Tasty tour for Christmas

By Gaia Manco Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-19 5:03:02

Santa Claus goes through his mail in Napapiiri, Finland. Photos: IC


A woman and child with Santa Claus dolls in a furniture store in Leipzig, Germany


Zuzu women dancing in Lesedi Cultural Village near Johannesburg, South Africa


Demonstrators surround a Christmas tree at City Hall in Philadelphia, the US.

Not only is Christmas celebrated differently in different parts of the world, it also tastes different. To whet your appetites for the upcoming holiday seasons, here is a short tour of the most delectable Christmas culinary destinations.

Leipzig, Germany

Germany is always a popular destination for Christmas revelers, thanks to its traditional markets,  and the Weihnachtsmarkt ("Christmas market") in Leipzig might be the pick of the bunch.

The Leipzig Christmas Market, first opened in 1458, is one of the oldest and largest markets of its sort in the country. Occuping the historical city centre, there are a panoply of food stalls featuring typical German fare, as well as traditional dishes from the north and east of Europe. One part of the market recreates an old medieval fair, where merry visitors can watch costumed cooks preparing handbrot, a bread dough filled with cheese, ham and mushrooms which is cooked to order in wood ovens.

If you're after a more contemporary vibe, there is an "alternative" market but a hop, skip and jump away, in the neighborhood of Connetwitz.

If you decide to stay over New Year, you'll be treated to the city's 1,000th anniversary celebrations. Leipzig is a merchant city with a rich and varied history that can be seen no matter where you walk. In the center of the city, you'll find beautiful facades of buildings erected in the Gründerzeit style, an aesthetic popular in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the city was at the height of his splendour. The western districts, Plagwitz and Lindenau, bear the testimony of its industrial past, and is home to the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei. Once Europe's largest cotton mill, the former factory has now been transformed into a creative hub for contemporary art.

Another feature of Leipzig is its devotion to classical music. It was here that Richard Wagner breathed his first breath, and Johann Sebastian Bach his last. To this day, the Leipzig Philharmonic Orchestra is renowned worldwide.

What to eat

For Christmas you can't miss the Stollen, a long, dense cake filled with spices and dried fruits and coated with sugar that must be prepared at least two weeks in advance. You should also try the Leipziger Lerche, a small cake filled with almonds and cherry.

How to get there

There are no direct flights from Beijing to Leipzig. From Berlin, Germany's capital, Leipzig can be reached in 1 hour by train. There are also flights from Frankfurt, one of Germany's major international hubs, taking roughly 1 hour.

Philadelphia, United States

While New York is a more obvious choice, there is much to recommend about spending Christmas in Philadelphia.

It was in Philadelphia that the Declaration of Independence  was signed in 1776, followed by the ratification of the US Constitution in 1788. Independence Hall, the very place where these two historic events took place, is now a museum, and a short walk away, one can find the resting place of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the US, at the Christ Church Burial Ground.

If you are looking for a break from being immersed in the dusty annals of history, head over to the Christmas light show at Macy's.Since 1956, kids of all ages have gathered in the main arcade of the colossal department store building for the show, involving puppets, reindeer, and a dazzling kaleidoscope of colored lights.

For foodies, the Reading Terminal Market is a must, boasting fresh produce, meats and artisinal ingredients. There are also stalls serving the best of American food, including those multi-layered meat sandwiches that you've only ever seen in the movies. As the oldest still operating farmers' market in the US, the Reading Terminal Market also gives visitors the opportunity to discover traditional American cultures. The Amish communities of Pennsylvania, recognizable by their traditional outfits, operate stalls that sell homemade sweets, pretzels, peanut butter and jams.

Once you've eaten to your heart's content, head over to JFK Plaza, also known as LOVE Park for its central sculpture spelling the word, made by Robert Indiana. During the holiday period, the park is illuminated by Christmas lights, as well as playing host to a Christmas Village inspired by the historic Chistmas Markets in Germany.

