Showing posts with label Christmas celebrations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas celebrations. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Yes, Virginia . . .They Celebrate the Season

We’ve been walkin’ in a winter wonderland and rockin’ around the Christmas tree since setting out on our Middle East and India adventure nearly two weeks ago.  And that is certainly not what I expected to be telling you when we headed to Abu Dhabi on the northern coast of the Saudi peninsula!

Mural - Abu Dhabi
Over coffee one morning in Agios Nikolaos, the Greek village we call home, my American expat friend Marti and I speculated on whether or not there would be much evidence of Christmas in the Middle East. . .a place where you ski sand dunes, not snowy hillsides. Probably some on the ship, we concluded, but little elsewhere.

In a Winter Wonderland

Were we ever off base! First, it is winter in the Middle East. While we tourists from Greece (it is in the 50F back there) are basking in temperatures hovering at the low 80’s, department stores are selling coats, sweaters and woolen scarves. It is cold here for the locals.

More than once we heard the refrain playing in the malls, “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but inside it’s so delightful, let it snow, let it snow, let is snow.” And the malls had snowflakes hanging right along side banners of their ruler, the Emir.

Snowflakes in an Abu Dhabi Mall

The Festive Season

And the decorations sure looks like Christmas but here it is called The Festive Season. It comes complete with gaily decorated evergreens (Christmas trees) and even gingerbread houses.

Tree trunk goes up in Emirates Palace Hotel - Abu Dhabi
One of the largest seasonal displays we saw was under construction at the opulent Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. The place showcases the Arabian culture and puts you in mind of a palace when you enter. Opening in 2005 it cost 3 billion U.S. dollars to build.

PicMonkey Collage
Gingerbread house construction at the Emirates Palace Hotel
The Dubai Mall, one of more than 70 shopping centers in this sprawling city, was playing holiday music and had displays up for The Festive Season as well.

The most beautiful displays we happened upon were in The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India. I could have spent a day photographing its many scenes and settings in its common areas.

Lobby Taj Mahal Hotel Mumbai
And it was so nice to see it gaily decorated! On a cruise stop three years ago we visited the hotel and there was a lovely – but somber -- memorial to those who’d been killed during the terrorist attack there in 2008. The lobby definitely felt festive this week.

PicMonkey Collage
Lobby of the Taj Mahal Hotel

Sailing into the Holidays

As our cruise comes to an end this week many of our fellow passengers are making plans to go home, hit the deck running and get the festivities and decorations underway.  It has been fun though enjoying those throughout the ship – no muss, no fuss for any of us!

Celebrity Constellation lobby
Festive colors, festive scene and Christmas music playing in the common areas of the ship.

PicMonkey Collage
Decorations on the Celebrity Constellation
We’ll be home in The Stone House on the Hill for Christmas and thankful that we had a chance to experience The Festive Season during the month of December.  Good wishes to you and yours ~ whatever your season and whatever your holiday, we hope it is magical.

May it be magical
Thanks for being with us ~ as always we appreciate your time spent here.  Next week we’ll have more tales from Arabia for you!


Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
king this week with:

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas in Greece: Weird or Wonderful

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays. . .

‘Is is kinda weird to be out of the U.S. for Christmas?’ asked a friend of mine a few weeks ago.

After a bit of pondering, I answered, ‘No, not weird. More like wonderful. . .but definitely different.’

Christmas Day downtown Agios Nikolaos
This is far from being our first Christmas spent outside the United States; we logged a whole string of them years ago during our younger work-a-day life.Then it was done not so much to celebrate differently but to stretch the annual vacation days allotted us (a week in the current year, coupled with a week in the new year gave us a two-week vacation without depleting the year's supply.)

A church in a nearby village - closed on Christmas but decorated with orchids
A mix of retirement, few remaining family members and no holiday traditions with them, has encouraged the continuation of our Christmas vagabonding. Only two years ago, we ate breakfast in Cairo, lunch in Paris and rummaged through the cupboards of our Kirkland home for crackers and nuts for our 'Christmas dinner' after a very long day aboard airplanes. (You can get some great airfares flying on Christmas Day though!)

My home-made table centerpiece - olive boughs, berry bush boughs and ribbon.
This, however, is the first Christmas that finds us living outside the United States.
Our first Christmas as ex pats.
In Greece.
And, all that has been different about it, has made it rather wonderful.

