The sky is gray and the air is cold, but the Christmas market in Nuremberg -- the Christkindlesmarkt -- is filled with warm smiles and festive holiday spirits.
Free-flowing gluhwein and sizzling sausages tend to make that happen. I am on a Viking Cruises journey on the Danube, and the first two days were spent in Nuremberg, which is reputed to have one of the top Christmas markets in the country. Its history dates to the 1600s, making it one of the oldest in the world.
As an American, the whole experience makes me jealous of the authentic feel the holiday season still owns in this part of the world. It's a brilliant experience to be able to immerse yourself in the sense of community that exists in this market atmosphere. Vendors proudly serve hand-made crafts and delicacies made using traditional recipes -- sausages are particular to each region in Germany, as are the lebkuchens (a gingerbread-type pastry) and gluwheins (hot spiced wines).
Holiday lights, music and colors fill the market square, primarily in the form of quaintly decorated stalls. Vendors go through a rigorous approval process to operate at the market, and there is a years-long waiting list. Products cannot be mass produced, and playing recorded holiday music and using plastic garlands as decor are considered taboo.
Sure, it's very busy at times in these markets, but they simply have a pleasant feel of a shared experience and camaraderie as you wend your way through the square.
If you are looking for a new holiday tradition for your family, I highly recommend checking out getting on a Viking Cruise that hits cities that host Christmas markets. We'll be visiting a more on this adventure -- in Regensburg and Vienna, for example -- each with their own style and feel. I can't wait because it's been an eye-opener so far, and you can never get tired of sampling new varieties of sausage, gingerbread and beer!
Always travel happy!