On New Year's Day, the Mummers Parade folk festival animates the city center brightly colored costumes, music and dance. The extravagant parade dates back to 1901, and is believed to be the oldest of its kind in the US.

What to eat

Philadelphia is known throughout the US for its cheesesteaks, a white bread roll filled with chopped meat, melted cheese and onions. The sandwich is said to have been invented in Philadelphia's Little Italy, with the two most famous establishments for the cheesy treat being Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks, whose original owners are credited with the creation of the Philadelphia cheesesteak.

How to get there

Philadelphia is on the east coast of the United States. To get there from Beijing, you'll need to make a stopover in another American airport, such as Washington Dulles International Airport.

Napapiiri - Rovaniemi , Finland

Few places are more Christmas-y than the village of Napapiiri in Lapland, Finland, which lies on the edge of the Arctic Cricle and is the suppossed home of Santa Claus. It is appropriate then, that it is home to Santa Claus Village and Santa Park, a cluster of Father Chistmas themed amusements for young and old alike. 

In addition to being able to visit Santa's house, there are Santa's workshops and Santa's post offices and real reindeer. A trip to Santa's house even provides a plausible explanation for how Santa Claus can drop off presents in every household around the world in a single evening.

If you go in the winter, the long dark nights are perfect for stargazing, as well as seeing the famous "northern lights."

Also known as aurora borealis, the northern lights are a natural phenomenon that suddenly fills the sky with colourful lights, which can only be observed near the Arctic or the Antarctic. The light display is caused by charged particles interacting with the earth's magnetosphere, but you don't need to be a physicist to appreciate pinks, yellows and greens amidst an otherwise inky black sky.

To understand how life could have possibly developed in such a cold climate, visit the Arktikum, a partially underground museum in the town of Rovaniemi around 8 kilometers to the north of Napapiiri.

What to eat

Say goodbye to your childhood memories, because the local delicacy in the Lapland is reindeer meet, served sautéed or smoked with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.

How to get there

There are direct flights from Beijing to the Finnish capital of Helsinki. From there, fly to Rovaniemi.

Johannesburg, South Africa

If you are looking for a warmer option for the holiday season, head to the southern hemisphere and enjoy a summer Christmas in the Johannesburg, a vibrant city in the heart of South Africa known to be buzzing with art and culture.  

The center of Johannesburg is undergoing an urban revival, and the hippest venues can now be found in the Central Business District (CBD), where until a few years ago no tourist would have bothered to venture to.

For a Christmas banquet with all the flavours of Africa and beyond, visit the Market on Main in Maboneng Precinct. Ethiopian delicacies, European cakes and Indian curries share the market stalls and create a cosmopolitan atmosphere that reminds travelers of London, without the perpetual grey skies. In Johannesburg in the summer, the sky is almost always blue and cloudless, making sunglasses a must-have accessory. 

Another neighbourhood that you cannot skip is the township of Soweto, where you should make your way to Vilakazi Street - the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners: the late Nelson Mandela, and bishop and civil rights activist Desmond Tutu. The Hector Pieterson Museum, within walking distance from Mandela's house, deserves a visit as well, providing an enthralling multimedia walkthrough of the country's complicated history.

Another of South Africa's highlights is its nature and wildlife. From Johannesburg, you'll need to drive for around three hours to reach one of South Africa's major national park reserves, the Marakele Park. You can spend the night there in a camping site, and embark on a safari in your own car. Keep your camera at the ready to take snapshots of zebras, giraffes, rhinos, elephants, and even lions.

What to eat

Bunny chow, a bread loaf filled with vegetable or lamb curry, is a specialty of the South African Indian community. Zigini, a typical Ethiopian spicy stew on flat bread served with lentils, is an ideal dish to share with friends.

Also, make sure you take part to a braai, which is Afrikaans for "grilled meat." Meat in South Africa is inexpensive and great quality.

How to get there

There are direct flights daily from Beijing to OR Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg.  To best experience the country it is recommended to rent a car. South Africa is a land of drivers, and a car is needed both for safaris and traveling around the city.

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