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What sights come to mind when envisioning the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Sun, surf, and seafood are the obvious choices. At this time of year, you can add Winter Lights at The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. For twenty-two days during late November, December, and early January, the gardens glow with sparkly holiday joy.
WALKING AMONG THE WINTER LIGHTS
Queen Elizabeth I herself welcomes guests at the beginning of a leisurely walk through her namesake gardens. Her roses are not in bloom at this time of year, but seasonal sights and sounds beckon you to take a walk of discovery.
REMEMBERING THE LOST COLONY
You won’t be the first discovers here. Other displays of Elizabethan characters, including one with the Queen and Sir Walter Raleigh awashed in rose-colored light, remind visitors that these gardens are built on the historic site of the first English settlement in the New World. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh, as directed by Queen Elizabeth I, recruited 117 men, women, and children to establish this inaugural colony. By three years after their immigration, the colonists had inexplicably disappeared, thus earning the sobriquet, The Lost Colony. These gardens, which memorialize the brave colonists, were designed to be a “garden Elizabethan in spirit and style but adapted to the present.” Luckily, the Winter Lights celebration is a magical adaptation that transforms the gardens into a night-time wonderland.
FINDING SPARKLY CRITTERS
Wonders galore await along the paths that meander throughout the gardens. Strollers can get up and personal with four-legged critters that don’t become skittish and run away.
Their home, the dark forest, twinkles with red, white, and green fireflies birthed by lasers and brought to life on the trees’ bare branches.
DISCOVERING THE TWELVE GIFTS
Suddenly, a famous bird appears on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” path, which plays homage to this popular holiday song. The partridge in the pear tree points the way to discover the next eleven days of exotic gifts. By the way, if this colorful display inspires you to give two turtle doves, three French hens, etc., you better have deep pockets. Cost? $34,130.99!
SPYING GLOWING CREATURES
Other paths lead to fantastic creatures like lavender butterflies, whimsical crickets, and albino peacocks.
TREKKING TO THE GINGERBREAD HOUSES
The trek down the Gingerbread House path offers a visual taste of the sweet side of the season with not a wicked witch in sight.
DISCOVERING THE BOTANY IN THE BOTANICAL GARDEN
For a reminder that this venue is a botanical garden, there is a glistening topiary highlighting the flowering cabbage patch and an illuminated container of seasonal greens and flowers lighting the way to an event tent.
PLAYING LIKE A KID
While the above two images will appeal mainly to adults, children and the child in all of us will discover kid-friendly activities on the Great Lawn area. Sit on bales of hay and watch the movie about a much-loved snowman and then roast marshmallows over the toasty fire pit, (marshmallows and graham crackers provided) while listening to local choirs singing songs of comfort and joy.
Before the evening is over, stop by to visit Santa and whisper your secret Christmas wishes in his ear.
On exiting through the gift shop, you don’t have to leave the sparkle behind. You also can purchase glittery presents to take home.
DON’T DRIVE STRAIGHT HOME
Before departing Manteo, take a short drive to the waterfront and see the illuminated boats, including the ship, the Elizabeth II, a reproduction of one of the seven English merchant vessels that brought the ill-fated colonists to Roanoke Island.
If there are any doubts about finding Christmas joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Fishing Santa reminds you otherwise. Listen closely to hear him exclaim: “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good Winter Nights!”
FOLK ART IN LACE
Women from Eastern Europe are getting a lot of press these days, thanks to our president-elect’s gorgeous wife, Melania Trump. My observation is that Eastern Europe is indeed the home of a bevy of beautiful women. In fact, one greeted us at the front door of the famous Great Market Hall near the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge. While Melania wears the latest fashions, this beauty wears the oldest fashions, lace and embroidery made by the women of Hungary for centuries. Her colorful, art-full greeting was our first “wow,” and we hadn’t even gotten in the building yet.
Inside, there was a plethora of stalls selling table linens crafted with this folk art needlework. Are they really made in Hungary? A discerning consumer needs to inspect the pieces closely because some of them are made in China, so look for the local ones which are clearly marked. Don’t just look for them at the Great Market Hall. Women all over the city–in shops, on the sidewalks, along the Danube’s promenade–are selling these works of tradition.
WORSHIPPING AT THE ALTAR OF CONSUMERISM
At the Great Market Hall, you will find three floors of shopping and restaurants to explore. The view from the top floor produces the second “wow” of the day as it showcases the beautiful art nouveau design of this building in the iron work on the second floor. The glowing gothic-arched windows on the opposite wall seem to whisper: “Welcome, Pilgrims, prepare to worship at the Altar of Consumerism. Leave a monetary sacrifice, and you will be blessed with riches beyond your imagination.”
THE “TRINITY”: PÁLINKA, PEPPER, AND PATÉ
Luckily for my budget, I am more of a “looker” than a shopper, so I did not supplicate myself to the shopping god. Temptation , however, was down every corridor and around every corner. The attractive displays look as if they were composed by the Dutch masters of still life paintings. The canvas before me presented sweet Tokaj wine, glistening gold and amber in glass bottles; the heady fruit brandy, Pálinka, with realistic renderings of berries, apricots, and plums printed on the labels; as well as the hearty red wine, Egri Bikaner, hiding its blood-red beauty in dark bottles. Tucked amid the alcohol were the red, white, and blue tins of Hungarian paprika and the black cans of decadent goose or duck paté and fois gras.
THE “WOW” OF THE WEENIES
While the spirits, paprika, and paté selections were impressive in their orderliness, they didn’t have the “wow” factor the next canvas did. Salami, weenies, hot dogs, sausages, whatever you want to call them, hung in neat rows, rested in symmetrical slices, and hovered together on the shelves. Not just tourists, but the locals also, find culinary salvation through the purchase of the perfect sausages.
In fact, as you walk the streets of Budapest, you see the how high the populace holds the lowly weenie in esteem. It is elevated gourmet street fare.
SLOVENIAN STILL LIFES
The canvases showcasing Natures’s bounty could have hung on the walls of any great art museum: golden butternut squash, purple eggplants, creamy parsnips, and variegated green vegetables. A big “wow” here is definitely well deserved.
Others could convincingly argue that artisanal chocolates earn the loudest “wow”! Chocoholics claim that these works of art painted with a jeweled palette of fruit and nuts are a sweet, sublime treat akin to a religious experience.
I say “amen” to that! You will also exclaim “amen” when you find your gods to worship during your own pilgrimage to the Great Market Hall in Budapest.