Tag Archives: history

10 Christmas Delicacies and Their Traditions

Christmas is a time of traditions seemingly cast in stone and some of them dating from the stone age.

We all indulge in unusual customs that people from elsewhere may mock or jeer. In Sweden, for instance, watching Donald Duck on Christmas Eve is a communal pastime, in the UK we eat sprouts, in Spain they have a defecating nativity figure. And there’s lots more where they came from.

Food is important at times of communal festivity and the choice of food can sometimes be thought-provoking. And of course the traditions attached to that food can sometimes be even more interesting that the grub itself …

Mince pies

Mince pies (telegraph.co.uk)

UK – Mince Pies

These I’m a big fan of but didn’t realise until researching this post the superstitions associated with them. Originally there was real meat in a mince pie and the idea of sweetening the meat idea was brought back from the Middle East by returning crusaders. Not surprising as meat dishes sweetened with icing sugar are still a part Middle Eastern cooking. There are some great traditions that we forget about when pigging out on them at Christmas time (or maybe that’s just me):

  • Superstition number 1: If you eat one mince pie a day between Christmas and 6th January you’ll have happiness for the next 12 months. This is an excellent excuse to eat mince pies.
  • Superstition 2: Always eat them in silence…(?)
  • Superstition number 3: Stir the mixture clockwise because obviously stirring it anticlockwise is as unlucky as tripping over a black cat.
  • Superstition number 4: The cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves represent the gifts bought by the three kings.
  • More a fact than a superstition number 5: Eating mince pies and puddings and generally behaving in a festive way was banned by king of the killjoys, Oliver Cromwell.
KFC Christmas

KFC at Christmas (http://turtlepack.blogspot.co.uk)

Japan – KFC

Even though Japan isn’t a Christian country they love their celebrations and Christmas is one they’ve taken on board: ‘Christmas chicken’ is their Christmas dinner of choice.

Partly because of a lack of ovens big enough to cook turkeys in and partly because of devious marketing efforts by Kentucky Fried Chicken, their branches on Christmas Eve are chock full of revellers and there are often queues out the door.

Chile – Ponche a la romana

An eggnog-style concoction, this consists of champagne and pineapple ice cream. Basically a more expensive ice cream soda and served during the summer months as well as being a Christmas and New Year’s Eve treat. The only reason I’ve added it in here is that I wouldn’t mind trying it.

Romania – Piftie

While a traditional Romanian main course at Christmas consists of standard fare such as pork chops and baked gammon, their appetisers are a tad heart attack-inducing. The piftie is a prime example.

Piftie - pork in aspic

Piftie – pork offal in aspic (http://foodlorists.blogspot.co.uk)

Pigs feet are boiled to make the piftie as there’s a lot of gelatin in the foot. Then garlic and pig offal (head and feet) and sometimes vegetables are added to the liquid in moulds. What you’re left with is a scrummy gelatiny mass of yuck. (Sorry – I’ve a thing about gelatin – can’t eat panna cotta because of it).

Iceland – Fermented Skate

Thorláksmessa (Mass of St Thorlac) falls on 23rd December and it is on this day that the whole of Reykjavík is alive with the smell of ammonia.

Eating fermented skate was traditional in the Western part of the island but has become common throughout Iceland these days. Cooking it with smoked lamb gets rid of some of the smell and it’s served with sheep fat and potatoes to counteract the taste a bit …

The tradition of eating this tasty meal came about as a result of Catholic non-eat-meating in the period coming up to Christmas. And as some parts of the skate are poisonous, fermenting the fish for a while is said to make it less dangerous.

Slovakia – Bread Throwing

A Slovakian Christmas Eve meal is a solemn occasion full of symbolism and superstition. As in many Eastern European Catholic countries, a 12 course vegetarian banquet is eaten which harks back to the 12 apostles.

One course in this Slovakian feast is a tart soup as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery (in the exodus from Egypt bible story); poppy seeds are included in lots of dishes as they’re believed to bring luck; and walnuts are thrown in the corner for the same reason.

My favourite, however, is the custom of soaking local breads or a wheat based dessert called kutia in water, forming it into little balls and chucking it at the ceiling. The more that sticks, the better their crop will be next year. That must take a bit of cleaning up afterwards and presumably it’s only done by people with crops.

Netherlands – Gourmetten

Dutch gourmet cooking

Dutch gourmet cooking (yummydutch.com)

Gourmet at Christmas isn’t the posh food that we would normally associate with it. The host provides meat and vegetables which the guests cook in little frying pans, stove set or grill (the ‘gourmet set’) on the table between them. Pancakes are also made at the table and fruit is provided for dessert.

