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Archive for December 2012

Travel: Old World Christmas at Elkhart Lake

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)


   When Christmas comes to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, it is wrapped in a big white tent and filled with music, food, handmade crafts and the ancient tradition of German Advent markets.

   Osthoff Resort General Manager Lola Roeh spent time in Nuremberg, Germany before returning to Wisconsin and coming to lead the Osthoff. Nuremberg’s famous Christkindlesmarkt left an indelible mark on her imagination and she was determined to bring the tradition to the resort. Fifteen years ago she did just that and now the Old World Christmas Market at the Osthoff Resort has grown to be an important part of the region’s holiday season, catering to those who return each year to add to a collection or simply savor the tastes of an authentic German Christmas by eating schnitzel and red cabbage or sipping Glühwein.

   Some vendors, including the sausage maker who flies in each year to sell authentic Nuremberg sausages—made with his secret recipe— have been with the market since the beginning.

   While shoppers move from booth to booth, Father Christmas parts the crowd, calling out Christmas greetings. Seasonal music fills the big heated tent.

   I had only just walked in when I spotted a booth filled with beautiful handmade paper mache Santa and Father Christmas figures. Each exquisite piece was made in authentic vintage German molds, hand painted and decorated with glass glitter or tiny glass beads. I spent almost half an hour looking at each one, trying to decide which would come home with me. Finally, I chose a petite Father Christmas, ornamented with glass beads and holding a tiny Christmas tree. He was wrapped and packed for the trip home and the little figure was the first decoration I put out when I returned.

   Elkhart Lake is beautiful any time of year but the elegant white structures of the surrounding resorts, including the crown jewel, the big, rambling, historic Osthoff Resort, shine brightest in winter. The summer crowds are gone and the small town becomes a place to escape the hectic pace of the holiday while celebrating the best of the season.


More information:
The Osthoff Resort

Old World Christmas Market


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and  can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: The Beauty of Christmas in Germany

(Photo by R. B. Millsap)

 

   One night, on my first trip to Germany during the month of December, hungry and still a little jetlagged from the flight, I walked into a tiny restaurant in a residential district near the center of Munich. I opened the door and then, dazzled by what I saw, stopped to take it all in.  
    

   A forest of dozens of small, elaborately decorated Christmas trees were hanging upside down from the ceiling of the room. I’d never seen anything like it before. Beautifully-wrapped packages of all sizes were stacked on windowsills, strung like ornaments on garlands of ribbon and greenery, and piled into corners. Evergreen boughs, woven with tiny white lights that glowed in the fresh snowfall outdoors and were reflected in the mirror over the bar, trimmed every door and window. 
    

   The intimate neighborhood eatery was filled with locals enjoying a big plate of schnitzel or wurst and crowded with friends who’d stopped by for an after-work drink. I felt as though I’d walked into a scene from an ornate Victorian picture-book, but I quickly realized the over-the-top decor was no show for tourists. It was just a perfectly fine example of the way Germany dresses up for the holiday season.
   

    Anyone who has ever spent time at one of Germany’s Advent or  Christkindlmarkts can relate. It’s the same kind of over-the-top feeling. Strolling down the rows of wood huts, most strung with white lights and wrapped in garland and decorations, it’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back in time.
   

    Most markets are held in the traditional market square or city center. Surrounded by beautiful architecture, the air is filled with the sweet and spicy scents of sausages, pastries, potato pancakes and warm candied almonds and other nuts. Shoppers crowd around booths buying gifts of handmade wood toys, knitted items, ornamental gingerbread and hand-carved wood figures for the family creche. And the Glühwein stands are the most popular by far, with friends gathering to enjoy a mug of the hot, spiced and fortified wine that is so much a part of Germany’s holiday season.
   

    Each market has a distinctive feel. The walled city of Nuremberg is famous for its red and white striped market canopies. The Munich “manger” market is where families come each year to select hand-carved pieces for the creche displayed every Christmas season. And the sprawling, busy, Frankfurt market stretches from the old city center to the river, highlighting both the history and contemporary culture of the vibrant city. The beautiful market in Cologne is consistantly voted one of the most popular.
    

