Paris street sign-Rue de l'Arbe Sec

Losing Myself at La Galcante, My Favorite Paris Shop

It’s a secret, a wonderful secret. It’s La Galcante, a Parisian shop probably like none you’ve ever been in before. It’s books and magazines, dust motes floating in pastel lemony light, soft jazz from the radio and the musty-lovely perfume of old paper. It’s magic. Come inside with me.

When I’m traveling, nothing is more wonderful to me than stumbling across a little-known treasure that most tourists never find. It’s those secret places, addresses passed from friend to friend, with instructions to “turn right and look for the blue door,” that put you behind the scenes in a new city and make you feel like a local.

So when a friend told me about La Galcante, a shop that specializes in what they call “Old Press,” I was intrigued. The name itself is a play on words. It’s a combination of galerie (gallery) and brocante (a kind of flea market or second-hand business). As a flea market and vintage junkie (more about that here), I was eager to see it for myself.

Follow Directions to Find La Galcante

The corridor entry to the courtyard where La Galcante is located.

The entyway to La Galcante is a perfect Paris scene. Let yourself get drawn in.

It’s not the kind of place you stumble across. You have to know where to look. You must be told that it is in the 1st Arrondisement, just a few streets from the Louvre. You are told to walk down Rue de l’Arbe Sec to #52 and look for the blue door with the heavy brass knocker. Through that door, you’ll step into a shadowy corridor, maybe with a bike or two leaning against the old walls. At the end of the cobble-stoned corridor, there it is, tucked into a corner of one of those fabulous little Parisian courtyards that make you think you’re in an Audrey Hepburn film.

Step through the arched glass doors and you discover yourself surrounded by seven million bits of paper—stacks of paper, shelves and tables and boxes and crates of paper, towers of paper. It’s a bit overwhelming. But let yourself sink in and be surrounded. The treasure hunt is about to begin.

The shop’s “Old Press” specialty includes newspapers and broadsides from the time of the French Revolution to the present. Most of the collection dates from the 1850s forward, with the most popular requests being for items from the 1920s to 1970s. But they also stretch their mission to include most things paper. Beyond the newspapers and collections of old New Yorker magazines and the entire run of Paris Vogue, you’ll find calendars, vintage advertising, catalogs, broadsides, prints, etchings, cigarette cards, vintage maps.

Walls are lined with shelves stacked with boxes of flt files, and ladders to reach them all.

Wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling shelves and drawers are filled with everything paper-related at la Galcante.

When you first enter the shop, you’re met by walls lined floor-to-ceiling with shallow drawers and shelves stacked with white boxes full of flat files. These are all carefully labeled: Piaf, Hemingway, Hitchcock, Bowie. Those are stuffed with assorted and sorted ephemera about whomever you are currently obsessed with, including articles, photographs, drawings and magazine stories. Others are labeled with subjects like Suisse Chocolat, Chansons, Mode Masculines. Still others merely have numbers, with catalogued newspapers someone will direct you to if you ask.

Wend your way through the narrow aisles towards the back, where you’ll find a perfect Paris atrium ceiling, pouring light down onto that lovely, dusty old paper.

I was greeted by Pierre, tall, slender, and very French in a long-sleeved black sweater, with an offer to help me look for anything special. Casual and friendly, he speaks excellent English and can find most anything in the shop. But since I had no specific requests at that moment, he left me to browse.

Stacks of bagged magazines, books and some old film canisters on a table at la Galcante.

Vintage children’s books, comic books, posters, even cans of fill the shelves and boxes at La Galcante.old film

I spent a couple of solitary hours simply foraging—pawing through stacks of old photos and bags of advertising stickers. I scanned magazines, thumbed newspapers and studied the shelves at random. I could easily have stayed there the whole day, doing just that, forgetting that the beauties of the Louvre and the sunshine of the Tuileries were just a few minutes’ walk away.

After a while, Juliette arrived. She’s lean and leggy, with a bouncy energy. Juliette has been working at La Galcante a long time and she seems to love a good hunt. Ask her for a copy of Pilote magazine from 1963, with the serialized story of “Asterix and the Banquet.” Her eyes will take on a moment of intense inner concentration and then off she will go to find it for you. She knows every inch of the place, back to front, and apparently every piece of paper in the shop. If it is there, she will find it.

La Galcante first opened in 1975, the brainchild of Christian Bailly, a former journalist and a passionate collector of old newspapers. In the 1970s, he inherited hundreds of thousands of the things. He found that newspapers with stories of significant events are easy to sell, but the others? Not so much.

So he invented the concept of the “birthday newspaper.” People can ask for copies of newspapers printed on the day they were born, or an anniversary or other fond memory—not a copy but the actual, original paper. The idea is now a significant part of the shop’s business.

crates with vintage magazines

Magazines are a staple here, all kinds and all eras.

Shelves show off some of the 7 million items in stock at Las Galcante.

There are over 7 million items in the collection. that’s Million!

With limited luggage space and a tight-ish budget, I planned only to browse that day. Easier said than done. While it’s true that it’s free to enter the shop and browse as long as ever you like, unpressured and unmolested, temptation lurks on every shelf and table, in every box and drawer.

When I finally left, my wallet was 100€ lighter and my one carryon bag just a bit heavier.

