My best wishes to all who read this. It has been a while since I have posted a blog but that does not mean I’ve been idle. I have gathered and am working through a lot of material. Some of it will appear on this blog. Now, it’s time for an end-of-the year round-up.
As 2013 came to end so did Marseille’s year as Europe’s Capital of Culture. The city managed to pull off spectacular opening and closing celebrations where half the city’s people turned out for these enthusiastic celebrations. Just six months before the January opening, there was still much speculation whether they could get their projects up and running. I spent the last two weeks of August in Marseille checking things out which I will write about in future posts.
In Germany the first of December is quite special. It is the official inauguration of the festive winter holiday season. Quite honestly, there is no place like Germany at Christmas time. Well, maybe Austria. Lights, glitz and candles illuminate the atmosphere.
On the first weekend of Advent, Christmas markets open. During the wee hours of the night the Weihnachtsman, surprises people by depositing little bags of sweets and cookies at front doors. Throughout the country the atmosphere is festive, tasteful, warm and friendly.
Christmas Eve is the highpoint when people gather in intimate, candle-lit groups to eat special things and possibly attend a church service. Christmas Day starts late with a big German breakfast and stays pretty lazy unless another special meal is on the program, like a roast goose.
A plus in Germany is that the day after Christmas, the 26th, is also a legal holiday so the celebration continues, though on a lower key, through the week until finally the year ends with sparkly notes – fireworks and bubbly wine. Then, the winter slump. Time to plan for the next get-aways – a winter break, a spring break, summer and autumn plans.
In the U.S. most of the country is facing the new year with glacial freezing at record-breaking temperatures, mountains of snow and all its accompanying problems. Parts of England are being hammered with heavy storms and the Atlantic coast of France is being hit with heavy winds, much flooding and lots of tax increases. The Reunion Islands, normally an idyllic paradise where people from extreme cold climates go to tank up on warmth from the sun and sea, are being battered by a cyclone. When this cycle is over people experiencing extreme weather will certainly be deserving of regenerative breaks. But where? With careful planning, short but focused vacations – even far away places – offer inspiration and work wonders on one’s health and spirit without being a budget-breaker. You don’t have to go anywhere, however. You can start your travel experience right now.
My recommendation: pick a place you would like to know and learn as much as you can about it. Doing that alone is half of the trip. Already you’ve made a mental break to your destination. Next comes the physical part – being there – where all your senses become activated and rejuvenated. Get to know one area really well. It’s more relaxing than having to change locations often. Try to include things to stimulate all your senses: visual (scenery), intellectual (museums), creative/inspirational (shopping – being attentive to your surroundings; take a workshop), taste (eating and preparing different foods), touch/feel (go to a thermal spa, have a massage or other treatment), hearing (concerts/shows).
To make the most of the travel experience, clump the experiences together so there is a common thread or theme spaced close in time. Getting there is something you have to tolerate but there are ways to make that less burdensome.
Keep the travel part (getting to/from your place) as uncomplicated as possible because it is really exhausting and often frustrating when there are delays and complications.
Travel is more pleasurable when you know someone at or not far from your destination. This is an excellent way to get to know a place by seeing it through the eyes of someone who lives there, not to mention the reward of re-kindled friendships or relations.
These are things you can do closer to home too; not just in far away places. I have a friend who recently retired and took up Chinese language lessons. China may not be in her travel budget for now, but how about the nearest Chinatown to get a little atmosphere and try some phrases? That may lead to wanting to see a special exhibit or show in another city or see a Chinese performing group. It could lead to an attempt at Chinese calligraphy or cooking.
Try new things. Learning languages is not just one of the best ways to stimulate the brain cells and keep Alzheimer’s away, it opens up new and very pleasurable worlds previously unknown to you. Pick a place and a theme you know nothing about or have only a vague interest in, then plunge in and see what happens. Bon voyage and may 2014 be a stimulating year for you.