by Tori Ward
The holiday season was always a bit of an obsession with me when I was younger. I wanted something special and unique for those on my list and would shop all year to avoid being one of the hysterical “hit and runners” at the mall in the final days before the holidays. I bought a lot of people a lot of sweaters.
So, it was with a sense of delight that I discovered Christmas markets almost by accident. On the spur of the moment, with plenty of frequent flier miles and hotel points between us, I traveled with two friends to Paris two weeks before Christmas. The first night we strolled over to the Champs-Elysees and froze. No, not from the cold, but from the lights twinkling in the gently falling snowflakes from every tree and tiny chalet that lined a fairy tale village extending from the end of the avenue to Place de la Concorde.
We also discovered the Christmas market Marchés de Noël, and the magic of that moment changed my visits to Paris forever. Since then, I’ve returned to shop the markets many times for treasures such as beautifully embroidered linen lingerie bags with satin draw strings, Bavarian hand-painted glass ornaments, and beeswax candles. Wrapping these gifts always reminds me of the roasting chestnuts and mulled wine you can smell for blocks away.
Christmas markets are a European tradition and I’ve discovered them in Vienna, Prague and Nuremburg. Viking Cruises highlights a number of the towns and villages on its Christmas Market Cruise, spending two days each in Paris and Prague in order for you to not only get a feel of the markets, but to enjoy other parts of the cities as well. (Expert tip: make a reservation at St. Chappelle for dinner and a Christmas concert if you will be there when the concerts are scheduled. The haunting beauty of the music as it swells and bounces off the stained glass windows will be a personal treasure to cherish.)
While in Prague visit the Patisserie Jolie for the best hot chocolate in Europe IMHO! If sophisticated clubbing is more appealing, both cities boast a Buddha Bar where you just might see a celebrity or two.
For someone who grew up in Florida, I want snow or at least cold weather for Christmas, but it’s not everyone’s cup of hot chocolate. If warmer climates are on your agenda, a family cruise to Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera or Caribbean might be more suitable. Winter is the season for these markets and Princess Cruise Line has cruises that will fit most budgets and time constraints, from a 15-night Hawaiian cruise to four-day Pacific Coast cruises. The Mexican Riviera is incredibly close for most Arizonans and some of the cities on the itinerary have charming shopping areas that offer wonderful and affordable gift ideas. Turquoise and silver jewelry, folk art and leather are available in most ports of call and the prices are generally negotiable. (Expert tip: skip the busy marina in Cabo San Lucas and opt for a trip to the old town of San Jose with its lovely mission church and less touristy boutiques.) And, don’t forget, if you like tequila, to purchase it before you leave Mexico. I discovered prices up to 80 percent cheaper than my local store.
Over the holidays, gifts are great. But the memories created by the magic of traveling with your loved ones will be remembered long after all of those sweaters have gone out of style.
Victoria “Tori” Ward is a cruise and resort specialist with an interest in traveling and seeing the world since she first began to crawl. For more information on these trips and others, contact Tori at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-254-9968.