Our Danube Holiday Markets River Cruise
(From a Well-traveled Woman's Perspective)
My husband and I [that's me enjoying the sandwich in Vienna] recently took a Holiday Markets cruise on the Danube from Passau to Budapest and had the best time! It was my first Holiday Markets cruise, and something I had always wanted to do. I had talked with others at Premier who had done one, looked at their pictures and thought how festive and fun it looked. Well, I wasn't disappointed and we both LOVED it!
Holiday Markets are in almost every city in Western Europe, especially in Germany, Austria and Hungary from mid-November into January (in some cases). Depending on the city, there may be three or four Markets — some are fairly large while others are quite small — but all of them are charming and fun. While the Markets vary a bit by country, generally they are made up of a series of small booths filled with homemade crafts, trinkets, or heaped with the most incredible regional foods you can imagine… it was hard to come back home to salads for lunch.
|I just had to take a picture of EJ stuffing herself with one of the most delicious sausage sandwiches we've ever had!|
The Markets sparkle in the late afternoon and evening as they are lit up with bright little Christmas lights; and the fragrant smell of wood burning stoves permeates the crisp evening air. We ate lunch in the Markets every day because there were so many things we wanted to taste. There were so many types of local sausages, fresh cheeses, sandwiches, incredibly fresh breads, cabbage rolls, meats and a remarkable variety of chicken and pork dishes… I have to say we really DID try to taste them all!
Then there were all the pastries and chocolates! OMG!! There are actually complete booths dedicated to “sweets” with hand-dipped treats piled 6 feet high. One of my favorite things found in every market is Glühwein (pronounced like glue vine). Glühwein is hot mulled wine (red or white) that sure takes a chill away very quickly. Heating the wine seems to cook out the alcohol because people drink it all day… I had my fair share and didn't get tipsy at all. It warms your hands and your insides and costs only 1-2 Euros.
We cruised with Uniworld and loved our ship, the River Beatrice. The crew was possibly the best I’ve ever encountered; they seemed to know everyone’s name by the second day. While most of the guests were from the States, there were also many from the UK and South Africa. It was a very friendly crowd that seemed to come together quickly, but that’s pretty normal on river cruises.
By day two, we knew most of the people on the ship well enough to exchange greetings and share the day’s events. Others we became fast friends with and hope to share future travels. What was truly a delight to see was how other couples embraced/befriended those who were traveling solo on the Beatrice. On our cruise there were probably 8 or 9 solo travelers who seemed to be in high demand as tablemates for our meals on board. Everyone shared their experiences and everyone blended in quite seamlessly; it was really cool to be a part of that.
Our cruise went from Passau to Budapest with stops in Linz/Salzburg, Vienna, Krems, Bratislava, and Budapest, among others. I must say, while these towns and cities are stunning in the spring and summer, there’s something so very special about seeing them in the muted colors of the late Fall sky. I'd go back in the Fall again in a nano second. In Vienna, we tried their Metro and easily made it to Schönbrunn Palace and back to the ship on our own. Our tour of the Palace and metro rides cost less than 20 Euros for two.
Budapest was splendid, and is one of the best walking cities in all of Europe. Rick and I found several new and simply wonderful restaurants there [we'll share those with our customers in Premier's CompassPoint guides]. We don’t like to get restaurant recommendations from hotels for the obvious reasons, and think — that on our own — we discovered some excellent choices with great food and service at exceptionally moderate prices.
We also did a post-cruise land/hotel package to Prague, which turned out to be a great decision to extend our stay. On our wonderful, Christmas Eve train ride from Budapest to Prague, we seemed to have the train all to ourselves. Our compartment was great! I love the trains in Europe; they're clean, comfortable and an easy, fast way to travel. We spent Christmas in Prague, which is another delightful place to walk and tour on your own. Here, too, we explored for hours. Rick and I found a great new private tour guide [Milos], visited Holiday Markets and ate ourselves silly… again! Also, again, we found a number of very good, new local spots to enjoy a casual dinner in Prague. The prices and beer are unbeatable.
From my perspective, one of my favorite things about the way we traveled on this trip was that it was so EASY. Our ship docked in the center of town, so we were free to come and go as we pleased. We started each day with the ship’s tour of the city (In many cases, it was a walking tour straight off the ship.). We had the option to stay with the group, or at any point we wanted we could wander off on our own (usually to the Holiday Markets). Sometimes, after dinner (By the way, the gourmet cuisine on the Beatrice was soooooo delicious — every day!), we would leave the ship and walk around the city because the Christmas lights were so beautiful. We felt safe in all the cities we visited and English was spoken everywhere.
It was a wonderful trip! We were well prepared, properly dressed and always warm. Our own personalized, Premier CompassPoint Guide [fall/winter version] is all anyone needs in order to ensure being well prepared to experience one of the most festive, enjoyable and relaxing trips you'll ever take.
I hope that everyone who reads my thoughts, will eventually want to go on an Holiday Season river cruise. They really should be on everyone's "bucket list"!
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