The holidays may be over, but the bookings have only just begun for next year’s Festive Time on the Blue Danube tour with Avalon Waterways. Our Travel Manager, Lori Smith, just returned from her trip around Germany and Austria and had the full Christmas experience!
Did you go to a holiday mart this year? We bet they are nothing like what you’d find overseas. Lori gives us a summary of her stay and what makes Europe’s Christmas markets so magical.
Day 1-4 (Amsterdam to Budapest)
We started in Amsterdam, which was not part of the cruise, because my mom had never been. We toured seven windmills, which are all still operating from the early 1600s. Each one does something different – mustard, flour, etc. We then visited a cheese factory and a wooden shoe factory, which lasted all day. But they were all great.
On the last day, we saw the Anne Frank House. You do have to buy tickets in advance, as they do not sell them there. There is a building around the actual house to preserve it. As you walk in, it tells the story of how the family started out and where they hid. The room upstairs is still there.
We did two days in Budapest with Avalon. We saw the holiday markets there, went on a city tour and visited Buda Castle.
The highlight of this tour is the Christmas markets – little wooden buildings sprawled out with different homemade crafts, hot wine, cocoa or foods. For example, Budapest featured Hungarian goulash. In Germany, there were all sorts of bratwursts and sausages. You could try food at some places, but the smell was enough to make you want to buy it.
We bought some souvenirs: Inexpensive leather belts, mittens, gloves, Christmas ornaments. It’s all different than what you can buy at your local holiday mart in the US. The European cities have three or four of these markets, usually around the town center or a church square. And they were packed, especially in the evening when people got off work. It’s a meeting place for people where they grab hot mulled wine and dinner, sort of like going to a bar here. There were live performances in the evening as well. It was all very social.
Holiday marts in the States are inside, with many tables and booths. In Europe, the markets are outside and act as a gathering place. It’s part of their tradition.
Day 4-5 (Vienna, Austria)
We sailed all night and most of the day until we reached Vienna. There were only 150 people onboard, but the ship would stop periodically to pick up entertainment. We picked up an Austrian baker and she did Christmas cookie demonstrations and everyone got to taste them all. It was all themed for the holidays.
Christmas is huge in Europe, but mostly the religions aspect as opposed to the commercial part of it. For example, most people there don’t put their Christmas tree up until Christmas Eve because that’s when the Christ-child brings the tree. I didn’t think about it at the time, but we didn’t see a tree until we were in Paris. And the trees were all real.
And most of the tours on the river cruise are included in the price, with some optional ones as well. Since I was with my mom, we mostly stuck to the motorcoach tours. In Vienna, we took a walking tour and they had a “gentle walk” tour group for those who couldn’t get around as easily. I thought that was great.
Avalon set up a tasting with different Christmas market vendors where you could taste and drink all sorts of food. That was a lot of fun. Everybody was so full that we skipped dinner that night. Everyone was very friendly and most everyone spoke English.
Day 6 (Krems to Melk)
The next morning, we arrived in Krems. This village is almost 1000 years old. The city still has a gate and you can see where the drawbridge used to be. We saw their holiday market – all of the little villages have Christmas markets this time of the year.
We saw two cities that day – from Krems we sailed to Melk. There, we saw the Benedictine Abbey, one of the largest monasteries in Europe. And there are 90 monks still living there. It was amazing to see all the history they had and how far it dated back.
They also played an organ concert for us in the chapel, which was really neat.
Day 7 (Passau)
In Passau, we just toured the city on a motorcoach and saw the Christmas market there, too.
There is an optional tour to Salzberg where you can see some of the sites from the Sound of Music.
“Silent Night” was written there, too.
Day 8 (Regensburg)
Avalon paid for us to have lunch at the oldest sausage house, Old Sausage Kitchen, which is around 800 years old. They were really good, served with fresh sauerkraut, a beer or a soda, and rye bread. The sausages are the size of your pinky so that they could fit through key holes. That’s how they used to distribute sausages.
We then attended a special Christmas market at the castle, which was really cool. It was more themed to Renaissance than the others. Here, they would smoke salmon on planks, bake gingerbread and roast chestnuts.
Day 9 (Roth to Nuremberg)
This area had a lots of World War II history, which the local guides would cover. We picked up local guides at each city because they really knew the city.
The churches in Nuremberg were especially ornate and Gothic-looking.
We spent the night here and headed to Prague via motorcoach.
Day 10-13 (Prague)
We took a tour of the Hradcany Castle Grounds, which they say is the largest castle in the world – it was like five football fields. Now it’s where the Parliament resides.
One thing that you have to remember is that Prague is only 27 years old, from when their government broke away from Russians. Between Prague and Budapest, I was impressed with how modern they were. There were old parts of the city, but you’d go to areas they were rebuilding and they would have buildings you wouldn’t expect to see.
My son Jonah lives here now to and he took us around to many different places, even some other holiday markets. He knew where the little ones were, which were neat.
I didn’t realize how huge Prague is. You could walk around the cobblestone streets for 20 minutes and think you were still in the same spot. Jonah knew all of the cut-throughs and how to get from one place to another. He introduced me to the doner kebab, a street food with meat and vegetables wrapped in a tortilla. It’s really good and filling.
We stayed one extra day in Prague then flew to Paris for two nights because my mom wanted to see it. So we added a little bit at the beginning and a little bit at the end of the tour. Then we went home!
That sounds like a wonderful experience! If you want to see these Christmas Markets for yourself, call us at (855) 999-7654.