Where| in the world

by Sarah Welch

In November and December, nearly every city in Europe has a Christmas Market set in the town center. It’s really a magical scene with a red and white striped tented booths selling ornaments, gifts of various kinds, food and drink.

Ornaments of every description are for sale, but two of my favorites are the Schutz Engel (guardian angel) and clown-like jumping jacks. There are felted wool hats, purses and pins that have drawn my attention and I’ve bought them, but then where and when can you wear a wool felt hat in Texas? For refreshments, Bratwurst, Lebkuchen (soft gingerbread cookies) and Gluhwein (really an awful wine with spices) are the famous treats. I did find some apple cider that was much better than the Gluhwein.

In 2011, I took a group on a Christmas Markets River Cruise on the Danube River from Vienna, Austria, to Nuremberg, Germany. Avalon Waterways ship “Panorama” was our home for a week as we cruised leisurely along the beautiful Danube with views of castles and villages along the way.

Day 1. Our group met on arrival in Vienna where we boarded the ship, but stayed in port overnight. I arranged a welcome dinner at the Griechenbeisl Restaurant housed in a building from medieval times, first mentioned in city records in 1350. The restaurant has seven intimate, themed dining rooms. I chose the Mark Twain room, where the author, along with many other famous people had signed the wall. As Vienna is known as the home of composers, among the names on the wall are Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven, and, oh yes, Johnny Cash. It was such a treat to dine in this historical restaurant, finishing the evening with their delicious Apfel apple) strudel. What a great start to a festive week.

Day 2. Still in Vienna, we had a walking tour of the city with the main attraction being St. Stephen’s Cathedral, as well as several Christmas Markets around town. In the afternoon, we caught a performance of the Vienna Boys Choir, then immediately across the street watched a practice performance at the Spanish Riding School with the amazing Lippizaner stallions. It was quite the treat!

Day 3. Leaving beautiful Vienna in the night we arrived at Durnstein where we walked through charming streets with “charming” shops and interesting architecture. Continuing on to Melk, we took an excursion to the Melk Abbey, home of Benedictine monks who take a vow of poverty. The monks may be poor, but the abbey certainly is not. Rooms are covered in gold; the altar, the organ, the library, are all so ornate, it can’t be described in words. We also saw large ornate gold and jeweled crosses and other objects of art.

Day 4. Through multiple locks along the river, we docked at Linz, Austria, where they offered an optional excursion to Salzburg, Austria, taking in the sights of the Sound of Music. Cruising a bit further, we stopped at Passau, Germany, where it was snowing. Passau’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral owns the world’s largest organ with over 17,000 pipes. I wish we could have heard it play. The Christmas Market there was wonderful with the snow falling. It really felt like Christmas in the old world. The shopping, apple cider and Lebkuchen were fantastic!

Day 5. Regensburg, Germany was the next stop. The city is one of the most well-preserved medieval cities. We toured Regensburg by taking a guided walking tour. Our guide told us about the ancient buildings, the Roman tower, and Historische Wurstkuche (the old sausage kitchen) which is the country’s oldest restaurant that dates back to the 12th century. We were given a ticket by the cruise line to enjoy a free lunch from there and the sausage was delicious.

Day 6. We arrived in Nuremberg, Germany overnight and were ready for touring right after breakfast. The tour included Congress Hall, Hitler’s monster government building was never completed; Zeppelin Field with the grandstand and Nazi Party Rally Grounds. We passed by the building where the Nuremberg trails were held; a most terrible time in history. Nuremberg hosts the oldest and most famous Christmas Market, dating back to 1628, which is set up in front of the Cathedral. Displayed inside the Cathedral are photos from Nuremberg after WII. Almost total destruction, except part of the Cathedral, most buildings have now been restored back to their original style. Outside, a children’s choir brought back Christmas cheer with angelic voices.

Day 7. We disembarked and bid farewell to a magical week on the Danube River.