Christmas Travels [Replay] – Episode 167 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

Merry Christmas from Perth, Western Australia!

While I’m spending the week with family and friends, chilling out (where possible – fortunately the forecast isn’t too hot here, and we have avoided the worst of the awful bushfires engulfing the other side of Australia) I’m republishing a Christmas episode of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast. It’s from the first Christmas of the podcast back when the listenership was much smaller and I know that lots of listeners won’t have heard it yet, and it has some great stories!

My favourite involves the Easter Bunny … but you’ll have to listen to find out why!

Speaking of favourites, I also mention my favourite Christmas song, Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun, and I’ll embed it below. Tim grew up in Perth and his Christmas sentiments match my own very accurately. And I suspect there’ll be white wine in the sun for me again this Christmas.

For the sake of completeness, my other favourite Christmas song is from another great Aussie, Paul Kelly. We may not have long-reaching Christmas traditions in Australia, but it’s an important time of year from a family perspective, and this song recognises that as well.

Show notes: Episode 167 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast

Christmas Travels [Replay]

Merry Christmas to all listeners of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast! It’s time for a rewind to listen to an episode from 2016 featuring some great Christmas travel stories.

Firstly I chat with Annalicia Lynn who had an interesting Christmas in Taiwan while she was teaching English there. We talk about the cultural differences between many Asian countries and English-speaking nations and she has one of my very favourite stories about how her Taiwanese colleagues tried to create a Christmas atmosphere in the workplace.

Emma Mann started a tradition of spending Christmas abroad, and she talks about the difference between spending Christmas in another country where the traditions are strong, versus a place where Christmas generally isn’t celebrated.

Finally, Joe Baur tells me about his experience living in Germany at Christmas time – one of my favourite places to be during this season!


Transcript of Episode 167

Amanda Kendle 0:01
Hello, and welcome to Episode 167 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast. Today is a special Christmas episode. But it’s actually a rerun of an episode I made three years ago, because not a lot of people have got to hear it because three years ago, I definitely didn’t have as many wonderful listeners as I do today. And I went back and listened to this Christmas episode. And it’s excuse the pun, it’s a cracker. It’s a really fun one with some really interesting tales of spending Christmases traveling. So I wanted to bring it out again for this Christmas so that more of you could hear some of these great guests that I had. I can’t believe it’s three years ago, but it is three years ago and enjoy their story. So I’ll play that for you in just a second. But before that I want to wish anyone who’s out there and celebrating Christmas, a very, very Merry Christmas. I hope that Santa brings you all the gifts you need. But more importantly, I hope you get to spend some real life time perhaps with family and friends, or whatever you like to do at Christmas. Now people often ask me about what I do for Christmas because, you know, down here in Australia, it’s quite different. It’s the middle of summer, there’s definitely no snow. I mean, there’s no snow in Perth ever, literally ever. So it’s quite a funny thing. But our tradition at Christmas is really just a simple family get together. And we don’t have a traditional Christmas meal because it’s too hot to cook really. So what we tend to do is we, you know, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we nominate a few favourite dishes will all bring something and my mum especially is a great cook, and she will always provide some good dishes. And then we spend a few days with my dad and my stepmother on the estuary, a couple, an hour or so south of Perth. So that’s our kind of traditional Christmas these days. It’s really relaxing. It’s low stress, but it’s a really nice time to spend some quality family time together. So that’s our typical Christmas and those foods can be anything many and varied. There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s just random foods that we particularly want to eat. I will be bringing chocolate mousse because that’s what I always make it Christmas. It’s a dish that you know, takes a while to do. It’s a bit fiddly. I can never be bothered at other times of year but at Christmas, I have time. I don’t work and I make my tasty chocolate mousse instead. So that would be my Christmas. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and next week I’ll have a special New Year’s repeat episode as well, similarly from three years ago, but in the meantime, here is the old Christmas episode with some very fun stories that definitely stand the test of time. So enjoy!

Amanda Kendle 0:29
Hello and welcome to Episode 37 of The Thoughtful Travel Podcast. Today we’re talking about Christmas travels. I have spent quite a few Christmases traveling and living abroad and it’s certainly a different way to experience Christmas and it’s not like the way I grew up having a a proper family Christmas every year so to speak. A number of my guests have also spent some Christmases traveling in other countries and I’m going to talk to a few of them about their experiences today. But this Christmas, I will be staying home here in Perth, Western Australia. And a lot of people from the northern hemisphere do ask about our Aussie Christmases, because of course here in Australia, Christmas happens in the middle of summer. And that’s quite contradictory to the traditional kind of mode of Christmas. And yet, we still have Christmas cards with snowmen on, we still sing all of those Christmas carols which feature winter. So it’s quite a strange kind of contradictory season. But I tell you one particular song about Christmas that really sums up the Aussie Christmas for me, and I’m going to leave a link in the show notes for it. And if you follow my Facebook page for Not A Ballerina, you’ll have seen me share it probably every Christmas for as long as I can remember. So it’s by a great West Aussie singer songwriter named Tim Minchin, very multi talented fellow. And he’s written a song named White Wine in the Sun, which really just describes what I think an Australian Christmas means. And it’s mostly about family and sunshine as well. So I’ll leave a link so you can have a listen to that fabulousness. But in the meantime, my first guest today is Annalicia Lynn. And she experienced a very unusual Christmas when she was living in Taiwan, and teaching English. And of course, she also had to teach some of her students about our Christmas traditions in English speaking countries. So she has some some really interesting things to say.

Annalicia Lynn 2:32
There’s so many things that are just assumed or, you know, you you operate on that, that when you’re thrown into a completely different culture that you have to like, educate people on I also remember, like, this is the funny thing. I remember them telling me about a few of their different holidays in the fall, in the autumn. And, you know, they’re telling me the story behind him. And I remember kind of being like, Wow, that’s a very interesting story that I can’t really follow. I don’t, you know, I’m not sure this, you know, I can’t believe you have a holiday around this right. But then I in December was asked to teach lessons on Christmas, right. So I’m telling them all about Santa Claus and trying to explain how you know, people believe he comes from the North Pole and he, he’s coming in the chimney, and all this different stuff. And I remember thinking, oh my god, it’s the same thing. You know, this holiday that I think is so obvious. When you actually explain it to someone who doesn’t know much about it. I mean, it’s just it’s almost hilarious.

Annalicia Lynn 3:43
When I showed up on Christmas Day, because of course we had to work on Christmas because it’s not a holiday in Taiwan. And when I showed up, they were so sweet and they had a few of their of my employees were dressed up as Santa but then there was also one dressed up as the Easter Bunny! I thought that was just so, so kind and so funny and such a like a great example of how we you know, we all do our best to try to understand each other’s cultures and it just takes a while you know, like, like in the States of course the Easter Bunny’s just not going to show up on Christmas Day. But in their mind it all went together right you know, our holidays and and i know their intention was so super kind but I just couldn’t help but giggle. I just I think it’s just such a great you know, because we do that all the time right to other cultures in our own way. And so that I was a great reminder to me of just, number one, that like it takes a while to understand but also like you don’t have to do it perfectly and I don’t have to expect other cultures to do it perfectly. Like this can be a lot more, this doesn’t have to be so serious, you know, understanding other cultures doesn’t have to be about getting all the details right. It can be more about just the intention behind it and being open and kind.

Amanda Kendle 5:11
Yeah, just trying and if the Easter Bunny comes along with a bunch of Santa’s then so be it. I think that’s marvelous! Gorgeous. What a great story. Yes, I remember I was in Japan for a couple of Christmases and one of them I had to work as well. And that was a little bit depressing to be at work on Christmas Day, but some Santas and an Easter Bunny would have definitely fixed that!

Annalicia Lynn 5:31
I know! It’s so funny that you say that because we we Skyped with my family that morning because they were all together so like my extended family. And it was such a weird experience. You know, it’s 7am our time to be Skyping and then 8am to be at work and you know it’s supposed to feel like Christmas but I will say that seeing the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus cheered me up a bit.

Amanda Kendle 6:02
I love the story about the Easter Bunny so much. It was so sweet of them to be trying to fit in culturally with the Westerners there. And I can totally relate to that experience of Christmas. It was really similar to when I’ve spent a couple of Christmases in Japan. The same thing that I had to go work those days and it seemed really weird to be doing that while back home, my family was celebrating Christmas. But it was a really interesting experience if nothing else. Now my second guest today is Emma Mann. And she has some really interesting experiences with traveling at Christmas and she’s off again on another trip soon. But I’ll let her tell you about that.

Emma Mann 6:48
The first time I went away at Christmas because I think I said to you that I started doing it consistently because my mum had passed away and always looking for breaking tradition.

Amanda Kendle 6:58
Yeah. Which is a kind of a sensible way to do it, I think Yeah,

Emma Mann 7:02
well, we don’t have any family in Perth. My sister lives in Port Hedland and the rest of my family are in Victoria. Sorry. Um, I figure if I’m gonna have to get on a plane anyway, I’d rather go somewhere exotic than Melbourne.

Amanda Kendle 7:17
For the 55th time for the

Emma Mann 7:19
Yeah, and I mean, I take two or three trips to Melbourne a year anyway just to see family so I’d rather not do it at Christmas when everything’s very expensive and hot and stifling. And I don’t like summer and all of that sort of thing. So the first time I went away at Christmas, though, I went to Kenya and Tanzania, which was amazing. We had Christmas dinner in the Amboseli National Park watching the elephants and the sun setting behind Kilimanjaro and we had New Year’s Eve in Zanzibar and like it was amazing, but I felt weird leaving my family Christmas. It was the first time I’ve been far away from home at Christmas. I was with a girlfriend, who I had, we met in Africa the year before on another trip that I had done. And we both were just incredibly homesick and missing normal Christmas lunch. But then I got back and not long after that my mum was diagnosed with cancer and then she passed away two years ago. So in the three Christmases, we’re about to have a third Christmas without mum. So the first Christmas I wallowed and stayed at home by myself and then the second Christmas. Well, the second Christmas was last year, and I decided that I wasn’t going to do that again, because that’s ridiculous.

Amanda Kendle 8:37
Yes, and your mum wouldn’t want you to do that.

Emma Mann 8:39
She absolutely would have killed me. So I ended up I booked flights to London. I had no plan. I lived in London for years. So I’ve got friends there. And I surprised a girlfriend so I just knocked on her door on three days before Christmas. And she had no clue I had told her that I was going to the States to my god mother and then all of a sudden there I was on her doorstep! Which, it was hilarious. Um, and I ended up yeah had like her whole family knew that I was coming because I had to tell her grandparents so that her nan knew that I was coming for lunch

Amanda Kendle 9:17
Haha yes you can’t surprise elderly people when they’re preparing lunch can you!

Emma Mann 9:23
and it’s a bit rude. So thankfully her parents and her grandparents, the whole family love me, so, that’s that’s fine.

Amanda Kendle 9:32
Oh, how wonderful.

Emma Mann 9:33
So that was great. But it was still that traditional Christmas. It was still that traditional all of the family coming together. It wasn’t my family, so it was still a little bit upsetting. It was still it was that very traditional Christmas lunch with the roast turkey and the Yorkshire pudding and the whole bit

Amanda Kendle 9:54
And cold weather too

Emma Mann 9:55
Yes, and the cold weather, real Christmas all the Carnaby Street lights in London. We didn’t get any snow but I went up to York, York was flooded because England

Amanda Kendle 10:08
That’s explanation enough.

Emma Mann 10:11
And it was like it was magical and I’d forgotten what Christmas in the UK was like, and not that I’d ever been there for Christmas Day because I’d always come home when I was living there but that lead up too where all the Christmas decorations go up and everybody’s all in woolen coats and mittens and scarves and boots and it’s hot chocolate everywhere and you would go off to Germany or somewhere else for the Christmas market.

Amanda Kendle 10:35
Yes, that’s real Christmas

Emma Mann 10:37
Real Christmas, exactly, the opposite of what Christmas in Australia is.

Amanda Kendle 10:41
Very, very opposite.

Emma Mann 10:42
That’s so true. Yeah. So when I was looking at Christmas plans for this year, I really decided that I wanted something that was so far removed from that traditional Christmas as possible. So it was narrowing down countries that I could go to and I was talking to my cousin and we had decided on India.

Amanda Kendle 11:01
Emma and I went on to discuss this in a bit more detail and it turned out that after her initial idea of heading to India for Christmas this year, she found a travel companion who didn’t want to go to India but somewhere nearby and they’ve ended up booking Sri Lanka. So instead of hanging around in Perth, and being miserable this year, Emma will be off holidaying and traveling around Sri Lanka, which I think will be a great experience. She’s hoping and planning and this is one of the reasons they chose it, that being a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas that it will be not Christmasy in in too much of a way and I think that they will probably be right. It reminded me of a Christmas I spent in Tunisia, in Northern Africa, also a country where they don’t really celebrate Christmas at all. And I remember on Christmas Day that a bit of a touristy ish restaurant, near where we were staying offered a special Christmas menu. So we went and had a special Christmas meal, but other than that there was, you know, the odd decoration around but nothing else. And I actually really enjoyed that lack of real commercialism. I mean, it’s always a little bit tinged with sadness to be away from home at Christmas, I always, or that I never felt homesick really at any other time of year. But on Christmas Day, I did sort of miss being with the rest of my family back home in Western Australia. But otherwise, to be in a place where they don’t go crazy at Christmas is really kind of a good thing. Unless, of course, you’re in a country where they do Christmas very, very, very well. And that is where my next guest is right now. So Joe Bauer, who I’ve spoken with before about various bits and even last week actually about Japan, but he is currently living in Germany. He moved there relatively recently. And so of course, Germany, well they do Christmas, right. I know that from experience, and Joe’s had some really good Christmassy experiences there already

