Exploring the Christmas Markets of the Rhine
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Today, I am travelling from Vancouver to Basel, Switzerland for the start of yet another Live Voyage Report: a weeklong river cruise along the Rhine aboard Viking Rivers’ Viking Baldur. But this is no ordinary European river cruise; instead, it’s a wintery journey through the Christmas Markets of Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
The full itinerary:
Viking Baldur Rhine Getaway
|December 10, 2013||Basel, Switzerland||Arrive Basel and embark VIKING BALDUR|
|December 11||Breisach, Germany||Black Forest scenery tour with clock-making demonstration; optional vineyard tour or Colmar excursion|
|December 12||Strasbourg, France||Walking tour featuring Strasbourg Cathedral; afternoon at leisure.|
|December 13||Heidelberg / Speyer, Germany||Half-day tour featuring Heidelberg Castle / Evening at leisure to enjoy cobbled streets & Speyer Cathedral.|
|December 14||Braubach / Koblenz, Germany||Marksburg Castle excursion; free time along the Drosselgasse.|
|December 15||Cologne, Germany||Walking tour & Gothic Cathedral visit; free time to visit a local brewery and sample some Kolsch.|
|December 16||Kinderdijk, Netherlands||Tour Kinderdijk Windmills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|December 17, 2013||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Disembark VIKING BALDUR & onward journey.|
This is the third year that I have sailed the Christmas Markets, but the first time I have ever travelled along the Rhine. In fact, with the exception of Amsterdam, each and every port of call along the way will be brand-new to me and, hopefully, to you as well!
But even if you’ve been to, say, Strasbourg before, chances are you’ve never seen it all decked out for Christmas. The Christmas Markets can and do vary from town to town, with each putting forth their best regional specialities from baked goods to handicrafts to local food and drinks.
On my trip last year aboard Viking Freya – and my previous journey along the Danube aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaLyra – I discovered that Nuremberg seems to have the best Gluhwein, a hot drink made from red wine and spices. But Vienna had the best sheer variety, with over 12 different markets. Regensburg won my heart for the second year in a row with their Romantic Christmas Market at Schloss Emmeram.
On this journey along the Rhine, I have no idea what to expect, or how it stacks up against the Danube. But the unique ability to visit four different countries in seven days is endlessly appealing, and to do it during the run-up to Christmas is that much more special.
That’s another thing worth noting: no one in Europe bothers with this politically-correct “Happy Holidays” crap that seems to have become predominant here in North America. They’re also not trampling people to death in big-box retail stores just to save a few bucks on a television. The Christmas Markets in Europe aren’t there solely for the benefit of tourists, though they do attract a good deal of them. Instead, they’re there for the locals, and run by the locals – just as they have been for centuries.
In Europe, the Christmas Markets are a social thing. Families come out late at night to enjoy the chill of the winter air along with some food and Gluhwein or kinderpunsch – spiced apple juice – for the kids. Colleagues and friends come out during the day to take in the markets; check your watches: they get noticeably busier when the clock strikes twelve and the lunch break commences during weekdays.
In addition to all the new places to discover on Viking’s Rhine Getaway sailing, I’m also looking forward to setting foot aboard Viking Baldur for the first time. One of Viking’s newest Viking Longships, Viking Baldur offers everything that has made this new class of river cruise ship such a stunning success. I love the design and construction of these ships, and Viking only seems to be improving them with each successive one they build. In March, Viking Bragi and her new sisters introduced an attractive new décor scheme in the ship’s public areas that places more emphasis on Scandinavian earth tones and woods in place of the Seabourn-esque, ultra-modern interiors of her predecessors.
I can’t wait to see what new features Viking has introduced aboard Viking Baldur, which was launched just this past summer. But I also can’t wait to experience two favorite features again: the beautiful Aquavit Terrace located all the way at the bow; and the sights of the passing Rhine from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the ship’s main Restaurant.
After two trips over two consecutive years of experiencing these wonderful markets – nestled in the shadow of some of Europe’s most fascinating cities and towns – I always tell people not to river cruise in the summer. Instead, bundle up and go in December. You won’t regret it.
So come along with us over the next week as we sail from Basel to Amsterdam aboard Viking Baldur through what I hope will be a European winter-wonderland!