Tag Archives: Christmas

Romantic Road – Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbuhl

rottingen-sundialsHeading further south along the Romantic Road, I make a quick stop in the small wine-making village of Rottingen but, rather unusually, it is not the wine I have stopped for. I’m searching for sundials along a 1,5 km route which winds its way through and around the village. There are 25 in total and even though I don’t manage to see them all, it is a pleasant stroll through the streets and the apple orchards which line the Tauber River.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a fairy tale village filled with gingerbread houses and surrounded by towers and the inspiration for the village in Disney’s Pinocchio. It is also a tourist trap and prices are elevated accordingly. Even the Aire on the edge of town is €10 for the night and that doesn’t include water or electricity.

dscf0795My first view of the town is the Spitalbastei, a huge 16th century bastion. A Latin inscription above the gate reads, ‘Peace to those who enter. Farewell to those that leave.’ Having been formally welcomed to the town, I walk uphill to the Plonlien (little square) and copy thousands of previous visitors, and the guide books, by photographing a typical medieval house framed between two inner towers and gateways.

dscf0802I eventually emerge into the main town square with a huge stone town hall and the gabled façade of the councillor’s drinking room which now houses the tourist office. Each hour, on the hour, two windows either side of the clock open to reveal figures who re-enact the ‘meistertrunk’. Legend says that the soldiers drank a magical brew before fighting the enemy in 1631 and saving the town.

dscf0844I want to visit the gothic Jakobs Church which holds the marvellous carved wooden Alter of the Holy Blood. However, I don’t believe that we should pay to enter a place of worship so decide to spend my euros on a visit to the Christmas Museum instead, where I learn about the history of this festive period and the evolution of Christmas decorations which were previously made from cotton wool, paper, pewter, wood, wax and tragacanth (a type of resin). The museum is within a cavernous twinkling shop filled with thousands of tree decorations and sideboard ornaments as well as Swiss cuckoo clocks which seem a bit out of place.

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wp_20161004_12_48_03_proI have a hard time finding a reasonably priced place for lunch, made even more difficult by the fact that many restaurants have decided to close after a busy bank holiday weekend. In the end, I choose a tiny pub-like place where I warm up with a hearty meal of liver dumplings, boiled potatoes and the ubiquitous sauerkraut.

 

 

 

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I compensate for my filling lunch by walking around the walls, looking for more photo opportunities. At the Burggarten (castle garden), I discover the tiny chapel of St Blasius, built in 1400 and now a dedicated war memorial. Unfortunately, what should be a marvellous view down into the Tauber Valley is blocked by thick foliage.

dscf0859On the way back to the motorhome, filled with Christmas spirit (even though it’s 82 days away), I stop at a bakery and buy a snowball. Schneeballen is a long strand of pastry dough, woven into a ball and deep fried. It is then coated in a number of ways; with chocolate, sugar or spices. I opt for a cinnamon spice snowball which goes very well with a hot vanilla latte at the end of a long day.

 

 

 

40kms south is the walled-town of Dinkelsbuhl, equally as interesting as Rothenburg but with fewer tourists and without the associated price tag.

dscf0881Dominated by the 15th century St George’s Church, the town seems too small to justify the extremely tall nave which took 51 years to complete. There are 6 side alters, one of which is dedicated to St Sebastian whose clothed skeleton is interred in a glass case underneath.

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Another hidden gem is the romantic courtyard of the Hezelhof. I discover it through an open gate which then locks behind me. Luckily I am able stroll through the reception of the hotel with a quick hello to the receptionist as I escape.

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Like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, it is possible to walk a complete circuit of the town walls, studded with a variety of towers and bordered by several lakes and ponds. In a few weeks it will be the Fish Harvesting Festival featuring a market of regional products and fish specialities. I’m determined to try the local carp and so take lunch in the upmarket but inexpensive Hotel Sonne. My huge breaded carp fillet is served with a side of cucumber and potato salad and a mountain of mixed leaves. It’s delicious and relatively healthy compared to the rest of the menu.

 

 

 

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A Catalan Christmas

DSCF0535When I think of Christmas, my mind turns to a big fat Santa, a school nativity play, roast turkey and mince pies, a decorated tree with colourful gifts underneath and the Queen’s speech at 3pm.

In Catalonia, they do things a little differently. As I passed through the region and stumbled upon Christmas fairs, I wondered why there were so many funny looking logs for sale. These cute little wooden beings with red hats and noses are called Tios. Children are supposed to feed them during advent and on Christmas Eve they then beat the Tio to make it defecate presents. Outside Barcelona Cathedral I saw lines of tiny children approaching a huge Tio to be rewarded with a lollipop from its backside!