Poinsettias for sale at our village grocery stores
In all honesty, we had a somewhat miserable week leading up to the big day. Boreas, the god of the North Wind and Winter Weather stopped by long enough the weekend before Christmas to knock out power in our area. We were reminded of how cold stone homes can with only a fireplace for heat, candles for light and no hot water. We became somewhat cranky. The Bah Humbug kind of cranky.

Wind was so strong it blew surface water on the sea and reversed wave action on the shore
Power back on - yay! Then that rascal Boreas returned a couple days later for a full two-day stay with continued gusts so strong they ripped green lemons and leaves from our tree, knocked a window shutter to bits and toppled and broke heavy planters filled with dirt and flowers. We lost power again. (Suffice to say, neither our language or thoughts were focused on Christmas.)

Damage done, Boreas moved on making way for Santa Claus, St. Basil (whose day is Jan. 1st), St. Nikolaos and others to take center stage.

Deck the trees with bags of olives, fa-la-la-la-la. . .

'Tis the Season of Olive Harvest

Living in a small Greek fishing village in the midst of Greece’s olive producing Kalamata region, does slow life’s pace. It is also a sharp contrast to the Christmas commercialism and expectations we knew in the United States. We have one dress shop, one bookstore, and two hardware stores that have remained open in the weeks before Christmas. A handful of restaurants are still operating. Most business have closed or severely reduced operations because owners are busy with their olive harvest -- the one activity that continues at a hectic pace.

Olives going into the processor come out sometime later as olive oil

So important is olive harvest that our local mailman quit delivering the mail last week for several days so that he could harvest his olives. Can you imagine that happening two weeks before Christmas in the United States? There’d be mass revolt and panic. Olive harvest is in full swing right now with the presses running long hours.

Christmas in Greece – Traditions and Celebrations

Christmas in the Greek Orthodox religion begins on Christmas Eve and continues until Epiphany, Jan. 6th. The day the Magi arrived in Bethlehem.Gifts are given on that day to symbolize the gifts of the Wise Men.

PicMonkey Collage
Christmas in Kalamata - the city was alive with shoppers and activity
With the stormy weather behind us, Christmas dawned with blue sky, sunshine with temperatures that allowed us to work in the garden and to take an outing to a neighboring village wearing long sleeved flannel shirts but no jackets. Christmas dinner was eaten at a local restaurant with another American ex pat couple, with whom we are good friends.

P1050910As I made decorations for the house, (one is pictured to the left) I chuckled at the thought of the four large boxes of decorations sitting in that storage unit back in the Pacific Northwest.

We didn’t have a tree as only large artificial ones were for sale in the large supermarket. (And legneds say that Greeks have a tradition of decorating small wooden boats instead of - or in addition to a tree - to honor Saint Nicholas/Agios Nikolaos the Patron Saint of Sailors as well as the fishermen and sailors themselves.) Next year I'll look for a boat to decorate.

We didn't have presents to unwrap. (The Scout got a new chair and I got a new kitchen faucet.)

I didn't cook a big dinner. Nor did I bake anything.

It really was a very different – but remarkably refreshing way to spend the day.

On January 6th, one of our favorite ceremonies, the Blessing of the Water, takes place in our villages. It commemorates the baptism of Jesus by Saint John in the Jordan River –also referred to as Theophany (God shining forth or Devine Manifestation) or Phota (Lights). which was when the Trinity was revealed.

Christmas Goodies

The 12 days between Christmas and January 6th are considered a time of feasting (as many of the devout have fasted during Advent). Anything celebrated with feasting is right up our alley! Several of you have asked in particular about the cookies and sweets, so here you go:

Christmas treats from our neighbors
We are blessed to have a lovely Greek family living not far from us whom we turn to in times of disaster (like losing power) and we took them a gift box of bakery cookies. They had a gift box of cookies for us – all homemade! Kourabiedes, are holiday butter cookies, Melomacrona are honey cakes and Thiples are fried dough strips with honey and walnuts. To tell you they were magnificent is an understatement.

PicMonkey Collage
Crhistmas cookies for sale at our favorite Kalamata bakery
Different – yes! Wonderful – definitely! Delicious – unquestionably!

