How To Celebrate Christmas in Innsbruck

When you think of Christmas, you probably picture brilliantly white snow falling on fir trees; people wearing woolen mittens holding steaming cups of hot chocolate; and little kids screaming with excitement as they watch Santa bring a bag full of surprises. This is the very Christmasy feeling you get when you travel to Innsbruck, Austria – the capital of the Alps.

The small city located near the border of Germany and Italy transforms into a winter wonderland through the month of December. There are lots of events taking place so make sure to check the calendar and plan your trip accordingly. Starting mid November, there are advent and Christmas concerts, a Christmas flea market, brass music on the tower. The best part is, most of these are free and open to public.

Here are some ways you can get into the Christmas spirit in Innsbruck…

Shop at The Christmas Markets

This was my first time at a Christmas market in Europe and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of families (mostly Italians) in town enjoying simple pleasures. While we in US focus mostly on shopping for presents at big name brands during the holiday season, the people at the Christmas market at Marktplatz were strolling through the decorated squares, sipping on gluhwein (mulled wine), eating cheesy raclette toast, roasted chestnuts and kiachl (fried donuts).

The market in Maria-Theresien-Strasse sold unique Christmas ornaments, little village scenes, handmade woolens, candles, statues, woodwork, candy, cards and so much more. I felt a gift bought here would be a lot more meaningful than from the mall!

Watch The Krampus Parade

Prior to visiting Innsbruck, I did not know much about the tradition of krampus – which apparently has been around for a couple of hundred years in western Europe. In olden times, the Catholic church used the mythological figure (half goat, half demon) to scare kids so they behave well. Men would dress up as krampus and beat up the naughty kids while Santa would bring gifts to the nice ones (naughty or nice, get it?).

Little did I know that I had been a bad girl this year because I was beaten up by many devils in the town of Igls this year! I arrived at the annual krampus parade as an innocent spectator taking videos of the masked devils riding their chariots lit with fire. But then some of these devils pulled adults and kids from the crowd and whipped them with their brooms and sticks. Yes it hurt, and by the time the fourth guy headed my way, I ran for the bus back to my hotel.

Though scary, it was an experience hanging out with locals who brought their little kids to watch the parade. Even the young ones went along with the whippings as it is just a part of tradition.

Stroll Through Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Located just outside the city is a magical Christmas themed garden with lighted figures. Also, the new poetic garden features a unique Crystal Cloud made from 800,000 hand-mounted and enchanted floating crystals – pictures don’t do justice to the glistening reflections!

Being a Swarovski fan, I also enjoyed visiting the museum that tells the story of the family (who was from Bohemia which is now in Czech Republic), and displays some of the most famous gowns and jewels that bestowed celebrities on red carpets. Also, there is the largest Swarovski store I have ever seen selling crystals ranging from $50-50,000. There’s no way you can walk out empty handed from here.

Brunch with a View

If you are dreaming of a white Christmas, you will definitely get it in Innsbruck. Just take the Nordketten cable car to Seegrube, where you will find some of the best ski slopes in the Alps. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the majestic Stubai glacier as I enjoyed my first snowfall of the season. Many locals hike up the mountain, grab a delicious lunch at Seegrube Restaurant, and then take the cable car back down.

Another popular option for Sunday brunch is Restaurant Bergisel SKY (make reservations in advance) overlooking the famous Olympic Bergisel Ski Jump. Perched above the city, the glass enclosed restaurant has some of the best views of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains.

In the mood for Christmas already? Then head to Innsbruck, Austria and enjoy the special season! I would recommend staying at least two days to enjoy the festivities, and longer if you like winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or winter hiking.

Holiday Party Etiquettes in the Digital Age

As you are headed out to party with your family, friends or colleagues this holiday season, be an informed not a mediocre guest. Yes, as an adult, there are a few rules that you should know if you don’t already. Make sure you are not just a good friend, but an amazing guest to ensure that your host invites you back next season! 

Respond to Invitations on Time

Most people send digital invitations through email, Evite, facebook events, or paperless post type website. Ensure these are not getting to your junkbox and RSVP right away! As a general rule of thumb, you should reply to an invitation within a day or two. Even if you are not sure if you will be able to make it, thank your host and let them know why you may or may not be able to attend. If it’s a definite no, tell them why. Notify them as soon as your plans finalize, but please do not wait till the day before the party! There is nothing worse for a host to find out to buy more food and drink at the last minute.

One of my holiday party spreads

Who Do You Want to Bring Along?

