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December 23, 2016

5 Christmas Decorations from around the world

Festive snowmen at Dunster Christmas Decorations Shop

Festive snowmen at Dunster Christmas Shop

Christmas decorations bring simple joy and delight; if you don’t agree, BAH HUMBUG to you! Unpacking the boxes of colourful baubles, bells, angels, stars, Father Christmas, candles, tinsel, fairy lights and wreaths is a magical experience. Many objects bring back memories of childhood, family, friends and places visited. Last year I wrote about the joy of a REAL Christmas Tree. This year I’m featuring 5 of my favourite Christmas decorations from around the world that have a special significance.

Christmas Decorations

 Caribbean Lace Decoration

Lace Christmas decorations from St John US Virgin Islands

Lace Christmas decoration

With dainty white lace threaded with lilac ribbon, this is not a traditional Christmas decoration, but one that means a lot. My brother worked on yachts for many years and often didn’t get home for Christmas. In the summer he sailed around the Mediterranean and in the winter around the Caribbean (Visit Aruba). Even though he’s not a big fan of Christmas he often brought back lovely decorations from his travels. This one, made by Heidi, was from St John in the US Virgin Islands.

Quirky Kangaroo from Australia

Kangaroo Christmas decoratios from Western Australia

Kangaroo bauble from Western Australia

On a visit to Western Australia I finally got to see kangaroos in the wild. They were feeding beside the road at dusk and we got really close to them. So when I saw this bauble in a shop in Perth I just had to get it. VERY quirky and very Aussie! It’s strange for us Brits to think of the festive season in summer. I had a hot Christmas in South Africa many years ago – felt very strange to be having a BBQ outside on Christmas Day …

Mickey Mouse from Disneyland

Mickey Mouse bauble from Disneyland USA and other Christmas decorations

Mickey Mouse from Disneyland USA

I bought Mickey Mouse from Disneyland in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I was staying there with my American boyfriend and we went to Disneyland for the day as I had never been; it was brilliant. Along with Mickey Mouse I also bought Donald Duck and these have been two of my son Alex’s favourite Christmas decorations since he was little. He finally made it Disneyland Paris a few years ago and got to meet the real Mickey Mouse …

Dunster at Christmas

Dunster hand-painted Christmas Bauble

Dunster Christmas Bauble

This beautiful hand-painted bauble is of the medieval town of Dunster in Exmoor. Every year they hold Dunster by Candlelight, a magical Christmas festival of light. Hundreds of people visit to see the candle-lit procession, the market stalls, Dunster Castle, the shops and street performers. I was there this year (see Stargazing and Winter Joy in Exmoor) and bought this bauble from the very festive Christmas Shop on the main street as a special souvenir of a magical experience.

Nativity Scene from German Christmas Market

Nativity Scene from Bavarian Christmas Market Germany

Nativity Scene from Bavarian Christmas Market

This tiny Nativity Scene, inside a walnut shell, is from the Rottacher Advent Market on Tegerness Lake in Upper Bavaria. I bought it  on my first visit to a German Christmas Market and it means a lot. Not only does it represent the true meaning of Christmas, but is a reminder of that special trip and the resilience of people in the face of tragedy. That week there was a horrific attack on the Berlin Christmas Market. 12 people died and many were injured. Yesterday the market reopened and there was a positive spirit of defiance, in spite of the grief. This is one of my favourite Christmas decorations because it reminds me of what Christmas is really all about. Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All …

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Christmas decorations from around the world


September 3, 2016

TQT Object: Italian Espresso Coffee Pot from Milan

In this occasional series of articles, The Quirky Traveller Object is something I’ve brought back from my travels over many years. It usually has a strong personal meaning and invariably brings back happy memories of the wonderful people and places I have visited around the world.

Italian Espresso Coffee Pot from Milan

Bialetti espresso coffee pot - zoedawes

It was the colour that attracted me. The shiny red coffee pot stood out from the other coffee makers on the shelf in the tiny hardware shop in a quiet suburb in Milan. I was staying with a fellow Travel blogger Simon Falvo, in her cosy Milanese apartment just down the road from the shop. Every morning we had a cup of coffee and a croissant at the little cafe next door before heading off into the city centre to look round.

Milan caffes - collage zoedawes

We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the city centre around Il Duomo, Milan’s dramatic Cathedral. The Piazza is a lively place with tourists rubbing shoulders with locals, admiring the architecture and taking selfies in front of the cathedral’s ornate facade. We wandered through the gorgeous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, its Romanesque decor home to luxury brands like Prada, Versace, Armani and Louis Vuitton. The cafes and bars were busy with people sipping Campari or coffee, chatting and watching the world go by.

Camparino in Galleria Milan - zoedawes

When I told Simon I wanted to get an espresso coffee maker to take home she said the shop nearby sold them. She recommended the Bialetti pot as it’s easy to use and a classic style. That red pot was crying out to be mine, so I handed over the 35 Euros and the elderly shop-owner wrapped it up in brown paper. Simon gave a me a packet of Lavazza Coffee for a genuine taste of Italy.

