Category Archives: Christmas Markets

Secrets of European Christmas Markets

IMG_4048-0

I’ve had the good fortune to make two trips to see Europe’s fabulous Christmas markets.  Once with my Mother on a river cruise and once with a girlfriend. Both trips were kaleidoscopes of super-sized, festive, cold, delicious Christmas overload.

I know from previous experience that Germany is really where many of our beloved Christmas traditions began and the Alsace region of France, enhanced those traditions by taking tree decorating to the next level. Germany alone has 2,500 Christmas Markets.  This entry will give a recap of my market experiences and tips for markets in Germany, France, and Switzerland, listed in alpha order by city. Find out about markets in: Basel, Cologne, Colmar, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Lucerne, Ludwigsburg, Mainz, Munich, Nuremberg, Rudesheim, Strasbourg, and Stuttgart.

The markets run during Advent, from late November until just before Christmas, and all feature stalls stocked with every imaginable kind of ornamentation and decorative item. About half of the markets are devoted to an incredible array of food, baked treats, and goodies of every description.  Not to mention the famous hot mulled wine, Glühwein, of which I am not a fan – I’ll stick with hot chocolate. I love that the Germany markets sell cute mugs as traditional market souvenirs. They are customized for each location and year. Large and mid-size cities often have multiple markets and many smaller towns are a short train ride away.  They generally open around 11 AM till 9PM in the evening.  But times can vary, so be sure to check the links provided for current info.

Many markets only take cash, so have your Euros ready, and lots of items are easily available in the U.S. with no savings evident, this is NOT bargain shopping. Look for the special, locally made items and know you will pay a fair price. Be wary of anything electrical, it will not work if you bring it back to the U.S.

While you make your way through the markets here is a list of local treats to taste-test:

German Christmas Markets

  • ֎ Chocolate-covered gingerbread
  • ֎ Springerle
  • ֎ Lebkuchen cookies
  • ֎ Weckla – Nuremburger sausages in a hard bread roll
  • ֎ Bredle cookies
  • ֎ Brenton (marzipan) cookie
  • ֎ Snowball

Read the rest of this entry

European Xmas Markets: Auf Wiedersehen/ Au Revoir

 

IMG_4706

IMG_4724

Hard to believe the week is over and we are headed back to the USA. It’s been a terrific trip!  Using the MOVES app on my iPhone, it registers we have walked in excess of 110,000 steps, which translates to about 55 miles. We believe it – we never walked so much; basically all day and then, all evening.

Our last stop, in Frankfurt, involved a few uneventful changes on the train and a more eventful trip to actually find the cityIMG_4686 market. Once we did, we were glad to have made the effort.  It was incredibly jam-packed with a well-dressed crowd of all ages and an impressive array of food offerings.  At this market the ratio of food to décor seemed to be about 80/20.  It was beautiful with lots of lights and the section in the historic area was particularly interesting. Lots of fun to people watch and sample of final treats of the trip.

In summary, we are now totally in the Christmas spirit and hope it will last, as we head back to our own pre-holiday chaos.

To all my readers – Merry Christmas!!

IMG_0642

Karen & Sarah, Strasbourg.

Strasbourg: “The Capital of Christmas”

IMG_4559

IMG_4630

It’s impossible for words to capture the feeling and quality of the beautiful Christmas Markets in Strasbourg, France. What’s exceptional and unique is the dramatic, over-the-top, décor on the buildings, in the shops, and draped across the streets.  Every corner you turn offers a new visual treat, always something cuter, bigger, brighter or more fanciful. Day and night it’s amazing, and I’m glad I came back. It remains my favorite of the Christmas Markets.

Of course this year, things are just a bit different.  France has heightened security due to the terrorist attacks a few weeks ago in Paris.  They cancelled many public events as well as the Children’s and Three Magi Markets, blocked traffic into the inner city during market hours, cancelled tram stops within the market areas, and literally have police and gun-toting military everywhere.  I don’t think we went five minutes (max) without seeing police. One fellow U.S. visitor witnessed them frisking a Santa yesterday, and today, we were blocked from getting back into our charming hotel, because police found an unattended shopping bag on the street. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm, and we were comforted they were so vigilant.

