Sunday, December 7, 2014

I love Christmas (markets)

This is my fifteenth visit to Europe my thirteenth as a tour escort.  Eleven years ago on a particularly hot and crowded summer day in Malta, I thought there has to be something better than this. Researching trip to Rome for the following year, a November departure was over 50% less than my prior summer trips. That was in 2004 and I have been traveling to Europe the week of Thanksgiving ever since. My original decision to visit Europe in November was originally financial, the reason every time since is purely seasonal , as in Christmas season (pun intended).  

Dusk was settling quickly over my last evening in Edinburgh as I trudged back to my hotel.  A bright alley off the darkening Prince's street showed small huts with crafts and food.  It was getting late and I didn't have time to stop; but  kept looking over my shoulder at the merriment.  I didn't know it then, but it was my first Christmas market, but definitely not my last.  Those first twinkle lights ignited (here I go with a pun again) such a feeling of holiday warmth, I found I craved it annually.  Christmas markets and big European cities go hand in hand. The best ones feature local handicrafts, food and regional mulled wine (often called Gluewhein).  The clunkers (and I am looking at you Paris) have cheap plastic doo dads from China. Leather goods in Florence, woolen items in Barcelona,  Fontanelli nativity figures in Rome, straw and dried fruit ornaments in Prague, they've all made their way back to Port Huron in my suitcase.  As lively and lovely as those markets were, it is the markets of Germany, Austria and Hungary that truly embody the spirit of the Christmas season. 

Harking back to the 17th century, Christmas markets were a welcome respite from the dark cold days.  The markets were also a financial boon to farmers who instead of selling their crops at local farmers markets brought handicrafts and food stuffs to small markets set up near the local cathedral. Today like in those early times German Christmas markets open the first Friday after the beginning of Advent. Austrian and Hungarian markets open earlier often around the third week in November. Unfortunately this year my Danube river adventure began on November 21st in Munich... a week before the beginning of Advent. German Christmas markets of Munich, Nuremberg and Regensburg were busy..not with commerce but with set up in advance of their November 28th  opening date, we'd miss these markets by a week.   

 Smokers and nutcrackers from Germany, Austrian crystal and pottery, beeswax candles and honey, handicrafts of all types, fresh greenery, and the food, good God almghty the food.These are just some of things you will find at the Christmas markets of Germany, Austria and Hungary. These markets are not only a shoppers heaven on earth, but foodies and photographers alike delight in all the sights, smells and sounds (local school children often entertain at the markets - trust me you'll never think of Santa's most famous reindeer after you hear a bunch of German speaking children sing 'Rudolph'). For those seeking a culinary experience; Gluewhein, (hot mulled wine), sausages, pretzels, chimney cakes (cinnamon dough rolled around a metal mould and then quick baked in a fire oven), candies, strudels,cheeses, mustards, as well as  gingerbread cookies of all shapes and sizes.  And the photographer has only to point his camera to find Christmas tableaus in every direction. 

I'm still reviewing all my photos, and will post images of the loot scored at the Christmas markets I visited at Stevensplatz, Vienna, Austria, Schronbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria and Vorosmarty Square, Budapest, Hungary along with some of my favorite photos of this year's European adventure. 2015 visions of sugar plums are already dancing in my head... we'll have to see where next year's adventures lead me.