PicMonkey Collage
Christmas Day comes to a close in the village but the celebrations are just starting
We close with one of two greetings used here this time of year. Prior to Christmas Day the greeting is Kala Christouyenna (kala is 'good' and Christouyenna refers to Jesus’s birth). After that, the greeting becomes Chronia (Xponia) Polla which is commonly used as a birthday wish but is used as well at the New Year!

We thank you for the time you spent with us knowing that for many of you, this continues to be a hectic and busy time of year.  We hope your travels are healthy and happy until you are back with us again next week!

Linking this week with:
Best of Weekend
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cairo: A Christmas of Contrasts

'Twas almost the week before Christmas and all the nearby villages were decked out in their finest. . .

. . .simple and to-the-point decorations reminding us all. . .

. . .of the reason we celebrate Christmas whether on December 25th as we do where we are from or on January 6th as we've learned some Christians in Arabic countries do.

A couple of new virtual friends in Greece have been writing about the Greek tradition of lighting boat images or decorating boats at Christmas. Quite a beautiful tradition but not one that is practiced in our area of the Greek Peloponnese.

Perhaps that is because most of the fishing boats here have been pulled out of the small village harbors to protect them from the sometimes wild winter storms that kick waves over the concrete barriers. The few boats that remain are being used, as weather permitted for fishing and are devoid of decoration.

Thanks to our new FB friend, Robert Walker I can show you some of his photos of those boat decorations. I am using them with his permission.

Staying at our Stone House on the Hill was certainly a temptation this year as we love it and those villages around us. . .

. . . but as you recall, one of the reasons we wanted a base in Europe was to have access to other places. So last weekend. . .

Agios Nikolaos

. . .we drove to Athens and hopped an Egypt Air flight to Cairo.  This city of 24 million people, needless to say, is an absolute 180-degree contrast to the Greek villages in our area of the Mani which are populated by a few hundred people.

A shot of Cairo traffic from our balcony

So here we are in the big, no make that, enormous city, with a population demographic of about 85 percent Muslim and 15 percent Christian, just days before Christmas.  What you might find surprising is the amount of Christmas that can be found here. For example.

We are staying at the Cairo Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino; this is one of two trees that grace the outside entry of the hotel.

The lobby is decked out as well

The Marriott is located on an island in the middle of the Nile River. Taking a stroll through the Zamarek neighborhood in which the hotel is located, is a sensory explosion of sounds, smells and sights.  It isn't for the faint-of-heart (walking anywhere in Cairo isn't for the faint of heart because there are no crossing lights and traffic doesn't stop for pedestrians - you dash, and I mean dash - between cars, but that's another story for another day.)

Our dasher, dancer, prancer walk on uneven - sometimes non-existent - sidewalks and across traffic took us through a rather posh area of the city where flower, specialty foods, clothing and delightful book stores lined the streets. As we wound our way back to the residential neighborhoods we happened upon a vendor selling both trees and poinsettias.

On our return to the hotel we found it to be an Episcopal Church  just a block away with a full slate of Christmas offerings.

Yesterday we headed to downtown Cairo to do some shopping. (the exchange rate is excellent with one Egyptian pound equal to 13-cents US).

But as often happens, we got sidetracked with exploring and found ourselves at a stately mosque, Al Rahma Mosque, right next to a similarly large and stately Armenian Catholic Church, the Cathedral of the Annunciation.  We were warmly greeted in the Mosque by one of the men doing some maintenance on the buildings interior.

Armenian Cathedral - Cairo
Then we visited the Cathedral where the doors were open and only another set of visitors was inside. (It does amaze us how even in big cities on this side of the Atlantic, churches are left open and in the States how many keep their doors locked for security reasons.)  Again, we found signs of Christmas:
Reason for the Season - Nativity Scene at the side of the nave

While our prelude to Christmas has been one of contrasts, it has also been one that removed the commercialism and hype from the holiday.  While it may sound rather unconventional, it may well be one of the best Christmas weeks we've ever celebrated. We plan to celebrate Christmas Eve at a Lebanese restaurant and Christmas Day will be spend on an airplane.

Where ever this finds you, we send our wishes for a happy holiday - whatever the holiday is that you are celebrating.  Merry Christmas wishes to those who do celebrate it. And to all of you, thanks for taking the time from your busy schedules to spend a few minutes with us.  We've seen a lot of new visitors here and want to welcome you. And a big shout out to those who shared last week's post in your social media. . .that meant a lot and it is nice you find TravelnWrite worth sharing!!

Happy holidays and safe travels to you and yours!

Linking up this week:
Photo Friday
Travel Photo Thursday
Wordless Wednesday
Our World Tuesday
Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Decking the Halls ~ In Greece

Rosemary Clooney was dreaming of a “White Christmas” right after Elvis had predicted a “Blue Christmas” and somewhere between the plastic goods and kitchen accessories, Bing Crosby had swept us off to Hawaii with his rendition of Mele Kalikimaka. The store’s background music had shoppers pumped by the time they reached the enormous Christmas decorations area.

Kambos Town en route to Kalamata
I need not have worried about ‘missing’ Christmas because we are in Greece. The spirit – both Holy and Shopping – is alive and well in this part of the world.

Christmas Bazaar fund-raiser - Stoupa town
The store I described above called, “Jumbo” is in the city of Kalamata, the shopping Mecca of this region. Those of us in the surrounding villages make pilgrimages there sometimes once or twice a week. In this ‘stone house on the hill’ we are about an hour’s drive away.

Our House day three

Our shopping has been focused this week on more practical things: coffee pot, microwave, rugs, furniture, bedding. . .so I am afraid if you were hoping to see this perfectly decorated new holiday home of ours, you are out of luck!  In fact, I am writing this post sitting on a folding chair hunched over a small end table in our nearly empty living room.

We bought the car as part of the house deal

 I must thank all of you who wrote comments or sent emails containing good wishes about our finally catching the daydream, and purchasing the stone house on the hill. They all meant alot to us and I would normally respond to each, but because we are limited to cafe internet time this trip, a bulk thank you will have to do until I get back to Wi-Fi land.

DSCF1228Some of you said you were eagerly awaiting more about Christmas and others wanted more about the house. . .so today you are getting a mish-mash report with a little about both.

We purchased the house ‘furnished’ just because that is the way it was sold. The well-used furniture was not to our taste so in addition to buying furniture, we have been selling furniture this week.The heavy, and far-too-big-for-this-house furniture (see last post) was sold Friday

And for another few days we are ‘camping out’ in our home. The new stuff is scheduled for delivery December 24th! And what a present that will be!  (Our good-sport English friends, Sue and Don, pictured in the photo were our first guests yesterday, proving again that good times can be had in the barest of surroundings.)

DSCF1207 The painters arrive tomorrow to start the process of ‘warming up’ this hospital-white-from-ceiling-to- floor house.  The color chips have been selected and by the time the furniture arrives it should have a warm, colorful setting in which to reside.

For those of you wondering whether we are enjoying this or whether we are having second thoughts, I can assure you we’d have missed one of life’s great experiences had we not thrown caution to the wind and chased the daydream.

Waterfront in Stoupa Town Saturday night
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

‘Twas the Time Before Christmas

GreecePt12013 001It’s that time of year when suitcases sit empty at the TravelnWrite House

The flurry of pre-travel packing and departure preparation has been replaced by Christmas preparations for a stay-at-home holiday.

But there was a time in our early years together when my work – and its Scrooge-like amount of vacation time -forced us to travel at Christmas (one week of current year’s vacation coupled with one week of the next, made for a blessed two week getaway without zapping my entire year’s 10 vacation days).

So Christmas time was always spent in some far away place;  thousands of miles from family and friends. . . And you know what?

It was a great time to travel!

SanAntChristmas2013 005

We were surrounded by knock-out holiday decorations the filled the hotels (much more elaborate than we’d have done at home), we ate Christmas dinners and goodies that we didn’t have to prepare (whew!) and we had time to enjoy the season, our surroundings and our time together . . .

SanAntChristmas2013 003

This year we had a taste of those old Christmas travel memories when we began the month of December by spending a few days at the JW Marriott in Texas Hill Country, outside San Antonio. The photos in the post were taken there.

SanAntChristmas2013 031

I was among some 1,200 conference attendees and outside each conference room a festive tree and poinsettias made it clear the Holiday Season was upon us.

SanAntChristmas2013 030

Amazing what a couple of Poinsettias will do to enhance everyday d├ęcor.


And a gingerbread display filled the hotel foyer with cowboy boots as big as the State of Texas!

SanAntChristmas2013 004

The decorations that filled the grounds and the building provided a chuckwagon-sized helping of Christmas Cheer and guests couldn’t help but be caught up in the festive feel of the season.

We hope this Christmas Season you will be caught up in festive surroundings 
and that your hearts will be filled with Christmas Cheer!

SanAntChristmas2013 038

We thank you for the time you spent with us today during this busy season ~
hope to see you back again soon! As our greeting card says this year, 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aboard The Southbound Polar Express

When the High Plains Drifters set out on our Winter Road Trip early Thanksgiving morning, I’d silently decided we were taking a holiday from the holidays (like that John Grisham book/movie a few years ago about a vacation from Christmas).

As the Pacific Northwest forests gave way to the barren Southwest high plains, I ticked off the list the things I wouldn’t be doing: seasonal decorating, shopping and cooking, cards and gifts, ahh, yes. . .no holidays for us this year!

What I didn’t realize at the time was that we weren’t escaping from the holidays; we were hurtling toward them aboard our own  Polar Express, (it’s the other book/movie that convinces the Scrooge in all of us that the magic of Christmas is alive and well).

082We were headed to Arizona - Christmas Central -  the best place in the world to experience this season, …well,. . . with perhaps the exception of the North Pole.

The Sugar Plum Stations along our route left holiday visions dancing in our heads . . . visions like those in. . .


AZroadtrip2012 114

Christmas Spirit enveloped us within hours of our arrival in Prescott, “Arizona’s Christmas City”.  This is its Courthouse, a centerpiece in the downtown, which by now is lit up each night just like the Christmas Tree next to it.


AZroadtrip2012 125

We had a week-long stay in Marriott’s Desert Canyon Villas, five-minutes from the J.W. Marriott Hotel where Christmas decorations began appearing the same weekend we arrived.


With each day the decorations seemed to expand throughout the hotel’s massive lobby. Poinsettias lined the stairways, festive green and red decorations seemed to sprout – as if magically – during the night.


I didn’t think the Land of Oz could be made any more wonderful than the Emerald City that welcomed Dorothy and her friends. But thanks to the Marriott’s culinary team this land of Oz was a Confectionery Convention Center where gingerbread pavers lined the Yellow Brick Road.

108We spent three nights – thanks to a Cyber Monday deal – at the Fairmont Princess Hotel in Phoenix –a place that in December could be mistaken for the North Pole.

Scrooge would have had a difficult time here but not those who are still kids-at-heart. 

080Much time was spent watching their four-story tall Christmas Tree change colors; the changes synchronized to the Christmas Carole’s that ring out over the hotel’s plaza, located just outside its elaborately decorated lobby. 

113Then, down a path to the skating rink. . .yes, real ice, six-inches deep, in the heart of the desert. A large truck/generator  hidden behind one of the buildings brings this frozen wonderland scene to life.  (The rink is open to the entire community, not just hotel guests.)
They rent skates at the hotel.



After a bit of time at the rink it was time to follow a luminaria-lit path through a fairy land of lights and scenes that appear each evening. Any other time of year, the same pathway leads through a beautiful – but not particularly magical – lagoon area.

And if the kid within you allows you to do it, you can hop aboard a miniature train to tour this enchanted land.

In Arizona where everything seems big – even the Christmas decorations are enormous.  The tree below at  the Desert Ridge Shopping Center towered over the palm trees around it.



At Scottsdale’s iconic Pinnacle Peak Patio restaurant we found Santa’s sleigh being hauled by cattle.

FourSeasons2012 050

And just down the road this big ol’ bronze mountain lion was decked out for the season as well.


Each evening at the Troon North Four Seasons the pathway between the Hotel and Residence Club wound through a daytime-desert that each evening gave way to a seasonal showcase.
FourSeasons2012 012

By the time we reached the Four Seasons I was much like the kids on the Polar Express – I was a believer again.  We may have left the holiday hustle behind, but we’d re-discovered the Magic of Christmas!
Have you visited any magical places this year? What made them magical?

Where ever your travels take you this holiday season we hope you’ll also find some Christmas Magic ~ it’s Travel Photo Thursday – don’t forget to visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel.  I’ll resume the High Plains Drifters tales this weekend with a stop in Ely, Nevada . . .


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