Watch this video to get something of the experience of wandering the aisles at La Galcante.

La Galcante | Weld Art Collective from weld art collective on Vimeo.

La Galcante
#52 Rue de l’Arbe Sec,
Paris, 75001
Open Monday through Saturday, 10 am-7:30 pm

Visiting Amsterdam’s IJ-Hallen: Europe’s Largest Flea Market

Amsterdam’s IJ-Hallen—it’s where the savvy Dutch go to find inexpensive Amsterdam Hip, Shabby Chic, Boho, Mid-Century Modern, still-serviceable clothes, and just plain used stuff. It’s a genuine flea market, the largest in Europe, and here’s why you really need to go.

Stalking Bargains, Treasures and Trash

I’m a bargain junkie. Always have been; probably always will be. Flea markets, swap meets, rummage sales…I’m in my element. Garage sales? Let me at ’em. I’m even pretty good at dumpster diving. With the goodies I’ve discovered, I’ve furnished homes and clothed bodies, and sometimes made a living. I’ve run stalls in antique markets, sold vintage goods on eBay.

So picture me in heaven walking around the largest genuine flea market in Europe. IJ-Hallen, the Amsterdam Vlooienmarkt, is housed in a couple of monster industrial buildings on Amsterdam’s hip north side. For one weekend every 3-4 weeks, the treasure hunt is on and those huge, high-ceiling buildings buzz with goods and greats, intense bargaining, food and fun. And they are a great way to see the Dutch in their own element. Hippie and hipster alike come to IJ-Hallen, along with young moms on a budget, eclectic collectors, college students, and dealers with shopping carts looking for great merchandise for their more upscale stores. You’ll get a wonderful overview of Dutch society.

Vendors and eclectic goods at Amsterdam's IJ-Hallen flea market.

These people are like me–flea markets make them happy.
And the Amsterdam IJ-Hallen flea market is Europe’s largest and one of its best.

About the Buildings

The buildings themselves are part of the show. They used to be giant ship-building and repair structures for the NDSM (Nederlandse Droogdok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij—Netherlands Drydock and Shipbuilding Company). Ships were built and outfitted here for more than a hundred years until the company went bankrupt in 1984.

After the buildings were abandoned, they became perfect fodder for the long Amsterdam tradition of “squatting” by artists and other creative and free-thinking types. And where artists go, so goes the crowd, and the fun. The whole neighborhood of Noord (North) has become a creative destination, mostly playing off the old industrial look. You can find galleries and artists’ lofts, buildings made of shipping containers, graffiti walls, performance venues and good food and drink. A flea market made the perfect shopping experience for such a neighborhood. The attitude is visible on the very walls of the IJ-Hallen warehouse—Make Art, Not €.

Sign on the entrance of the IJ-Hallen flea market-"Make Art Not €"

The entrance to the IJ-Hallen flea market expresses perfectly the attitude of this hip an artsy neighborhood:
Make Art, Not € [Euros].

Iron seams and gaps in the concrete floor make it important to watch where you are stepping at IJ-Hallen

Watch where you step. These old industrial floors can catch you unaware.

These buildings were designed for ships, big ones, and everything that went with them. This hard and heavy industrial past is clear in the buildings’ bones. The ceiling stretches up to forever, with high windows to let in the light. The visible structural bones are raw and gritty. The floors are criss-crossed with iron rails and bumps in the concrete, making it important to watch your step carefully. Since heating such an enormous space would be impossible, be sure to wear something warm if you are hitting it on one of the winter markets.

There is an entrance fee of 5€, or 2€ for children. Consider it the price of a half-day’s entertainment. When you pay the fee, you’re given a yellow plastic poker-chip-sized token, so you can leave and re-enter. You’ll find toilets near the entrance, for which you will be asked to pay a small fee.

What You’ll Find at Amsterdam’s IJ-Hallen Flea Market

There’s a pretty short list of what you can’t find at IJ-Hallen, though it’s heavy on used clothing and light on furniture and true antiques. With 500 inside stalls, and another 250 or so outside when the weather allows, you’re bound to find something you need and can stuff into your suitcase.

I saw several tables dealing is vinyl records, lots of kitchen gadgetry, glassware, ceramics. There were tchotchkes galore, from wall hangings to tennis rackets made into mirrors, to vintage marbles, to beer steins, to Delft tiles to combat boots, to tools, to… well, you get the idea. It’s nothing if not eclectic, with random trash and treasures in every corner. No new or wholesaled merchandise is allowed at the IJ-Hallen flea market, which makes the hunt all the richer.

Racks of used clothing are lined up in the cavernous building of IJ-Hallen

The IJ-Hallen flea market is heavy on used clothes. I saw tables of items for 5€ each.

Like with any true flea market, you need to arrive early for the best items and stay late for the best prices. I was there in the afternoon, and just before closing many things were practically being given away. I bought two pretty scarves for one Euro total, and the owner threw in a third for free. Bargaining is allowed and expected. And do bring cash. Most sellers are not set up to take credit cards.

Rather than tell you more about what you might find on any given trip to IJ-Hallen, why don’t I just show you. Here’s just some of what I saw:

A Beatles tapestry, a large carved advertising head and a Snow White figurines share a display at IJ-Hallen.

