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Maybe it’s because I was getting older, but in the past few years I had found myself growing out of the whole Christmas/Holiday spirit. As a kid, I always enjoyed the holiday season – as most kids do. But as I got older, it seemed that the holiday music, décor and endless advertisements offering blowout sales only started cropping up earlier and hung around longer. The message: spend money, and lots of it. It’s Christmas!
And then, last year, I traveled to Europe during the second week of December to take a Christmas Markets river cruise. And the entire experience held me spellbound.
While sailing from Nuremberg to Budapest, I discovered that the magic of the holiday season is still alive and well in Germany, Austria and Hungary. Every single city, town and village seemingly had a Christmas Market – or two. Vienna alone boasts 13 distinct Christmas Markets, or Weihnachtsmarkt, including one on the grounds of the Rathaus, Vienna’s imposing City Hall.
These markets are all located outside, usually in the historic town square. In Regensburg, a Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt, or Romantic Christmas Market, is held at Schloss Thurn und Taxis. Wooden stalls, gravel pathways lined with wood-burning fire pits, and plenty of mulled, spiced wine known as Gluhwein was available.
I felt like I had stepped back in time. There were no lines filled with people pushing and shoving to be the first to get some new cellphone. Instead, families wandered around, sipping Gluhwein (or kinderpunsch for the little ones), laughing, joking, and enjoying themselves. People stopped off to get an amazing array of smoked meats like bratwurst, while holiday treats like traditional German Lebkuchen filled the air with a sweet, warming aroma.
It was the kind of experience I thought only existed in books.
In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam to witness the christening of four of Viking River Cruises’ stunning new Viking Longships. Staying aboard the Viking Odin for two days, I was shocked at the sight of the beautiful, modern décor that was surrounded at every turn by floor-to-ceiling glass windows. There’s no doubt: these new Longships are beautiful by both day and night.
What’s more, when we set sail for a mini-cruise around Amsterdam, I was caught by surprise. The ship was so quiet, I had no idea we were even moving until I looked up and noticed we had undocked.
That’s not a knock against other river cruise ships, but more of a reflection of the direction Viking is taking their fleet. They re-thought the traditional river cruising experience, adding nice touches like a soaring, two-deck high atrium topped with glass. Heated floors were added to stateroom bathrooms. There’s even a herb garden located on the ship’s Sun Deck.
Two days onboard, much of it alongside the pier in Amsterdam, was a tease. So the opportunity to combine the amazing Christmas Markets with a weeklong voyage from Budapest to Nuremberg aboard the new Viking Freya seemed like the start of a great Holiday tradition.
The full itinerary, both here and onboard:
|December 1, 2012||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Overnight Pre-Cruise Stay|
|December 2||Budapest, Hungary||Flight to Budapest, Embark Viking Freya|
|December 3||Budapest, Hungary||City Tour of "Buda" and "Pest."|
|December 4||Vienna, Austria||Panoramic Ringstrasse City Tour; visits to Christmas Markets|
|December 5||Cruise the Wachau Valley / Melk, Austria||Crusing the Danube / Melk Abbey Tour|
|December 6||Passau, Germany||Walking tour; free time; visit to Christmas Markets|
|December 7||Regensburg / Kelheim, Germany||Walking tour; free time; visit to Christmas Market / Optional Danube Gorge excursion and Kelheim Christmas Market|
|December 8||Nuremberg, Germany||City tour & guided walk; Optional World War II excursion; visit Nurember's Christmas Market|
|December 9||Nuremberg, Germany||Return flights home.|
The stop-over in Amsterdam was a last-minute decision necessitated mainly by flight scheduling: KLM runs a non-stop flight between Vancouver and Amsterdam on six times a week, but not on Saturdays. I’ve learned from past experience that I’d rather get to Europe and spend a day there before continuing on if flight schedules don’t work out. Plus, it gives me the chance to experience this beautiful Dutch city’s Christmas Markets. I’m also looking forward to flying with KLM again for the first time in over a year; my past experience with the airline was enjoyable and positive (they even served an honest-to-God cheeseburger on our flight to Athens!)
So come along with us as we return to the Danube to experience the beauty of the European Christmas Markets aboard one of the newest and most innovative river cruise ships afloat. Live Coverage begins on Saturday, December 1 and continues through Sunday, December 9. It’s eight days of river cruising fun here on From the Deck Chair!
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Viking River Cruises’ Viking Freya begins on Saturday with a pre-cruise stay in Amsterdam prior to embarking our brand-new Viking Longship in Budapest, Hungary on Sunday, December 2!
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