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Unforgettable Italy: Hiking, Polenta, Lake Como, and the Italian Alps

Lake Como, the view from the Alps -- sheer beauty

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful privilege of traveling to Italy and spending a week in the shadow of the Italian Alps along Lake Como. The people, the food, the wine; the sunshine and lake breezes and bells clanging in the campaniles; all were unforgettable, magical. I have come to realize even if I breathed every breath in my lifetime in Italy, the time would not be enough to take all of its goodness in.

Now home, back in Ohio, U.S., I look back and savor many of the experiences. But one day on this trip, the simplest things filled me up, all on a hike up into the mountains surrounding Lake Como.

Unforgettable Italy: Hiking, Polenta, Lake Como, and the Italian Alps

From Menaggio, the road toward Lugano, Switzerland, leads up into the mountains. We began at a small village for which we didn’t even know the name, simply that we could park the car, find a trail, and begin, up. The morning along the lake was hot, and the path into the mountains was cooler, covered with tall grass and loose rocks, and passed through shady forests and along ancient rock walls.

Italy and Lake Como area map
Italy and Lake Como area map
Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como, Italy — gorgeous beside the Alps, hot in the summer sun

 

Rock walls everywhere along the trails up into the mountains
Rock walls everywhere along the trails up into the mountains

 

For part of the way, we hiked through a pasture where cattle grazed. Giant metal bells hung from the cows’ necks and clanked as they shuffled along, chewing grass, swatting at flies with their whip tails.

Walk along a farm trail, above Lake Como, Italy
Walk along a farm trail, above Lake Como, Italy
Mountains above Lake Como, Italy
Mountains above Lake Como, Italy

Crotto Buba

One of the greatest treats while hiking up and up is to find a place to return to for food. We were not sure we would find a place to refill for water, much less a place which served up spectacular food along with great views.

We passed this place, Crotto Buba, and smiled, knowing we would return hungry. When we stopped for lunch, tired and starving, we discovered local families and groups of workers filled every table. To me, the more local the place and the less English they speak, the better. In this case, this was true, too.

Crotto Buba, above Lake Como, Italy
Crotto Buba, above Lake Como, Italy

Polenta

I have Celiac disease, which means I use the phrase Senza Glutine frequently in Italy.

Most of the time, if a local restaurant or osteria offers risotto, a traditional meal based on rice, I am lucky and very happy. But at Crotto Buba, their only non-gluten meal was polenta.

I ordered it, not expecting to have one of the best-tasting meals I can remember. But it was.

In the photograph below, the polenta doesn’t look like much. Creamy cornmeal, at most. I don’t know if I loved it because I was eating outside overlooking Lake Como far below, or if the cheese and olive oil and polenta were simply the perfect blend baked in its own cast iron dish. But this polenta, I will never forget.

Best Meal Ever, Crotto Buba, Grandola Ed Uniti, Italy
Best Meal Ever, Crotto Buba, Grandola Ed Uniti, Italy

Hiking into the Italian Alps

One of the animal friends along the way …

the locals
the locals

I love the local villages, the steps and narrow alleys and doorways, and the black cat who followed us.

streets of the village
streets of the village
Light and shadows
Light and shadows

 

Hat, camera, hiking boots: check!
Hiking on a hot day — hat, camera, hiking boots

The View of Lake Como from the Italian Alps

All photos above have been taken on my iPhone, and one below, from my Nikon. I took thousands of photographs on my full-frame Nikon while in Italy … but they take quite a while to get through. 🙂

Every time I have traveled to Italy, the country, its people, its natural beauty, and its food and drink have been beyond compare. This trip was the same, and even more unforgettable in every way.

Lake Como, the view from the Alps -- sheer beauty
Lake Como, the view from the Alps — sheer beauty

Have you traveled to Italy? If so, have you tried polenta? What did you think?

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The Italian Alps: Scenes from Chestnut Forests and Stone Villages

Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps

“Schilpario was one of the last villages to the north, which lay in the shadow of the Pizzo Camino, one of the highest peaks in the Alps, where the snow did not melt, even in summer. So high in the cliffs, the people looked down on the clouds, which moved through the valley below like rosettes of meringue … The mountain people were sustained through long winters by the contents of their root cellars filled with bins of plentiful chestnuts, which carpeted the mountain paths like glassy brown stones.” – The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, an excellent novel, page 14

 

the Italian Alps
the Italian Alps

Italy is a country of many beautiful, varied terrains. To the far north, the Alps cross and form the border with Switzerland and Austria. Only one hours’ drive north of Milan, the Italian landscape changes from flat to mountainous. Milan sits like a jewel pressed flat onto the expansive plateau wedged between the sapphire Mediterranean Sea to the south and the crown of mountains, the Alps, to the north.