The mix of merchandise at IJ-Hallen is nothing if not eclectic! And a lot of fun.

A vintage black rotary phone at IJ-Hallen

I hate it when things I have used for more than half my life are now “vintage”–or worse still, antiques.

A metal chocolate bar mold shares a table with a ceramic cat.

A mold for making chocolate bars and a ceramic cat seem to enjoy each others’ company.

A mix of books, shoes, dishes and other merchandise

Books, shoes, dishware, and tchotchkes are just some of what you find at IJ-Hallen

Blue-and-white Delft tiles and black wooden shoes sit on a table.

Classic blue-and-white Delft tiles sit beside iconic wooden shoes. What could be more Dutch?

Blue-and-white Delft-style coffee service and cobalt blue glass bowls on a table.

Blue-and-white Delft ware goes well with cobalt glass. I would buy those bowls!

Brightly multi-colored ceramic cows stand beside other goods.

Bright ceramic cows line up for inspection beside enamel plates and a wooden shoe bottle opener.

A rack of scarves on sale for half a Euro.

Towards the end of the day, merchants drop prices drastically! I got 3 of these scarves for 1€.

Persian-style carpets on a table at IJ-Hallen.

These Asian carpets are popular in Amsterdam, due to the country’s long occupation of Indonesia.

Taking the Hunger Edge Off

All those hours of wandering the aisles, wondering if you can get such treasures home, and trying on used shirts over your clothes can work up an appetite. Not a problem. There are food stands for snacks and hot drinks. Try a Dutch specialty like saucijzenbroodjes (sausage rolls), frites (French fries), or my very favorite, poffertjes, which are small, pillowy pancakes smothered in melted butter and powdered sugar.

Getting There is Half the Fun

It’s not hard to get to IJ-Hallen and Amsterdam Noord. And it’s fun because you have to cross the water. The efficient Dutch have taken care of that with free ferries that cross the IJ regularly.

Go to Central Station and walk all the way straight through the station and out the rear to the north side. You’ll be facing the River IJ, where the free ferries dock. The one you want is to the left as you emerge from the station. Look for ferry #906 going to “NDSM-werf.” It is not at all hard to find.

The free ferries run every 30 minutes on weekends and the crossing takes about 15 minutes. On the way, you’ll get a wonderful view of the futuristic building of the Eye Film Institute and Museum. The IJ-Hallen flea market is a 5-minute walk from the ferry landing. Just follow the crowds.

The flea market used to be held on the first weekend of every month, but that seems to have changed to a more erratic schedule. It’s important to check their calendar to be sure of the dates. You can find it in English at It is open on specified Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

The downhill car of the Heidelberg Funicular--the Bergbahn--descends into the station at Kornmarkt.

The Heidelberg Funicular to the Castle: Riding with my Grandfather

The ride up the Heidelberg Funicular to the city’s famous castle is smooth, quiet, shiny. It wasn’t always that way. Did my grandfather know it then?

Photo of the Week: The Heidelberg Funicular

The downhill car of the Heidelberg Funicular--the Bergbahn--descends into the station at Kornmarkt.

The downhill car of the Heidelberg Funicular–the Bergbahn–descends into the station at Kornmarkt, in the city’s Old Town.

The Heidelberger Bergbahn (the Mountain Railway) is famous. Everyone wants to visit the glorious ruin of Heidelberg Castle, perched atop a high hill above the city’s Old Town. And no one much wants to walk up that steep hill. I certainly didn’t. It was summer, and hot. I’d already been on a walking tour of Old Town earlier that day. And even a sweet sit-down at an outdoor café with a magically good piece of apple tart and milky coffee didn’t mean I was ready to climb up so far to see the “Schloss.”

I did take a look at the route. Perhaps I just wanted to know what I was avoiding. I saw that I had a couple of choices for hoofing it. I could walk up a steep, winding path. Or I could climb a staircase—a very long staircase, with 315 steps. And just so you don’t forget how far you still have to go, the steps are numbered for you. That apple tart was sitting heavier in my stomach as I contemplated that staircase.

So no, I had no urge to climb that day. Off I went to examine option two, the famous Heidelberg funicular. Much better!

I love funiculars. Something about the steep ascent and the oddly canted cars speaks to me, I suppose. And besides that, I had purchased a Heidelberg Card, the pass that gets you significant discounts on city attractions plus free rides on the public transportation system. Included with my card was a combination ticket for entrance to the castle grounds and a round-trip funicular ride to get you up there and back.

While waiting the few minutes for the funicular car to descend to us, I checked out the fascinating photo exhibit about the history of the Heidelberg funicular. And that is when it became just a bit magical for me.

The funicular first opened in 1890, when my grandfather was a 10-year-old boy growing up in this beautiful city. Unfortunately, I never knew him; he died when my own father was a very small child. But now, in his city of birth, I felt like I was starting to learn him, just a bit. As I’d wandered the narrow lanes of Old Town, I felt him walking beside me, gently touching my elbow now and then to whisper, “Look over there, girl. I used to know the owner of that shop. He gave me sweets after school. And there, that corner, we must turn there and I will show you something wonderful.”

Some History….

From the photo exhibit, I learned how the original Heidelberg funicular operated, and I thought it ingenious.

There are two cars—one to go up while the other is coming down. Originally, each car was fitted with a tank that could hold eight cubic meters of water. At the top, the water tank of the car heading down was filled. That much water is heavy, and once the brake was released, the extra weight caused the car to descend. As it dropped, it pulled the cables that caused the bottom car to rise. At the bottom, the water was drained out and pumped back up to the top again through a steam-powered pumping system.

Today, the trains are electrified. There are two distinct stages of the funicular, lower and upper. The first stage delivers you to the entrance to the majestic ruined castle. It’s all shiny and new now, with smooth lines in stainless steel outlining the modern rolling stock. The cars are less than a dozen years old with five comfortable passenger compartments that can carry 100 people at a time. There are large panoramic windows so you can get the whole benefit of the view. They are even heated for winter trips.

The second stage, opened in 1907, did not exist when my grandfather might have been here. It is not so shiny new. In fact, it uses the original wooden cars, though completely refurbished and very charming.

I took those Victorian-era cars as my mental model on the ride up to the castle. And on that ride, I began to wonder….

Remembering the Unknown

Had my grandfather ridden up this steep, 41% gradient in a wooden car as a child, some 125 years ago? Did my great-grandfather perhaps bring the whole family here on a Sunday outing, after church of course, to see this modern marvel?

Or maybe a few years later…. When he was 16, did my grandfather, Michael Meyer, ride up the steep hill in this very place, maybe with his sister Clara beside him? Or perhaps even with a sweetheart? Did that almost-a-man teenage boy feel the need to visit the castle and, more importantly, look down on the beautiful city and the gently curving Neckar River below? Did he count the arches in the ancient stone bridge crossing the river? Did he memorize the line of the trees on the other side?

Did my grandfather need to go up there that day to say good-bye to the city of his birth, knowing he would never see her again, before he got on a boat to America?
I rode up, I looked at the city below, at the river and the bridge and the line of trees. And I wondered….

A combined ticket for a round-trip ride on the Heidelberg funicular and entrance to the castle grounds, the pharmacy museum and the giant wine barrel, cost 7€ in summer of 2016. If you purchase a Heidelberg Card, these tickets are included, as is a pass for unlimited use of the city’s public transit system. The Heidelberg Card is available at the Tourist Information Office directly in front of the central train station. The summer 2016 price was 15€ for a one-day card or 17€ for two days.

To get to the Kornmarkt funicular station, take a #33 bus from the central train station or the Bismarkplatz and get off at the “Rathhaus/Bergbahn” stop. You will be directly in front of the new and modern funicular station on your right. Funicular trains run every 10 minutes.

Catalan Christmas Tradition of the Caga Tio or Poop Log

Two Dozen Christmas Traditions Around the World

Wherein we learn that Christmas traditions around the world are not always what we think they are going to be…because people are not always the same everywhere. That’s why we travel. To learn the differences!

You probably take the Christmas traditions of your family and your country pretty much for granted. I know I always did… before I started to travel internationally. Once I spent my first Christmas away from home, I realized that the Santa Claus of the Coca-Cola ads, turkey and ham on the table, and stockings by the fireplace were neither the universal nor the only ways to celebrate the holiday around the world.

When I lived in London in 1970, I learned about Father Christmas, stirring the Christmas pudding and Boxing Day. In Amsterdam, I learned about Sinterklaas and Zwaarte Piet and giving gifts to children on December 5th. When I moved to Mexico, the importance of the posadas was a new lesson, and then I learned about Three Kings Day on January 6th. All these new and different Christmas traditions enriched my life.

The celebrations of the holiday are rich and varied, and Christmas traditions around the world run a very wide gamut of food, fun and the frankly odd. Traveling is one of the best ways to experience them. But you can read about them too. Here is a round two dozen you may not have heard about:

1 – A Spicy Drink with a Funny Name in Chile

Cola de Mono, or Monkey's Tail, a delicious drink that is a Christmas tradition in Chile

“Cola de Mono” or Monkey’s Tail, is a spicy coffee drink that’s a Christmas tradition in Chile. Photo by Gloria Apara Paillas.

The most traditional and very popular Christmas drink in Chile is a smooth and creamy concoction called Cola de Mono, or Monkey’s Tail, and not even the locals seem to know where it got its name. It is made with coffee, milk, sugar, spices and aguardiente. Egg yolks are sometimes added. You can buy it pre-made in supermarkets all over Chile at this time of year, just like you can buy eggnog in U.S. supermarkets, but it’s easy to make from scratch at home. Cola de Mono is often drunk with Pan de Pascua, a special holiday fruitcake. You can find a recipe to make your own Cola de Mono on my friend Gloria’s blog, The Nomadic Chica.

2 – Fried Chicken in Japan

Ever since the mid-’70s, fried chicken from KFC has been THE traditional Christmas Eve meal in Japan. The chain’s holiday “Kentucky for Christmas” TV commercials feature pop stars and smiling kids in Santa hats dancing with full boxes and buckets of the holiday treat. The company does so much business on this one day that company execs have to leave their desks to help keep the lines moving in the stores. Many people reserve their buckets of fried chicken months in advance to avoid the waits of up to two hours in line.

3 – A Christmas Tradition of Books and Respect for Reading in the Icy North

In Iceland, it’s a wonderful holiday tradition to give gifts of books on Christmas Eve. And then of course you want to get right into them, so you stay up all night reading them. Of all these Christmas traditions, this one might be my favorite!

