The Joy Club member Jane Ricot shares this light-hearted short story about a festive holiday with a sprinkle of romance…
Barbara was in the middle of a Christmas card.
Snowflakes glistened in the yellow glow of the lamplights and colourful padded coats and bobble hats were all around her. Crisp alpine air chilled her cheeks as she stepped from the bus.
Ditched at the last minute by her friend Carol, who’d decided to spend Christmas in Lanzarote with Geoffrey from the bridge club, Barbara was feeling overwhelmed by her decision to come to Austria alone.
And alone she was, not only without her friend, but also her suitcase which had taken a different trip.
Lanzarote maybe, she grimaced.
With her head bent towards her phone, Barbara hoped it would guide her to her hotel.
“Whoops sorry,” she said, ploughing into a grey-haired man.
“No problem,” his eyes twinkled, “are you ok?”
“I’ve just arrived, I’m trying to find the Hotel Hoffman.”
“Ah, the Hoffman. I’ll take you, it’s not far. My name’s Rolf by the way.”
By the time Barbara had explained about her suitcase, they’d arrived in front of a perfect Tyrolean hotel.
The next morning Barbara was woken by the smell of chocolate, coffee and pastries wafting from the breakfast room.
Little snow-capped Christmas trees stood on each of the red checkered tablecloths. Barbara snapped the scene and sent it, with more confidence than she felt, winging to Lanzarote.
Decided to come anyway, don’t worry about me. Bx
“I hope you slept well.”
Barbara picked up her napkin to wipe away traces of pastry and cream-topped chocolate before looking towards the voice.
To her surprise, it was Rolf.
“I told my sister about your suitcase and she thought these might help,” said Rolf, handing her a large bag, “I’m so sorry I can’t stay; I’m running late for a date.”
Barbara thanked Rolf and watched him as he left.
Daft brush she thought and turned her thoughts to the Christmas market.
Barbara felt grateful for the kind loan of clothes and snow boots as she headed towards the sound of laughter and carousels. With bells jingling, roasted chestnuts, pretzels and brightly coloured candy, she really was in a winter wonderland. Then as she wandered towards the rink to watch the skaters, a familiar face waved to her.
“Please join us?” Rolf shouted as he thumped into the side dragging a much younger woman behind him.
“Please do, you can’t be as bad as him,” the young woman chimed in.
“Meet my granddaughter, Viktoria. Every year I persuade her to take me skating.”
“I’ll hold your hand, just don’t hold on to Opa, Grandpa,” Viktoria corrected herself.
Barbara smiled at the thought.
Later as the three of them warmed their hands on steaming mugs of coffee in Rolf’s apartment, Barbara’s eyes landed on some bare twigs in a jar.
“Ha, now you’re thinking my horticultural skills are worse than my skating. The fourth of December is Barbaratag in Austria, St Barbara’s Day. Most appropriate, no?” Rolf laughed, “We cut twigs from cherry trees, put them in water and hope they blossom by Christmas Eve. If they do, there’ll be good luck and health for the new year.”
When they were alone, Viktoria told Barbara two years ago, that no blossom appeared and that her grandmother had passed away not long after. With only a few hours left of Christmas Eve, Barbara felt concerned.
After she drank the last dregs of her coffee, she reluctantly made her excuses, it was probably time to leave this lovely family to celebrate alone.
But they wouldn’t hear of it.
“We’re off to the Christmas procession shortly, you must come too,” said Viktoria.
“And maybe you’d join us for our family dinner afterwards. My sister will be pleased to meet you.”
Exhausted, but happy, Barbara was soon crunching over snow-laden streets, a candle in her hand, singing her heart out.
“There’s something I didn’t tell you,” Viktoria looked mischievous as she took Barbara’s arm, “if the cherry blossom comes, there won’t only be good health and luck, but someone in the household will find love in the new year.”
Christmas Day had arrived by the time Barbara finally got back to her hotel. Rolf’s promise that his cooking was better than his skating had been true. As she lay back on her pillow, she felt heady as she thought back over her extraordinary day and not least, the moment, she and Viktoria had noticed the little pink blooms that had appeared on the twigs.
As she closed her eyes in an attempt to sleep, Barbara’s phone pinged; a message from Carol attaching a video of Geoffrey snoring in their hotel room.
Wish I was with you. Sorry, I let you down. Hope you’re not too lonely. Happy Christmas! Cxx
I’m certainly not. All’s forgiven. Happy Christmas to you too. Bxx
If you fancy dabbling in an Austrian Christmas, take a look at our LIVE tour of Christmas in Vienna – taking place on Tuesday 19th December 4.00pm.