Florence at Christmas time – December 2015

Duomo at Night

TreeFlorence, Italy is just a short trip from Lucca, so some friends and I decided to spend a full day there, enjoying the holiday festivities. The Duomo or main Cathedral in Florence is spectacular on a normal day, but it sparkles at night now with the large Christmas tree in front of it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anything so beautiful. There is also a large nativity scene in front of the cathedral as well (pictured at the bottom of this post).

The streets were all decorated with lights, and we were pleased to discover a few light shows throughout town as well. The one pictured below we just stumbled upon, but the big one is displayed on Ponte Vecchio. Don’t be fooled though. Just because it is the holiday season doesn’t mean that the light show will have a holiday theme. However, it is remarkable nonetheless and shows a deep appreciation for art. Pictures or videos just don’t do it justice. You have to experience it.

Lights

We managed to catch one of the last nights of the Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce. It was a great place to try different holiday foods like Hungarian Chimney Cake and German Apple Strudel. You can wash it down with some mulled wine. When you have eaten all you can, then it is time to shop. There were so many unique gifts to be found there.

There is nothing like Christmas trees, lights and markets to put one in the holiday spirit. Buon Natale!

nativity

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The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Christmas – Budapest, Hungary (November 2015)

StephensTree

I know the holiday season can be overwhelming in the United States. These days, decorations are up and holiday music is being played everywhere before Halloween is over. By the time Christmas comes around, people are sick of the holiday. However, this is not how it is in Europe. Decorations don’t go up until end of November or early December. In Lucca, Italy there are some Christmas lights and decorations but not much else to get you in the holiday spirit. Many people have told me that if I want holiday markets and more, that I need to go to Germany or Austria. Imagine my surprise when I found holiday markets and so much more in Budapest, Hungary. If you need a good dose of holiday spirit, which I desperately did, you should go to Budapest.

The picture above is of a holiday market in front of St. Stephens Cathedral. This market has everything needed to put you in the holiday spirit. It has shops, food, mulled wine, a market_standgiant Christmas tree, lots of lights, a nativity scene (pictured at the bottom of this post), an Advent wreath, and an ice skating rink. This market is minimal compared to the one that starts at Erzsébet tér that goes on for blocks and blocks. This DSC3367agiant market was a great place to try warm beverages and popular Hungarian pastries called kürtőskalács. They are to die for! I am not exaggerating when I say that with all the markets serving street food and beverages, that the entire town smells like Christmas with strong scents of cinnamon and nutmeg.

I got to experience the lighting of the Christmas tree in front of the Parliament building. It was stunning. Many buildings are decorated with twinkling lights, and the streets are all decorated with classic lights as well. As you walk along, admiring the lights, it is notDSC3293a surprising to hear Christmas songs being sung by carolers. If all these things are not enough festive holiday moments, you can also view a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet at the National Opera House, which is beautifully done with realistic sets and excellent dances. Plus, who doesn’t like sitting and listening to Tchaikovsky music for a while?!

If you live in a location that does not do a lot for the holiday season and need a reminder of all the joys of the holidays, you should consider a visit to Budapest, Hungary. Boldog Karácsonyt! Merry Christmas!

Bethlehem

Movies to Get You in the Christmas Spirit

One of the many things I love about the holidays are the films. These are the ones that I will be definitely watching this year:

  1. Four Christmases
  2. Serendipity
  3. Die Hard
  4. White Christmas
  5. The Ref
  6. The Holiday
  7. Love Actually
  8. Elf
  9. Bad Santa
  10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Some of these are cheesy; some of these are action packed; and some I have never seen before. I enjoy them all – even if they don’t have amazing plots or oscar-nominated performances. They have great one-liners and fantastic music. What are your favorite holiday films?

Thanksgiving 2013

When I was little, my family celebrated Thanksgiving at my Grandmother’s house. I remember how the table would be so well decorated and full of food. My Grandmother had made ceramic name holders, so we knew where to sit. The name holder also had an Andes candy in it. That was my favorite part of Thanksgiving, especially when Grandma would slip me a few Andes candies on the side. 🙂

For the last few years, I have celebrated Thanksgiving with my husband’s Boston family. It was actually at Thanksgiving that I first met them 5 years ago. Surrounded by 50 members of my husband’s family, all talking at the same time, was a bit overwhelming, but now it is hard to imagine Thanksgiving any other way.

However, we no longer live in Boston and have an opportunity to celebrate a bit differently this year. My husband and I have decided to host Thanksgiving for the first time ever. He seems really excited about cooking a turkey. We have decided to invite all the Americans that we know here along with their families. We should have about a dozen people. I think that is a good amount for our first Thanksgiving. We should have more than enough food. If this goes well, we are hoping to invite many more people next year.

Through all the running around to prepare for our first Thanksgiving here in Italy, I have forgotten all the many things and people I am thankful for. I have decided to make a list of ten things that I am thankful for this year.

  1. I am thankful that we get to host Thanksgiving and celebrate with new friends.
  2. I am thankful that my husband and I survived our first year of marriage. I love you husband.
  3. I am thankful for my Grandmother’s love and friendship. Miss you everyday, Grandma.
  4. I am thankful that we have this amazing opportunity to live in Tuscany.
  5. I am thankful for all the friends and family I got to visit with before I moved.
  6. I am thankful for all the awesome people I met through the Lucca Italian School.
  7. I always loved Black Friday Shopping, but now I am thankful that I live in another country so I don’t have to choose between that and Thanksgiving.
  8. I am thankful that I still get to watch Packers games.
  9. I am thankful for all the new places I got to explore this year.
  10. I am thankful for books.

Hope everyone back in the great U.S. of A. has a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!