Greece – Christopsomo

Christopsomo bread

Christopsomo bread (http://roundthetable.net)

Christopsomo (Christ’s bread) is a sweet, buttery bread made carefully and with only the best ingredients. It’s decorated with a Byzantine cross or with symbols representing the cook’s family life, like animals or a family crest. The cross is flavoured with aniseed and the ends of it encircle walnuts. A variation is the Zakinthos version with dried fruits.

Worldwide – Candy canes

Candy canes

Candy canes image (Wikipedia)

The tradition of selling candy canes and decorating trees with them is popular throughout Europe and common in the US. It never featured much in the cornucopia of UK sweet treats but it seems to be appearing more often here as well.

The custom is said to have come about in 1670 when a German choirmaster created these particularly shaped sweets to keep children quiet during long church services. He had the bright idea of asking the local confectioner to shape the candy like a shepherd’s crook to remind the kids of the nativity story.

Kalithea Springs Spa, Rhodes: Old and New

Rotunda Kalithea Springs, Rhodes

Rotunda at Kalithea Springs, Rhodes

The Kalithea Springs Spa, a beautiful spot on the lovely island of Rhodes is a a place that my husband tells me we visited when we stayed on the island 15 years ago (yikes, 15 years…) I don’t remember a thing about it, but apparently it was in an unloved state, though situated in a gorgeous spot not far from the elegant town of Faliraki (just kidding) about 9km outside Rhodes Town.

These days, it looks very different, and that’s because Kalithea town council decided to renovate.

Old photo of Kalithea Springs

The History of Kalithea Springs

The red waters of the health-giving springs had been famous for their curative properties since Ancient Greece and the springs were known to the locals as Tsillonero which apparently is translated as water loosening the bowels – now, I know that nero is water but if anyone can give me a better translation of the whole word, I’d love to hear it.

The waters were said to cure treatment of “… arthritis, skin conditions, obesity, diabetes, tropical diseases, dysentery, malaria, allergies, asthma, cystitis, diarrhoea and intestinal conditions” according to the official leaflet of the Terme Calitea.

The buildings that remain today were built by the Italians who occupied the island from 1912 till 1947. This Eastern-inspired hydrotherapy clinic, designed by Italian architect Pietro Lombardi, opened in 1929, was designed to attract  visitors from all around the world.

The low buildings surrounded a little natural bay on which a quay was built to moor small tourist vessels, a large rotunda with arches, columns and fountains, a domed structure with pool, facilities that housed laboratories and offices, 200 lavatories (or so I’ve read): necessary as part of the cure was to consume a large amount of water in the morning.

In its unrenovated state, the site featured in a number of films, including …

Escape to Athena with Elliott Gould, Kalithea

Escape to Athena with Elliott Gould, Kalithea

… Escape to Athena with Elliot Gould (above) and the Guns of Navarone.  Also, according to a photograph in the Rotunda exhibition …

Zorba the Greek, widow in the square

Zorba the Greek, widow in the square

… Zorba the Greek, particularly the harrowing scene from which the photograph above comes.  (I haven’t been able to find anything to verify that one – Zorba was mostly filmed on Crete).

Kalithea Springs these days

Pics 2012 645

The buildings have been lovingly restored and you can now visit – there’s an entrance fee of 3 euros, although the red springs themselves no longer function. Now you can learn to dive here, have a bite to eat or a a coffee in the cafe, sunbathe to your heart’s content or just view the gorgeous buildings like we did (it’s a great photographer’s spot: my own featured here don’t do it justice).

And definitely have a look at the excellent photographic exhibition of on how the buildings looked before renovation:

Rotunda before renovation, Kalithea Springs

And they feature some of its past visitors:

Family visiting Kalithea Springs

Visitor at Kalithea Springs a few years back, Rhodes

There’s still work to be done to the central domed building, but it does look as if the building’s been prepared so perhaps that’ll be happening sooner rather than later. In the meantime it shows what the site was like pre tidying-up. This one’s of the inside of the dome:

Inside the dome, Kalithea Springs

So if you’re in Rhodes next year, do have a look-in and have a ponder on the history of the place. It’s not all ancient history on the island, you know!

The Ghosts of Ararat Lunatic Asylum, Victoria, Australia

Aradale Mental Hospital

Aradale Mental Hospital (aradale.com.au)

This post began as a standard Top 10 Haunted Places for Halloween post, but as the first haunted place I looked at was so interesting I thought I’d do something a bit more in-depth.