 Italian Espresso Coffee Pot - zoedawes

As soon as I got back home I made myself a little cup of rich, dark, strong Italian memories. Every day when I heat the pot up on the stove, hear the water bubbling away and smell the espresso coffee I remember one of the most interesting cities in Italy, friendship and relaxing in the sunshine.

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Italian Espresso Coffee Pot - Pinterest

What country do you think makes the best coffee? (I don’t mean ‘grow’ but ‘make’ as in produce a great drink.) For me it’s Italy and the country that surprised me most for excellent coffee was Canada. I’ve visited a few times and always been impressed with the quality of their coffee and it’s almost impossible to buy instant coffee, which is a good sign!

Read more about Milan and a very quirky building here.

December 16, 2012

TQT Object: Christmas Nativity scene from Segovia

Christmas crib and figures from Segovia, Spain

The Segovia Nativity scene

“Away in a Manger” has always been one of my absolute favourite Christmas carols. It has an innocent simplicity which encapsulates the meaning of this special time of year and brings a tear to the eye when sung by little children.  The manger, or crib, gently holding the baby Jesus, surrounded by his parents. shepherds, angels, wise men and sundry domestic animals, is familiar and beloved by many.   Here ‘s the story of our Christmas Nativity scene from Segovia, which we’ve had for many years, since I brought back the colourful pottery figures home from the heart of Spain.

Segovia Spain - aerial view by McPolu

Segovia – aerial view by McPolu

I visited Segovia on a day-trip in 2000 whilst staying with Annie, a good friend from college days, who had moved to Madrid in the same year I went to live in Athens.  We caught the strictly punctual Ave high-speed train from Madrid city centre and were zoomed across 50 miles or so of Spanish plains to Segovia, passing by Franco’s sternly impressive Bassilicca in the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).  

Segovia, a World Heritage City, is in many respects the archetypal Spanish town. It harmoniously blends centuries of fascinating history, imposingly and very physically evident in the enormous Roman Aquaduct, Castillian Alcazar Castle and imposing 16th century Catholic Cathedral, with the Guadarrama mountains in the distance.

Segovia city, cathedral and Guadarrama Mountains, Spain - by Locutus Borg

Segovia city, cathedral and mountains – by Locutus Borg

First we took the steep path up to the Alcázar Castle. Originally built as a Roman fortress and then a Moorish fort on account of its position overlooking the surrounding countryside, its spires and towers  inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.  The room I remember best is the Hall of Kings with its beautiful Islamic ceiling and golden frieze of over 50 intricate portraits of Spanish monarchs of Castile and Leone.

Having had a strong dose of Spanish history we wandered off round the ancient, narrow streets that take the visitor on a quirky journey of  discovery past tiny old houses, shops, bars and restaurants enclosed within its original stout, protective walls.  Lunch was the famous roast suckling pig at one of the popular restaurants in the shade of the Aquaduct.  The pork is roasted until softly juicy and tender; our waiter demonstrated this by expertly cutting through the meat with the edge of a plate.

Roman Aquaduct and restaurant, Segovia, Spain - photo by Manuel González Olaechea y Franco

Segovia Aquaduct and restaurant – photo by Manuel González Olaechea y Franco

Just before we got the return train to Madrid, I dashed back to one of the little souvenir shops I’d seen as we’d wandered the crowded lanes.  In the window was a beautifully carved wooden Nativity Scene with charming little figures representing the Holy Family and others from Christianity’s most well-known story.  I hurried in and chose my favourites from the shelves stacked ten deep with people, animals and angels.  On impulse, I included a chunky Don Quixote to represent the country I’d bought them from.  I wanted to get Sancho Panza but had no money left, so he had to stay behind …

The Holy Family - figures from Segovia, Spain

The Holy Family

That Christmas my son’s dad made him a little wooden ‘stable’ and Alex, age three, stuck some bits of grass over it.  (It had a wooden star on the roof but somewhere over the years it’s fallen off – maybe this year we’ll make another one.)  Carefully we arranged Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus,the Angel and Shepherd, the exotic Three Wise Men on elephant, horse and camel, little Donkey (whose ear got broken in a fall some time in the past) and Don Quixote, ready to do battle with anyone daring to threaten this peaceful little scene.

But one thing kept niggling away.  Each time we placed Don Quixote beside the stable, I felt guilty that I hadn’t bought his loyal companion to join him in Far Far Away Land …

Then, a few years ago, I was on holiday in the lovely old city of Jerez in Andalucia when I came across a shop selling these same figures.  Scanning the shelves, I found Don Quixote, but no Sancho Panza.  I asked the elderly lady behind the counter if she had him?  “Ah, just a moment”, she said and disappeared into the depths of the shops.  “Here you are – the last one …”  Well, he didn’t look quite like the tiny chap I’d seen in Segovia, but I think you’ll agree, they look good together and Don Quixote is back tilting at windmill, so he must be happy …

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza - figures from Segovia, Spain - by Zoe Dawes

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Away in a manger

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head;

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay.