Nurnberg Christmas Market 2009

Nurnberg Christmas Market 2009

When we worked in England at ACS in Egham, a part of the perks included being able to take a few personal leave days off here and there.  Although we had worked in Germany years before, we had never had the opportunity to go to the famous Nurnberg Christmas Market.  So with the appropriate approval from our line manager, off we flew carrying only hand luggage on our flight from London, which connected in Switzerland, to Nurnberg. We had not remembered that Switzerland was not part of the EU and that the security lines and passport control would be so much of a hassle.   However, we eventually got to our hotel which was just down the street from the Durer House in Nurnberg.Durer statue

What a time awaited us!  Nurnberg’s reputation for having one of the “must see” Christmas markets in Germany is rightfully earned.  Whether it was feasting our eyes on the richly decorated storefronts, meeting the Nurnberg angel, drinking hot glugwein, eating the famous tiny Nurnberger sausages from a street seller, shopping for Christmas decorations, enjoying coffee und kuchen from a konditorei or dining in a German gasthaus, the sensual impact of the market was overwhelming,

We also visited the cathedral, a target for major damage during the war where we read this poignant poem posted inside, and which was marred by some graffiti.

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Gasthauses were dressed up for the Christmas season and we feasted on many of our favourite treats! Nurnberg delivered on being one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.

Our Christmas Tree Story 2017

Our Christmas Tree Story 2017

I had originally thought of writing a story about how our Christmas really is a compilation of all our travel memories, and it will have some of that.  However, our Christmas tree story for this year took a bit of a turn-more of that later.  Right now its back to the original story. It usually takes alot longer than it should to decorate the tree because each ornament brings back memories of our travels. Here is a sampling of some of those memories:

Our Gaudi Christmas Decoration from Barcelona

Barcelona-Gaudi

Each decoration on our tree reminds us of times shared during our travels.  This one reminds me of time spent a couple of years ago with our friends Eugene and Vida.  Together we explored the amazing The Sagrada Familia and Gaudi’s houses. We walked down Las Ramblas a beautiful street filled with history.  News of the terrorist attack on that street and the Catalonian independence vote were far more meaningful to us when they happened recently.

Memories of Belize

Belize

 A trip to a beautiful resort outside of Placencia with Aztec ruins and the heart stopping sound of howler monkeys.  Walking around the artist community with  our grandchildren and their parents.  It was a wonderful trip.

Rainbow Row in Charleston SC

Charleston ceramic

Christmases and times shared with our Charleston friends Don and Marjorie, Barb and Rick, and Lori and David in that beautiful city. Boating, crabbing, shopping for handbags at Moo Roo’s, spotting dolphins out on the water, visiting at the Saturday morning market and kayaking during a full moon on high tide. Oh what a time we had!

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Not sure if this is a Christmas decoration or an Easter one, but it is on our tree.  What a beautiful country!  Definitely in our plans for a return visit.

Shopping at the City Stars Mall in Cairo, Egypt

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Egypt brings back many wonderful memories of friends like Barb, Elise, Randa and her family, Medhat and the Nile River cruises that we took visitors on over and over again.  We couldn’t get enough of the Hany’s off road trips.  Everytime friends would visit we slyly asked them if they wanted to go on one or both of these trips-mainly because we wanted to go again!

Our music trip to Nashville and Memphis

Elvis in Graceland

One of our very favourite trips because it evoked such strong memories from our childhood!  We headed west from Charleston to visit Nashville and its Country and Western hall of fame.  The museum is organized according to decades of music.  Starting at the top floor were songs that my grandmother sang as she baked in the kitchen.  For me it was a strong connection to happy days from my childhood.  In Memphis, we visited Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Kris Kristofferson played.  We finished off the trip with tickets to the Grand Ole Opry and Graceland.

Four Years in London

London

During our first year in London, we suffered from cold weather and clouds.  We had grown used to sunny weather in South Carolina and Egypt.  Finally, we accepted the weather was just going to be what it was, and we ventured out to fall in love with London’s Oxford and Regent streets, Borough Market, the South Bank walk and so many other places.  We lived in Surrey but took the train into London almost every Saturday to explore. Again, when friends visited, we took them to our favourite haunts!

