Cruising the Christmas Markets

All Photos by A.D. Kissam

Love to shop?  Long for the days when Christmas really “felt” like Christmas? Grab a warm hat, gloves and a hefty overcoat…it’s time to head off to Europe for the experience of a lifetime.  There is no better way to get in the holiday spirit then on a small ship cruise along the Rhine River, hopping from one Christmas market to the next.

img_0178A Christmas market is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. The best of these European markets can be found in Germany and France and are just a few feet or short miles from the Rhine River. Open from approximately 10 am to 9 pm, 7-days a week, featuring the best of local crafts, food and entertainment, it’s an experience never to be forgotten. It certainly was a shopper’s dream-come-true for me and my husband actually seemed to enjoy the fresh air activity and mixing with the locals on their turf. Any time his attention span waned, a brat and a beer seem to revive his spirits. For me, the Glühwein (Hot Mulled Wine) kept me warm and focused on finding Christmas treasures to take home.
img_0033The best way to experience these markets is to do a 7-day river cruise anytime in November or December.  My preference is the Viking River Cruise line.  There’s a string of good reasons to consider the Viking line, but for me the top considerations include the fact that they cater to adults, offer a good mid-luxury package of cruise, food and drink, a smaller number of fellow passengers and exceptional service.
img_0105img_0106 They also provide a good mix of Christmas market shopping opportunities mixed in with other interesting off and on ship activities like local cake making.  Your cruise package includes at least one off-board tour at each port of call along with other optional (additional cost) more extensive customized tours if you like.

img_0114My advice to making the most of your time is to do your homework first. Since Viking does not require “fancy night addressing” your wardrobe can focus on warm practical pieces.  You’ll need flat boots that grip streets slippery with rain, ice and snow. Warm socks, heavy sweaters, gloves, ski caps, thermal underwear and a warm insulated coat are a must. Layering is the key to comfort. Make sure you have a type of wallet or small purse that can be kept inside of your coat or attached to your waistband.  There are huge crowds making plenty of opportunities for pick-pockets. This is not a “given, but as in all large crowd gatherings, it is a possibility to be dealt with. Bring your own tote bag to keep your items safe from rain and snow, although most vendors will give you a paper bag. Bring “bathroom” change of about 15-50 cents per stop.  Most markets have free toilets, but if you wander too far, you will have to pay as you go …so to speak.

img_0310img_0145 Part of the delight of visiting the Christmas Markets is being introduced to local crafts.  Some will be familiar to you, some not so much.  Nutcrackers, ornaments, games,  chocolate everything, decorations, kitchen tools, scarves, hats, gloves, food items and my personal obsession …snow globes. Knowing what you want to purchase helps dampen the sensory overload coming at you from all directions.
img_0138img_0188 The other part of the equation to enjoying the Christmas markets is the food and drink.  What a glorious preoccupation it can become.  It’s addicting, actually.  Come hungry. Somehow all the food and drink tastes best in an cool open air setting with lots of happy people toasting the season together.
img_0213I found the prices for crafts, food and drink to be priced as you would find at most festivals.  Never cheap, never too expensive.  Just what you might think of as holiday reasonable.
img_0209
img_0038
Here’s a taste of the Christmas markets compliments of Viking River Cruises. My guess is you will love it. And hey! Now is the time to book for next year’s Christmas cruise. It would make one heck of a Christmas, birthday or anniversary present. Just sayin’….or you can take Viking’s advice which hooked me, “The holidays are pure magic along Europe’s waterways. Storybook villages and snow-capped castles line the rivers’ banks, and in grand cities and charming towns alike, festive Christmas markets celebrate the season with colorful crafts, gingerbread and warm, spicy glühwein.”

Glühwein (Hot Mulled Wine)
Courtesy of Viking Cruises

Up and down the Rhine River in all the Christmas markets mulled wine is sold as a tasty remedy for hours of shopping in the frigid weather. This recipe brings back joyful memories of time spent wandering the small holiday decorated wooden craft cottages.

Ingredients

4 qts dry red wine (e.g., zinfandel, pinot, burgundy)

1 C white sugar (more to taste)

1 pt brandy

12 whole cloves

1/8 tsp allspice

1/8 tsp mace

1 qt dry white wine

1 orange

1 lemon

GARNISH

6 cinnamon sticks

1 orange, sliced

Directions

Pour red wine into a 3-gal pot (or larger) and begin gentle heating. Add sugar and spices. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add brandy and white wine, slices of 1 orange and the lemon. Steep for 1 hour over low heat. Serve hot and garnish with orange slices or a cinnamon stick.

Cook time: 1 hour
Makes 12-15 servings

Resources

Viking River Cruises

Photos by Allan Kissam