Snowflakes falling…the lilting scent of hot spicy mulled wine and roasting chestnuts…the pure sound of a boys’ choir singing hymns…and the sight of white lights sparkling around wooden booths filled with Christmas treats and wares. This is the full sensory experience of being in one of Europe’s Christmas Markets. That is what I felt on my recent trip on AMA’s new river boat the AMAPrima. Each stop we made from Budapest to Nuremberg offered delightful sights and unique experiences. We arrived late to Budapest and transferred to the ship that was docked in the middle of town. As tired as we were, we enjoyed a warm welcome aboard and delicious gourmet meal followed by an illumination voyage up and down the Danube in the city. It was chilly but exhilarating! The next day we arrived in beautiful Vienna. We awoke to bright weather and enjoyed a lovely fresh buffet breakfast with all the trimmings.
Off we went on a great city tour which included stops at the Christmas Market where we enjoyed our first Gluewein – had to warm up!! Vienna’s architecture and history are amazing and seeing the white Lipizzaner horses on their way to training was a rare treat! The feeling of Christmas was certainly in the air – even the horses were wearing red caps!
The next morning we woke up to snow flurries – big white flakes blowing everywhere. The white landscape was actually exciting for this California girl, especially watching it from our balcony! After our great breakfast (which we were becoming accustomed to) we enjoyed gliding through the incredibly scenic Wachau valley. We later arrived in Melk, the small Austrian town, home of the Benedictine Abbey with tradition dating back to 1089. What an impressive building - even more so with the snow and blue skies! The small town of Melk is also a delight – the snow had stopped for us to be able to walk around and do a little sightseeing and trying the local specialty, a hot mulled apricot brandy! Again, we had to warm up to get the energy to walk back to the bus that delivered us to the ship.
We sailed on to the town of Linz where we spent the evening walking around the lovely town and visiting the Christmas Market. The locals were out in full force and the Christmas spirit was everywhere! The next morning most of the group took a tour to Salzburg and some of us stayed onboard for a very scenic trip to Passau. What a nice quiet day gliding on the river passing gorgeous scenery! A visit to the bridge of our vessel and meeting the captain was a treat! We arrived in Passau in the afternoon and the rest of our group joined us for another wonderful dinner on board followed by a walk into town to see the local Christmas Market. Passau is a city of great Christmas traditions and the Market reflects the mood – so many things to see, from locally crafted ornaments to hats to candles to yummy treats and so much more. We discovered the best Market however at our next stop, Regensburg. There was one in town, but close-by at the Palace of Thurns and Taxis there was another one – the most unique and beautiful one I’ve ever seen. Just walking toward the Palace on the torch-lined walkway was magic! The booths were covered in greenery and the vendors were friendly and helpful. There were small fire stops throughout where you could warm your hands and small warming hut- type pubs where you could stop and have a snack or beverage. The twinkling booths set against the backdrop of the lovely Palace are a must-see for anyone traveling to this area – I will never forget it!
Our last stop was Nuremberg where the ship docked overnight. City tours were offered exploring the history of this famous city and afterwards we were dropped off at the largest and most famous Christmas Market in Germany. The old town square is surrounded by beautiful old churches and architecture and filled over 180 lighted booths offering lovely Christmas decorations, the famous fresh baked Nuremberger Gingerbread (Lebkucken) special local sausages and of course Gluewein! Another great part of this whole trip was the services of AMA River Cruises. The staff was wonderful and they really brought the local Christmas tradition and feeling to their guests. We decorated trees, put our shoes outside our doors the night before “Niklaus Tag” and all got treats – an old German tradition. Santa Clause came one evening with gifts for all and there were special local foods served – a truly memorable trip! I think we should make this an annual event with Sterling Travel! Anybody interested??