Imagine experiencing the Christmas season without shopping malls and traffic jams. We all grew up on the tales of Christmas past and how people of the towns and villages got together to celebrate the season, not to buy cell phones and laptops!
Traditionally, European Christmas Markets take place in December but today they start mid-November. The tradition of Christmas markets began hundreds of years ago and although there are many stories as to how they began, it is widely believed that they came to be when folks living in the mountains came down to the villages to trade their wares and collect food for the long winters ahead. It is also believed that it was the start of the Advent and the markets were held near the local churches where vendors would set up to sell traditional foods and handmade gifts.
Folks from all over the world come to see the incredible winter wonderland markets in Europe. To see the lights, hear the traditional music, feel the craftsmanship of handmade wooden toys, glassblowers and knitted clothing. Oh, to smell aromas and taste the traditional foods such as homemade chocolates, gingerbread and cheeses from the local farms, not to mention warming up with a taste of the famous 'Glühwein' (hot mulled wine), makes one's mouth start to water!
There are European tours that feature the Christmas markets in various cities. You fly into one city, stay for a couple of days and see the surrounding sights including the markets, and then move on to another city for two or three nights, and so on.
I believe that a European river cruise is the most convenient way to travel and visit the towns and villages along the great rivers. You unpack only once and the river vessel is your hotel along the way. Most of the villages along the river have their own celebrations going on. You step off the ship and are enveloped in the lights and sounds of old Europe mixed with the new.
Although most of the river cruises have stopped for the season, there are a few that restart in late November just for the Christmas markets. They have just a couple of sailings and most sell out for the season.
There are numerous river cruise offer similar tours, it is your onboard experience along with what they offer in shore excursions that make the difference.
Scenic Tours new "Space-ships" are the newest style river ships, which are 22 percent longer than the norm, so they offer more public space and more balconies than other river cruise vessels. River vessels cannot be any wider than 39 feet so that they can maneuver under the many low bridges that span the rivers.
Scenic Tours is offering a 16-day Christmas & New Year River Cruise that starts in Amsterdam, and then cruises along the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. Each country offers its own old-world charm that takes you back in time with the bustling markets and the cathedrals and castles dating back to the medieval times. Then there's the music, such as a Viennese concert featuring selections of Straus and Mozart or a visit to the Vienna Opera House.
The onboard experience is something of its own. Fine dining, three public viewing areas, all meals, coffee, tea, soft drinks, hot chocolate, beer and wine with meals, local entertainment, tipping and gratuities are all included. There are many included tours in each port. Spend Christmas Day on board with your new friends while you sail through the Rhine Gorge and enjoy a New Year's Eve gala on board after a day of touring in Passau or Salzburg (your choice).
So, Christmas with no shopping malls, electronic gifts or traffic jams? Sounds great to me.
Patty Toppa is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.cruisetraveltours.com