Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Germany

So far our trip has been absolutely great.   We just arrived into Florence after spending a couple of nights in Venice.  It is hard to believe that we have been on the road for over a week already.

Aaron and I had a really wonderful Christmas weekend with our friend Verena and her family.  Aaron met Verena years ago when he studied abroad in Finland, and they have managed to keep in contact since then.  We recently visited her in Chicago and she extended an invitation to spend the holiday with her family in Rosenheim, which is about a thirty minute train ride from Munich.  We met Verena at the central train station mid-morning on Christmas Eve.  The ride to Rosenheim took us through quaint Bavarian towns, and we could see glimpses of the snow covered Alps through the clouds.  After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went to meet her parents at their apartment.  Gisela and Jurgen gave us a warm welcome as we gathered for coffee and biscuits before going back out for the afternoon.

Our first stop was to a local restaurant in Rosenheim to eat the traditional late morning meal of white sausages and hefeweizen.  This is a very common meal in Bavaria.  According to Verena, these sausages are made out of the 'extra parts' of the pig, and they are supposed to be eaten before the noon bells ring so not to spoil.  They are served in a large pot of hot water, and you eat one at a time so that they stay warm. 
Eating instructions per Verena:
Remove one sausage from pot
Cut lengthwise but not all the way through the meat
Peel the skin without being too messy (we were horribly unsuccessful at this and used our hands)
Slice and dip in sweet mustard sauce
Wash down with Hefeweizen

This fine dining experience left us full and content as we boarded the train for Salzburg to enjoy some more holiday festivities.  During the ride Verena and I took turns jotting down Christmas songs to be sung later in the evening around the tree.  Of course we practiced our singing as we rode along, which was really nice.  Aaron finally got a little embarressed during 'O Holy Night,' so he pretended not to know us for the remainder of the trip.  We arrived to Salzburg around three or so and caught a bus that took us to the center of town.  There were plenty of people out wandering, and a few frantic shoppers taking advantage of the final hours of the Christmas markets.  The city was lit with beautiful white lights along the narrow cobblestone streets.  After strolling through the main plaza we made our way up a steep hill to a quiet overlook of the city.  There were no other people, just the three of us and the view below.  Verena and I sang Christmas carols while we took in the lovely sight.  The best part of being in this location was hearing the many church bells throughout Salzburg chime simultaneously at five thirty. 

From the hilltop we quickly made our way back towards the center to an old graveyard.  This is where the locals gather on Christmas Eve every year to listen to a brass band play carols on the rising hill.  While the music sounds above, families place small Christmas trees and light candles on the graves of loved ones.  All day had been very overcast, but while the music played the clouds parted, and we got a peak of the clear winter sky.  It was a beautiful and peaceful experience, and I especially loved hearing Silent Night and humming along with the instruments and the crowd.  Salzburg on Christmas Eve was a very surreal night for us, and we were so thankful that Verena shared it with us. 

Following the music it started to rain heavily, so we caught a taxi to the train station and made our way back to Rosenheim.  Gisela and Jurgen had prepared a lovely meal, so after singing a few more carols around the tree we sat down to a traditional dinner of homeade sausages and potato salad.  The food was amazing and the conversation was lively.  Aaron and I both felt right at home with Verena and her parents.  Gisela and Jurgen are both passionate and intelligent people, so we covered a variety of topics well into the night while drinking fine local beer.

Christmas day started out with a traditional German breakfast-a variety of meats, cheese, bread, fruit, cereal and lots of strong coffee.  We enjoyed a very low key morning lounging around the house and talking before Jurgen and Verena took us on a tour of the town.  Rosenheim is a small comfortable city that is really quite scenic.  We passed by churches, walked along the Inn River, and looked around the city center where there are old buildings and cobblestone streets.  On our way home we stopped at a local brewery that is one of Jurgen's favorites, and we warmed up while enjoying a pint and liver dumpling soup.  Delicious.  We also made a quick visit to a chapel originally built in the 1400s.  It was very small and dark except for the outside lights shining into the windows and a few lit candles.  Once again we broke out the Christmas carols and sang into the still quietness of the church.  It was beautiful.

Back at home Gisela had outdone herself once again with an amazing dinner of roasted duck, potatoes, brussel sprouts, chestnuts and beets.  We had no difficulty clearing our plates.  For dessert we enjoyed a delicious vanilla mousse with strawberry preserves.  The remainder of the evening was spent lounging, looking at old photos from Verena's younger years, and talking.  We made it back to our hotel around one or so, and slept for a few hours before getting up, enjoying a quick breakfast with the family, and making our way back to the train station for one final night in Munich.  We couldn't have asked for a better Christmas.  Verena and her parents really made us feel like part of the family.  Wonderful memories to last for many years to come...        

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