The terrain changes drastically in that drive north, from flat to rising and skirting Lake Como and Lugano to the jagged, steep mountains of the Alps. It was there, twenty-five kilometers north of Lake Como, in the mountains overlooking Valchiavenna, where my family and I spent a week in a rustic stone chalet for a vacation.

When we arrived, we knew we wanted to ski (which we did, link to the post here, over the pass into Switzerland), but we didn’t anticipate how much we would love the area surrounding the tiny village where we stayed.

the Chestnut Forest, Prato Camportaccio, Italy
the Chestnut Forest, Prata Camportaccio, Italy

One morning, we hiked up the steep slope above the chalet, and found ourselves thick in chestnut forest. The ground was covered in the spiny, round fruits which had fallen from the trees.

Palm Tree in the Italian Alps
Palm Tree in the Italian Alps

Amazingly, palm trees also grow in Prata Camportaccio and the mountain above, as well as olive trees. One man explained it was because of the thermal springs and heat which rises up through the ground in the area. It was surreal to see palm trees thriving in two feet of snow.

Centuries' Old Stone Villages, Italian Alps
Centuries’ Old Stone Villages, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
Prata Camportaccio, Italy
Photos from a Foresting Booklet at the site picturing families living in the stone village, Prata Camportaccio, Italy

The cluster of what seemed to be abandoned stone buildings sat in a tight formation near the thermal springs higher up on the mountain.

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
A stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

 

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
A stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

 

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

A sign describes the process of drying chestnuts and preserving them.

Sign describing the process of drying chestnuts, Italian Alps
Sign describing the process of drying chestnuts, Italian Alps
Moss, Abandoned stone building, Italian Alps
Moss, Abandoned stone building, Italian Alps
Stone and Chestnut
Stone and Chestnut
A Fresco, on an exterior of a stone village building high in the Italian Alps
A Fresco, on an exterior of a stone village building high in the Italian Alps, Year 1828
Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps
Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps

The area in the Italian Alps is a place like no other. The people are friendly and helpful and welcoming, the food incredible, and the views beyond compare. Most impressive, to me, is how civilization has thrived among the clouds in the high Alps for centuries. The Italian Alps are a must-visit region of the world. The only problem is that once you have spent time there, it is almost impossible to want to leave.

 

the Italian Alps, the peaks above Prato Camportaccio, Lombardy, Italy bordering Engadin, Switzerland
the Italian Alps, the peaks above Prata Camportaccio, Lombardy, Italy bordering Engadin, Switzerland
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Winter in Europe: Favorite Places and Photographs

Winter Sunrise over Lake Como

“… But unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

Winter in Europe: Favorite Places and Photographs

I love Europe in the winter.

There is something magical about European winters. Something about ice skaters filling a small town’s central pond, enchanting architecture sparkling beneath a pixie dust snow, the mountains and the grandeur of the Alps, the Christmas Markets and the rhythm of the people as they go about their lives, and the sheer beauty of it all.

Over the four years my family and I lived in Europe, we traveled throughout much of central Europe in the winter. This winter amidst the huge amounts of snow falling on our new home in the American Midwest, I’ve been sorting through some of my favorite photos of our time in Europe.

Thanks for scrolling through and discovering some of the favorite places I traveled in the winters in Europe, including Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, Poland, and Germany. All of the following are places I’m grateful to have captured through the lens of my camera. Undoubtedly, they will stay in my heart and mind forever.

