Belgium Christmas Markets

brussels 2009160In Belgium, Christmas Day is celebrated twice; once on St. Nicholas Day, December 6; and again on Christmas Day, December 25. On St. Nicholas Day children receive toys and candy from Pere Noel. On Christmas Day the children receive sweaters and socks from their grandparents.

The Brussels Christmas Market is a delcious treat for all the senses. Every winter the capital city is transformed into a Winter Wonderland. Eager shoppers can wander the cobblestoned streets to choose gifts from 240 wooden chalets. The displays are trimmed with Christmas lights that infuse the dark sky. The aroma of Gluhwein tantalizes the chilly air. Belgian chocolates, made by Artisan Chocolatiers are on offer around every street corner.

Winter Wonderland features an old style Christmas Market, a Big Wheel, street activities, a skating rink, and a nightly light show that dances arond the Grand Place on regular intervals.

I was delighted to discover that I had a front line view of the the amazing light show in the Grand Place from our hotel, Ibis Hotel off the Grand Place. I could barely wait to finish dinner, to start my shopping.

The markets extend from Grand Place to Ste-Catherine. The displays in the windows hold fine beautiful gifts, and the Christmas displays are truly imaginative. The wandering carolers and singers entertain as the crowd moves from stall to stall.

There is something for everyone. The parents can sample Belgian waffles and beer and the little runs will enjoy thier turn on Andrea’s merry go round. The Big Wheel offers an awesome view of the fairyland for the whole family.

The skating rinks is Brussels’s star attraction; it can accomodate 300 people at a time. There is children’s section as well as main adult rink, so all skills levels can glide to their favourite tunes.

My favourite memory was standing in the Grand Square, taking a moment just to admire the light show playing off the stunning City Hall. The square was crowded with tourists but still blessedly slilent, and the true Christmas spirit was all around. The experience was priceless.

Ghost Hunt of York

IMG_0815

Ringing his death bell he gathers the awaiting ghost hunters and leads on to York’s darker side.  Ghost Hunt of York is just one of the five ghost hunt tour companies that offer spooky entertainment.

York endured some of England’s bloodiest battles, and claims to be the country’s most haunted city.  The Viking Invasion by Ivar the Boneless in AD867 wiped out Anglo-Saxon York.  In the eleventh century, William the Conqueror devasted the proud city during the Battle of Hastings.  The disturbing massacre of the Jewish Population left a blood stain on the city’s past.

The Shambles, the meeting place for Ghost Hunt York Tour, is York’s most famous street.  The cobblestoned alleyway dates back to the Middle Ages and was voted Britain’s most picturesque street Google Street View Awards in 2010.  During the day, stepping along the quaint street is like a journey back to Charles Dickens time.  The ancient butcher shops have been turned into a tempting tea shops and tourists gifts stores.   The medieval street even offers its own haunted house, but I passed on the experience.  I don’t believe in ghosts, at least not during the day. 

At the strike of 7:30pm, and ringing his death bell, the Ghost Hunter appeared.  Dressed in a black frock, hop hat, and Gladestone bag just like the one Sherlock Holmes use to carry.  As the skies grew darker and darker, we travelled in a group, hanging onto his every word.  The sombre expression on his face never changed, the experience was even more spooky.

At each stop, Andy elevated himself with his stool to ensure that no one would miss a single word.  His voice filled with sincerety as he spoke about York’s beloved Grey Lady.  It was a tale filled with tragedy and romance; a story impossible to forget.  A nun from the Middle Ages fell in love with a nobleman.  Her love was requited, and for her crimes, an angry mob locked her in the windowless room of the Old Hospital of St. Leonard.  The room was sealed with bricks and become the nun’s living tomb.

We also heard abot this ghost called the crying girl.  She use to live in #5 College Street.  According to legend, this ghostly child starved to death after her parents died from plague.  She only appears to haunt the upper parts of the house.

Not all of Andy’s tales are sad, or about murder most foul.  He has the wit of a doctor’s sharp knife.  I quickly saw that the guide, with the sombre expression, had a more playful side.  Andy loved to poke fun at his unsuspecting guests, and soon had us laughing at ourselves.  Two years later it was his stories, and my own carefree giggles, that I remembered so vividly.   It was Andy’s ability to entertain that make Ghost Hunt York the top ghost tour to take when you visit York.