Life is getting very Christmas-y around here.  Last night was my office Christmas party, today I’m off to a concert, and the Christmas cookie reserves are steadily piling up.  But as the year draws to an end, I am also reminded that I never shared any photos from my trip to Germany and Austria in the autumn.  So, for anyone looking for something to do on a wintery Sunday afternoon, here’s a glimpse of how I spent my holiday.

We (my mother and I) flew directly from Vancouver to Munich and arrived during the first weekend of Oktoberfest.  We only passed through the city enroute to Austria but there is nothing like being surrounded by hundreds of people all dressed in lederhosen and dirndls to help put you in the holiday mood.

The first stop of the holiday was the village of Söll in the Wilder Kaiser region of the Austrian Tirol.  We spent 5 days there hiking and enjoying the beautiful scenery, and it was spectacular.  I would go back in a heartbeat.  We had ideal late September weather – if anything it was a little too hot – and the hoards of summer visitors had thinned out to just retired German tourists and us.  It was perfect.

Regretfully, we eventually tore ourselves away and headed to Germany.  We spent the next few days based in Stuttgart, which proved unexpectedly delightful.  The city was hosting its famous Oktoberfest-esque Bad Cannstatt festival and, as this was the 200th anniversary of the festival, there was a special celebration happening in the city’s historic centre the entire time we were there.  We would go out and spend the days exploring the suburbs and local hills and then come back to the city to enjoy the festival in the evening, taking advantage of the food stalls to enjoy a glass of local wine and some of the regional delicacies for our dinners.  We also managed to fit in an opera at the city’s famous opera house – the season opener, no less.

We were in Stuttgart over the weekend and on the Saturday we took the local commuter train to the suburb of Esslingen.  It’s a beautiful medieval city which thankfully survived the war relatively undamaged.  We had a lovely morning strolling about, enjoying the market and especially enjoying the wine bar at Kessler Sekt.  It was a popular stop for everyone after the market and the crowd overflowed from the courtyard out into the street.  I am not sure I have ever found a better definition of civilized life than friends and families drinking sparkling wine in the streets on a sunny Saturday morning, with children running around and babies dozing in their strollers.  Suburban life in Germany always looks good to me but this was particularly idyllic.

From Stuttgart, we headed to Heidelberg.  My mother has wanted to visit ever since her university days, when her German professor was forever reminiscing about the city where he had studied.  It’s a beautiful town but I’m happy our stay there was short.  It felt overrun with tourists compared to where we had come from.  Stuttgart was busy but it was full of German tourists who had come for the festival – the city doesn’t rely on them.  Heidelberg, on the other hand, felt tailored for visitors rather than locals.  Even worse, there was a football match taking place that had pulled in huge crowds of English fans.  There were local police stationed near every sports bar and Irish pub in town, looking confused by the rowdy public drunkenness of these visitors.  There were a number of them on our train the next morning and they were certainly in a great deal of pain by that point.  But the city was beautiful and I would not be at all averse if someone wanted to gift me one of the villas down along the river.  

From Heidelberg, we went south, back to my beloved Freiburg.  This was my 3rd time in the city and the first time I had entirely good weather.  It’s supposed to be the sunniest city in Germany so I knew eventually I’d get my timing right!  Freiburg is a vibrant university town and a wonderful base for exploring the Black Forest.  We went on some beautiful hikes in the nearby hills but also just enjoyed the city, with its lovely twisting streets, excellent shopping, and laid back atmosphere.  It was the perfect place to end the trip.

It was a wonderful two-week holiday and I’d recommend all of these destinations (even Heidelberg).  The highlight was Söll but Stuttgart was a very pleasant surprise and I will always, always take any excuse to return to Freiburg.

Now to start planning my 2019 trip…


credit: Kate Guinness (via Desire to Inspire)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I am beyond excited to announce that the new co-host of Library Loot is Sharlene from Real Life Reading!  I love her eclectic reading tastes and have gotten many great recommendations from her over the years.  She is an enthusiastic library user and a talented blogger and I could not be more delighted to have her as co-host.

She will be hosting next week but, for now, on to my loot!