If you have a significant other, it will likely be them. Some invitations are extended to kids and entire families, others are restricted to couples or maybe just a +1. When picking a friend to bring along, select someone who you think the host would enjoy meeting. Perhaps they have common interest and would benefit from the connection.

When you RSVP, let your host know not only how many people you will be bringing with you, but their names and relationship. If you are bringing someone they haven’t met before, specify what’s cool about them.

Read the Invitation Carefully

This is a no brainer but I see it happening all the time! People don’t read the entire invitation and keep sending emails or text with redundant questions – What time does it start? What should I bring? What’s the address?  

Be sure to check notes the host may have already have about food or drinks to bring, where to park, etc. Please don’t annoy your hosts as they may be busy prepping and cleaning up before your arrival!

Arrive on Time 

Unless it’s a rolling party, arrive at your destination on time, especially if it’s a sit down event. You definitely don’t want to barge in during special announcements or in the middle of dinner. If you have other commitments and will be late, notify your host a day before. Don’t be calling during the party as they may be busy talking to other guests.

Bring a Hostess Gift 

In my invitations, I generally ask guests to make a donation to Go Eat Give instead of bringing cards or gifts. (Evite has a nice feature that allows you to pick a charity and have a direct link to make donations). Still, I do appreciate if you bring a nice bottle of wine for the bar (something that you yourself enjoy drinking or know that your host would). I don’t care for food gifts or prepared foods with a short expiration date, because I usually have leftovers and would end up with more. A nice bottle of olive oil, a rare spice or gourmet chocolates are always appreciated though. 

My friends who always help me clean up – Ana, Jalal and Paige

Offer to Clean Up

If you are one of the last people to leave, help your host pick up glasses and plates off the table, put the food in the kitchen and offer to clean the dishes. They are probably tired from preparing and hosting, so a few helping hands would be appreciated. Plus, as a group you can get it done faster and share some memories from the party.

Say Goodbye Before You Leave 

I have seen this happen as well and it is rather rude when guests come, eat, drink, enjoy themselves and leave without a thank-you or a goodbye. Even if it becomes crazy crowded, do locate your host and say a quick greeting. 

Send a Thank You Message 

I love receiving messages from attendees about how they enjoyed a particular dish I cooked, the company, or catching up after a long time. Send a quick text or email the day after, a picture if you happen to take one and thank them again for their hospitality.

Kazumi & Mas pose for the best pictures

Reciprocate the Invitation 

After 20+ years of living in the US, I am surprised to see how few people reciprocate home hospitality in our society. Sure not everyone is into throwing lavish parties, but if someone has invited you say, a couple of times, it’s time to pay back. Note – pot luck parties and Dutch dinners don’t count as reciprocation.

If you are not a good cook, take your host out for a meal or oder in. A good friend of mine who doesn’t have a big space buys food and wine and brings it over to my place for a special treat. Another friend cooks my favorite Persian dish and comes over to my house. You may even send your host a gift card to a restaurant in their neighborhood!

I hope you will create wonderful memories with good food and friends this holiday season. But most of all, you will take a moment to reflect on what went on behind the scenes – who shopped for groceries, cooked the delicious meal, cleaned the space, decorated the table, took the time to put it all together – and be appreciative for having being included. 

Gifts That Give Back 2018

Each year I put together a meaningful holiday shopping guide especially for you. These are gifts that are tied to causes and help people around the world not only during the season of celebration, but all through the year.

So get your holiday shopping off to a great start with these gifts that give back.

Layered Cuffs 

These Kayan style solid brass hammered cuffs are made by refugee designers by hammering brass into a carved buffalo horn mold, which gives them their unique size, shape and textured quality. The founder of the jewelry site Akamae, Cara Boccieri lives and works with refugee communities in the Jungle on the Thailand Burma border.

Oofos Sandal

These are my favorite slippers to wear around the house and to run errands in. Revolutionary OOfoam technology absorbs impact to reduce stress on feet and joints and provides great support for arches. For every pair of shoes sold OOFOS donates 3% directly to breast cancer research.

Rise & Grind Crew Pullover

Can’t beat the soft comfortable fabric on a cold winter day. This rise and grind crew pullover didn’t even make it to my closet as I keep it on all day long!  United By Blue is a sustainable apparel and lifestyle brand with a big focus on waterway conservation. For every product sold, they remove a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. 

Give Thanks Charm

The delicately sculpted sterling silver charm with a message of thanks is a must for charm collectors. Chamilia, a Swarovski company supports WhyHunger, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ending hunger and poverty by connecting people in need to nutritious, affordable food through its “Give With All Your Heart” program.