Austria at Christmastime
Tirol region, Austria at Christmastime
My favorite castle on the Austria / Italy border in the Alps
My favorite castle on the Austria / Italy border in the Alps

 

A Typical Countryside Scene along the North-central Austria / Czech border
A Typical Countryside Scene along the North-central Austria / Czech border

 

Majestic, Stunning Austrian Alps
Majestic, Stunning Austrian Alps

 

Silent Black Forest Laden with Snow along the German / Austrian / Czech Borders
Silent Black Forest Laden with Snow along the German / Austrian / Czech Borders

 

Rural Poland
Rural Poland

 

Poland
Poland

 

Statuesque Church, near Linz, Austria
Statuesque Church, near Linz, Austria

 

Sumava Region, Czech Republic
Sumava Region, Czech Republic

 

Powdered Sugar - Snow Wonderland, Austria
Powdered Sugar – Snow Wonderland, Austria

 

Chiavenna, Italy
Chiavenna, Italy — at the top of Italy, nestled into Switzerland

 

Engadin / St. Moritz region, Switzerland
Engadin / St. Moritz region, Switzerland : the silhouette of a church

 

Prata Comportaccio, Italy : the Black Church, 14th century
Prata Comportaccio, Italy : the Black Church, 14th century

 

A Lone Chalet in the Distance in a Snowstorm in the Alps, Alto Adige, Italy
Snowstorm in the Alps, Alto Adige, Italy

 

St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz, Switzerland

 

Prague, the view from the Charles Bridge toward Mala Strana
Prague, the view from the Charles Bridge toward Mala Strana

 

Prague's Old Town, Astronomical Clock, Tyn Church, and Christmas markets
Prague’s Old Town, Astronomical Clock, and Christmas Markets

 

Winter Sunrise over Lake Como
Winter Sunrise over Lake Como, Italy

If you’ve traveled in Europe in the winter, please share your favorite places here in the comments as well. Thank you and happy travels!

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St Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland: Stunning Beauty, Incredible Skiing

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.  -Author Unknown

In Winter, there is no better way to spend the dark, bleak, cold days than to hop on a pair of skis and enjoy the snow. Growing up, I skied often at the Purgatory Mountain resort in Durango, Colorado, where my grandmother lived. It was fun, exhilarating, and delightful, but also dangerous beyond belief. I love to ski.

Engadin, Switzerland
Engadin, Switzerland

When my family moved to Czech Republic, we skied downhill in the Austrian Alps–great experiences filled with deep snow, steep slopes, and frequent stops at the traditional Austrian huttes. But back at our home in Prague, we had snow, and snow, and more snow. The community farms and public parks in and around Prague were covered in deep snow for months, and cross-country skiers were everywhere. It was after the first winter in Czech Republic that I realized I was embracing the wrong kind of skiing.

St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland

I asked for a pair of used cross-country skis for my birthday our second year in Prague, and the day after my guys gave them to me, it snowed. Since roads aren’t plowed where we live, I could ski right out my front door (no more lugging heavy boots and skis), and after the first time out on the new (used) skis, I was hooked. So was the rest of my family, who also tried out my skis. We bought 4 more pairs of cross-country skis the next week.

With my husband, Brian, our first cross country ski outing in Czech Rep
With my husband, Brian, our first cross country ski outing in Czech Rep

Since then, we’ve skied every time it snows enough to cover the ground. We’ve traveled and skied in the Italian Dolomites, and last month, we brought our skis to Switzerland, to the Engadin lake region of the world-renowned St. Moritz.

St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz, Switzerland

Without a doubt, St. Moritz and Engadin have the most beautiful, pristine, well-kept, well-groomed, first-class ski conditions I’ve ever seen in my life. The trails go for 125 miles around lakes, up and down hills, and are used by novice and professional skiers alike. My husband and I and our kids (ages 14, 11, 10) skied only 15 or so miles, and it was the most beautiful trail I’ve ever imagined.

Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views (from my iphone), at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
Cross-country Skiing, the views, at St. Moritz / Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland

 

If you enjoy being outdoors in the winter, I highly recommend trying cross-country skiing. And if you enjoy cross-country skiing, there is no place in the world like skiing the Engadin lake valley of St. Moritz.

St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland
St. Moritz and Engadin, Switzerland

For You: Have you skied Engadin / St. Moritz? Where is your favorite place to cross-country ski?

 

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Lake Como, Northern Italy, and the Beauty Found There

Winter Sunrise over Lake Como

“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”  ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Lake Como Sunrise on Mountaintops
Lake Como Sunrise on Mountaintops

During the holidays, in the changing of the calendars from 2012 to 2013, and in the pristine time of Christmas which is celebrated so lavishly in Italy, my family and I ventured from our home in Prague down into Northern Italy, to enjoy our final wintertime in Europe.

Northern Italy, reflections along Lake Como
Northern Italy, reflections along Lake Como

We stayed in a cozy stone chalet nestled in the snow-covered peaks and a 13th century village high above Chiavenna, Italy.

 

Beside the stone chalet in 13th century Prato Comportaccio, Italy
Beside the stone chalet in 13th century Prato Comportaccio, Italy

On the way from Prague to Chiavenna, we stayed the night in Milan and had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of getting to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting.

The Last Supper (photo of the replica painting), Milan, Italy
The Last Supper (photo of the replica painting outside the exhibit), Milan, Italy

We also traveled past our favorite castles in the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy.

Medieval Castle in Alto Adige Italy
Medieval Castle in Alto Adige Italy

On our way north from Milan toward Italy’s notch of land carved into the south of Switzerland, we traveled along the famous Lake Como and lake district of Northern Italy.

 

Chiavenna, Italy
Chiavenna, Italy

So much of historyhas happened in this region, as with all of Europe. We imagined as we drove through tunnels and wove along the gorgeous coastline of Como. The best part was seeing the sky-high mountaintops at sunrise.

Lake Como at Sunrise, Italy
Lake Como at Sunrise, Italy

The reflections, the morning pink rippling over inky nighttime black, the sawtooth Alps guarding over the beauty found there– all of it struck me and continues to strike me deeply.

Lake Como at Sunrise, Northern Italy
Lake Como at Sunrise, Northern Italy

In our lives, we need quiet moments; time for reflection, conversation, and reverie; moments for steep hikes and snowballs; mornings of skiing and immersion in the surroundings.

The time in the Italian Alps was such a gift. It was a beautiful, gorgeous, incredible place to spend time as a family around Christmas and the new year. If you ever have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be posting photographs of the even-more-stunning beauty we found in the Saint Moritz lake region of Switzerland.

For You: Do you live near water? Do you enjoy seeing the reflections at sunrise and sunset?

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Autumn Views from the Austrian Alps: a Photojournal

Austrian Alps in autumn

“The Hills are alive …” -The Sound of Music

It’s no secret that I love to travel. My favorite places to venture to are always into mountains or to a beach, anywhere.

Living in Prague has many advantages for its central location in Europe. My family and I have definitely taken roadtrips, and one of our favorites is to the Austrian Alps, to a region east of Salzburg called Salzgammergut. Most Americans know the region as the Sound of Music region. Yes, it is even more beautiful than in the movie!

the View from the Zwolferhorn, Austrian Alps
the View from the Zwolferhorn, Austrian Alps

Years ago, we found a village called St. Gilgen that has drawn us back time and time again over the 3 1/2 years we’ve lived here. I’ve written posts for AOL Travel and many posts here. But in all the times we’ve traveled to St. Gilgen, we’ve never gone in the autumn, and we’d never hiked the main peak, the Zwölferhorn.

This time, we did. Instead of a ten minute cable car ride, we did the 3 hour hike climb. And it was amazing. So, without further ado, I want to show you the best of the photos I took last weekend.

Autumn Views from the Austrian Alps: a Photojournal

the Austrian Alps, Wolfgangsee
the Austrian Alps, Wolfgangsee
the Austrian Alps, Wolfgangsee
the Austrian Alps, Wolfgangsee

Continue reading Autumn Views from the Austrian Alps: a Photojournal

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Work and Living, En Plein Air

Writing in Italy, along the Mediterranean

“The basis of human happiness is the possibility to be together with nature, to see it and to talk to it.” –Leo Tolstoy

Jennifer Lyn King
In the Alps

As I type these words, I sit outside on the patio tucked into the back corner of our house near Prague. Bees buzz lazily around the dainty blue catmint and fading lavender planted beside the patio, and creamy roses tinged in raspberry pink dazzle in the setting sunlight. A light breeze whisks across the yard. Puffy cumulus clouds sail across the powdery blue sky. Songbirds call out as they dart toward the feeder. And the notable Prague passenger pigeons make their whispering rounds of flight in tight formation. I type and I can’t help smiling, because there is something so free about being in this exact spot. I love to be outdoors. Continue reading Work and Living, En Plein Air

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Paradise Found: My Fourth of July in the Austrian Alps