Uzbekistan Crafts People

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This ornament is made from ceramic and painted in a typical Uzbek pattern.  It is done by local crafts people.  We bought many variations of these for gifts for people back home.

The Black Forest in Germany

Pewter from Germany

These are made of pewter and the precision of German craftsmen is evident.  They are worked so Santa’s front shows his face and the reverse shows him from the back. Attention to detail is typically German.  We loved Germany for its clean streets and tidy houses, for its excellent food, for its amazing destinations like Rotenberg, Baden Baden (Caracella Baths), Nuremberg (Christmas market), Triberg (cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks), and for its events like the spargeltoast celebration  (white asparagus in the spring), new wine celebration in the fall and fasching (like a mardi gras) in the winter months. To top it off we had an amazing landlord who made sure we saw everything that we should.

Now on to the Story of the 2017 Christmas Tree

These are but a sampling of our Christmas decorations – each bringing back a wealth of memories.  It usually takes a couple of days for us to put up the tree as we sit and re-examine each ornament and reminence.  This year the tree was put up after Remembrance Day.  It was beautiful, but within a week the pre-lit branches were flashing eradically. The transformer and wall plug had burnt out, and electrical fumes filled the room.  Of course, we unplugged it and we thought that the only solution was to rewire the tree with other lights.  Down came all the decorations!  And after the quick fix, they went back up again-this time with more efficiency and less reminiscing!

An Unsettling Feeling

I would have stopped there but a nagging feeling  that a pre-lit tree should last longer than four seasons persisted.  So I fired off a letter of complaint to Costco.  Within a few days, we were told to bring it back for a full refund.  Once again, down came all the decorations!  Back into the box went the tree and we popped it into our trunk for a journey back to the store. We received a refund of $242 which was put on a gift card.

A Replacement is Found!

We were a bit disappointed to find that the only replacement on display was a nine foot tree.  Too high for our sunroom where we like to have it.  A little annoyed, we decided to reconcile ourselves into thinking we would have to wait until next year to buy a replacement, and went to purchase the few groceries that we needed.  Then, lo and behold just beside the vegetable department tucked into a corner, a lit seven foot tree caught our attention.  When we inquired about it, we were told it was $299, and that since it was a display tree, they could lower the price to $249.  Our bargaining skills from Egypt kicked in and we asked for a final price of $200.  For that we were told, we would have to go to see Connie – a higher level of management.  A little flattery, some bad jokes and persistance with Connie scored us final price of $199.  Our gift card could cover it, and we could also throw in a storage bag!

Finally Third Time Lucky-we hope..

Our tree got redorated for the third time this year in record time.  We have bonded very pleasantly with good service at Costco. And we have a new tree with an amazing remote control device, and with  advanced technology that means we do not have to plug in the rows of lights.  Now our tree has a story and memories all of its own!

 

In Memory of our long time friend.

This announcement was made on November 24, 2017.  Our friend David whom we have known since elementary school and high school passed away after a horrific battle with cancer.  His wife Debbie wrote a beautiful tribute to him today which follows:

It is with great sadness and a broken heart that I post this message:

Dave passed away on Wednesday afternoon at home with Charlotte and me by his side. His condition in a semi-sedated state to free him of the horrible pain and discomfort of pancreatic cancer had been fairly stable for a couple of days, but all of a sudden his breathing pattern changed and he was gone within 10 minutes. It was way too fast. While I knew this day was drawing closer, I was not prepared to lose him so quickly.

From the moment we received the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in August 2015, Dave never gave up hope and fought to have as much time with us as possible, despite the intolerable pain he endured at times. While we feel blessed to have had more time than most who have received similar diagnoses to create more memories, it does not bring me comfort at this time when I really just want more time. When we got married, I told Dave that I would rather have 10 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special—Dave spoiled me and gave me way more than 10 minutes of wonderful; however, I just want more.