 

LifeStraw Go Water Bottle

These cute water bottles are portable filtration systems perfect for camping, traveling or even school. New Go 2-Stage Special Edition bottles support public lands alongside the Conservation Alliance and also natural disaster victims through the Safe Water Fund. With every LifeStraw product purchase, one child in a community in need is provided with safe drinking water for an entire school year.

Fringe Basket

Moms will find this artisanal machine washable basket a fun place to store away toys, clothes and magazines. Portion of Lorena Canals’ proceeds helps finance the education of children in Northern India and make lives easier for moms in the community where their products are made. Recent projects include a nursery for 104 street kids in the state of Haryana in India.

Elephant Tote

Passion Lilie, eco-friendly, fair trade apparel company based in New Orleans, LA designed this beautiful elephant cotton tote using eco-friendly materials. Use it for groceries, gym or travel. Purchasing the product empowers artisans in India by creating dignified employment opportunities.

Artisana Arrow Blanket

From the first moment I spread this blanket, not only did it brighten up my living room, my cat did not leave the comfort of its warm and soft alpaca wool. The vibrant colors and artistic pattern remind you of the Andes. Each purchase helps support the weavers and craftsmen and their families in Ecuador.

Soul of Africa Canvas Shoes

Global barefoot shoe company VIVOBAREFOOT, in collaboration with Belgian co-creation brand Akaso, created Soul of Africa Ababa shoes for men and women, showcasing a unique body-painting art of Kara people in Ethiopia. The Kara tribe is one of Africa’s most authentic tribes known for their abstract body painting. This initiative provides local employment and training in Africa. It’s estimated that one fully finished product made in Africa creates five jobs along the supply chain.

LALF Limited Edition Tee

Having recently visited The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Nairobi, I love the new vegan, organic and sustainable clothing brand LALF (Love Animals, Love Fashion). LALF donates 25% of every piece sold from this collection to DSWT, which includes dedicated anti-poaching units, a rehabilitation program for orphaned elephants, actively working to conserve wilderness areas, and much more. 

Buddhi Box

Whether for a mom who needs a little Zen in her life, a sister the yogi, or your BFF who loves to try out new products, BuddhiBox is an easy, unique way to please even the pickiest ladies on your list. Get a monthly, quarterly or one-time BuddhiBox, filled with ethically sourced, made in the USA, cruelty-free products such as essential oils, healing crystals, mala beads, and jewelry. A portion of the proceeds are donated to a different charity every month, and this month’s benefactor is Feed the Children.

Use code buddhibox15 for 15% off all subscriptions and any sale items on Buddhi Box.

Corc Yoga Mat 

These yoga mats are durable, non slip, hypoallergenic and lightweight. Corc Yoga products are made from sustainable, organic cork, not rubber, which is gently harvested from trees in Portugal. Cork trees are the only trees capable of regenerating bark allowing for steady production from a 100% renewable, recyclable and biodegradable source. Additionally, Corc Yoga donates a portion of every sale to support the mental health crisis in Portugal.

Beaded Jewelry

BeadforLife empowers women by training them to create bead jewelry from recycled paper, earn an income, and lift their families out of poverty. These trendy bracelets make for meaningful fashion statement and cost only between $8-40. So go on and stuff your stockings!

Marula Oil

Marula oil is the trending super product this year full of antioxidants, fatty omegas, collages and oleic acid. It soothes sunburns, heals burns, moisturizes cuticles, tames frizzes, soothes lips, heals acne and reduces stretch marks and scars. All ingredients are produced by female-owned businesses and co-ops, and production of Vegamour marula oil provides jobs for women in Namibia.

Save 20% with code BLACK20 on Black Friday at Vegamour.

If you like to entertain, this handmade hamsa dish set with one large plate and six smaller serving or dipping plates is perfect for serving nuts and appetizers. When placed together, the plates create a bright, colorful hamsa hand that symbolize peace, prosperity, and protection. Each piece is made by local women for a fair wage in Neapolis, Tunisia, a city that’s been making renowned ceramics for centuries. And Kamsah supports the region even further, giving 10% of its profits to causes that benefit its artisans.

These beautiful brass necklaces won’t just make a fashion statement, they will spark a conversation. Each proceed benefits Love146, an international human rights organization working to end child trafficking through holistic, trauma-informed survivor care and prevention education. They operate two safe homes in the Philippines and care for survivors in the UK and the United States. They also have a robust prevention program called “Not a  Number,” which is currently in use in 20 states in the US, and in Madagascar and Liberia.

