I’ve been in Europe four months. Two left. People back in New Zealand keep asking how I’m coping with the cold. They’re experiencing a warm, humid spring whilst I’m experiencing a cold, rainy autumn. My answer surprises them. I’m not finding the cold difficult to cope with at all – it’s the warmth.
The cold – easy. I bought myself a pair of fleece-lined boots and some fleece-lined leggings and they work perfectly. I can walk around all the German Christmas markets I like in comfort.
But then you go inside, into a shop or café, and no matter how many layers you shed, it’s too bloody warm. Like almost-passing-out warm. I’m always having to go and stand outside!
In New Zealand, the temperature change when you enter or exit a building is never so drastic. This is partly to do with the fact that New Zealand rarely gets that cold, (at least the North Island doesn’t,) but also New Zealand’s buildings are, in general, poorly insulated.
It’s not the cold, but the constant and extreme changing of temperature that’s getting to me.
Also, the darkness.
In New Zealand, when the sun rises and sets doesn’t vary all that much between winter and summer – not compared to where I am now, in any case. Here, I feel like the day’s barely gotten started before it’s getting dark. It makes me feel unproductive and sleepy!
But I don’t want to complain. This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to experience a European Christmas – I haven’t experienced one for seventeen years! I wanted the cold and the darkness. They make the Christmas lights seem cosy.
So far, I’ve been to three different Christmas markets, in Luxembourg, Aachen and Bremen. (The one in Bruges was still being set up when I was there.) You can imagine a typical Christmas market: fairy lights twinkling amidst a labyrinth of wooden stalls, surrounded by old, stone buildings… people sipping mulled wine, swaddled in warm clothing… various smells drawing you this way and that, roasting chestnuts and sausages and sweet things… And don’t forget to add a cathedral looming over the scene like an indulgent grandfather.
Yes, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time. When Christmas Day comes, though, I bet I’ll be missing New Zealand.
(All the photos in this post are from my recent trip to Bruges, by the way.)
Here are some things I’ve written about Christmas in New Zealand: