I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…

posted in: Life and things, Travel | 2

Christmas, as we all know, is quintessentially a Northern Hemisphere festival, celebrating the return of the light. It’s no coincidence that several religions celebrate around the date of the winter solstice, a time of deep darkness, cold, and hunger. These days the essential dread of the cold dark has faded into the history books and Christmas has become something of a fairy tale, complete with a decorated evergreen tree, Santa, elves, and reindeer. The ideal traditional Christmas is a cold, calm day with snow nestled on the ground and the rooftops, while the family gathers around a table groaning with fatty, warming food.

A Southern Hemisphere Christmas is completely different. In Australia’s hot climate we celebrate the arrival of shorter days. Although European migrants tried valiantly over the years to keep the traditions of their ancestors going, gradually the traditional huge family feast – turkey, roasts, stuffing, puddings, fruit cake etc etc – have given way to prawns on the barbie. There’s something fundamentally wrong with fake snow in the windows and Bing Crosby crooning “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” in the supermarket when it’s 30 degrees plus outside.

Which means if you want to enjoy a traditional European Christmas you have to be there.

So we did.

This year we went on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest over Christmas and New Year, dreaming of a white Christmas. But before we went to Amsterdam we stayed with friends in UK for six days.

You have no idea how hard it is to get cold weather clothing in Queensland, even in the winter months. But we felt pretty well prepared, with cold weather coats, gloves that were supposed to still let you fiddle with your smart phone (didn’t work), jumpers, and woolly scarves. Still, we both knew that we wouldn’t need any of that stuff indoors – interiors are always heated, so T-shirts might well suffice most of the time.

As usual, getting there is part of the fun. We obtained a great deal for business class fares with Qatar, vaunted as one of the world’s best airlines. We would be travelling in Q cabins, little single user suites. As you can see, there’s plenty of room. The service was good, the food was okay, and the flight was on time.

Qatar Airways is owned by the Qatar Government and Islamic practices are important. On the plane the graphic showing the plane’s compass direction also showed the direction to the Prophet’s tomb in Mecca. The entertainment offerings, which didn’t impress, included the Holy Qran and it goes without saying pork was off the menu. Although you could get turkey ham. The administrators had bowed to Western predilections and alcohol was available. Would I like my champagne brut or rose?

We reached Doha after a 14+ hour flight, where we changed planes. I’d had about 5 hours sleep but still felt a bit drained (as you do). The airport is enormous, in the same league as Hong Kong or Singapore but with less signs, a labyrinth of shops, and travellers from everywhere, some with not even a semblance of manners. We had to go through security to get into the lounge and I took out my laptop for scanning. I needn’t have bothered. The officer put the laptop under the backpack in the tray. Then we were pushed along to wait for the bags to reappear and a few people created a blockage, which was a pain in the butt. My tray appeared, I grabbed my bag and my coat and we wandered around between the shops trying to find the lounge. After a few missteps we finally got there. We sat down and I opened my bag to take out my laptop…

Oh bugger.

I have a terrible sense of direction at the best of times. Especially when I’m stressed. I left Peter in the lounge and tried to work out how to get back to security. I do have one advantage, however. Being a woman, I was prepared to ask for help. I’d completely forgotten we’d come down an escalator to get to the lounge but the locals pointed me in the right direction. The laptop had been taken by the security folks and I was able to get it back without much trouble. All of these services were outsourced to external companies well practiced in administering airports.

By now, Peter was also a bit stressed. Would I ever appear again? Or had I been taken into custody for breaking some rule or other?

Peter and I were reunited and carried on for the 8-hour flight to London Heathrow, where we were met by our friends and whisked off through the cold and dark to their home in Buckingham.

Buckingham is a very old market town on the River Ouse founded reputedly as early as the 7th century but the current buildings date from the 18th century. An arm of the Grand Union Canal, which connected London to the Midlands, used to end here. It’s a pretty little town, centred around the marketplace and featuring its imposing old jail, which is now a museum. The streets are narrow and often awkward, cars are parked along both sides, and drivers have to show patience and courtesy. Which works for the locals but not so much for the European truck drivers who find themselves here because of directions on their GPS to avoid a clog-up on the motorway.

Our friends took us on a short walking tour, showing us the oldest building in town, now a library, and St Rumboldt’s church. Many of the old buildings are now owned by the University of Buckingham, which means they will be preserved.

St Rumboldt’s church
There might be a pre-Christmas sale on here and there in Buckingham

You’ll note there’s no sign of snow. Indeed, 10 degrees is quite balmy here at this time of year. But it was early days.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

2 Responses

  1. Cathy

    Looking forward to the next episode.
    I loved Christmas in the UK when I went.

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