Joe Baur 13:02
They certainly know how to do Christmas we’ve gone to well, we’re in Dusseldorf and so they have, obviously their market in the Altstadt, there’s one in Cologne as well we haven’t had a chance to check that out yet but we saw the rumblings of one and Benrot which is still in Dusseldorf but it’s a little bit outside and we saw the the preparations for that but even in some of the neighborhoods here in Dusseldorf, they’ll have, basically I didn’t know what we’re getting into I knew about the Christmas markets for some reason my impression was that it would be almost like an arts and crafts show or or sale or something, a pop up market that we have in the States. Like what where you basically just have like a table they have like a space and whatnot. But these are like small, like you see like those shows about the tiny houses like they’re kind of like that that they wheel in and they put all over the place and outside in Dusseldorf and all that what goes into it is just blows my mind because they these are literally like Tiny Homes and I mean they’re not selling the world’s most expensive stuff. I mean we just saw a shop yesterday was woman just selling stuff that she bought from Nepal. And so I can’t imagine she’s making a whole lot of money but she’s still got just as nice of a tiny house for her little Christmas market. And then I last last weekend we did a quick train trip down to Konigswinter to Siebengebirge, which is just like a small I don’t know in German technically that’s mountain range but it’s not really like mountains like you would the word

Amanda Kendle 14:39
not like not like it sounds

Joe Baur 14:41
that. Yeah, yet. Right. Right. But there’s this castle they’re all called Drachenberg, which I don’t know if you if you remember in your German but that’s just dragon’s castle. I just think that’s the coolest name. Like, if I were it’s like what I would if you would have asked me and I was five. What are you going to name your castle Joe? Dragon’s castle, Drachenberg!

Amanda Kendle 15:03
And it sounds even better in German doesn’t it?

Joe Baur 15:05
It does does like dragon is a kind of cool word in English but in German

Amanda Kendle 15:11
it sounds really fierce!

Joe Baur 15:12
feels like like I get why people thought they needed to kill it because you just said like oh there’s a Drachen, I gotta kill it, give me a sword, I’m stabbing this guy

Amanda Kendle 15:19

Joe Baur 15:22
and so that this castle i mean it’s it’s beautiful I mean it’s one of those postcard castles that Germany has so many of it’s not one that’s historically important I actually just did a it’s weird I don’t know if you’ve experienced this in your travel blogging writing career but you know some posts I’ll spend all this time on thinking like people will be really interested in this and then nothing. And then I did this. I did this post on just hiking Siebengebirge and going to the Christmas market and it’s just to get back to your Christmas theme. That’s at the Schloss, at Drachenberg right now. Oh, it’s the weekend. Yeah, it’s it’s gorgeous. I did this post on and it’s like, overnight, it ended up being one of my most popular posts I’ve ever written. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a

Amanda Kendle 16:06
timeliness with the Christmas markets perhaps.

Joe Baur 16:09
Yeah, perhaps. But yeah, no, this is and I was reading in my little research I did about it. It isn’t necessarily historically significant castle in terms of German history like basically I believe it was in the late 19th century a rich guy was like, I want a castle I’m gonna build a castle because I got money and so he did then he like basically never lived there died got passed around in you know, various estates and stuff was a Christian boys school for a little bit. Which kind of to me killed the coolness of it being Dragon’s Castle, so like oh, and now we’re a Christian boys boarding school.

Amanda Kendle 16:45
Yes that doesn’t sound so fierce, does it!

Joe Baur 16:48
Yeah, sounds like you know, the Christian version of Harry Potter or something Dragon’s Castle at the boarding school for Christian boys. But then, eventually, then, like really bad. It was Nazi military school or something but then the Allies think the Americans took it over when they came in at the end there was just like big we there was a guy, forget his name off the top my head, but he bought it and the history right like I don’t know how he got this name but he apparently he was considered an eccentric castle owner that was like us like I think it was name was like Paul Spinet or something like they’d like Paul Spinet known as a eccentric castle owner and I just thought that was like the like, I hope I hope there’s some kind of afterlife just so I could picture him be like yes they got it, I am an eccentric castle owner!

