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Are you as adventurous as this Nordic couple at Christmas?

They say there’s no place like home but there’s also no place like Nairobi. So why celebrate Christmas in the same place every year when you can spend it exploring somewhere new?

Are you as adventurous as this Nordic couple at Christmas?
Photo: Thorunn Bjarnadottir and Sindri Sigurdsson

Thorunn Bjarnadottir is a travel aficionado. The Icelander has spent the better part of the last 25 years living between Scandinavia, Africa and the United States. Moving around the world is second nature to Thorunn, whose mother works in development aid for the Icelandic ministry.

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“My mum has been dragging me around since I was a small kid,” she tells The Local. “Every couple of years I’m used to being in some new place!”

Despite the regular upheaval, she “wouldn’t change it for anything” and has herself relocated to New York and Stockholm, where she currently lives. Growing up, Thorunn and her mother would often spend Christmas in some far-flung place – Yuletide abroad has become “a thing” which Thorunn’s fiancé Sindri Sigurdsson has also embraced.

For Sindri, the best part of spending Christmas abroad is discovering how different cultures celebrate and gaining new perspective on the holiday.

Photo: Thorunn Bjarnadottir and Sindri Sigurdsson

“Last time we were in Malawi for Christmas, we went to a safari park for a couple of days,” he recalls. “We spent Christmas Day in the bush, out in nature. The locals put on a party which everyone could join. There was dancing and singing, it was quite different coming from Iceland!”

This year will be the couple’s second Christmas trip to Malawi and their third abroad, having spent Christmas 2015 in Mozambique. Thorunn has also spent the festive period in Namibia, Uganda, Cape Town, New York and, of course, Iceland, where the couple celebrate every other year.

Christmas in Cape Town

Of all the cities to spend Christmas, Thorunn says Cape Town is her favourite. The coastal city in South Africa has it all: an abundance of nature, a mix of African and European culture and more once-in-a-lifetime activities than you can shake a stick at.

Read more about Cape Town in Lufthansa’s travel guide

Photo: Thorunn and Sindri deep sea diving

“I’ve spent a couple of Christmases in Cape Town. It’s beautiful! You get a nice mix of African culture but it’s also very European so you have vineyards, and it’s very modern with everything in the city. You can go swimming, take a sunset cruise, see African animals, see real township life. One time I went swimming with penguins!”

Thorunn and Sindri will complete their upcoming Christmas trip with a short but eventful stopover in Nairobi followed by a romantic day in Paris to celebrate their anniversary. 

Read more about Paris in Lufthansa’s travel guide

With just 18 hours in Nairobi, Thorunn has meticulously planned every minute so they don’t waste a moment.

“There’s a safari park attached to the city so it’s really close to get to,” she explains. “Somebody will pick us up at the airport, take us for safari then take us to an elephant orphanage. Then we’ll go to a giraffe centre where you get closer interaction with the animals, before having some lunch at a local place where we can also buy some traditional items.”

Photo: Thorunn on safari

Christmas traditions

Even Scrooges can’t help but feel somewhat attached to their local Christmas traditions. But spending Christmas abroad doesn’t mean abandoning them entirely. And besides, says Thorunn, it comes with other perks.

“Initially we would bring food with us and try to make it as ‘normal’ as possible. But you would always have sunshine and a different climate than you would otherwise have in Iceland. It’s still festive but it’s quite nice to wear a dress and not trudge through snow in your Christmas outfit!”

Thorunn, Sindri (and Thorunn’s mum) still celebrate Icelandic Christmas on the 24th, opening presents and gathering around the table for a family meal. However, they’re not against experimenting with new Christmas customs – even traditions that originate half the world away.

“Last year we did make quite a significant deviation,” recalls Thorunn. “Icelandic Christmas is on the 24th so we opened presents that evening but instead of making a big deal of cooking dinner, we decided to make it a Japanese Christmas and ordered KFC!”

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Thorunn appreciates the merits of a warm Christmas, but she’s had her fair share of white ones too. In her native Iceland, but also New York where she was based in 2008. She might not have swum with penguins or taken many sunset cruises, but the Big Apple is among the most magical places to spend Christmas.

