Advent in Germany & Austria

The Warmth of Christmas Markets

In the days running up to Christmas the world takes on a glow, people scurry about making their holiday preparations but perhaps one of the best traditions I’ve encountered are the German and Austrian Christmas markets. Outside in the cold sipping mulled wine (Gluwein) is surprisingly pleasant and warming. Town squares are festooned with rows of booths and throngs of locals gearing up for the Season. The booths invitingly lit and stuffed with various foods, sweets, games, toys, decorations etc.. You can never go hungry or thirsty at one of these markets as you squeeze between the crowds, navigating your way to the next booth for a Gluwein or a delicious German sausage!

I have travelled in Germany in the past but often to large cities and there one brushes up against the European International experience. On this trip to Germany I visited a friend and her family who live just outside of Munich. Utting is one of many small hamlets in this area known as the “Five Lakes” region. Utting is on the lake and if you look east and north to the end of the lake you can see the Alps. My friends family was warm and hospitable and shared food and traditions, including the lightening of the four candles on each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day. Great food and lots of laughs were shared.

A beautiful lake in Utting and in the summer there is a ferry to the other side and if you look down the lake you can see the Alps.

Nearby there are larger centers and during the days my friend and I drove to cities of Landsberg and Augsburg to see the sights and visit the Christmas Markets.

Landsberg

Landsberg is a smallish town on the beautiful Lech river and the settlement can be traced back more than 2000 years. There is a beautiful very old and ornate city hall with an information centre which has brochures in English if, like me, that’s what you are limited to.

The town square Christmas Market in Landsberg

A very tall tree.

Street Scenes as the afternoon wanes

Foot bridges and over the river and it’s branches that run right through the town.

City gates protected Landsberg in days gone by.

The River runs between the buildings and cascades at the widest point.

Landsberg Cathedral

Delicious eats and warming drinks while you shop the stalls.

Augsburg

Next stop was the town of Augsburg, a city bigger than Landsberg and it too was in full Christmas Market swing. Founded under Roman rule Augsburg has roots that go back 2000 years making it one of Germany’s oldest cities. With a city centre boasting a grand shopping street, Maximillianstraus, and beautiful Baroque and Renaissance buildings fronting the main square where you will find the Christmas Market.

The rooftops of Augsburg

These giant homes, now apartments, offer a pastel palette to passers by.

The amazingly gilded government palace on the main square.

The market from above and down in the thick of things

My lovely guide and friend Andrea

Munich


Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is home to centuries-old buildings and numerous museums. The city is known for its annual Oktoberfest celebration and its beer halls, including the famed Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589. In the Altstadt (Old Town), central Marienplatz square contains landmarks such as Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall), with a popular glockenspiel show that chimes and reenacts stories from the 16th Century.

In addition to which, Munich boasts the an impressive number of Christmas markets scattered around the city centre. The same array of food, drink and shopping as other markets but on a bigger scale. Impressive in all seasons I especially loved Munich at Christmas.

Munich Main Square

Vienna

Next stop on my Advent tour was Vienna. A four hour train trip from Munich Vienna is no slouch either in the Christmas Market tradition. Having made a friend on a boat trip down the Mekong River I decided to visit, see Vienna and rekindle the friendship. So glad I did as Vienna was resplendent in all it’s Christmas glory.

Busy shopping street in Vienna

The not so blue Danube and one of the River Boats

In between visits with my friends I took the Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour of Vienna which has grown outwardly since I visited in the 80’s. There is so much to see and do in Vienna and it is truly a city for all seasons, but a winter visit does mean fewer tourists and more breathing room than what I remember.

Dinners out and visits to Christmas Markets kept me and my friends fed and entertained as Gluwein in hand, we sipped our way through the stalls.

Environmentally friendly, you pay a deposit for the non-disposable mugs and if you return them you get your euros back but if you wish to keep the mug as a souvenir that is fine.

My last day in Vienna, it snowed and that was an added bonus. Great white fluffy flakes falling on the city completed the Christmas spirit and I left glad that I had gone and hopeful to return to both Austria and Germany.

Roma

Rome is like opening your grandmother’s attic only to discover that she had squirrelled away some amazing treasures and just when you think there couldn’t be anything else to surprise and delight, something else amazing jumps out to surprise you. The heart of Rome is not that big and in four days of wandering I covered a great deal of ground. Wandering is different from touring in that you don’t go to the sights but rather you let the sights come to you, emerging in your path, sometimes dictating the direction of your wander but never setting the agenda. This is my favourite way of traveling now that I can take the time to savour the treasures that spring from grandmother’s attic in no particular order and Rome did not disappoint.

If you’ve been to Rome and you’ve already done the “tour thing”, including the Vatican then you will appreciate my desire to just wander and let each turn of a corner bring back memories of my first visit and fuel new interests and ideas.

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As luck would have it a friend was in Milan and came down on the train to meet me in Rome so I had some company to enjoy what Rome offers in the way of sights, sounds, food, aromas and people.


One of the best things to do in Rome is people watch and of course listen. Romans tend to dress well and rarely do you see anyone slopping around in baggy pants and runners. Conversations tend to be loud, boisterous and accompanied by energetic gesticulations, as incomprehensible to me as the Italian language. It’s hard to imagine living your life in Rome but the people who are do it with style and ease.

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Of course the ancient ruins of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Paul’s Basilica are good reasons to go to Rome the first time. The grand piazzas, like Piazza Navona with its entertainers, street sellers and palaces, the views from the seven hills and making a wish in the Trevi Fountain are all traditional fair.

But when you make a return visit you should go prepared to savour and to experience Rome the city, greater than the sum of its parts. Seeing Rome as a living, breathing entity is seeing and appreciating its personality. Because Rome is a beautiful old thing and a self restoring treasure chest it transcends the normal experience of a city. Rome the “Eternal City” has earned its title for it truly is a place where the present lives alongside the past and the past enjoys a place in the sun out of the shadows of grandmother’s attic.

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