Dave was a loving and caring husband, father, uncle, son, son-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and friend, and a well respected teacher, author, and colleague. He will be greatly missed by many.

I have lost the wind beneath my wings. The house is way too quiet and cold, enhancing my loneliness.

Dave’s wishes were to be cremated, without traditional visitation; however, there will be a Celebration of Life, with a reception to follow, on Saturday, December 16 at 2 pm at St. George’s Anglican Church in Pickering Village.

For those who wish to make a donation in memory of Dave, please consider Hearth Place Cancer Support Centre in Oshawa and Pancreatic Cancer Canada Foundation.

“I will always love you…for always and forever, then into eternity, plus one more day.”

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Our Home

Our Home

This is another story that was written for our writing class which I will refine and include in my memoirs.  I am making a collection of short stories for that purpose.  I tried to use the metaphor of our house being a grand old lady.  Some parts work and some need work.  Here it is in its present state.

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She proudly stands straight and tall, elegant and unique amongst her peers effortlessly exuding a warm presence. Dressed in her crisp white and black garb and topped with a peaked black bonnet, she evokes memories of a bygone era. Carefully crafted curls frame her face, and her deep dark eyes reflect the inner serenity that is found within. She lives even today in the wide-open farm fields of Southern Ontario. We are not her first lovers nor will we be her last. This glorious lady is one with a past.

We first met her in the ‘90’s when we were scouring the countryside looking for a new home. Really we were looking at the house next door when in the distance I saw the “For Sale” sign and excitedly urged my husband to go with me and have a peek at the farmhouse just up the street. We were taken in by her stately look, and after glancing surreptitiously inside I knew this was the house we had been searching for all along. Before you knew it, we were moving in and the movers placed our furniture where I had mapped out. The furniture fit so well, it’s like the house was made for us. When we were leaving for work the next day, both of us jolted to a stop in our tracks as fresh country air greeted our faces. A cacophony of birdcalls, the scamper of squirrels and chipmunks each hunting for their morning meal flooded our eyes and ears. Instead of getting into our cars, we ambled around the house to take in the atmosphere. A feeling of calm enveloped us as we slowly circled the house. Soft breezes caressed our skin and rustled through the tall maple and poplar trees with the rising sun bringing warmth to the day as it rose in the east and over the farm fields. We knew this house was special as it immediately made us feel at home.

Getting to know the neighbours was easy as there were only two other houses within sight of ours. One of them turned out to be a very old classmate of my husband’s, and the other was a farming couple in their eighties who had lived here for eons. We told them we wanted to have a house warming. “Do you want to invite the former owners?” they asked, and before you knew it their old friends and former owners were all coming to see our house spurred on by the idea of seeing what was new since they had lived here. They brought pictures of our house as she looked from over fifty years ago, and it was there that we found out that the house’s white garb used to be brick red and the bonnet was green. Stories of who planted the vegetable gardens near the south side of the house, the lilac bushes and the now majestic pine trees on the north side of the house circulated. Perhaps one of the most exciting tales was about two brothers who were horsing around with a rifle and who accidentally shot a bullet through the kitchen and which luckily exited the kitchen window without any damage being done.

We have since added our own memories as we share our life with this lovely lady. Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, a newborn grandson and fiftieth wedding anniversary with family members coming all the way from Australia are our contributions. Animal life still abounds and we have since seen coyotes trudging across our fields, deer nibbling our freshly planted trees and wild turkeys as big as cows lumbering across our back acreage. Our house purrs like a kitten when you take care of it and stroke it. Yet at the same time, it can be sad and forlorn without that constant care that you must provide for someone born almost 200 years ago. We are adding our stories to the history of our house knowing all the while that at one point the house will demand the care of someone much younger and more energetic. Sometime in the future, our house will have new lovers.

 

And So It Begins

For many years now, I toyed with the idea of writing down my life’s story.  Somehow, it never materialized.  Finally, armed with loads of reading books and blogs and talking with friends, and with taking a writing course that comes with a deadline that kicked me into action, I got started.  Below is the 500 word (actually longer) submission that I read to the small writing gathering to gather feedback.  I would appreciate any feedback including identifying parts that I have not made clear.  Thanks for reading it!