4 – Girls’ Luck for the Year Ahead?

The Czech people have a tradition or superstition related to Christmas: A young unmarried women will throw a shoe over her shoulder on Christmas Day. If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she will soon be married. If not, she is destined to remain a spinster for another year…. which I don’t actually see as a piece of bad luck myself!

5 – What a Web They Weave

In the Ukraine, the most common decorations for the Christmas tree are spiders and spider webs. This comes from a folk tale about a family too poor to afford any decorations for their tree so they had to go to bed on Christmas Eve with its branches bare. The spiders living in the house felt so bad for them that they worked through the night spinning their webs around the tree. When the children awoke on Christmas morning, the tree was covered with filmy webs, which then turned to gold and silver, assuring the family’s fortunes forever more. These kinds of feel-good Christmas traditions show up all over the world.

A Ukrainian spiderweb Christmas tree decoration.

In Ukraine, it is a Christmas tradition to decorate the tree with spiders and spider webs.

6- Heather and Driftwood in the Arctic

And speaking of Christmas trees…. In Greenland, Christmas trees have become popular, just like in so much of the rest of the world, but every single one of them has to be imported. No trees will grow this far north! Instead of imported trees, many Greenlanders decorate a driftwood “tree” with heather.

7- Home of the US Trees

And still speaking of Christmas trees…. In the U.S., the largest number of Christmas trees are grown in the state of Oregon. Of those, some 80% come from the Willamette Valley, south of Portland… which is also where most of the state’s best wines come from!

Christmas traditions mean Christmas trees. Here is an Oregon Christmas tree farm in front of a snow-covered Mt. Hood

An Oregon Christmas tree farm in Clackamas County with Mt. Hood in the background.
Photo Courtesy of

8- Keeping the Goblins Away

In Greece, one of the oldest Christmas traditions is to keep a fire burning in the house for the entire 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). This is meant to keep away the killantzaroi or bad spirits. These little bad guys creep in through the chimney, only at this time of year, to wreak such havoc as making the milk spoil and putting the fires out!

9 – Apples for Love

In Croatia, it is a very old tradition for young men to give beautifully decorated apples to their girlfriends on Christmas Day.

10 – Mass and Hockey

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas, called Ganna, on January 7th. The people dress all in white, usually in a traditional toga-like garment called a shamma. The people begin arriving early for the Ganna mass, which starts at 4:00 am and can go on for hours. After mass, the men play a hockey-like game, still in their long white shammas.

11 – Unique Transportation

In Caracas, Venezuela, the normally busy streets take on a unique look early on Christmas Day. They are closed off to traffic before 8 am so people can roller skate to early mass! Yep, people don roller blades to glide through the streets to church by the thousands.

12 – Pooping Presents!

Sometimes Christmas traditions are downright silly and even a bit gross. In Catalonia, in the northeastern part of Spain, there is an ancient and popular tradition called Caga Tió, which translates as the “Poop Log” (and yes, it means just what you think it does). It’s a log, traditionally hollowed out, with a happy face on one end and wearing a bright red Catalan hat. Beginning December 8th, the log is pampered by the children and draped with a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Eve, they hit it with a stick while singing a special song instructing it to “poop presents” for them. Then the blanket is removed to reveal presents (stealthily placed by mom and dad) of candy, tourrón nougat and small gifts.

Catalan Christmas Traditions include the Caga Tio or Poop Log

In the Catalan Christmas Tradition of the “Caga Tió” or Poop Log, the log is pampered by the children until Christmas Eve then beaten with sticks and ordered to “poop presents.” Photo by Slastic

13 – Burning the Dirt Devils

Guatemalans want their homes really clean for Christmas. They also want to be very sure the devil is not allowed inside. So one of their main Christmas traditions is to sweep the houses very clean just before Christmas, pile up all the dirt and dust and bring it to a communal pile in the neighborhood. Then they add an ugly devil’s head to the top of the pile and burn that sucker up. Ah, the neighborhood is not only clean but safe for another year!

14 – Christmas Specials in a Muslim Land

Indonesia is 80% Muslim, but there are still 20 million Christians in the country and the spirit of Christmas has taken hold throughout the land. Santa Claus, called Sinterklaas, is a holdover from the days when the country was a Dutch colony, and all the kids quite expect him to bring them presents on Christmas Day. Oddly, Christmas music is broadcast on most Indonesian TV stations, and the state-owned channel always shows a big Christmas celebration put on by the Indonesian Government.

15 – Fancy Bread in Hungary

The main Christmas meal in Hungary is eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s a hearty meal of fish and cabbage and also features a special Christmas poppy seed bread/cake called beigli. Another very traditional Hungarian Christmas treat is gingerbread, often wrapped in brightly colored paper and decorated with Christmas scenes and figures.

16 – A Cleanse to Prepare

In Estonia, Christmas Eve is the big event, and it begins with a trip to the sauna! It is important to both relax and cleanse oneself for the celebrations ahead. Whole families will often go together. This is one of the Christmas traditions around the world I think I could really get into. After the sauna, you’re ready for Christmas Eve mass… for which the children will usually receive new clothes and shoes.

