27 November 2017

The loveliest Christmas markets in Europe

I love Christmas time in Europe. The streets are strung with glittering lights and little stands selling steaming mugs of spiced wine begin to pop up on every corner. My favourite thing by far however are the Christmas markets.

It might seem slightly early for this post, but as most Christmas markets open around the 24th of November, it's a perfect time to plan.

A couple of tips: Especially for markets in Germany and Austria - bring cash, as many markets don't accept card. In fact for those two countries I would extend this advice to shops and restaurants in general. You don't want to have to run around on a snowy evening to try and find cash to pay your restaurant bill.

If you hate crowds then avoid the markets at night on Fridays and Saturdays as they are normally at their busiest then.

Lastly, Christmas markets are popular travel destinations and many hotels can be booked out a month or two in advance. If there is a particular market you'd like to visit, I'd suggest booking your accommodation early.


Vienna Markets

Vienna was the first city I ever visited a Christmas market in, and it will forever hold a place in my heart. I immediately fell in love with the coziness of them, the food, the music, collecting beautiful decorations for my tree, and the fact that this is where my friends and I caught up for mugs of warm glühwein and a chat over the course of November and December. Why meet in a bar when you can meet at a Christmas market?

For me, Vienna is one of the Christmas capitals of Europe, and so there are a large number of markets sprinkled across the city. These are my favourite:

Rathaus Christkindlmarkt
The Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt is the largest and most touristy in Vienna, but it's definitely worth visiting. There are over 150 little wooden stalls selling Christmas decorations, glühwein, wooden toys, tea, chocolate and more. There is also a 3,000m2 ice skating ring, and activities just for children including a reindeer train and Ferris wheel.

Schönbrunn Christmas Market proves that good things come in small packages. There are 80 lovely stalls sprinkled in front of beautiful Schönbrunn palace selling goods ranging from exquisite hand decorated gingerbread, to ceramics and spices. Also, if you've never visited Schönbrunn, then add it to your list. Walking through the palace makes you feel as though you've just stepped back in time, and that those who live there have momentarily left the room. In summer the gardens are also incredibly beautiful.

The Art Advent Market on Karlsplatz sells beautiful handmade objects, including photographs, Christmas decorations, scarfs, paintings, stained glass, and makeup. I've also bought some beautiful Christmas cards here in the past. A word of warning - don't take photos of the stalls or you may be yelled at.

Zürich Wienachtsdorf at Sechseläutenplatz

This lovely Christmas market is located in the square opposite the opera house and is by far the best market in Zürich. The thing I especially love about it is the food selection. I've never seen another Christmas market where you can choose between options as varied as fondue, Thai, dumplings, and Sri Lankan street food.

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

This Christmas market is one of Germany's oldest, starting around the mid 16th century and growing exponentially to it's current size. There is something very lovely about wandering the streets of Nuremberg's old town where almost every part is filled with little stalls selling glühwein, crepes, chocolate, leading you to the town's main square which becomes a Christmas market extravaganza.

Nuremberg itself is a beautiful town and there is so much to see, particularly for those with a passion for history.

Beautiful Innsbrück

Innsbrück Oldtown Christmas Market

Innsbrück is one of the prettiest cities in Austria, filled with colourful buildings and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The Christmas market in the old town is incredibly charming, and although quite small, it's one of the few markets left that sells genuinely beautiful Christmas decorations.

The Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market in Berlin

This market is located on one of the most beautiful squares in Germany nestled between the Französicher Dom and the Deutscher Dom. It's filled with delicious food and some sweet little shops selling Christmas decorations and other bits and pieces.

Although Berlin is packed with markets at this time of year, this is by far my favourite for atmosphere and food. There is a 1 Euro entrance fee which covers entertainment and a percentage of which also goes to charity.

Strasbourg Markets

We just visited the markets in Strasbourg this weekend, and fell in love with the beautiful old city centre. Although I didn't really see any nice Christmas decorations, there were some very pretty pottery stalls and sweet hand-carved wooden children's toys. Food was plentiful and delicious - mostly hearty wintry fare including potato and bacon in a creamy sauce, spätzle and toasted baguettes covered in cheese and bacon.

If you can't get to any of the markets this year, but you'd like to have some delicious glühwein at home, then why not try my recipe.


20 November 2017

Spicy pumpkin soup

Geoff and I are just back from a lovely break in autumnal New York. I've always wanted to visit at this time of year to see the red and gold leaves in Central Park, and also to be able to walk around town without it being too hot (last time I was there is was over 35 degrees every day) or too cold (I was also there when it was -20, which while it was beautiful to see everything dusted in snow, did mean I had to run from shop to shop so I didn't die of frostbite, and also meant a worrying large number of people were wearing balaclavas which made my already quite active imagination run far more wildly than I'd prefer).

While we were there we visited ABC Kitchen for lunch, which was by far our favourite food of the trip, even beating The Dining room at Gramercy Tavern. For my starter I had a deliciously creamy, but also slightly spicy pumpkin soup, and decided I wanted to recreate it now that winter has well and truly reached Zurich.

You'll need:
  • One butternut pumpkin, or other pumpkin of your choice
  • Three large carrots
  • An onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • A two centimeter long piece of fresh ginger 
  • 1 liter of chicken stock (homemade or using a stock cube)
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper 
  • A good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream
  • Dill or chives
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds
Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Chop your pumpkin into chunks and drizzle with olive oil and place on a tray in the oven until golden. Of course you can just boil the pumpkin alongside everything else, but I find that by roasting it in the oven, it adds a lovely caramelized flavour to the soup.

Meanwhile, finely shop your onion, garlic and fresh ginger and saute in the pot in which you'll make your soup. Once this is golden, add in your spices, then your carrots and cook for a further minute or two. De-glaze with chicken stock. I happened to have made fresh chicken stock earlier in the week (I normally make an enormous pot and freeze a few one liter bags for when I need it in the future), otherwise you can use a stock cube. If you're vegetarian then vegetable stock would also be lovely.

Once your pumpkin is cooked, add this to the soup, and a little more water if needed. Cook until the carrots are soft.

Blend everything together using a stick blender - you can either leave it a little rustic and chunky, or blend until perfectly smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed, and even a little more spice.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of dill. Roasted pumpkin seeds would also be a delicious addition to this healthy and delicious soup.
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