I was minding my own business one day when outside my front steps I heard what sounded like a train. Wondering why a train moaned to a stop outside my house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood street, I grabbed my coat and camera and bounded out of the front door. A blue-uniformed conductor stood politely at the bottom of the stairs of the passenger car of a cheery red train. I quickly scanned the length of the train and spotted a stately engine, the express tender (was that a candy cane?), a box car with an oversized teddy bear, a flat car with a fresh batch of fir trees, and the cutest red caboose at the rear. When I nestled in to a comfortable seat the conductor silently handed me an envelope and made his way back to the engine. The sturdy red envelope had my name beautifully scripted on front and inside was a gorgeous invitation to tour Santa’s hometown—the North Pole. There were a generous supply of Santa Bucks to cover my expenses, and a basket containing a hat, mittens, boots along with some Christmas cookies and a thermos of mint hot chocolate. Giddy with excitement, I nestled into a feather-stuffed seat and at the shrill whistle of the magical train we were instantly off and away. \n\nLong enough to enjoy the ride, but not long enough to get bored the train slowed, and out the window I could see the first frosty sights of Santa’s hometown. The train crossed over a covered bridge, ladened with snow, and I caught a glimpse of an old grist mill, its oversized wheel turning to produce miniature gingerbread men. The train slowed to a stop at a delightful train depot, complete with the festive sound and smell of Christmas and dotted with tiny twinkling lights. Armed with Santa Bucks and my camera, I disembarked and saw the clock tower at the end of the square was ringing twelve slow tolls. I started to the right to see the post office, bustling with red and green-capped elves sending some of the extra gifts to help Santa out. Next to the post office was the Big Red Stocking Co attached to Tannenbaum Toboggan. Both shops had elves and woodland creatures adding finishing touches to the latest toboggan model and adding names to personalized stockings. Continuing on around the square I couldn’t resist the delicious wafting of baked goods and popped in to the Peppermint Twist Pretzel bakery. Smells greeted me at the door and I bought two—one to eat now and one for the trip home. The elderly elf baker told me his pretzels are best with a cup of coffee from the next-door Claus Cafe coffee shop. He was right. I slowly sipped on the rich flavors of their Christmas blend as I wandered through the snow towards the stately clock tower. A group of carolers sang in perfect harmony at the base of the tower, and I nodded, smiled and tossed a few Santa Bucks into their collection box. The first shop next to the clock tower was Drosselmeyer’s Nutcrackers, and peeking through the window I saw a tall man, with one eye patched, hunched over his work. The nutcrackers displayed in the window showcased his detailed work and fine craftsmanship. I couldn’t resist and purchased a small nutcracker to add to my collection. Santa’s Sleigh Station was next, tinkering with, what I could only imagine was Santa’s sleigh. The sturdy red sleigh was getting gassed up and tinkered with last-minute adjustments. Next to the station was the North Pole Engine Co #1 and the elfin firefighters were in the middle of a fierce snowball fight. Making my way down the sidewalk I could see the school day was winding down at the Elf Academy Schoolhouse because the mini elves were squirming in their seats ready to run across the square for a pretzel. A delightful pet shop was tucked in between the school house and a large building and a smattering of squirrels, bunnies, a full-racked buck and a fluffy-tailed fox were all being groomed and fluffed for Christmas. The final stop on my tour in Santa’s village was the large, bustling building. There were lights, music and a lot of talking and instructions. It was the epicenter of Christmas—Santa’s Workshop. All of a sudden I heard a warm and jolly laugh—I would have recognized it anywhere, and there he was—Santa, with rosy cheeks and a full white beard, his shirt sleeves rolled up dancing a jig with three laughing elves. He eyed me with smiling eyes and I was swept up in their festive dance. In the distance I heard the faint sound of a train whistle. Knowing my time was drawing to a close, I gave my jolly host a hug and he tucked an early Christmas gift into my hands. Thanking me for coming and waving goodbye, a shy elf escorted me back to the train. One last look towards Santa’s shop, I noticed the reindeer barn behind it full of stout reindeer playing reindeer games. \n\nVisions of sugar plums danced in my head as I nestled back into my cozy seat, and in a flash the train was off. Reflecting on my trip while munching on the second pretzel I was amazed with my unexpected trip wondering how I’d describe my trip. If only I had a memento. I carefully unwrapped my early Christmas present from the hands of the man himself to discover delightful replicas of each place I visited. Knowing I’d set it up each Christmas, as a magical visual of an incredible trip, I was thankful for the story to go with it. \nYou too can own a piece of this delightful adventure with your own Ginger Cottages collection. These are heirloom pieces that intrigue and excite old and young. There are so many wood Christmas ornaments and lighted cottages to choose from, and together they create a magical Christmas village. Ginger Cottages becomes a yearly family tradition for table-top decorations. There are hidden surprises to find on each cottage, adding to the Christmas magic.