Photo: Thorunn in New York City

“That year my mother was in Iceland so she came to visit me for Christmas and New Year. It was -14 degrees but there are so many Christmas lights and so many people! It’s really, really festive.”

Read more about New York in Lufthansa’s travel guide

Thorunn and Sindri agree that every Christmas spent abroad is unique but, as the old maxim goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

“Once you go somewhere different, the next year you appreciate Christmas ‘at home’ more,” says Sindri. “It refreshes your holiday spirit.”

We’ve partnered with Lufthansa to launch a group for travel fans across Europe. Members can share stories, exchange travel tips and ask #WhereToNext? Join now to find out about weekly flight voucher giveaways and a big surprise in the new year.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Lufthansa. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

TRAVEL

Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts

Catch the very tail-end of the wine season and autumn foliage in one of the lesser-explored corners of the Austrian capital: Mauer.

Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts
Beautiful views and cosy taverns await you on the edge of Vienna. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Wine-hiking is an autumn must-do in Austria, and although the official Wine Hiking Day (Weinwandertag) that usually draws crowds has been cancelled two years in a row during the pandemic, it’s possible to follow the routes through beautiful scenery and wine taverns on your own.

Mauer in the southwest of Vienna is one of the routes that is mostly frequented by locals.


The footpath takes you through scenic vineyards. Photo: Catherine Edwards

You can reach this part of the 23rd district using Vienna’s public transport, and you have a few options. From the Hietzing station on the U4 line, you can take the tramline 60 or bus 56A. The former will take you either to Mauer’s central square or you can get off earlier at Franz-Asenbauer-Gasse to start the hike. If it’s too early in the day for wine just yet, you could start your day at the small and charming Designo cafe (Geßlgasse 6).

Otherwise, the residential area itself doesn’t have much to see, but keep an eye out as you wander between the taverns later — there are some beautiful buildings.

To start the hike, head west along Franz-Asenbauer Gasse, which will take you up into the vineyards, growing some red wine and Vienna’s specialty Gemischter Satz or ‘field blend’, which as the name suggests is a mixture of different types of grapes.

Photo: Catherine Edwards

The paved road takes a left turn, but the hiking route follows a smaller path further upwards. Here you’ll have magnificent views over the whole of Vienna.

If you stick to the official hiking route (see a map from Weinwandern here) you can keep the whole route under 5 kilometres. But more adventurous types don’t need to feel limited.

You can also follow the Stadtwanderweg 6 route (see a map here) either in full, which will add on a hefty 13 kilometres, or just in part, and venture further into the Mauerwald. If you do this, one spot to aim for is the Schießstätte, a former hunting lodge offering hearty Austrian meals.

EXPLORE AUSTRIA

In any case, you should definitely take a small detour to see the Wotrubakirche, an example of brutalist architecture from the mid-1970s built on a site that was used as a barracks during the Second World War.

Not far from the church is the Pappelteich, a small pond that is not only an important habitat for local flora and fauna, but a popular picnic spot for hikers. Its only water supply is from the rain, and due to climate change the pond has almost dried out in recent years, prompting the city to take action to boost its water supply by adding a permanent pipe.


The church is made up of over 150 concrete blocks. Photo: Catherine Edwards

What you really come to Mauer for, though, are the Heuriger or Viennese wine taverns. 

The most well-known is Edlmoser (Maurer Lange Gasse 123) which has previously been named as the best in Vienna. Note that it’s not open all year so check the website, but in 2021 it should be open between November 5th and 21st, and is also serving the goose that is a popular feature on Viennese menus this time of year.

Tip for translating Heuriger opening times: look for the word ausg’steckt, which is used by those taverns which aren’t open year round. They will also often show that they’re open by attaching a bunch of green twigs to the sign or front door.


Buschenschank Grausenburger. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Also worth visiting are cosy Buschenschank Grausenburger (Maurer Lange Gasse 101a), Heuriger Wiltschko (Wittgensteinstrasse 143 — located near the start of the hiking route, this is a good place to begin your tour) and Heuriger Fuchs-Steinklammer (Jesuitensteig 28).

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