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Christmas markets on the Rhine

Author: ray lewis
Date of Trip: January 2001

In mid December, my wife and I flew to Germany to cruise the rhine and visit the Kriskindlmarkts along the Rhine. We flew to Munich and then bussed to Nuremberg to join our river cruiser and have fun. We were cruising with Vantage and were scheduled to cruise aboard the Vantage ‘River Odyssey’ and when we were greeted in Munich, the cruise Director who met us informed us that we would be using the newest Vantage river cruiser, the ‘River Discovery’ just in its inaugural year, this due to heavy rains earlier which had made it impossible to bring the ‘River Discovery’ to Nuremberg and not possible to take the ‘River Odyssey’ to its awaiting voyage above the bridge which neither ship could transverse under. Basically, we were informed that when we got to the point where ‘River Odyssey’

We began out journey in Nuremberg where there is one of the largest Christmas markets or ‘kriskindlmarkts’ as the Germans say. However, we had a planned trip to a place called the ‘Documentation Centre’. This was a W W II building which has been converted into a museum which documented the entire history of the “Rise and Fall of Hitler and the Nazi party” This was supposed to be for one hour and then go to the city square where the christmas market was on display. Let me tell you, as one who has followed the history of the Third Reich, I could have spent the better part of a day there, maybe even longer. It was fascinating and informative. The Nurembergers don’t wish to sugar coat their history and this center is even used to educate the German military cadets, a group of about 40 arrives as we were leaving.

The Christmas market was full of different foodstuffs and hand-made goods which were nice to look at but the Lebkcuhen and springerle were what got my attention, along with the famous Nurnburger bratwurst which was wunderbar. The beer went perfectly with the bratson rolls. We returned to the ship and we enjoyed the Captain’s Welcome reception followed by the Captain’s Dinner. The captain’s dinner was a feast of (a) smoked duck appetizer, (b) pan seared scallops on wild rice pilaf surrounded with a vegetable stew and a shellfish buerre blanc (excellent) next was (c) a citrus granite of lemon sherbet with grapefruit sections and grenadine to cleanse the palate (d) now came the entree- Whole pink grilled veal tenderloin served with green beans (al dente) Belgian endive and onion pie and Willian potato a coarsely mashed potato. There was a vegetarian alternative (e) the dessert was Creme Brule with fresh fruits on a belgian waffle. Wine was offered throughout the dinner.

We were now cruising on the our next port of call, Bamberg. Bamberg is a very quintessential german city. It was built along the Main river and had many very old buildings and we enjoyed our german tour guide who spoke with a Scottish accent since he was educated in Scotland, or so he informed us. It was funny listening to a German speaking English with a Scottish accent. In Bamberg, we toured the cathedral and sampled the Bamberg ‘rauch’ or smokey beer. Honest, I don’t only drink alcoholic beverages. After a nice time looking at the cathedral and seeing a small christmas market, we returned to ‘River Discovery’ to sail on to the old Imperial City of Rothenburg. This is, by far, one of the most visited and most captivating cities in all of Germany. They set up their Kriskindlmarkt in the town square and all surrounding alleys adjacent to it. The trip here is purely nostalgic for Caryl and myself, as we have been here many times. While there, we stumbled (not really) upon a city band performing on the steps to the Visitors Center and even though it was below freezing and windy, we stood there and enjoyed listening to all of their repertoire, even if we didn’t know one tune. The Market was replete with stands offering Gluhwein, a hot mulled red wine to warm the body and soul. We also took a 25 minute carriage ride wrapped in blankets with a U S military family with two delightful children. We returned to the ship, cold but happy and were greeted with gluhwein as we boarded.

Here, we had a very exciting trip by bus from our tour to the new ship that awaited us below the offending bridge impediment on the Main. This was fun as we were going to an area that involved driving a 56 passenger bus (or 4 of them) down extremely narrow roads and when we got to where our new boat, the “Odyssey’ was waiting, the driver was not aware where the berth was and had to turn the bus around in the middle of the road with people from the small town standing outside and watching. He was just a super driver.