A group indulges in the Christmas traditions of saunas before Christmas Eve Mass in Estonia.

In Estonia, it is a long-time Christmas tradition to go to the sauna for a cleanse before going
to Christmas Eve Mass. ©Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

17 – Beach Party Holiday

In Australia, Christmas falls in early summer. The only chance for a “White Christmas” is on a white sand beach! And so on Christmas Day, many Sydneysiders do what they do so well… they head to Bondi Beach for the Sunburnt Christmas Festival. About 4000 party-goers will show up for a day of DJs and dancing, surfing, bikini contests and lunch from the barbie.

18 – The Rooster Mass

Most people in Brazil will go to a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster). It’s named for the bird because the rooster announces the coming of day and the mass doesn’t usually finish until 1.00 am. After the Rooster Mass, there are usually big fireworks displays in the larger towns and cities. Since it is summertime, and usually quite hot on Christmas Day, the best of all Christmas traditions often means a trip to the beach!

19 – Christmas Witches on Brooms

In Italy, the big day for presents is Epiphany (January 6th) and it’s a witch who brings them! La Befana, complete with hooked nose and long black shawl, rides around on a broom. On the eve of Epiphany, she slides down chimneys to leave candies and gifts in the stockings of good children and lumps of coal for the naughty ones. She will also often use her means of transportation to sweep the floor while she’s at it!

20 – Weird Radishes

In the city of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, December 23rd is known as the Night of the Radishes. For more than 100 years, the city has held this huge festival and competition, where artisans carve scenes and tableaux from giant radishes! The tradition started in 1897 as a way to attract customers to the city’s Christmas Market, held in the zócalo, the town’s main square. Now, the one-day event draws over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors every year and is one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Mexico.

Grand prize winner at Oaxaca's Night of the Radishes, one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Mexico

“Dulces Tradicionales Oaxaqueños” was the grand prize winner in the 2014 Christmas festival
Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia, CC license.

21 – Christmas Traditions for the Dead

Christmas Eve dinner in Portugal is the night to invite the whole family—including those who have passed on. Yes, inviting the ghosts of loved ones lost is a tradition there. Extra places are set at the table for these missing loved ones and some crumbs from dinner are also spread across the hearth to honor them.

22 – Eating Emperors???

A traditional part of the Christmas feast in South Africa is deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth. Since this is the season for harvesting the bug, which is preserved to eat throughout the winter, there is an abundant fresh supply at Christmas time. The caterpillars have three times as much protein, by weight, as beef! Munching on them is a beloved Christmas tradition. Well…to each his own, I guess.

23 – Lucky Santa

Although you may have grown up leaving milk and cookies out as a treat for Santa—and perhaps as a bribe so he will leave you lots of goodies, even if you’ve been naughty—in Ireland, the traditional Santa snack is mince pies and Guinness Ale. I’d say that was a pretty fine bribe!

Christmas traditions of mince pies to be left for Santa.

In Ireland, Christmas traditions include mince pies. They are left for Santa with a bottle of Guinness.
Photo by Christmas Stocking Images

24- Kissing Bough Christmas Traditions

The tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house figures in many Christmas traditions around the world. It also goes back many centuries, at least to the time of the Druids and the ancient Greeks. It has always been considered a sacred plant and was often believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. It has also been associated with fertility, since it remains green all year long. Kissing under the mistletoe may have come from the old Norse belief that it is a symbol of Peace and enemies can safely lay down their arms if they meet beneath it. Today, many countries maintain the custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe for luck and romance.

I hoped you’ve learned a couple of new things about Christmas Traditions Around the World. Have you got other Christmas traditions and stories to share? I’d love to hear them, especially things you’ve learned on your travels throughout the world. Leave them in the comments below and we can all learn more about how the world celebrates this magical holiday. The more we know about each other, the more we understand… and the more we are able to share, to care, to love. And then perhaps the world will know peace.

Merry Christmas!

Butter Crunch Sundae at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

The Best Thing I Ate in Las Vegas – Frozen Custard!

Luv-It Frozen Custard

Frozen custard? I went to Las Vegas and the best thing I ate there was… frozen custard? Yes. The best. Come on. I’ll take you there, and you’ll see for yourself.

Luv-It Frozen Custard sign, Las Vegas

Luv-It Frozen Custard – the BEST thing
I ate in Las Vegas

Of course, when it comes to good food in Las Vegas, there’s no shortage of yummy. Gambling, booze and sex aren’t the town’s only sinful delights. And those of us who’ve reached a certain age know that sometimes great food has an even stronger siren call than Vegas’ other sinful specialties—although you’d never think that if you’d watched my mom, who was still a mean slots player in her 90s.

But of good food in Las Vegas there is an abundance, and I’ve sampled more than my share. When I was a professional Tour Director, many of my tours started or ended in Vegas, so I had many chances to check out the culinary scene.

I’ve tested the prime rib at Caesar’s Palace, enjoyed a meal at Gordon Ramsey’s “Steak.” I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to finish off THIS mountain of chicken, and waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go and I easily polished off a plate of the best hummus I’ve ever eaten at Paymon’s Lebanese Restaurant on Maryland Avenue.

Chicken with waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go

Yes, that is a tree of fresh rosemary growing out of the top of the Chicken and Waffles at Hashhouse a Go Go in Las Vegas.