Our hotel, the Cour du Corbeau, was built in the 1500s and welcomed kings, emperors and princes throughout the years.IMG_4587 Since the Alsace region flipped back and forth between French and German rule, the area is a wonderful mixture of cultures and now home to the European Parliament.  To learn a little of the interesting local history, we took a boat cruise on the L’ill River which runs right through the city, creating an island where the old city is today.

We walked and walked, and then walked some more, visiting Petite France with its half-timbered houses (originally for those with syphilis) and all nine existing markets. The main market is at the Place de la Cathédrale with the backdrop of the beautiful Notre Dame.

IMG_4609The Cathedral Market is really fairly basic, with other, smaller markets featuring more elegant products, the guest country of Luxembourg, local charities, trees along with everything you could possibly need for decorating, and gourmet specialties of the area such as truffles, foie gras, cheese, wine, and pastries.

 

At night, we did it all again to see the lights.  And what a spectacle. Every street different, with thousands and thousands of lights, stars, rings, snowflakes, gingerbread men, balls of color, angels and more. One street features nine Baccarat chandeliers, another can’t run lights across the street because of the electric trams, so they just lit every building in color, and those colors and patterns change continuously.

Weather-wise, it’s been brisk (30s and 40s), but dry.

I can truly say, for this Floridian, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

http://www.noel.strasbourg.eu

Our favorite of the Strasbourg Markets.

Our favorite of the Strasbourg Markets.

The Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Notre Dame Cathedral.

Sparkling Stuttgart

IMG_4303

It’s impossible to photograph the elaborate decorations on top of each of the 250+ booths at the Stuttgart Xmas Markets. Photos don’t do any of it justice.  The crowds and the lighting just can’t be mastered with the iPhone camera I am using for this trip (decided not to haul the Nikon around the markets).

The booths of the Stuttgart Christmas Markets meander through the central part of this contemporary city, through an exclusive shopping district and around a few historical buildings that survived WWII.  Along the way there is a large model train display, complete with a child-size train for kids to ride, a very busy ice rink, and of course, the requisite dozens of food and drink options.

I hesitate to even call these booths, because many are more like small pop-up stores.  These structures are substantial and the fact the operators seriously compete for best decor honors is obvious.  The lush greenery is all real and every one of the booths is different and unique. Although vendors sell the usual Xmas decorations, angels, candles and toys, oddly, this market also has items usually found at a home show, or maybe an infomercial (think devices to keep pots from over boiling and special chopping tools).  Knives, spatulas, pots and bathroom cleaners notwithstanding, the lights and decorations produce a magical effect.  Several mammoth Christmas trees add to the ambiance as does an Advent Calendar in the windows of City Hall.

Based on the massive crowds around every Gluhwein stand, I wonder just how much is consumed in Germany during the four market weeks . . .

IMG_4271

IMG_4308 - Copy

A small section of the decorations atop a booth selling wild game food products.

 

Nuremberg’s Symbolic “Christkind” (Golden Angel)

IMG_4252

To break away from the Catholic tradition of gift giving on St. Nicolas’ Day, December 6, Martin Luther (1483-1546) switched festivities in his home to Christmas Eve. He told his children the Christkind brought their gifts. The practice quickly took hold and spread throughout Nuremberg. The fictional gift-giver took form through the years and is represented by the Golden Angel today. Occasional visits by Christkind to the Children’s Christmas Market in Nuremberg is a huge attraction. A new “Angel” is selected every two years. We considered ourselves lucky to be in the area during one of her special appearances.

Nuremberg: Golden Angels & Prune People

Once again, the rain stopped for us, this time just as our train pulled into Nuremberg. After 24 hours with no suitcase (!) I welcomed my cashmere sweaters and warm, comfortable boots (not to mention a few other things).