Our next day was to Wurzburg, another of our nostalgic visits. It was sunday and the Christmas market didn’t open until 11 am. We enjoyed it but I was disappointed because there was no one selling heisse marroni or hot chestnuts, a favorite nibble of mine. Their market was very nice with a lot of handgearbeitet (handmade) items. We have been in vineyard country since before Rothenburg and were still there in Wurzburg. Of course, there were only very few select grapes still on the vine waiting to be picked for ‘eiswein’ a very sweet, expensive wine delicacy. Our meals continued to be excellent with lovely hot soups, appetizers, entrees and desserts. Luckily, they do exercise portion control so you don’t get to look like Santa when returning to the states.

When we left Wurzburg, we cruised to Miltenburg, a very small, exceedingly charming city on the Main. Their Christmas market was spread along the main street in the alt stadt and it had everything one could wish for. The town is so charming that we returned the next day to walk through it without crowds and just marveled at the half-timbered and sand-stoned buildings that make up this place. It is a city to return to and visit for its own sake, not just kriskindlmarkt time.

Now comes the end of the Main and beginning of the Rhine, at Mainz. This is the city of the famous Gutenburg Bible fame. They had a very nice, albeit small christmasmarket with lots of things for the children to do, We walked around the market on our own as we wanted to go to the Gutenburg printing exhibit building, while many of the passengers went to Heidelburg to see the castle. We did that years ago when our oldest son was stationed in Germany with the U S Air Force. We went to the Gutenburg exhibition and the guide showed us the evolution of the printing press and that we went to the ‘vault room’ where two full copies and part of a third of the Gutenburg bible reside. There were many building with triumph l’oeil painting on the exterior.

On Dec 19, we visited Rudesheim, a very small, quaint Rhine village where grapes and wine are the cash crop. Our first stop that morning was to Sigfried’s Music Kabinett. This is a place where they display a great many old music making machines, from as small as a bird and ones that take up entire walls. It is fascinating and, yes, we had been there before but I’ll go again if ever in Rudesheim. The cruise ship arranged for a lunch as the Winzer Keller restaurant. Rudesheim exists because of its location on the Rhine and the grapes on the south facing hill where they nurture their grapes.

After Rudesheim, we now cruised the Rhine in the afternoon and this area of the Rhine is most picturesque. There are many castles and castle ruins along the river and, of course, you pass the famous or infamous Lorelei rock. Not really too much to look at but it hold’s one’s attention only to be let down easily. We continued on to Cologne, and the modt impressive Cologne, or Koln, Cathedral. One giant cathedral with several styles of architecture but most impressive. We arrived after dark and had our evening meal and then waited until the next day, Dec 20, for our tour of the Cathedral and later our visit to the Kriskindlmarkt. They told us that there are several in Cologne but we visited only one. It was nice but after all of the preceding days and christmas markets, we’d had enough so we found a konditerei where we could have a hot drink, chocolate or tee or coffee and some delicious pastry.

That evening, we had the Captain’s farewell dinner, like the welcome dinner. Food was good on both ships but we preferred the meals on the ‘River Discovery’ better. We both have high blood pressure and take in no salt, cook only with herbs and don’t even have a salt shaker on the table and for our tastes, the food on ‘River Odyssey’ had far too much salt. We love river cruising and have has seven cruises on the european rivers. It is wonderful to unpack once (this trip we had to unpack, pack and unpack because of that darned rain swelling the river but that aside, once you unpack, it’s fun time from there to the end. Every river cruise has evening entertainment and this cruise was no different. They brought in a german brass band to play christmas music from Germany and there was a lady who taught us to make german almond cookies but I like my wife’s better, we’ve been baking them for over 50 years. Breakfasts are a buffet and you can get almost anything you can think of. Lunches are a combination of buffet and sit down ordering from a menu but in order to maintain your svelte figure, buffet is better because you can have a bowl of soup and a small sandwich. The crew on all of these ships are mostly from the eastern european countries and try to please as much as possible. The ship’s officer are likewise from many different countries but they all speak english and are very friendly and helpful My suggestion to those who read this, Go On A River Cruise, it’ll improve your understanding of the world and you will have a darn good time Ray Lewis

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