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Floating to Europe's Christmas Markets

 

European Christmas Markets...

Once we had our bearings we were set loose in the charming Christmas Markets that for generations have been a tradition in this part of Europe. These markets are not only an inviting jumble of outdoor stalls but for at least a month before Christmas Eve they also serve as lively centers for holiday socializing. Each showcases their unique food and drink to the locals as well as to tourists who've traveled there to be part of the festivities. A vast assortment of traditional Christmas decorations, clothing, wooden toys, wax candles and unique handmade items are all on offer. The sheer quantity of things that glitter is seductive. The selection of things to buy is endless. At each market stop I carefully chose one unusual Christmas ornament suitable for a child. Once home, I gave the entire collection to my little granddaughter. She absolutely loved it, especially the straw star I bought in Prague and the dainty porcelain angel I discovered in Salzburg.

 

Markets have distinct personalities...

Each market had an atmosphere all its own as well as a huge, uniquely decorated Christmas tree that stood in the center of all the action. By day, groups of matrons, mothers pushing baby carriages, and classes of school children came to shop and became part of the holiday revelry. In Nuremberg, there was an unique youngster's market with its own beautifully carved carrousel. In Regensburg, the medieval city on the banks of the Danube, we watched St. Nicolas pull his wagon through the Taxi and Turn market handing out oranges to children who sang for him in their sweet little voices. In Vienna, we photographed groups of youngsters creating holiday gifts in supervised workshops at City Hall. Oh, the happiness and merriment in the air.

 

Markets became street parties...

In the evenings the markets morphed into giant but very orderly street parties. Friends of all ages met in the city square for steaming cups of gluhwein (mulled wine), hot chocolate with amaretto liquor, and other regional alcoholic specialties. My shipmates and I feasted on pretzels, warm from the oven, chocolate-covered gingerbread cookies, marzipan candies, roasted chestnuts, raclette with bread, pancakes spread with plum jam and sugar coated almonds. In Linz, I shared sausages and sauerkraut with a family of four who hailed from Australia. In Prague, I stood in front of the main stage as amateur choirs and dancers entertained the crowds. I was awed by the huge angels outlined in lights guarding three corners of the market square. Never did I feel unsafe. Never was I hassled. I was surrounded by pure, unadulterated holiday cheer.

It was interesting to note that Europe is years ahead of North America in their bid to save the planet. Ninety-five per cent of all drinks were served in regular ceramic mugs. A two euro charge was tacked on to each drink purchased. If you brought back the mug your money was refunded; if you kept the mug as a souvenir everybody was happy and there were no paper products to dispose of. A couple from Texas collected a full set of diverse Christmas mugs as a result of the many markets we visited and the gluhwein they drank.

 

The food onboard M/S Amacello was fabulous...

I wondered if the chef and his industrious kitchen staff ever slept. Long hours in the kitchen might make the average person crabby. Not so for this crew. They offered service with a smile from a daily dinner and lunch menu that listed four courses (with three choices per course) for each meal. The selections ranged from Roast Leg of Lamb in Herb Crust to Medallions of Angus Beef to Marinated King Prawns with Tomato-Olive Salsa, Broccoli and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Add to that delicious regional specialties like Hungarian Goulash, Austrian Weiner Schnitzel and Bavarian sausages to educate our palates. Desserts were divine; we chose from tempting Viennese Sacher Torte, Crepes Suzette or Apple Crumble with ice cream. Wines of the region and excellent conversation flowed freely. On the remote chance that anybody could possible be hungry, there were always lovely treats available in the lounge. We were offered 6:00 AM pastries and coffee, late afternoon cappuccinos and cakes, plus 10:30 PM late night snacks. It was very hard to resist. Most of the time we didn't.

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