   If you have the time and want to explore Germany at a more leisurely pace, consider booking a Rhine River cruise.  With frequent stops at villages between Frankfurt, Germany and Basel, Switzerland, a December river cruise down the Rhine River gives you a trouble-free way to enjoy the scenery as you cruise past ancient castles, beautiful and productive vineyards, old fortifications and picturesque villages. Each day brings a new opportunity to explore holiday markets in towns along the river, each with its own flavor and vibe, without the crush of peak-season tourists. Small-ship cruising combines the best of cruising—fine dining, comfortable staterooms and leisurely travel—but most river cruise ships carry fewer than 200 passengers so one never feels lost in the crowd.
    

   No place is as beautiful as Germany this time of year. Every year when I hang the wreaths and decorate the tree I think back to that small but beautifully and exhuberantly decorated restaurant on a quiet street in a very busy city. And I'm always inspired to do just a bit more.

    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington, whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

    
  

Travel: Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Poplar Forest’

(Thomas Jefferson's 'Poplar Forest' retreat. Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap) 

 

   It is easy to think we know everything there is to know about certain historical figures. Thomas Jefferson, for instance. But even great men have their domestic secrets.

   On a recent trip to Virginia I drove up the long winding road that led to Thomas Jefferson’s secret love: a stately, symmetrical and elegant home situated along an avenue of tall poplar trees. I was not visiting Monticello. Instead, I was at Poplar Forest.


   Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited Poplar Forest from Martha’s father in 1773 but Martha died in 1782 before construction. It wasn’t until 1806 that work finally began, with Jefferson there to supervise the laying of the foundation. The octagonal house was his own design and he was intimately connected to the construction, corresponding frequently with the builders. Whenever possible he traveled to the site to check progress or make some necessary or desired change to the plans.

   When his presidency ended in 1809, Poplar Forest became Jefferson’s personal retreat and sanctuary, shared only with his family, and a few most-intimate friends. He escaped to it whenever he could, often accompanied by his granddaughters on his extended visits. Jefferson created the elaborate gardens and landscaping surrounding the house, choosing the plants and flowers that would grow there. He continued to make the journey to Poplar Forest until age and poor health finally kept him away. His last trip was in 1823. After Jefferson’s death his son inherited Poplar Forest but sold it to a neighbor two years later.

   As a private home, the house survived fire and numerous renovations and Poplar Forest remained a virtual secret for generations. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when development encroached, that the beautiful and fragile estate was purchased from private homeowners, organized and set aside. And the long, slow process of maintaining a national landmark was begun.

   Today, standing just inside the front doors, a visitor is bathed in light streaming in through windows in every room and through the long, narrow skylight in the dining room, light that illuminates every corner of the octagonal structure. It is easy to imagine the relief Thomas Jefferson might have felt as he rode away from the demands of the life that had come to settle on him, away from the pressures of law and government, away from crowds of admirers and, even in that day, celebrity-watchers, and arrived at this quiet place in the rolling hills of Virginia.

   To visit Poplar Forest now is a gift. A chance to see this place so beloved by a man who treasured his privacy, who craved quiet time to read and think. At this time it is a beautiful shell. Walls have been strengthened and repaired. Oak flooring—as was in the original structure—has been installed. Windows have been rebuilt, alcoves opened and doorways reconfigured, all to bring the beautiful, light filled, octagonal home back to it's original design.  All of the work is being done by master craftsmen and artisans, after intensive study and research. And, to the extent possible, in the manner it would have been done in Jefferson’s time.

   At this time, only a few pieces of furniture, including a reproduction of the 19th Century Campeachy chair—with its ancient but strikingly contemporary design—Jefferson preferred because of his painful arthritis.

   Eventually, I suppose, the interior will be recreated to reflect the way Jefferson lived when he was there there. But at this moment, to be surrounded by the almost bare bones of the house is beautiful and evocative. It is impossible to stand in Jefferson’s bedroom, free of furniture and extraneous material, to see the empty alcove where his bed would have been, the rough handmade bricks lining his fireplace, to gaze out at the view of fields and forest visible through the tall windows, and not feel the powerful presence of the man who loved every inch of the place.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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