My Grandfather

My mary jane black patent shoes clickety clacked across the wooden sidewalk as I happily skipped into my grandparent’s house on that special day. Today our family would celebrate my grandfather’s fifty-second birthday, and my mother entrusted me as a responsible five-year old to deliver his freshly baked, and still warm birthday cake.

“Hold the bag straight up and down and don’t swing it,” my mother repeated until her instructions filled my head. I slowly and seriously nodded.

Well…… I carefully followed those directions, for a while anyway, as I wondered down the street, but then my thoughts shifted, and I started to think about the excitement of my grandfather’s birthday. Before you knew it, I was skipping and singing and swinging the bag as I navigated my way down the street from our house to my grandparent’s. Eagerly, I raced down the wooden sidewalk with my steps announcing my arrival, and I flung open the screen door to make my delivery. Hugs were exchanged while my grandmother quietly and cautiously peered inside the bag. Then my grandpa and I then went outdoors for one of our famous walks to look for money. It wasn’t until many years later with my husband by my side and my one-year old son in my arms that I found out I had managed to reduce the freshly baked cake into a pile of crumbs. As my grandfather told me about it, he laughed so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks. The story became a family legend that was frequently revisited for many years afterwards and every time my grandfather laughed until he cried.

By now you may have figured out that my grandfather was my childhood hero. As I mentioned above, going on walks was one of our favourite things to do. It wasn’t just a walk though. It was a quest for lost treasure. Amazingly enough, whenever we walked together I found a fistful of coins! Together we would survey the ground and then my grandfather would announce, “There is one over here!” and I would scramble to collect it. By the end of each journey, I always returned with my newly found coins jingling in my pocket, feeling truly happy and proudly holding my grandpa’s hand as he beamed quietly beside me. Again, it wasn’t until I was much older that I figured out how that money had magically appeared.

As a young man, my grandfather, John brought his young wife Hannah, whom he had married when she was just fourteen, and their small children to the northern Ontario gold mining community of Kirkland Lake. He left behind his parents, brothers, sisters and friends, and a family farm in Wilno near Ottawa to try to make a better living working in the mines during the depression. He never learned to read or write and yet over the years, he became well respected in the mining industry where he was the one who helped orchestrate rescues whenever there was a devastating cave in at the mine. He volunteered at his church as a carpenter and made friends with the parish priest who would frequently drop over after services for a Sunday meal and a nip of the “hard stuff”.

In writing this, my mind was filled with memories of all that was my grandfather, and all that I became because of him. He loved red and once painted all the woodwork in the living room red. Today I love red. He hated snakes and war. Well so do I! I remember his joke that he used every morning when I slept over. “How did you sleep?” The correct answer that I eventually learned to give was “with my eyes closed”. I remember the trips to the dump to look for something that might be used to make something useful. I remember the trips to the fir tree snow filled forest to pick out a couple of Christmas trees for each of our houses. As these thoughts echo in my head, my eyes fill with tears as I remember the best grandfather I could have had.

Kyrgyzstan-More pictures than words

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Last Homestay in Tajikistan


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Statue of the Onyx-National Animal of Tajikistan-border of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan


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Yurt Camp-complete with wood stoves in each

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Our yurt for the night-outhouse in the background

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High pasture yurts-freezing temperatures

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Stunning scenery-in the high Pamirs

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Mount Lenin-shrouded in mist highest mountain peak in the Pamirs

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High Pamirs-join to the Himalayas

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Herds of beautiful horses travel to pasture in Kyrgyzstan


Next day border crossing at Osh and re-entry into Uzbekistan. July 19, 2017.

Tajikistan Part 2

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Akbalia -Holy Spring Lake of a Thousand Fish-except there weren’t any.