Amanda Kendle 17:37
That’s really a goal to strive for isn’t it!

Joe Baur 17:40
right and so like he he started a rehabilitation process for it in it and then when he passed away it kind of got passed on to the state of Nordrheinwestfalen which is the state of Germany that both Dusseldorf, Cologne and and Konigswinter and Siebengebirge are allin and the state’s taking it over and they’ve finished like the land projects and everything in 2011 and the castle is beautiful I mean it has a little bit of that Disney Castle flair to it which, if listeners don’t know it, that is based off of a German castle and so for the Christmas stuff like they got all these beautiful lights they kind of turned it into a Christmas carol theme so there was like a lovely a ghostly a ghostly Ebenezer Scrooge and by ghosts I just mean like they painted his face really like the color white computer paper white and he was giving like this soliloquy on the back balcony about his what German I could understand like you know about his greed and all the you know, typical Ebenezer Scrooge stuff. And then you have the markets with the you know, they had Wurst, they had different potato dishes that you know, that are so popular here. Then they actually had Spanish chorizo so which I went for because I’ve had plenty of German food … But then of course the ultimate thing for Christmas in Germany is the Gluhwein I don’t know if you

Amanda Kendle 19:06
Ah oh yes I was about to ask you Did they have the Gluhwein, because I love Gluhwein, fabulous I mean those cold winter in evenings out at the Christmas markets, so much atmosphere like I can just taste it when you talk about it

Joe Baur 19:20
right yeah it’s I’ve heard mixed things some people would say like oh god I can’t I cannot do the Gluhwein, other people like who really like it but for my for my first time I was like, I don’t know if I would drink like more than one but I could like sip on this especially because it is scalding hot at first. And it is nice just to hold in your hands and just have some sense of being warm. But they did they do also have like some of those heaters I think standing up around the the joint, so, it’s beautiful. I mean you get all all kinds of Christmas decorations over the castle. You have the show there were there was a small band. I don’t know if you call it like a trombone band, like playing That kind of old classical style Christmas music that you could you would hear at the beginning of a an old Christmas movie kind of deal. There was playing over the balcony. It’s really pretty. Yeah, I mean, the Christmas here has been great. I haven’t been around I know. I’m fairly certain like, the Germanic parts of Belgium and then Netherlands and I know Copenhagen does some Christmas markets. Well, I haven’t had a chance to experience those yet. But so far the Christmas in Germany has lived up to the hype for sure.

Amanda Kendle 20:31
Oh, I’m very envious that Joe gets to experience a German Christmas. The markets there are amazing. I had so many beautiful experiences in the Christmas markets near where I lived. My insider tip if you’re in the southwest of Germany anywhere, is to go into the Christmas markets in the little town of Bad Wimpfen. They are just divine and not over touristy. And in fact, not many foreigners would be there at all. Well, at least not the last time I was there which is getting on to 10 years ago. So I hope I’m still telling you the truth. I had some amazing Christmases in Europe, in Germany, of course, one in the Alps in Austria, where I went with my sister and her, then new husband on their honeymoon. In fact, they let me come along, and we went to a little town where we could definitely have snow. And that was a wonderful experience. And I guess my very favorite European Christmas was one I spent up in Finland in Finnish Lapland where I got to meet Santa himself because that’s where he lives up there. These people who think he lives in Canada completely wrong, just so you know. I got to meet the real Santa up in Finland. And on Christmas Day up there, I actually spent the day riding, learning how to drive a reindeer sleigh, in fact, so if Santa needed me, I could help out, I even got a little bit of paper saying I had a reindeer sleigh driving license. So that was just enormous fun and so very, very Christmasy compared to an Aussie Christmas. So in any case, wherever you spend this Christmas wherever you are in the world, I hope you have some lovely time. I hope that many of you get to have wonderful time with your family, and that you get some fun presents even. Maybe some flights to another cool place to visit. But anyway, Merry Christmas. And before I forget, if you are keen to leave a Christmas present for the thoughtful travel podcast, perhaps you could do so by leaving a rating and or a review on iTunes. I know it’s a little bit annoying to have to go to iTunes and search for the podcast to leave the review. They don’t make it particularly simple. But if you could spare me a minute or two as a Christmas gift, I would be very very appreciative. Those reviews really helped to help the podcast be spread to more and more people.

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