Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

Not only is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in London, but it's beginning to feel like it, and I don't just mean the weather! Each area or street in London comes together and organizes street-wide Christmas lights. They range in style from blue icicles in Covent Garden to giant stars and snowflakes on Oxford Street. The lights were hung in early November though, so that's not what's making London so Christmasy. Nor is it the incredible store windows! All of the stores here, particularly the large department stores, spare no expense on their window displays and it definitely shows! One of the corner displays at Selfridges is a giant fan blowing fake snow all around (the theme for all of their windows is white). Harvey Nichols' is decked out in a fantasy theme with large model animals and mystical colors while Harrods is simply opulent. Each display reveals something about the store's character while giving the onlooker quite the spectacle. What's really making London seem like a fairy-tale Christmas is Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Food vendors and stalls fill several festive rows.

It's a well known fact I've been obsessed with Christmas lights well, since forever but this is something completely different. Winter Wonderland is a Christmas market modeled after those common in Europe, a theme park, and a foodie's wonderland. Rows and rows of small vendors sell a variety of items including ornaments, hand-carved wooden utensils, candles, jewelry, handmade clothes, and London trinkets. The amusement park is pretty cool with a range of kid rides, haunted-house style attractions, carnival games and several larger rides. Of the larger rides, I've only been on one: the drop. It was one of the rides that goes straight up very high and then drops you fast back down and up again and down and up until it just starts getting fun, and then it's over. This drop was cooler than some because from that height and location at night, I felt like I could see all of the lights in London. The best part of Winter Wonderland though is, in my opinion, obviously the food. The most common type of food vendor is "Bavarian pubs" and German eateries offering sausages and potatoes. I tried the potato pancakes from one and despite being slightly overfried, they were good. I always thought they were a Hanukkah food but apparently they're really German: who knew? There's are several vendors selling tantalizing flavors of homemade fudge, colorful candies, and marshmallows a meter long! Another staple of the Christmas market is the drinks: hot chocolate with baileys, mulled wine, and German beer. The hot chocolate is rich and creamy and when it's served sans alcohol is topped with a generous amount of fresh whipped cream and chocolate powder. Yum! It's pretty good with the Baileys too. The most unique and interesting thing I tried at the market however was the mulled wine. Mulled wine is a traditional European winter treat, goes by a few different regional names, and has a taste difficult to describe. Imagine a winter beer full of spices and warm seasonings such as cardamom and cinnamon. The mulled wine was sort of like a hot version of those flavors, in wine. The initial sip just tastes like heat followed by the aftertaste of red wine. Yet, the next taste gives you an idea of the full range of spices and flavors in the wine. It's incredibly interesting but I haven't decided yet whether I actually enjoy drinking it or not. Verdict to follow. Other vendors boast exotic burgers like ostrich while a few others, such as "Santa's Pub" serve more traditional British grub and pies.

The best thing I ate a the market though was, not surprisingly, my dessert. Choosing between waffle carts and crepe stands proved too difficult so I went with the wildcard and it worked out almost as well as the Cardinals' wildcard position in the MLB playoffs this year. I got a chimney cake, an old German cake. The chimney cake was made of dough which was placed vertically surrounding a column and then rotated as it bake to a lovely golden color. It was then brushed with a little butter and rolled in whichever topping you chose. I got half rolled in chocolate sprinkles and the other half rolled in a cinnamon sugar mix. It was awesome! The cinnamon sugar bites were sweet and the topping melted in your mouth and into the cake. The chocolate side was also sweet and gave a nice crunch. The cake itself was really unique. The outside was crisp with a crunch almost like a wafer-thin cookie and then there was about a quarter inch of more pastry textured soft dough before the hollow center. And it was healthier than funnel cake since it was baked!

Chimney cakes being made and decorated.

And to make the night better, I saw Bill Nighy there! I love the Christmas market and how perfectly they put you in the mood for Christmas. Not to mention all of the sweets, goodies, drinks, and inviting food choices. I'm definitely going back again this week.

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