ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A CRUISE

by Tori Ward, Cruise and Resort Specialist, ROX Travel

Not that I don’t love preparing dinner on Dec. 25 for up to 30 people, but the cleanup is exhausting. Experts tell you to visualize your goals for successful results. As the holidays begin, I am visualizing a Christmas market cruise in Europe next year. I think it’s a more realistic goal than a live-in housekeeper.

Christmas markets during the weeks of Advent (which include the four Sundays leading up to Christmas) are a European tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Having traveled during the holidays, I’ve sampled many Christmas markets in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic. Each market reflects a regional character, but all share the same essential elements: arts and crafts, food and drink, and entertainment.

We were on a Rhine river cruise with Viking recently and I fell in love with Cologne, Germany. The spires of Cologne Cathedral dominate the city, and the square in front hosts a Christmas market each year. Visitors will be enticed by the smell of roasting chestnuts and freshly baking cinnamon bread, while glass blowers, pewter pourers and woodcarvers demonstrate their craft. If hot, spicy wine doesn’t appeal, the old town is a short walk away where you can enjoy Kölsch, a beer only made in Cologne.

Many French Christmas market shops have a distinctive miniature chalet design. Strasbourg, an Alsatian French city on this Rhine river cruise, is no exception. And, with 300 shops, Strasbourg is the oldest European Christmas market. It won’t take long to find a couple of my favorite things, bretzels and tarte flambé. Either of these handheld Alsatian treats caters to my craving for anything hot, topped with melted cheese and eaten while shopping for delicate French soaps and beeswax candles.

A few years ago, I went to Prague for my birthday, which I often celebrate Dec. 31 through Jan. 3 … People are celebrating on all those days anyway, so why not?

Although the Christmas market was much quieter after the main event, I lucked out finding deeply discounted crafts the artists didn’t want to pack and take home. I loaded up on embroidered lace sachets bags, hand-blown and painted-glass ornaments, and puppets for grandkids. I was intrigued by the smell of ham and followed my nose to a slab of Prazska sunka, roasting pork cut off the leg to your size specification. I held my fingers about a half-inch apart, but the pitmaster was overly generous. It was a good thing too! My friend, who said she’d pass, kept asking for another bite of the savory sandwich I dressed with a thin spread of grainy mustard.

The journey from Prague continues on the Danube to Nuremberg, where spiced almonds instead of chestnuts, and bratwurst instead of ham, tempt market visitors. The smell of warm gingerbread fills the crisp December air. Unlike your local grocery store gingerbread, these are a denser cookie made from dough fermented for weeks before baking. And, of course, not far away from the gingerbread houses, you’ll find wooden cookie cutters if you want to attempt using them on your own once you return home. Nuremberg also has lovely music boxes, leathercrafts and wooden toys.

The final stop on the Danube Christmas cruise is Vienna. Mozart, art, the Vienna Boys Choir and the Lipizzaner Stallion stables — there is so much to love about Vienna. The Christmas market, in the shadow of Schönbrunn Palace, has some of the most beautiful Advent concerts in Europe. To dunk in your mulled wine, try a piece of Kaisershmarrn, a sweet pastry somewhere between a crepe and a waffle and often containing fruit.

I love my trips to Paris and always go in the winter to avoid heat and crowds. The first Christmas market I experienced there extended down Champs-Elysees through the Tuileries Garden. The snow had started falling while I was inside a restaurant. When I walked out, the trees along the entire boulevard glittered with thousands of lights. Fat snowflakes sprinkled down, and I more or less stumbled into the market by chance while returning to my hotel.

We are creatures of habit, and I admit I always get a mulled wine that I can never finish. I’ll also pass a dozen shops selling mounds of charcuterie and cheeses to find a chalet offering crispy pommes frites straight from the fryer served with a side of mayonnaise. There are several holiday markets scattered throughout the city, and some have ice-skating rinks and other children’s attractions. Of course, Santa Claus will be in attendance at all the markets. I heard he’s fond of crepes with Nutella.

There are short four- and five-day Seine river cruises that visit Rouen and Honfleur before returning to Paris during the holidays.

There are so many options for river cruising during the holidays. However, no matter how much you visualize the trip, you have to start the process early. Because of limited dates, space sells out quickly.

If you would like to explore the process and start planning your trip for next year, I invite you to give me a call. There are many options for a Christmas market cruise to fit most travel budgets. And, what a great gift to give someone who does the lion’s share of the holiday cooking, cleaning and entertaining. I’m visualizing my husband reading this.

For complete information contact or call Tori Ward at ROX Travel:

tori@roxtravel.com or 928-254-9968.