Dreams of a white Christmas inspired Michael Holder and Karen Hawkings to travel to Germany at the end of 2016, a country that captures the spirit of the season like no other.
The Deutschland Christmas charm is showcased at its wintertime markets and beer halls where the amber liquid flows freely and the wine is served warm and with spice.
Michael and Karen did the Christmas and New Year period with Albatross Tours, first with a 7-day tour around Germany, followed by a 5-day Sound of Music-themed New Years journey around Austria.
“It was a wonderful trip,” says Karen, “the scenery was spectacular, and the markets were very special – the food was delicious – and they captured the spirit of Christmas just as we had imagined they would.
“It was our first Christmas in the northern hemisphere. We always wanted a white Christmas and New Year, and it was very nice to get the opportunity to see that alongside a group of really nice people on our tour. “
The Living Gems Pacific Paradise residents flew to Frankfurt to pick up the tour, and visited Bamberg, Nuremberg and Rothenberg ob der Tauber, which is often called a “fairytale dream town” because of its romantic medieval architecture.
In many ways, it is the archetypical country German town, and it was the inspiration for the village in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio. Another Disney inspiration, the Neuschwanstein Castle, was also part of the tour.
Karen and Michael then travelled on to Fussen, in the Bavarian Alps, where they spent Christmas. From Fussen, the couple travelled on to Munich, via Lucern in Switzerland, where they linked up with another Albatross Tours group for a seven-day trip around Austria, themed around The Sound of Music.
The group was based out of Salzberg, where most of the Sound of Music was filmed, and toured the surrounding areas. From Salzberg, the couple visited Salzkammergut in the Austrian Lakes District; St Gilgen, where they caught a cable car to the top of Zwolferhorn Mountain, and experienced a horse and carriage ride in the snow from the ski resort of Filzoos to Oberhofalm.
Leopold Castle, which was the Von Trapp family home in the film, was the venue for the New Year’s Eve festivities. It overlooks a small lake into which the Von Trapp children fell out of a rowboat in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque way to celebrate the beginning of a new year than with a light snowfall as fireworks burst in the sky over a frozen lake.
“We didn’t get a ‘white Christmas’ but we were very lucky that it began to snow that afternoon, it made our day and created a really beautiful atmosphere as we watched the fireworks.”
Later in the year, the couple participated in a Scenic Tours river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and then visited Italy and Sicily. And the busy couple was preparing for a trip to Japan on the day they spoke to the Living Gems Pacific Paradise newsletter.
As Karen says, “there are so many places to see and things to do. It is a big world, and we would like to see as much as we can.”