This is a beautiful, historic city and is home to a 400-yr old market that many others have been modeled after. It is big, lively, colorful and jam-packed with people of all ages.  There seemed to be a  Gluhwein stall every six feet.  And the best Children’s Market I’ve seen.  But a high point was found in the international section of the market, were we discovered a booth from the USA – Atlanta to be specific; I settled on hot cocoa with Jack Daniels, and my friend Sarah apple cider and Jack. Perfect.

IMG_4061

IMG_4103IMG_4070

 

IMG_4075

Christmas Market Orientation: Scenes from Munich

Great intro to German markets. Skies cleared when we landed. We managed to get to all the major markets, eat some great food and share a lot of laughs. 

More to come.  

        

IMG_4041-0

 IMG_4019



   

Christmas Market Redux

Xmas.Cologne CatherdralMarket

World conditions may not be ideal, but I am going to stick to our plan to visit European Christmas Markets again this year.

My friend and I are headed off to Germany today for a girl’s trip of super-sized, festive, cold, delicious Christmas overload.

I know from previous experience that Germany is really where many of our beloved Christmas traditions began and the Alsace region of France, enhanced those traditions with taking tree decorating to the next level.

Since I have been reading all the global stories about security warnings, I have learned that Germany has 2,500 Christmas Markets.  We will focus on just a couple of dozen.

The markets run during Advent, from late November until just before Christmas, and all feature stalls stocked with every imaginable kind of ornamentation and decorative item. About half of the markets are devoted to an incredible array of food, baked treats and goodies of every description.  Not to mention the famous hot mulled wine, Glühwein, (not my fav, I poured it in a bush the last time I visited); I will stick with hot chocolate. I will also collect more of the cute mugs that are traditional market souvenirs and customized for each different location.

A few interesting hallmarks of early Christmas traditions:

  • Nativity Cribs have been set-up since the year 360
  • St. Nicholas (with brown cape and mitre) was first depicted in the Alps in the 13th century
  • Earliest Christmas markets date back to Vienna’s “December Market” in 1294, followed by many throughout Germany in the 1200s and 1300s, and in 1570, France’s oldest market in Strasbourg
  • First documented tradition of Christmas gifts, 14th century
  • Oldest decorated tree on record was in 1419, on the edge of the Black Forest; baker’s apprentices used fruit, cookies, nuts and paper flowers
  • First Advent wreath (with 24 candles), 1833
  • Colored glass balls were first created in 1870
  • First printed Advent calendar, 1908
  • New York holds the honor for the first electric lights, in 1912 on Madison Square

So we begin in Munich tomorrow, then onto Nuremberg, Stuttgart, and a side trip to Strasbourg in France, before returning to Germany’s Frankfurt.

Large and mid-size cities often have multiple markets and many smaller towns are a short train ride away.  So we will see what the next few days bring and will try to post colorful photos and brief descriptions to help everyone get into the holiday mood (particularly all our warm-weather friends).

Frohe Weihnachten, Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas.

Xmas on the Rhine: Basel & Lucerne

Advent Calendar on the Lake, Lucerne.

Advent Calendar on the Lake, Lucerne.

Last night we followed the Belgian tradition of leaving our shoes outside our door to see what ‘Santa’ would bring us on the morning of December 6th. This morning we woke up to find a special gift of a very large chocolate Santa for each of us!

We arrived in Basel, Switzerland’s third largest city, early in the morning after traveling through eight locks during the night. Guides we had today all talked about Art Basel and Art Basel in Miami (going on right now); we also saw ample evidence of the big pharma companies based here, most prominently Novartis. After an orientation tour of the city, we visited the beautiful Rathaus (Town Hall) built over a 400-year period beginning in 1501. Basel is also home to the largest Swiss Xmas Market nestled into the plaza on Barfusserplatz. Today was very cold and threatening to rain and we didn’t get much time in the market; but since it is much smaller and more compact than many we’ve seen, we managed to cover all the bases.

This afternoon we drove towards the Alps and the beautiful city of Luzern. It was nostalgic to see the Old Swiss House (a copy used to be at Tampa’s Busch Gardens) and interesting to visit the lion monument and another beautiful Town Hall. The lake, of course, is so picturesque and even the dark clouds didn’t diminish the beauty of the surrounding scenery with its snow-capped mountains. It was a perfect jigsaw puzzle picture. We walked across the (rebuilt) historic wooden covered bridge that stretches across the lake, watched graceful swans, and paid a visit to the very small, but pretty, Xmas Market located between Franziskanerplatz & Hirschengraben.

The Swiss have a less-is-more philosophy when it comes to Christmas decorations and often the trees were unadorned or very sparsely decorated. Although there are many beautiful shops and department stores, the holiday markets here were the most disappointing of the trip (but we’ve seen so much it is not important). One of my favorite sites in Lucerne was a building that had been turned into a giant, colorful Advent Calendar. Hanging street lights didn’t have the variety we’d seen in other cities, but were still elegant and featured large crowns or lit stars; and since we were in town until dark we did get to see all the city lights! We concluded our Swiss odyssey with a wonderful hot chocolate in a local café.

For our last evening on the cozy River Princess, we said goodbye to new friends, wishing everyone a Wonderful Christmas Season, Happy, Healthy New Year & to All a Good Night!

Xmas on the Rhine: Strasbourg & Petite France

Whimsey at it's best.

whimsy at its best.

Bon Jour!  Well if yesterday was the most dismal, today was the most glorious!
We had sun and NO rain, despite predictions to the contrary.

I have a new favorite: Strasbourg has, hands-down, the best Christmas decorations I have ever seen; creative, colorful, humorous and bountiful are just a few adjectives to describe them.

We started the day with a canal cruise into Petite France, a very historic area with wonderful, half-timbered houses, cobble streets and willow trees along the canals. Strasbourg is considered the “Crossroads of Europe” and houses the 46-nation Conseil De L’Europe (including Russia) and is also the seat of the 27 member European Union Parliament.

Shortly after leaving the quay we saw many of these beautiful modern government buildings – such a contrast for what was about to come.

Once off, we did a short walk to the Place de Cathédrale and the majestic Notre Dame. At this point we took off on our own Xmas Market adventure. There are 12 markets in Strasbourg and we saw at least 6 (maybe a couple more, I lost track). The amazing thing about this city is the incredible decorations on all the buildings; beautiful creations on all the windows and entries, one building better than the next. From street-to-street we were constantly delighted with the variety and ingenuity of the displays.

And the Christmas lights of each street were gorgeous, elegant designs – each street different. Photos don’t really begin to capture the total scope and incredible ambiance. Overall, the holiday feeling here is lush, colorful and fun. White bears, santas, stars, ribbons, multi-colored balls and twig designs are used liberally; lights are still all white. It makes a glorious impact in a very charming setting.

We started with the market around the main cathedral and then visited the Place du Chateau, with its ice rink for adults as well as a small one for the tiniest skaters. During our journey, we found a St. Nicholas chatting with visitors and enjoyed window shopping. We then wandered over to the Swiss Village in Place Gutenberg and stayed in that area for lunch at restaurant Au Gutenberg for delicious quiche and tarte.

Once fortified, we took off towards the Place Kléber to see the Great Xmas Tree & Share Village for local charities. The tree was the tallest we’d ever seen; I tried to take a picture looking up from the base but it was impossible, and from a distance you can see it was casting its own shadow. Around the square were dozens and dozens of flocked firs and when you got close, you could hear the lovely sound of small birds singing; I guess they have found a safe place to hang out for these chilly days.

We also saw the specialty markets in the Place Benjamin-Zix/Place de Meuniers featuring flavours of Alsace. In addition to the markets we ducked in and out of a few of the terrific shops along the way; we could do some serious damage to the bank accounts here. We finished our market visits with Christkindelsmarik in Place Broglie, site of the original local market, since 1570. It was large and festive, with lots of goodies, colorful lights and for the first time, we saw Christmas trees for sale. It was about €70 for the smallest size tree we would buy for our home and they did not have larger trees. We also bought a dark chocolate Bredle Cake to taste-test later (and it was so light and delicious – a real surprise).

If you want to really get into the Christmas spirit – you have to put Strasbourg on your list.

Petite France at it's Xmas best.

Petite France in full holiday mode.