Traveling to Murghab

Our next destination was the town of Murghab (3600 metres above sea level).  We had developed some mechanical problems with the jeep which wasn’t surprising given the kinds of driving we had been doing.  Along the way we stopped at Akbalia which was a beautiful lake with seemingly pure water but not a fish in sight.  It was purportedly a lake with over a thousand fish.  We saw not a one!  Instead, we had to be content with pictures of the same lake teeming with fish provided by Nurgab, Janazuk’s assistant.

Boshgumboz Shakhty

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We had a bit of a break to visit these ancient paintings which were high up the side of a mountain.  We knew that it would be a difficult climb for us given that we both now suffered from a severe shortage of breath due to altitude sickness.  However, we managed to climb the steep grade and were rewarded with sights of these drawings.  One theory is that they were drawn in hopes that this is what the hunters would bring home for the family dinner.

Finally Murghab!

 

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Our homestay in Murghab

This was an amazing homestay.  The people were a young and energetic couple who lived there along with their children and extended family.  The young husband had gone abroad for his university education, and then had come back to raise his family and grow the family homestay.  The place had no electricity relying instead on a generator which they turned on late in the day when it was getting difficult to see.  We had the second of our pail showers here just before dinner was served.  We were told that when the couple were young children, the president had promised the people of this town that it would soon have electricity.  However, twenty years later the people still waited and depended on gas which fuelled their generators. Now next year is supposed to be the big year.

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The grandfather with traditional hat


While we stayed here, the family were working on building a new shower much closer to the house.  Over night they had demolished the shower room where we had just hours before enjoyed our shower. Their goal was to build a shower where the water fell from the ceiling, We were touched by this family who were very kind and generous, and who have big dreams for improving their homestay, They plan to add not only the shower, but also two western style toilets along with another guest room inside the main building.

The Container Bazaar in Murghab

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Janazuk with his daughter inside of his sister’s store in the container bazaar

Somewhere along the trip Janazuk told us of his married life.  He had been married twice and both times he ended up in a divorce.  Murhgab is Janazuk’s home and when he got to see his daughter, he became a soft-hearted and loving father. His eyes shone with pride as he plopped his daughter on his knees.

This bazaar seemed to be the main shopping area of the town with each food store, restaurant and service providers housed in a collection of shipping containers.  It was totally lacking in any charm!  However, many necessities for living in this isolated village were trucked in from nearby countries like China or Kyrgyzstan during the summer months. During the winter, this area is inaccessible.  We did buy a small carpet from Janazuk’s sister made from sheep wool which we now use as insulation as we sit around our fire pit back in Canada.

Caravanserai

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An original Caravanserai

Along the way we could see where the ancient Silk Road travellers had spent nights housed in relative safety in stone shelters.  I can just imagine the sound of the animals, the entertainment, the smell of cooking, the sights of animals burdened downed with silks, spices and other goods.  We could also see other caravanserai in the distance as caravans shuffled along the valleys in between the Pamir Mountain ranges. These places were strategically placed about 10 kilometres apart as that was the distance that a caravan could travel in one day.

This particular caravanserai was used by the Russians as they tried to invade Afghanistan back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  However, they failed in their attempts to defeat the Mujahideen who were armed by the Americans with Stinger missiles.

Glimpses of Afghanistan

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Ever since we knew that we would be going to Uzbekistan to work, Walter had wanted to go to Afghanistan.  We almost went a couple of times.  Abdullah, our carpet dealer, is from Afghanistan originally, and he has a family home there.  He had wanted to bring us to visit.  However, the elections in Afghanistan brought several incidents of violence and so of course we never went.  Across the road from where this picture was taken, lay the Panj River.  The Panj River formed the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Later on our travels, we saw the Tajik-Afghan Friendship Bridge which had been built to allow Tajiks to be able visit the market weekly held on the Afghan side.  However, this “friendship” bridge had to be closed for security reasons.  So all we got was a glimpse of life in Afghanistan with the Hindu Kush mountains in the background, a valley where we could see some farmers looking after their crops, a car or two and the raging Panj River in front.  Afghanistan is aggressively protected by that raging river and mountain range!

Final stop -Kyrgyzstan coming soon.