Growing Roots Sustainable Snacks

Instead of purchasing cookie-cutter gift baskets for your office crew, get certified organic, vegan and gluten free snacks that support urban farm initiatives across the country. From Pineapple Coconut Rum, Maple Bourbon and Coconut Curry to Cocoa Chipotle, Growing Roots snack bites and clusters are the perfect delicious, plant-based snack for any season. I am even adding them to my breakfast granolas and homemade salads!

Love Travel? Get This New Conversation Starter Card Game

“Do I need a conversation starter?”

It’s not an uncommon question.

We want to get know people better, have genuine connections, and be closer to each other. Whether it’s a friend of a friend, a traveler we meet, a colleague, an acquaintance, or even our friends at home.

But, sometimes we don’t know what to ask, or how to start a conversation.

To help create engaging conversations around travel and culture, I launched Travel Banter, a deck of conversation starter cards based on the popular #CultureTrav chat and blog.

I’ve been hosting my #CultureTrav Twitter chat for almost 4 years now. It’s been incredible to watch travelers connect with each other online, become friends, and have fun meetups offline.

I wanted to create the same fun chat interactions in a new way: an offline version of #CultureTrav chat called Travel Banter. Travel Banter travel-themed conversation cards feature popular questions asked by my #CultureTrav community.

The design process for Travel Banter

The concept of conversation starter cards came to me at the dinner table earlier this year. I started thinking that while it’s great to talk about travel, it’s even better to talk about it when you have a question or interesting prompt to consider.

Over the years of hosting my Twitter chat, thousands of questions have come my way. Fellow travelers, my co-hosts and I would think about engaging questions that we were curious to know the answers to. While I love hearing about people’s personal favorites, I find it even more compelling to hear about how people deal with things like language barriers or mishaps. I love hearing about people stumbling upon hole-in-the-wall cafes or having unexpected adventures, or discovering local street art.

A lot of these types of stories and conversations often come up during my Twitter chat, so I thought, “How can I translate the Twitter chat questions into in-person conversation starters?”

The concept of a conversation starter isn’t new. Companies have used conversation starters in their HR process to get to know candidates, and people have used conversation starters during events or orientations. But, I wanted to add a fun and engaging twist to travel-related conversations.

After thinking about it more, it was time to get “down to business” and start brainstorming design concepts. My boyfriend has advanced Photoshop skills (and is an entrepreneur of several product-based endeavors), so I asked him for help with the initial design of the cards. Additionally, I hired three graphic designers on Fiverr to see what they could brew up for the design. In the end, the final card design is a mix of my boyfriend’s design, elements of designs from the Fiverr designers, and feedback from family about an added visual element: a photo. Each card features two conversation starter questions on one side, and a community-featured photo on the other. I love that I’m able to highlight my traveler community’s photos as part of the game, because this game is very much a communal effort.

How to use conversation starter cards

While there is nothing “wrong” with talking about the weather, that’s not exactly exciting.

We carry around flash cards when studying Spanish or French verbs, but for some reason, it’s considered unusual to carry around a conversation starter card. And, when we have conversation starters on hand, how do we introduce them to people in a way that invites the conversation, and isn’t awkward?

It’s not that you’re bad at having conversations. But, a conversation starter can be a fun and useful guide to getting people to share stories that you may not have heard otherwise.

It’s easier than you think!

Here’s a real conversation brought to you by the Travel Banter question, “Would you try a local delicacy, even if you found something about it objectionable?”: 

“And, yeah, I ate a jellyfish!”
“….what did you do that for?”
“I know! Crazy, right?! Part of it was revenge for that time I got stung by a jellyfish.”
“Wait! What?!”
“But, really, jellyfish tastes like nothing. It’s like nothing. Which makes sense, I guess!”
“But, we were also on a trip with my students and I was trying to impress them by eating this weird thing.”
(Overheard at the Travel Banter Kickstarter launch party on Wednesday, October 17).

And, there you have it! A conversation created by Travel Banter. A story told that you may not have otherwise heard at all.

Wouldn’t it be great to have questions to ask to create a better conversation?

Travel Banter wants to make stimulating conversations happen. Travel Banter gives you a fun and easy way to bring you closer together, and share memorable moments.

Get to know your friends and family better, and also learn about strangers on the road. The next time you’re at a family gathering or party, pull out a Travel Banter card and ask a meaningful question. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about the things you can learn.

By guest blogger Nicolette Orlemans. Nicolette is the founder of #CultureTrav and CultureTrav.coTravel Banter is the byproduct of the conversations shared on the #CultureTrav Twitter chat. Follow her on Twitter.