Paradise Found: St. Gilgen, Austria and the Zwolferhorn

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet, 1803-1882

Paradise Found: St. Gilgen, Austria and the Zwolferhorn
Paradise Found: St. Gilgen, Austria and the Zwolferhorn

When I was a girl, I read all the time, and the first book I remember wanting to reread was Johanna Spyri’s HEIDI. If you aren’t familiar with the children’s classic book, HEIDI is about an orphaned girl who comes to live in the Alps with her reclusive grandfather. Like most fans of Heidi, I relished the notion of finding hope in the face of hopelessness, but I also loved the setting of HEIDI: the rugged and beautiful mountains of Europe where man and mountain thrive together. There is something about being in the mountains that connects with who I am. Whether it is in the Tetons or Rockies of the Western United States, the coastal mountains of Maine, or the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, or Italy, my heart sings when I am in the mountains. Luckily for me, my family feels the same way … Continue reading Paradise Found: My Fourth of July in the Austrian Alps

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The Winter Wonderland of Austria, Germany, and Czech Republic

Winter Wonderland in Czech Republic Sumava

In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer. -Albert Camus, French novelist, 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature

A few weeks ago, we spent time in the Alps skiing. And, on our way home to Prague, we plugged in our Garmin, set the destination to HOME, and started the journey. We didn’t look at the route the Garmin suggested … which we soon found out was different than the Autobahn quick drive home. Instead, we took the LONG road home to Prague, through the high country of north-central Austria, into the National Park in Germany, and crossed the mountains into the Sumava region of Czech Republic. That route meant we got to cross some sizeable mountains in a heavy snowstorm. It was quite the adventure!

Winter Wonderland in Czech Republic Sumava
Winter Wonderland in Czech Republic Sumava

Now, in January, looking out at a blanket of snow, I’m reminded of the photographs I took during that drive. And since I’m working heavily on rewriting and editing for my work-in-progress novel, I’m taking the chance to save words for the novel and post stunning photographs instead. I hope you enjoy them!

The Austrian Alps in WinterThe Austrian Alps in Winter

Austrian Castle in the AlpsAustrian Castle in the Alps

The Stunning Snow-capped Alps, AustriaThe Stunning Snow-capped Alps

German Winter WonderlandGerman Winter Wonderland

Powdered Sugar Trees, Czech RepublicPowdered Sugar Trees, Czech Republic

Starting the Conversation: What off-the-beaten path adventure have you taken lately? Have you experienced a time recently of unexpected beauty?

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An Austrian Alpine Christmas

Austrian Alps at Christmas
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.
-R. Smith, lyrics to Winter Wonderland, 1934

Austrian Alps at Christmas
Austrian Alps at Christmas

This year, I am spending the Christmas week in the Austrian Alps with my family. We are skiing here, which is a perfect way to soak in the Alpine beauty. Heavy snow glistens across jagged peaks and frosted evergreens decorate every slope and valley. In the tiny village where we stay, we walk across a bowed bridge to the ski slopes, and also walk to the little grocery, the family-run huts (traditional restaurants) for food, and the chocolate-box type church in the center of the town–for Christmas Eve service. Horse-drawn sleighs pull people across the village toward their destinations, jingling as they go. It truly is an idyllic scene, especially for Christmas.

the majestic Alps

I’d like to share it with you, here in a short collection of photographs I’ve taken this week, accompanied by the original version of Silent Night, written in Austria in 1818:

DEUTSCH (GERMAN)
composed and lyrics written in Austria, 1818 Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818
Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816/1818


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,

Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

driving into the Alps, near Salzburg, Austria

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

a village church on the Austria / German / Czech border

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.

Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

an Austrian castle nestled into the Alpine slopes

ENGLISH Literal English prose
translation by Hyde Flippo

Silent night, holy night
All is sleeping, alone watches
Only the close, most holy couple.
Blessed boy in curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds just informed
By the angels’ hallelujah,
It rings out far and wide:
Christ the Savior is here!
Christ the Savior is here!

from the peak where we are skiing

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, oh how laughs
Love out of your divine mouth,
Because now the hour of salvation
strikes for us.
Christ, in Thy birth!
Christ, in Thy birth!

the powerful silence in the Alps

Sending you warm wishes for a wonder-filled Christmas. Merry Christmas!