Visiting Christmas markets along the DanubeWritten by Judy Pfaffenberger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Americans have traveled to Europe for many years to enjoy the Christmas markets. However, in recent years they have discovered that river cruising is a wonderful way to experience this. As with other cruising, you only unpack once. A few other bonuses are complimentary wine with dinner and most of the sightseeing is included.
The main choices for river cruising at Christmas are the Seine and Rhone in France and the more popular trips on the Rhine and Danube. Most of these cruises range from five to 12 days.
In 2007 my longlost cousin Jan from the state of Oregon, who found me on the Internet, thought we should get to know each other better. Since we both like to travel, we decided that a river trip might be a nice way to do this. She suffers greatly from motion sickness so we settled on the shorter Danube trip. As it turned out, she had no problems; and people rarely encounter mal de mere on river cruises. We opted to go with Grand Circle (1-800-248-3737) since I had used their services before and was quite satisfied. We chose one of the earliest trips because it was cheaper and we thought that we might have slightly warmer weather. However, one of the markets was not open that early.
Jan flew to Toledo so she could meet the rest of the family at Thanksgiving dinner and then we flew out of Detroit the next day. We arrived at our ship, the River Symphony, in Vienna shortly after noon the following day. After a quick lunch, I took the free shuttle to the town center to get my bearings since I hadn’t been there since 1980. That evening we enjoyed a relaxing dinner.
The next day was Sunday so I started the day by dropping in at a local church service. Then we spent a few hours exploring the city — Demels pastry shop, St. Stephan Cathedral, the Hofburg — and ended up back at the Rathaus (city hall) where we found the largest of Vienna’s seven Cristkindlmarkts.
Even if you are not a shopper, there is still so much to see and enjoy.
That evening we had the opportunity for an optional tour ($65) to the Kursalon to enjoy the music of Vienna, complete with dancers.
The next morning we were cruising through the Wachau valley, one of the most scenic stretches of the Danube — vineyards, castles, abbeys. We were graced with sunshine for most of the morning and then a light dusting of snow made our visit to Melk Abbey Christmas-card perfect. A bus took us up the hill for a tour of the abbey featuring a short organ concert in the gilded chapel.
Linz was our port for the next day. The main event was an optional tour to Salzburg, which is my favorite city so I couldn’t pass that up. Those who remained in Linz said that it was an enjoyable day, with a good market and an art museum across from the dock. In Salzburg we had a walking tour, a tasty lunch and then free time to explore the market and beyond. Many took the funicular or walked up to the fortress.
Passau, at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube rivers, was our next stop. We began with a walking tour and ended at the cathedral which houses the world’s largest cathedral pipe organ.
The sun was out in the afternoon and it was quite warm so I shed my coat and hiked to the top of the hill across the river for the view. Passau was a joy just to roam, with a Kodak moment around every corner.
Regensburg was the only place on the trip where I hadn’t been before. Again we began with a walking tour and ended with our guide treating us to the city’s signature sausages. After some free time we gathered at a local church for a Christmas concert performed by a quartet of alumni from the Regensburg Boys Choir.
Our last stop was Nuremburg. On a bus tour into the city we saw many historical sights connected with World War II. We were then dropped off in the Old Town for another walking tour and time to explore. I visited St. Lorenz Kirche, which is the mother church of the big church in Frankenmuth. We watched the glistening lights come on in the market before we headed back to the ship for our farewell dinner.
E-mail travel columnist Judy Pfaffenberger at email@example.com.