their motorhome thought we were a little strange getting that excited about such a small amount of snow. They probably thought it particularly strange because they would assume we were from Germany (in the EU area the number plates reflect the country and the area the vehicle is from, so people see our number plate and think we are Germans from the north of Germany) and would be quite used to it snowing – we didn’t care we were just having a fun time.

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So once we were well and truly cold we headed back into the warmth of Max to finish off the movie.

The day we arrived in Saint Andreasberg we had a look around and went to the bakery. While we were there a lady and her two daughters were also there and then when we were outside they noticed the Australian flags on Max and came and said hello. The girls were about the same age as our girls and there was another daughter at home about the same age as Legoboy. We had a bit of a chat to them about what we were doing and they told us they had a friend in Australia and then we headed our separate ways. As we were trying to find our way back to our campsite we came across them walking home and they waved us down. They asked what we were doing for Christmas the next day and if we would like to go to their place for afternoon tea. We are always up for a new experience so of course we said yes.

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As you know it had been snowing so we decided it would be nice to walk through the village and see the snow-covered landscape. Also I was not all that excited about driving Max on the steep snow-covered streets, particularly after our experiences in Monaco (I assume snow is slipperier than wet cobbles). We weren’t disappointed and the village was very pretty. On the way we found a slippery slide and Legoboy wanted to give it a go. It was very fast with snow on it and him in his snow pants; he slid for about 1.5 metres past the end of the slide.

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We had a nice afternoon tea with this very lovely family and we got to learn some more about another culture and experience some great hospitality. The kids all got along well and it was exciting for our kids to be able to interact in this way with kids their own age from the other side of the world. It was another fantastic experience for us to make this very unique Christmas day even more memorable and unique.

Human nature is funny: this German family, who live in Berlin and come and stay in this quaint miner’s cottage which is owned by their family, would love to experience somewhere warm and sunny rather than this cold snowy place for a vacation and wondered why we came to the Harz Mountains – we came for cold and snowy.

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It had snowed even more while we were visiting so on the way home we just had to have a bit of a snow fight, and just enjoy the village more covered in snow in the early evening light.

We ate dinner and enjoyed some more treats that we had found at the supermarket including our jelly which, let’s say was passed on after the first taste and smell (I guess we still got something wrong in the translation).

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While we were getting everyone ready for bed we noticed that the snow had changed and it was now snowing really big fluffy snowflakes. It was too cold and we were not dressed correctly so we didn’t want to go outside, but we didn’t want to miss out either so we opened the big hatch in the roof of Max and let it snow inside. It was a great solution, we could stay inside in the warmth of the heater and still let the snowflakes land on our heads – it was great fun.

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We went to bed thanking God for a wonderful memory-filled Christmas day.

PS – I should mention that I again made the mistake of having a coffee for the first time in a couple of months (how could I let my host drink alone?) so I am writing this very late at night/in the morning because I can’t get to sleep.

Christmas Preparations

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They got in a little early with the New Years Eve Pigs.

Sorry but this may become a little confusing because I wrote on the blog on Christmas day so you know a little of the outcome of the story, but this post was written before Christmas day. I am sure that it will all make sense one day – think of it a little like a parallel universe or something.

We arrived in the Harz Mountains on the evening before Christmas Eve, so Christmas-Eve eve. We hoped that we could find out the most likely place to find some snow. The day before Christmas was very rainy and cold and everyone told us that it was unlikely that it was going to snow. We were all happy with whatever weather God gave us and we knew that this was going to be a Christmas to remember whatever the outcome.

After checking out the little town of Saint Andreasberg: meeting some locals, discovering the local bakery and the incredibly steep streets, we headed back to the camp site.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent making some Christmas decorations and blogging (still a little behind, but getting closer).

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When we shopped for Christmas snacks we purchased some jelly. We couldn’t read the instructions but it is pretty easy: pour the crystals into a bowl, add boiling water then stir and refrigerate. We could read the numbers so we knew how much water to add. When we tipped the jelly crystals into the bowl it looked like there was not enough there and it smelt a little strange. Thankfully Google translate came to the rescue again and we discovered that we had to add sugar. I am really glad that we worked that out – it would have been very strange tasting jelly otherwise.

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So even though it was not snowing we were all together preparing for Christmas, and while our lead up has not felt like any Christmas we have had before we were sure that we were going to have an unforgettable time together celebrating Jesus’s birth.

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Food Fun

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Of course our hope for Christmas is that it would be snowy. I think we had a mistaken belief that there would be heaps of snow all around the place, I think this perception is fuelled by the photos you see in the travel magazines etc. It is funny that when we go to places and ask about snow they will shake their heads and say, “No probably not, it hardly ever snows here”, yet all of the pictures you see of the particular town all have a blanket of snow.

Unfortunately the Alps were too far away to allow us enough time to make our way back to the Netherlands for the end of our trip so our plan was to head to the Harz Mountains where there are a number of ski resorts and hope that we would get some snow there. To date however all of the ski fields are still closed.

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From the place we stayed just outside of Wurzburg to the Harz mountains was about a 5 hour drive and we needed to do some shopping for some Christmas food on the way so we had a reasonably big day by the time we stopped at a few shops, bought fuel and stopped for lunch.

Jack didn’t let us down by taking us through some beautiful countryside at the same time as taking us along the craziest route which we always enjoy.

