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Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Dream Come True: 2017 Christmas Market Cruise



In the early 80s, I took a German culture course as one of the electives for my Bachelor's degree. It was a life-changing experience for me. Each week the professor would share information on German history and the culture of the various areas. She brought the history to life with her stories and memories of living in Germany during the war. One of the lasting memories I had from her stories was how the people celebrated Christmas. She explained that Christmas was not a commercial event but a time for families and friends to come together to share the spirit of the holiday. I learned that the Christmas Markets are a central theme throughout most of Europe and helps to keep the spirit of the holiday.  I made a promise to myself that I would visit Germany to experience the Christmas Markets one day. That promise became a reality this year when my husband, and I took the trip of a lifetime! Here is a short overview of our journey as well as a few links so you can explore this special event with me.

Today, visiting the Christmas Markets has become a popular destination because of River Cruising. My husband heard my stories of my professor over the years and surprised me with the suggestion that we plan a vacation this year and experience the Christmas Markets! As it was late in the year, I called our travel agent and explained what we wanted to do. I gave her some available dates, and she was able to help us book a cruise on AMA Waterways

We left on November 24 and arrived in Prague where our pre-cruise adventure started. We checked into our hotel and asked for a recommendation for a tour of the city. The hotel clerk suggested a few tours, but Tours4Charity caught my eye. We decided to try it the next day so we could learn about the city. 

As we flew most of the night before we were exhausted but we had to take a walk around the town to get the feel of Prague. It is a beautiful city, and we got to experience our first of many Christmas Markets. The food and mulled wine smelled wonderful, despite being exhausted, we could not help ourselves, as we tried a few of the traditional treats before returning to our hotel for the night. 

The next day we found the starting place to begin our tour of the city with Tours4Charity. JP (the owner) gave us an excellent overview of the history of the city, the area and the people on a three-hour walking tour of the city. We were lucky as we arrived in the offseason, so we had a private tour with JP. 

He provided us with insights into the history that allowed us to get a feel for the area. It was excellent, and I would highly recommend this tour if you are ever in Prague.  After the tour, we visited the Charles Castle, had an outstanding Czech dinner and returned to the hotel exhausted! The next day the plan was to get up early for our flight to Budapest where we would board our ship and start our Danube Christmas Cruise!

Our home for the week was the AmaCerto, a beautiful ship and part of the AMA Waterways fleet. We quickly unpacked and made our way to the central reception area where we met many of our fellow travelers. Most of the people were from various cities around the United States. We met people from Canada and also Australia. 

We met our tour director Nick, who gave us an overview of the trip and what we could expect. We also met the Captain and the various members of his team. We had a welcome toast and then we were invited to move to the dining room where we had an excellent dinner. After dinner, the ship did a tour around the city of Budapest to see the city of lights. It was beautiful and a great way to begin the trip. 

The next day we had a walking tour of Budapest where we learned about the city, the area and the people from a local guide. Once back on the ship we set sail on the Danube River. The plan was to travel through several countries, visit the areas and explore the Christmas Markets. I love Europe for the easy access to various countries. The world is indeed connected!  Click here to view the itinerary we followed.

It was exciting to explore the highlights of each city we visited as well as the Christmas Markets. Each country has their own history and traditions of how they celebrate the holidays. Included as part of the River Cruise is a local tour in each city we visited. The local guides were excellent and imparted information that informed and educated us to the area. 

One thing we found to be similar in all of the countries we visited was that families and friends used the Christmas Markets as a way to gather and share the season. I was also impressed with their wares and the hard work that goes into making the Markets special. Everyone we encountered was helpful and friendly and share thier spirit of Christmas. 

The weather was cold (1-2 Celsius) and we even had snow in a few spots which put us in the Christmas spirit. We were prepared for the weather and took advantage of being outside and exploring despite the cold and snow. The weather actually added to the ambiance of the area which made it bearable. 

We did not go crazy with buying gifts but chose some unique ornaments in the various cities so we would remember the trip. We ended the trip in Nuenbrerg where the first and largest Christmas Market was found.

I wanted to take a few days to visit Southern Braveria, specifically the town of Oberammergau, a town in the Bavarian Alps, Germany. I had been there before but wanted Corky to experience it. 

The area is known for its once-a-decade performance of the Passion Play. In addition, this quaint town is famous for frescoes on the homes that tell various stories and also for woodcarvings where the tradition began. 

As we did not have a lot of time, we hired a driver, Chris for two days who took us all over the area so we could see the highlights. One being Zugspitze, the highest point of the Bavarian Alps. We also visited Neuschwanstein Castle before heading to the airport for our flight home. Chris did a great job and I would highly recommend him if you ever visit the area. To find him, click on here to visit his webpage. 

I will be posting photos on my Facebook page if you want to view them. If we are not connected, just send me a request (Anne Llewellyn) and we can become friends!

In closing, I am so glad that Corky and I took the time to experience Christmas in Europe. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I have lost touch with the instructor who planted this seed so many years ago. Her words rang true to me as we explored the various cities and got to experience the Christmas Markets!

I will be back on January 1st to start a new year of Nurse Advocate. I hope you had you and your families have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!