First, the ghosts

The Ararat Lunatic Asylum, later known as the Aradale Mental Hospital is Australia’s ‘largest abandoned mental institution in Australia,’ according to Aradale Ghost Tours who run tours in the building (and entertainingly provide the use of night vision glasses, infrared cameras and the like as part of the tour.)

Ararat Mental Asylum

Ararat Mental Asylum in 1880 (Wikipedia)

It’s located in Victoria, Australia, was built between 1864 and 1867 and the design of it was based on Colney Hatch Mental Hospital in Friern Barnet, London (which is actually just ten minutes on the bus from where I live – you really needed to know that, didn’t you?). Its role in life was to take in those from jails, reformatory or industrial school who were considered ‘lunatic’ ‘retarded’ and ‘insane’.

13,000 people died in Aradale in just 130 years so there’s scope for a large number of ghosts to be living in and around the building complex that was basically the size of a small town. The complex consisted of 63 buildings and employed 500 staff. Among the spirits reportedly wandering its corridors have been seen nurses in white uniforms and dark figures. Crying, moaning and footsteps have been heard, and there’s one room with an overwhelmingly strange atmosphere.

Now, the rest

J Ward is a part of the complex with particularly gruesome stories attached to it. Three men were hanged on the site when it was in use as a goldfields jail (for a while Victoria was producing more gold than any country in the world except for the US and its Californian gold fields). The site was taken over by the Lunacy Department, according to J Ward.org when the gold ran out.

The hanged men were buried in unmarked graves by the authorities, but the inmates did a bit of DIY remembrance-making by marking the graves with an arrow pointing upwards – the mark of a convict (this tidbit came from a very detailed post about a visit to J Ward on GhostPlace). It’s thought that the prisoners were buried upright and facing towards the jail wall so that their spirits would forever be confined within the wall. The Friends of J Ward have since placed plaques above these burial sites.

J Ward was deemed a ‘temporary ward’ when it opened in 1887 (according to Deidre N Grieg in her book “Neither Mad Nor Bad”) and its end was finally in site when an infamous self-harming inmate called Garry David (also known as Webb) pulled off bricks and slates from the outside of the building to reveal a crumbling interior, in 1990 – it could therefore no longer be regarded as secure, so the end was nigh.

It’s now a museum run by the Friends of J Ward, and rooms like the operating theatre where controversial treatments such as lobotomies and ECT were carried out.

The last patients in the complex were removed as late as 1993 and there’s now a wine-making college, vineyard, an olive grove and olive pressing plant on site.

Aradale underground bathroom

Aradale underground bathroom [http://www.jward.org)

Address Details

Ararat is located between Ballarat and the Grampians, 2.5 hours from Melbourne.
As well as daylight and evening tours around J Ward run by the volunteers Friends of J Ward and the aforementioned ghost tours a group called Spirit Seekers hold monthly spirit-seeking experiences in J Ward.

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A Piece of History in Paris: Pellissier Jonas & Rivet

Entrance to Pellissier Jonas & Rivet, Paris

Entrance to Pellissier Jonas & Rivet, Paris

I came across the arch above on one of my Parisian wanders. It’s the entrance to a factory that no longer exists at 49 Rue de Bagnolet, near Père Lachaise. It attracted my attention because it is a rather lovely portico and because of the fact that I have no idea what the factory behind it would have looked like. I thought I’d do a bit of hunting to find out what this piece of history in Paris meant.

The first reference I could find for the company Pellissier Jonas & Rivet was on a Patents website for a fur carroting process, which, as you can see in the pdf in the previous link refers to a way of treating animal fibres so that felt-like properties are imparted to them.

Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter

Fur carroting before this time used mercury, which of course caused major problems for the workers using it. As I’m sure you know, the phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from the behavioural changes caused by mercury poisoning. Jonas & Rivet’s new process made use of a selection of acids  instead (presumably better for the workers (?)) .  The company is described as being an American hat making company.

Pellissier refers to the occupation of fur garment maker, so we can deduce from that they were either manufacturers of the felt for the hats or the hats themselves. They had branches in the US and France, as indicated in the picture at the top of the page.

Felt hat from early twentieth century

Felt hat from early twentieth century

In a Tariff Hearings document presented to the US Congress House Committee in 1908 the company appears in the name of Pellissier, Jeunes Rivet, Brooklyn, NY, so we can guess that they had a factory or head office in that neighbourhood and can only wonder why Jonas isn’t there. Or perhaps Jeunes is just a misprint or mishearing of Jonas.

Louis August Jonas was the Jonas of the firm and he made sufficient money that his son, George E Jonas, founded the Louis August Jonas Foundation in America. It provides opportunities for young people. He also founded Camp Rising Sun in Red Hook, New York. George (aka Freddie) was also a partner in the felt manufacturing firm for a time.

In 1953 a report appears in the Kingston Daily Freeman newspaper that the company’s plant in Walden, NY is up for sale, so they obviously had at least one other plant in the States, and I wonder if it was around then that the company wound up? And I wonder when the Paris workshop closed? And who was Rivet? I haven’t been able to find anything on him yet.

So what’s the point of this post? Simply that curiosity and noticing things are what keeps travelling and wandering the fascinating occupations that they are. The fact that the portico is still there means that someone somewhere decided it was important or attractive enough to keep it, even as the area around it developed. There are still traces of the past to be uncovered and isn’t it interesting to try to do that?


The Legend of the Golem of Prague

Golem in Prague

My own photo of a Prague Golem

One of the best reasons to go on a Prague city break has to be to see the traces of the Golem legend. Golem is inescapable – from figurines to books to t-shirts, street decoration and a Golem restaurant and cafe, the myth lives on in this quirky city.

Although the most famous Golem, Prague’s was certainly not the first. The myth is said to have originated in the early Hebrew text, the Talmud which told the story of Adam (of Adam and Eve fame) who was said to be one, moulded from dust.

Prague’s Golem was created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel from clay in the 16th century to protect the Jewish community from antisemitic attacks and possible expulsion from their homeland. However, this large lump of a thing continued to grow more powerful and violent and eventually turned against its creator. It was deactivated either by removing the first letter from emet (truth in Hebrew) which was written on its forehead, transforming it into the word for dead; or by removing the clay tablet from its mouth.

Old New Synagogue

Old New Synagogue – Photo by eve@eveandersson.com

The lifeless monster was then removed to the attic of the Old New Synagogue (Altneuschul) and, according to rumour, attacked and ripped apart Nazi soldiers who broke into the building.

Although the synagogue isn’t keen on the public entering the attic, there was an investigation into whether the remains where there, just in the last five years or so,  and was reported in the Fortean Times. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find the article online, although my recollection of the report was that no remains were found …

Recognizing the description, the rabbi said, he confronted the synagogue’s shamash, or attendant, a man called Josef, who shares the Golem’s first name. Josef eventually confessed that he had been telling visitors he was the Golem’s great-grandson.

Where to find the Golem in Prague

There’s a 7ft statue outside the Precious Legacy Tours office, Sirkoa Street.

Restaurant U Golema, Maiselova 8 is full of Golem memorabilia, and has a black and white tiled Golem outside in the pavement. Although the reviews on Tripadvisor are mixed for this one, I’ve eaten there and the food was very good, if a bit more expensive than other restaurants of its type. Perhaps for Golem hunters only.

Rabbi Loew‘s gravestone can be seen opposite the entrance hall of the Jewish Cemetery. He is said to have saved numerous Jews from pogroms, and the story of the Golem is just one attached to this great man.

Golem statuette

Golem statuette from NY Times article

Souvenir shops

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/world/europe/11golem.html: This New York Times article discusses the Golem industry boom in Prague a few years back.


Golem cafe

Golem in a cafe from The Penny Farthing blog

The Golem in popular culture

Golem in film

Golem in 1920’s “Der Golem”


From director Paul Wegener:

1917 Der Golem und die Tänzerin (The Golem and the Dancing Girl)>

1920 The German expressionist classic Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (how he came into the world) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zag79w8eIQ

1936 Le Golem: The Legend of Prague, director Julien Duvivier

1966 It! aka Anger of the Golem or Curse of the Golem – stars Roddy McDowell as a mad scientist who brings the golem to life. Director Herbert Leder.

1983 The Keep – an ancient evil released by Nazis appears in the form of a golem to a Jewish professor. Director Michael Mann.

There’s a Golem Pokemon, a turtle-like creature made of rock.

http://theater.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/theater/reviews/golem-at-la-mama-etc-review.html: A very recent dance/marionnette-featuring work staged in New York’s Ellen Stewart Theatre.

An X-Files episode entitled Kaddish featured the Golem.

http://ayidindixieland.blogspot.com/2011/04/golem-of-prague-elected-mayor-of-mud.html: A very funny article from “A Yid in Dixieland” website.

http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Golem_-_In_popular_culture/id/1291338: Lots of popular culture references are listed on this page.

Terry Pratchett in his own inimitable fashion explores all the golem myths in Feet of Clay

New Quirky Travel Features

Quirky Travel is expanding its scope – that’s what this Prague article is all about. I’ll be writing about very many quirky cities as it progresses. Future cities I hope to feature are Budapest, Reykjavik, Dubrovnik and many many more.