They were all good; some were great. But the jewel in the glitzy, over-tinseled crown of Las Vegas dining was mined at an innocuous little hut in a parking lot at the far north end of the Vegas Strip. There’s a reason that Luv-It Frozen Custard has been an institution for generations of Las Vegas families. And it’s certainly not the location. Or the service. It’s the custard. The rich, creamy, eggy, velvety, sweet, not-too-hard-not-too-soft frozen custard.

Come On, Let’s Go Try Some

Although we’ll find Luv-It Frozen Custard just one building off Las Vegas Blvd, this is NOT “The Strip,” at least not the glitzy part. Nor is it far enough north to be called downtown. It’s that in-between no-man’s land called “The Naked City”—not the most scenic or savory part of town, to be sure. But that hasn’t seemed to hurt its business in the 40+ years it’s been dishing up the good stuff here. We’ll very likely have to wait in line for our frozen treats. The mayor or some performer from the Strip might be waiting next to us.

Luv-it Frozen Custard Building

Located in a parking lot next to a strip club, Luv-It Frozen Custard is not quite what you expect… but it’s worth it!

Located at 505 East Oakey, Luv-It Frozen Custard is one light past the Stratosphere Hotel. If carless, we can hop on the double-decker bus known as The Deuce, get off at the Stratosphere, and walk.

You’re likely going to be surprised, maybe even disappointed, by this nondescript little blue-and-white shack dumped on a parking lot next to a strip club. Just pretend you’re back in the ‘50s, because it looks like something off an old calendar.

We can’t even go inside; there’s only a walk-up window, not even a bench or a table. Most people eat in their cars or lean against the building in the shade of the wide awning while listening to the squeals of panic and delight wafting down from the wild carnival rides waaayyyy up there on top of the Strat nearby.

List of available flavors at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Only 4–sometimes 5–flavors are available each day… because they are made fresh every morning.

Don’t let the lack of amenities stop you. Don’t even let the homeless folks who tend to hang around the parking lot pan-handling for change stop you. It’s not about them. It’s all about the custard.

It’s been about the custard since 1973 when “Grandma” arrived from Wisconsin, where frozen custard is traditional, and brought a load of dairy machinery with her. Today, her great-grandchildren are dishing up the scoops at Luv-It, in the same location, still made fresh every morning, with dozens of hand-cracked eggs and other real ingredients, using Grandma’s original recipes.

And it’s good. This frozen custard is very, very good. Luv-It regularly makes the “Best in Vegas” lists of local newspapers, websites and going-out guides. As one Yelp reviewer said, “It was howl-at-the-moon kind of good. It was ‘holy hell, all ice cream will taste watery from this day forward’ kind of good.” Another reviewer said, “Am I considering living down the road so I can stop here three times a day? I would be lying if I said no.”

Luv-it special sundae-with frozen strawberries and toasted pecans

The Luv-It Special – Vanilla frozen custard with frozen strawberries, salted pecans and a cherry.

If you’ve never had frozen custard, it’s like more-solid soft-serve ice cream but with egg yolks added. It needs less churning than ice cream, so it’s denser, with fewer air pockets where ice can crystallize. That also makes it smoother. You can taste the egginess, but it’s not, well, flanny. It’s just flat good.

Don’t be misled by the long list of delectable sounding flavors listed on the board. They won’t have most of them. In fact, they’ll only have a couple. Since the custard is made fresh daily, they can’t handle a Baskin-Robbins trick. They make vanilla and chocolate daily then add two other flavors. It’s the luck of the draw. You can check their website, where they list each day’s special flavors weeks in advance. If you discover they’re serving up maple custard, cash in your chips NOW and get moving. It’s better than the best poker hand.

I’ve also tried the peanut butter, the pineapple (with chunks of fruit) and the lemon. Once I mixed orange custard with vanilla, swirled it all around in the cup and felt like I was a kid again licking a creamsicle from the ice cream man on a hot summer day.

Butter Crunch Sundae at Luv-It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Butter Crunch Sundae – Butterscotch topping and crushed candy that tastes like Butterfingers. Yum!

My personal favorite? The Butter Crunch Sundae. Thick butterscotch (the real deal) topped with crunch, which tastes like you took the inside of a Butterfinger candy bar and crushed it fine with a rolling pin. But maybe you’d prefer the Cherry Yum Yum, with black cherries and chocolate cookie crumble. Or chocolate malt. Or sprinkles. Or hot apples and walnuts. Or….

Are you getting the picture here? You’re going to find something to love. Believe me on this point.

Luv-It Frozen Custard is open every day from 1-10 pm, and till 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. Important note: It’s a CASH ONLY business and they don’t take bills over $20. There’s an ATM machine in the gas station next door, but the fees are killer. Bring money. For flavors of the day and any other questions, you can visit the Luv-It Frozen Custard website.

Big Shawl Cover-up-travel accessories

My Travel Shawl: The Best of All Possible
Travel Accessories

Big shawl as travel accessories

Me and my favorite of all travel accessories–my Big Shawl

How a Simple Bit of Fabric Became My Favorite Travel Companion

Wondering about travel accessories for experienced, mature women who travel? OK, you want fashion? You want usefulness? You want cultural respect? Well, listen up, ladies. I’ve got you covered on all fronts.