The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold by Tim Moore – I love an adventure travelogue and I love books about Eastern Europe so when they are combined life is rather wonderful.  I’ve wanted to read this account of Moore’s cycling trip along the old Iron Curtain since it was first reviewed in the Financial Times, which I now see must have been two full years ago.  Time flies terrifyingly fast.

Czech Refugees in Cold War Canada by Jan Raska – this year marks the 50th anniversary of the largest wave of immigration from Czechoslovakia to Canada (which included my mother).  To coincide with the anniversary, this fascinating new book looks at how the 36,000 Czechs who immigrated to Canada from 1945 to 1989 found their way here and established themselves in their new country.  This is the most absurdly niche book I could imagine, so I doubt it appeals to most of you but I couldn’t be happier to have got hold of it.

Apron Strings by Jan Wong – the daughter of a restaurateur and mother of an aspiring chef, Wong set out on a journey (accompanied by her son) to explore home cooking in three of the world’s great food cultures: France, Italy, and China.  A seasoned journalist, I always find Wong’s writing fascinating and am really looking forward to this.  (Also, if you haven’t read it, her memoir of workplace depression, Out of the Blue, is extraordinarily good and really helpful for understanding both how depression looks – or doesn’t – and how workplaces can improve the support they give their staff.)

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Jennifer mentioned this last week in her “Books to Read in the Winter” post and I couldn’t resist picking it up again.  Even as a child, I remember thinking it was by far the strongest book in the series but it’s been ages since I last read it.

Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan – The most recent book in Colgan’s Mure Island series, this is published as both Christmas on the Island (North America) and Island Christmas (UK).  Colgan’s writing is getting stronger with every book and I’ve really enjoyed that the focus in this series has not stayed fixed on the heroine and her love interest – except to point out the shortcomings of the love interest. (I got really hopeful this was going to be a Little Lady Agency sort of situation, where the seemingly perfect love interest gets kicked to the curb after several books…but now I’m not so sure).  It’s not great literature but is very enjoyable to curl up with on cold nights.

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh – another instance of dual titles: Ghosted for North America and The Man Who Didn’t Call for the UK.  I added this to my list when Sarra Manning included it in her June roundup of books but, to be honest, now that it’s here I’m not quite sure if I’m really interested in it.  But I will give it a try.  That is the luxury that libraries afford us – the chance to try – and reject – as many books as we like, all for free.

Perfect English Townhouse by Ros Byam Shaw – for when reading words is too taxing, I can always fall back on photos of absolutely beautiful homes.

What did you pick up this week?

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

First off, as mentioned in my last Library Loot post, I am looking for a new co-host.  I’ve had a couple of excellent volunteers step forward but it’s not too late if you’d like to throw your name in the hat.  I’ll be reaching out shortly to everyone who has contacted me.

Second, I have for perhaps the first time absolutely no new books out from the library.  It’s been a hectic and productive month for everything but reading.  When I’m at home, I’m happy catching up on the books I checked out ages ago or relaxing with a DVD.  DVDs, at least, I have been checking out.  Mostly foreign films, like Bába z ledu (which is definitely not as heart-warming as the premise – of a  Czech widow finding love in a year-round swimming club – suggests) and Le Voyage de Fanny (which is a beautifully done story of Jewish children fleeing authorities in wartime France).

But my main delight this week has been starting to rewatch To Serve Them All My Days.  Delderfield was one of several authors who all members of my family – on both sides – loved, so I grew up able to find his books in whatever house I was visiting.  The family favourite is the “A Horseman Riding By” series (witness the fact that I am named at least in part for Claire Derwent – which gave me extra delight when I read Delderfield’s autobiography and learned of his feelings for his Claire) but all the series were loved.  Still, it was years before I learned that both the Horseman books and To Serve Them All My Days had, long before my birth, been turned into television series – and longer still before they were available for me to watch in North America.  The adaptation of A Horseman Riding By horrifies me a bit (Prunella Ransome as Claire?  Ye gods!) but this Andrew Davies-penned adaptation of To Serve Them All My Days is delightful.

What did you pick up this week?


credit Belén Ferrándiz via Desire to Inspire

Yes, it’s a horrible sin to turn book spins inwards (photo stylists are obviously evil) but I love this room (and in fact the whole house).