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Meanwhile, in most Spanish towns you will find a Belen, a nativity scene, and most Spanish families will have a smaller version in their homes. I have always enjoyed visiting a Belen and especially trying to spot the local influences and the more unusual characters.

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DSCF0489Sometimes there is a woman falling down the stairs with a basket of eggs, and I have also seen a mother breastfeeding, but my favourite has to be the man, caught with his trousers round his ankles, having a shit. He’s known in Catalonia as the Caganer and is traditionally dressed as a Catalan peasant in a red hat, white shirt and black trousers. However, in the 21st century he has now been replaced by famous politicians, celebrities and sports stars.

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Almonds and Honey = Turron

Over the Christmas holidays, the Spanish supermarket shelves have been groaning under the weight of boxes of turron, a sweet confectionery whose Moorish origins lie in the village of Xixona. I decide to find out more about this popular Christmas stocking filler.

DSCF0350I arrive at the “Almendra y Miel” Factory to discover three coaches in the car park and a crowd of Villa Real football fans waiting for a tour of the Turron Museum. My heart sinks, as I was rather hoping to get a personal tour, however the guide allows me to join the group for free and promises to give me some additional explanation in English. So I follow the bright yellow football shirts, past the dark and empty factory floor and into the museum. Turron production only takes place between July and November in order to stock the shelves ready for Christmas. According to our guide, the 120 local workers have no problem with this seasonal contract and return year after year.

almond blossomThe origins of Turron can be traced back to the 11th century when the Moors ruled Alicante, and their king was the emir Ali. He fell in love and was married to a Scandinavian princess named Ilda. Although Ilda loved Ali, her heart longed for the snow that she grew up in. The following Spring, the almond trees burst into bloom and the entire landscape was showered with petals from the white blooms. At that moment, Ilda was reminded of the snow. Seeing how happy his wife was, the emir wanted to have the almond trees bloom all year long, but this was not possible. However, a small bakery in Xixona, had the idea to create a confection containing the fruits of the almond tree which could be enjoyed during the whole year. A romantic tale, perhaps, but it was the introduction of sugar cane by the Moors, the locally grown almond trees and the local honey, scented with mountain herbs and orange blossom, which led to the creation of turron in Xixona.

DSCF0342Although the museum information is in Spanish, the diagrams, photos and displayed equipment help me to understand the turron process. In addition, the kind guide offers me a private screening of the English language video explaining the process of making turron. Sugar and honey are cooked together and then mixed with roasted almonds and egg whites. The mixture is then milled into a paste and beaten with a mallet in a boixet for up to 3 hours. All that remains is for it to be cooled in moulds, cut into slabs and then boxed up and branded. There are two main types of turron:

 

  • Alicante – a hard, brittle candy which includes whole almonds and is encased in thin rice paper sheets, to prevent it sticking to your fingers while you enjoy it.
  • Xixona – A smooth, soft, creamy paste.

DSCF0345However, in order to appeal to a wider market, the factory now produces more than 100 different products, including turron with toasted egg yolk, chocolate, coffee, fruits, salted caramel and cinnamon.

The tour inevitably ends in a shop where all the products are temptingly displayed and tagged at factory prices. I’m offered some chocolate turron which is so sickly sweet that I turn down a second helping. However, it’s hard to resist the tooth-rotting treats and I end up with a few boxes to take away. My New Year’s resolution can start next week!

The Christmas Belen

Each year during the festive period the towns and villages of Spain exhibit models of the story of Jesus. Some are very grand, while others are simple but each is unique in the models used and the way in which they are displayed. Local craftsmen fashion the models with great care and in some of the local Christmas markets it is possible to buy them.

BelenI have visited the Belen at Torrevieja a few times and it is always a delight. Several characters make repeat appearances and half the fun is trying to identify them amongst the different scenes on offer. There’s the woman falling down the stairs breaking her eggs, the man squatting behind a bush and the one warming his bottom by the fire. Several of the scenes are also mechanised and I love to see the woodcutter, the seamstress and the grape-presser.

DSCF2581Of course, Mary, Joseph, Jesus and other characters from the bible feature at various stages of their lives but there are also scenes depicting the local life of the area. In the Lorca Belen, the local Collegiate Church of Saint Patrick and the Plaza de Espana dominate the display, while in Torrevieja it is the salt industry and the wine of La Mata which features.

Finally, it is not only in the main squares of the towns and villages that you find a Belen. Many people have a small nativity display inside their own homes.