Christmas in Vienna

This year for Christmas we decided to do something different.  For the last three Christmases we have been in Ankara.  It is usually pretty quiet, there are some expat arranged parties, but somehow without family it seems a little hollow.  The malls are brightly decorated for New Years, but in Turkey Christmas has always seemed a little anti-climatic.  In the past we usually have a special dinner on Christmas Eve and go out to brunch on Christmas since I have to work the next day.  I am lucky to have an employer who give me Christmas Eve and Day off, many others have to work.   

This year the stars aligned and Christmas fell on a Monday and Tuesday, combined with my regular day off (Wednesday) and the weekend, gave me a five day break for Christmas.  My friend Lisa told me about the sales Turkish Airlines was having, and we decided to make the most of it!

Bülent was in the Czech Republic the week before Christmas, guest teaching at a couple of different universities.  We decided he would take a train and meet me in Vienna.  I was able to get a great flight out of Ankara on the Saturday before Christmas.   It was wonderful! The air in Vienna emanated Christmas cheer, we kept coming across Christmas markets, lured by the scent of sausages, cookies and hot punsch (a warm alcoholic beverage).

Rathausplatz Christmas Market

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Christmas Ornament Stalls

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We walked a lot during this vacation, we set out with a vague itinerary and then just ambled around the city.  We would have liked to go to more museums, but many things were closed for Christmas—naturally.

The Museum Quarter

Most days, we looked at the map before we left the hotel room, but not after.  We had a vague idea of where we were going, but did not feel the need to pull out the map and check to make sure we were going in the right direction.  It was an adventure, and planning everything and stressing out about where we we going would have ruined it.  For Christmas Eve, we ambled. We started out near our hotel at Rathausplatz, and walked by the Votive Church and the the University of Vienna. 

 

From there we checked out Hoher Markt. We went into some shops, everything was bustling as people were trying to finish their shopping to get home for Christmas Eve.  We visited some grocery stores and could not believe the price of produce.  I could get a kilo of apples in Ankara for what a single one cost there. 

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We saw the famed clock, but decided not to wait for its figurines to move across the face of the clock to show the passing of time. 

 

From there we headed to Stephansplatz and saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  It was so incredibly large that mist shrouded the upper levels and you couldn’t even see the whole steeple.

 

 

We found Stephansplatz, the area around St. Stephen’s Cathedral, to be a little too touristic. 

 

 

There were many of the same shops I would see in mall in the U.S. and Ankara.  There were some beautiful buildings, but the men in old fashioned cloaks hawking concerts were a little distracting.

 

After our walk we wet back to the hotel room, warmed up and relaxed.  Later we went out to the Rathausplatz Christmas Market for some punsch, then had a nice dinner.   Most of the Christmas Markets closed on the 23rd or the 24th, but the Schoenbrunn Palace Christmas Market was still open on Christmas.  We decided to go there for Christmas day.  The Christmas market was lovely and festive.  There were many food vendors and stalls selling souvenirs and gifts.  The Schoenbrunn Palace Museum was open as well.  We had coffee at the café, took a tour through the place and then wandered through the Christmas market buying gifts for family and friends.  There was even a band playing Christmas Carols in the center of the market. 2012-12-25 15.23.00

 

I have to say it was one of the most romantic and relaxing vacations we have had in a while.  Just the two of us, no distractions, for five whole days. It was also the most Christmassy Christmas I have had in a while.  I definitely think we will try to sneak away for a weekend at the Christmas Markets next year—Maybe it will be our new Christmas tradition! 

I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season! 

Best wishes for the year 2013!

Do We “Do” Christmas?

I was at a Christmas party the other day and someone was very curious about whether or not we “did” Christmas.  Living in a Islamic country with a Muslim husband I suppose it was a valid question.  The thing is, religion was/is never an issue for us.  My husband is not devout, more spiritual than religious, and I am not religious or spiritual.  I celebrate Christmas as a cultural custom and a fun holiday rather than a religious exercise.

