The Good and Bad of Traveling Over the Holidays

Whether traveling to see family or traveling just to see a new place, there is good and bad about being on the road during the holidays. We are definitely the type of people who love being surrounded by holiday decorations, cooking special meals, and spending time with people that are important to us, but we tend to travel more often than not during the holidays. Since Thanksgiving is not something celebrated outside of North America, it is a great time to travel, but we also tend to travel over the week between Christmas and New Years. It is fascinating to see how other cultures celebrate the holidays and it gives us a different perspective that can influence our own holiday traditions.

Christmastime in Strasbourg, France
Fountain and Christmas Decorations in Punta Cana
Decorations and Market in Prague, Czech Republic
Skating at the Market in Vienna, Austria

Lets get the bad out of the way first. Travel over the holidays is often expensive because so many other people are traveling during the same time. That also means that airports are busier, lines at the counters, security, and customs are all longer and slower. Another reason for the longer lines is that people travel during the holidays that don’t normally travel. They aren’t prepared and don’t know what they are supposed to do, which causes problems and delays. We have often told each other that we wish they would create separate lines for those people who travel all of the time and those that don’t travel at all. Restaurants fill up quickly, often need reservations, and sometimes have fixed menus as opposed to a la carte. Depending upon where you are, weather can also be an issue causing flight delays, icy roads, and just generally cold conditions. Traveling over the holidays takes extra planning and most importantly an extra dose of patience.

Christmas Tree in Brasov, Romania
Christmas Decorations in Las Vegas
Holiday Decorations in France
Holiday Decorations Around the Altar of St. Lorenz Church in Nuremberg

There are definitely a lot of good things about travel during the holidays as well. First of all, seeing all of the decorations in different places can be amazing. Many cities have special holiday markets, events, plays, concerts, and parades that can create very special memories. Depending upon where you decide to go, you can actually avoid crowds by traveling to places where other people do not typically go at that time of year. Seeing how other cultures celebrate the season and trying unique holiday foods is something truly special. Once you reach your destination, people seem to be genuinely friendly and happy to share their traditions. You can also find unique gifts for friends and family, especially things that are hand-crafted.

Christmas Tree in Frankfurt, Germany
The Second of Four Christmas Markets in Vienna
Restaurant Decorated for the Holidays
Building a Nativity Scene in Hanoi, Vietnam

Regardless of your reason for traveling over the holidays, it can be frustrating as well as rewarding. The biggest keys to being successful when traveling during the holidays is to plan ahead, make reservations where necessary, and most of all, give yourself extra time to get to your destination. Also, remember it is the holidays, smile and be nice to people, especially everyone who is there to help or serve you. If you are traveling over this coming holiday, we hope that you have a wonderful trip and there are many more good moments than bad.

Time of Year for Special Dinners

With the holidays approaching, this is the time of year when we tend to make something a little more special for dinner. Although we will sometimes treat ourselves to some meats that are a little more expensive like lamb, prime rib, duck, or goose, it doesn’t have to be exotic. Sometimes it is simple as taking chicken and making a special meal out of it. Obviously, it is time for a big turkey or ham dinner here in the States, but the holidays can be an opportunity for something a little different. Here are some of our favorite meals to cook during this festive time of year.

Leg of Lamb with Gravy, Roasted Potatoes, and Sautéed Spinach

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Gravy – Even though it is more food than the two of us can eat, we love cooking a leg of lamb and enjoy making savory dishes with the leftovers. Even if you don’t like rare meat, leg of lamb is best when it is cooked to medium-rare at most, otherwise it can get a little tough.

Prime Rib with Yorkshire Pudding

Prime Rib with Yorkshire Pudding – This is definitely a holiday tradition for our family and something that we look forward to every year. As good as it is the night of the dinner, it is great for sandwiches for days afterwards. It is elegant and easy to cook, making it great for entertaining or just a dinner for family at home. Obviously, you don’t need to make the Yorkshire pudding, but if certainly makes for an extra special treat.

Tender Duck Breast

Roasted Duck with a Plum Glaze – We don’t understand why duck is so expensive here in the United States, but it certainly isn’t something that we get very often. Whether cooking duck or goose, it is important to render out the fat that is in the skin. We tend to cut the duck into breasts and thighs as opposed to cooking it whole so that we can control the cooking more easily. The best way to render out the fat is to start it, skin side down, in a cast-iron skillet and then transferring to the oven to finish cooking.

Tuscan Chicken with Crispy Skin

Tuscan Chicken with Green Beans and Bacon – Like most people, we have chicken on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean that chicken can’t be turned into an elegant dinner for the family to enjoy. By using fresh ingredients and adding a butter under the skin, it is not only delicious and moist, but makes for a great presentation. This is definitely not your boring chicken dinner.

Medium-Rare Lamb Chops

Rack of Lamb – Although this is something that you might think of ordering at an upscale restaurant, it is something that you can cook for yourself at home. For the best presentation, the chops should be “French cut”, which is simply the technique of trimming the meat and fat from the bone tips. This is definitely a meal for a special occasion or when you truly want to impress your guests.

Do you have meals that you prepare for special occasions?

Christmas in New Orleans

We decided to spend our holiday week in New Orleans, Louisiana, and it was definitely an enjoyable trip. We stayed in the French Quarter and spent our days wandering the streets, doing some tours, and eating wonderful meals. New Orleans is one of those places that has its own unique take on the holidays, especially in the French Quarter, which is the old town section of the city with a history that goes back hundreds of years.

Uniquely New Orleans

Altar in the St. Louis Cathedral

Festive Streets in the French Quarter

Hotel Decorations

Although it was the holidays, the French Quarter remains pretty much the same as it does throughout the year, meaning that it is basically a big party. The streets were a little quieter on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but generally there were a lot of tourists in town and the restaurants were very busy. Many of the buildings were decorated for the holidays and we enjoyed seeing some of the more whimsical decorations. As with many other cities, hotel lobbies are adorned with elaborate decorations as are many of the restaurant interiors.

Jazz Paintings and Holiday Lights

Whimsical Fun

Nativity Scene in the Cathedral

Restaurant Decorated for the Holidays

To really get a feel for how festive the streets are decorated, it is best to see them at night when the lights are all lit. We happened to do a carriage ride one evening and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the balconies all brightly decorated throughout the French Quarter. There are many other places to see holiday lights in New Orleans, but there is something special about seeing the decorations in such a historic atmosphere. In many ways it reminded us of the decorations that we saw throughout Europe on other trips we have taken.

Decorations at Night

Christmas Tree Near Jackson Square

Historic Building with Decorations

Southern Elegance

Christmas Tree in a Hotel