I think most of us here are old enough to remember that AmEx commercial with the tag line “Don’t leave home without it.” I can still see the face of Karl Malden sternly telling me to put that plastic in my handbag. I don’t have an American Express card, but I do have one of those go-to, always-ready travel accessories I NEVER leave home without. I don’t even think of heading out the door, carry-on at the ready, without a soft, over-sized shawl to accompany me on my trip, no matter the season or where I am going. It’s the most versatile travel accessory I own and the one thing I use almost every day on any trip, anywhere. It keeps me warm on chilly and changeable days; it’s a pillow or a blanket on trains and planes and buses. It’s a beach and pool cover-up, a towel, a cultural emergency solver and a fashion statement.

Recently, I even had a nice-looking young man stop me on the street in Paris to ask me where I bought my shawl because it was so beautiful. How’s that for making a statement? (And for making you feel young and sexy again!)

Why a Big Travel Shawl is Perfect for Older Women Travelers

Of all the varied and fashionable international travel accessories, I think such a shawl is the most useful for women travelers of any age. But for our age group, it is even more valuable. I don’t know about you, but I am a lot less likely than my younger travel sisters to want to walk around Paris in a hoodie on a breezy day attempting to keep warm or throw a gauzy, see-through cotton voile thing over a bikini at the beach to protect me from the sun. And as much as I love the idea of a sarong, my figure no longer gets so excited about them. I want to look good and hopefully fit in with the locals, at least a little. My travel accessory shawl does all that and more.

Your own big travel shawl might be a fine, expensive pashmina or one your mom knitted for you. It might be Neiman-Marcus expensive or street-stall cheap. But trust me, you need one.

Big Shawl Cover-up-travel accessories

A big shawl is great for covering up in a culturally sensitive area.

The big shawl I used as an all-purpose travel accessory on my most recent trip in Europe was made in India, though I bought it in one of my favorite shops in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (Chaski’s on Calle Juarez, if you want to know). It is made of viscous, a soft synthetic that feels like fine wool, is warm and drapes beautifully. It cost me about $16US.

The versatility of this garment/wrap/thing is astounding. I even used it one day to carry vegetables home from a street market in Amsterdam when the cheap plastic bag I was carrying broke. If I had a baby, I would no doubt use my shawl to carry the little creature slung on my back, like Mexican women do in their “rebozos.”

How This Came to be My Favorite of All Travel Accessories

I first discovered “the trick of the shawl” as the most perfect of all travel accessories more than 40 years ago. In college, I taught myself to knit. One of the results was an enormous shawl made with two strands of thick, nubby yarn—turquoise and black, as I recall—and knitted on giant wooden needles. It was both lacy and warm, but so bulky I almost didn’t take it. At the last minute, I grabbed it to keep me warm on the plane, thinking I wouldn’t miss it terribly much if I had to abandon it along the way.

I would soon change my mind about that.

That pile of black-and-blue knit became my closest companion in that first trip across Europe. It covered my head in a church in Barcelona. It was an acceptable blanket the night I had to sleep in a park in Paris because friends and I had arrived on Bastille Day and there was literally “no room in the inn.” It was a cover-up on the beach at Zandvoort in Holland, a pillow on a train to Edinburgh, and a dressy wrap for dinner with a very proper English butler friend at Claridge’s in London.

That shawl became my best friend, a physical and emotional comfort on long train rides and lonely nights, my own personal “security blankie.” You can’t say that about many everyday travel accessories.

From that first trip in 1970 until today, I have never traveled without some version of the trusty Big Shawl. And I doubt I ever will.

Keep in mind that women have been wrapping up, keeping warm, covering skin, hiding, and staying sacred in over-sized shawls for a long time, almost since time began. In virtually every period, every culture and every situation, the big shawl has been found useful for all sorts of reason.

vintage fashion plates show shawls in every period

In every period, every class, of culture, women have used big shawls to make a statement, among other things.

What to Look for in the Perfect Over-sized Shawl as a Travel Accessory

There are a few special requirements to make your over-sized travel shawl as useful and versatile as possible:

• Does not wrinkle easily. It’s going to be balled up and crushed and stuffed. A lot.
• Does not snag easily. I learned this with that first loose-knit one. You are going to put it through hell and back, and it needs to keep looking good.
• Made from a fiber that will hold in heat. You’ll use it as a blanket, a cover-up on cloudy days or even as a muffler when it’s downright cold.
• Large enough to cover most of your body when you are seated on a plane or train, as a blanket.
• A color or print you love, that makes you feel pretty, can dress up a simple outfit but also does not show dirt too badly.
• A fabric that drapes nicely so it makes an attractive shoulder throw or head scarf when you need to cover up for cultural reasons—or for rain!
• Does not take two days to dry! (I learned this hard lesson with that blue-and-black knit beauty, too.)
• Is not so expensive that you’ll be devastated if you lose it. Just remember the fun you’ll have haggling in a street market or souk for a new one.

So now, grab your big, comfortable, soft, pretty, multi-function travel shawl, ladies. Put it on the top of your suitcase, more easily reachable than all your other travel accessories put together. And sally forth! You are now ready for anything.

Many thanks to my friend Jim Knoch for taking the pictures of me in my travel shawl!

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