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I feel lucky that our religious differences (he believes and I do not) were never an issue for our relationship.  I know that is not true for everyone.  I have several friends who converted to Islam as it would have been an issue for the marriage and children.  Their experiences vary from a conversion simply for peace of mind for family members to an uneasy balance between Christmas and the Turkish “New Year” holiday which includes presents and decorated trees.

I also have many friends who married Turkish men who have not converted.  These friends celebrate ALL the holidays, their own religious holidays as well as the Islamic ones.     I also have friends who married regardless of the issue, and while they have no problem with it, it is an issue for their families.

One time I had someone ask me if it was a problem for my parents that my boyfriend (at the time) was a Muslim.   I was shocked that a person who was not intimately involved in my life thought it was appropriate to ask me personal questions about my relationship at all—let alone such as ridiculous one.  I told her she should focus on her own daughter who had bigger issues in her own relationship.  (Oh the horror!  Her daughter was dating a Yankees fan rather than a Red Sox fan. )

So yes.  We “do” Christmas.  We decorate a tree, exchange presents, eat fattening foods.  We also celebrate the New Year by giving presents to his family.  We have found a nice balance of his customs and mine rather than his religion and mine.

And for the larger issue at hand—NO he does not cheer for the Yankees.

Don’t You Want to be My Friend?

This year when I was trying to figure out what to buy my friends for Christmas, I was perplexed.  The more I thought about it the more I decided I did not want to buy them gifts. I wanted to make them.  (Terry—this is where you should stop reading if you want to be surprised.)  I ended up buying some baskets at the pazar and filling them with baked goods.  Here they are in all their glory.

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These eight baskets represent about 12 hours of baking.  Oh the love!

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Here is a close up—unfortunately not very good.  The baskets were filled with sugar cookies(cut into all types of lovely shapes), jam and butter cookies, peppermint chocolate pinwheel cookies and gingerbread.  All packages tied with little red bows, tucked in adorable little baskets.

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Not to brag but I think they are WAY better than the candle holders I was going to buy.   I am also psyched because I also managed to freeze a little dough so we can bake fresh cookies for our house on Christmas Eve.

Christmas is Here!

Whee!  I love this holiday.  While I don’t do religion, I do really like the warm fuzzies that come with Christmas.  I love dressing up the house, buying gifts, baking sweets with tons of yummy spices.  We do live in Turkey and while they do not generally celebrate Christmas, there are Christmas trees EVERYWHERE.

Turkey celebrates the New Years with gift giving, decorated trees and lights and garland.  When I feel the need for Christmas cheer, pretty much every mall is a great bet!  All the malls and stores in the main shopping districts are decorated with greens and lights, probably more so than in the States.  It really is lovely.  Trust me, I know.  I spent five hours at the mall(s) today shopping.  You can see my efforts under the tree.  Another great aspect of Turkish culture is the service industry.  In EVERY STORE they offer complimentary gift wrapping.  Sometimes it is not ornate, but it usually is very nice, especially for those of us who are less gifted at the cutting of paper and folding of corners.  My wrapping efforts look like a preschooler’s, you know, lacking general gross motor skills.

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We also hung our stockings for the FIRST time ever! They are hanging our by Ataturk.  It is pretty normal for most households in Turkey to display a portrait of the founding father, and ours is no different.  There are three stockings.   One for Bulent, one for me, and one for the dog.  Hers already has some bones in it.  Growing up my family always hung a stocking for the pets, because Santa loved them too!   I thought that our puppy deserved the same.  There may even be a wrapped present under the tree for her.

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I apologize for the quality of the photos.  I took them with my phone.  I could have gotten up, gotten the camera, retrieved  the cord and downloaded the photos, however, I am exhausted from all the shopping.  Two malls, four floors each.   That’s a lot of shopping.