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After our time over here we have become pretty used to having to vary what we buy and eat to what we can find at the shop, sometimes with interesting outcomes. On cold wet days the kids occasionally enjoy some 2-minute noodles, but it has been pretty rare that we can find these in Europe. When we were shopping I noticed that there were some Magi noodles. I figured Magi would be pretty safe, I just needed to work out what the flavours were. In Australia the standard would normally be yellow – chicken, brown – beef. There were three flavours here, one clearly said curry so I knew what that was then there was a yellow packet that said Huhn and a brown one that said Ente. I found something else on the shelf with a picture of a chicken and it said Huhn so I figured yellow – chicken, brown – beef; obviously the colour code is universal. The next day it was cold and rainy so the kids thought noodles would be nice especially since they had not had them in a long time. They started eating and then started complaining that their chicken and beef were very spicy, so I did what good parents do and told them to stop complaining and just eat them. After a while I decided to check and they were in fact very spicy, more than my curry noodles, so I decided that I would Google translate the labelling. Pretty quickly I discovered that they were Asian Spicy noodles and then I discovered that the universal noodle colour code was not that universal and brown was not beef but was in fact duck. I kept the last little bit of information a bit of a secret until they had finished eating, then dropped a few hints. Eventually it dawned on them what I was talking about – the look on Bookworm’s face was pretty funny; MiniMandM I think started to dry reach – apparently it is OK to eat chicken but duck is just wrong.

Shopping for Christmas food was also rather interesting and a little time consuming. Since we do not have an oven we decided that Christmas food would revolve around sweet and savoury snacks, which are also significantly different to what we might find in the Australian stores. It is just something else to make our Christmas here more memorable.

 

Wurzburg

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Wurzburg was a lot bigger than we expected. It is amazing how many big cities we come across that we have never heard of.

Wurzburg was another big Christmas market held in the square in front of the church. There are a number of constants at the German Christmas markets: Gingerbread, chocolate covered fruit and Bratwurst. We have tried the gingerbread on a few occasions, so this time we tried out strawberries covered in chocolate which was unsurprisingly delicious. We also had some Bratwurst which was also very yummy.

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More Christmas markets

             

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Rothenburg has a Christmas market, which we of course we had a look at, but the big attraction for this town is the old buildings, in particular the tudor style buildings. It is a very photogenic place and the medieval town walls add to its charm. Teddy bears are also big here with a number of busy teddy bears shops in town.

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While we were in Rothenburg we purchased some Schneeballen (snow balls) because we had eaten these in Heidelberg back in February and found they were rather tasty. It was interesting to discover that Rothenberg claimed these as their own creation as I was pretty sure that Heidelberg had also said they were native to their area – I had to go back and check some old photos and was surprised to see that the shop in Heidelberg promoted theirs as being ‘original Rothenberg Schneeballen’ so my memory had let me down – it is great that we have photos. Anyway the Schneeballen were still pretty nice, although everyone struggled to eat a whole one on their own (in Heidelberg we shared one between the five of us).

Rothenburg was a nice little town to visit and the shops as well as the markets were enjoyed.

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Nuremberg

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We have spent a fair bit of time on the road in all sorts of situations and I have been surprised that we have seen only a few minor traffic accidents. On our way to Nuremberg, as we came around a corner on the autobahn I noticed a guy carrying something on the road going in the opposite direction. I then realised that the something he was carrying was a stretcher and then I noticed that there was a helicopter on the road. Next I noticed a number of fairly heavily damaged cars. It was interesting to talk to each other afterward and how different we had all perceived what we had seen. We all agreed however that the helicopter seemed to be the only emergency vehicle on site, and it was only as we got down the road a little further that a number of police cars, ambulances and a fire truck came along. We thank God that we have not encountered many accidents, this was by far the worst, and we thank Him that we have not been involved in any.

The day we visited Nuremberg was the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere – sunrise was at 8:08 am and sunset at 4:19 pm, so it gets dark very early, but that’s OK because we have decided that Christmas markets are best at night.

We arrived in Nuremburg and went to the tourist info to find out where the markets were. The markets are in the old town of Nuremberg which is a walled city. Most of the city has been rebuilt after it was heavily bombed during the Second World War but it has been rebuilt in its original style so it still looks very old.

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We were fortunate to find a car park inside the city walls about 100 metres from the markets. It was very, very cold so it was good that Max was so close so we could head back for some more clothes.

There is a children’s market area as part of the overall market which we spent a fair bit of time at. There were some hands on activities that the kids got involved in and they enjoyed. MiniMandM did some poker work (with a burning poker not the card game), Bookworm did some glass engraving and Legoboy made a gingerbread angel. The ride on the kiddies’ ferris wheel gave us a good view of the market and the lights.

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After spending time at the kids market and then a trip back to Max to eat the food we had bought (it is so much easier to eat when you can sit down rather than try to eat while bumping around amongst all of the people – it was also warmer) we headed to the main market in the square in front of the church.

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It was very busy here as well and there were a lot of stalls selling all kinds of things Christmas and otherwise.  Plum people (we would call them prune people) are unique to Bavaria so most markets have a few stalls of these intriguing, maybe a little disturbing, characters.

Towards the end Legoboy and I went back to the kid’s area to the Playmobil play area where Legoboy could play and it was warm while the girls checked out some more stalls and made some purchases.

It was great to be able to drive just a couple of kilometres to a camp stop for the night.

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