Frozen Europe 2010: Cologne

January 12, 2011

Can one ever get tired of travelling? As much as I want to say no, it is clear to me that as the money runs low and the sensory stimulation runs high there must be an end. And now, as I sit in the comfort of my own home I can reflect back on my travels. The spirit of adventure. The joy of discovery quietly slipping back into the recesses of my mind as I settle back into daily life. But, what a trip! What was initially a trip into the wintery wonderland of Sweden and the Arctic Circle quickly enjoyed a “warm up” event; the Christmas markets in Cologne.
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Sinterklaas in Amsterdam

November 15, 2010

Every year, Amsterdam celebrates the arrival of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicolas) and this year was no different. According to legend (Wikipedia and various other websites) he comes in straight off a flotilla from Spain to hand out pepernoten (cookies) with his helpers, the Zwarte Piets. Being a uniquely Dutch tradition I was there, camera in hand, ready to capture the action for posterity.
Sinterklaas evidently has some parallels with the Christmas celebrations I know, but here the stocking cap is replaced with a mitre (Bishop’s hat) and gone are the reindeer in favour of a white horse. Then of course, there are the Zwarte Piets themselves which might remind some of us of Santa’s elves. Apparently there was an attempt to give them rainbow face paint a few years ago but it didn’t quite catch on…
Undoubtedly controversial to some, there are some different interpretations to be found here if you are willing to run it through a translator. Stories vary, with “soot from the chimney” popping up often in my timid Google searches. But regardless of the origin of this phenomenon, there was no doubting the smiles on the children’s faces as they screamed at the “Piets” for cookies (awwww…)
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