Celebration Travel

 
 

Lets Celebrate Christmas in July!

For the western world, celebrating Christmas is a time for folks to prepare for and participate in traditional winter activities to commemorate the holiday season. However, in parts of the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of South America, Christmas falls during the warm summer months. For this reason, Christmas in July was developed when these respective countries participate in winter holiday activities during their actual winter periods. 

While you won’t find annual holiday traditions within the U.S., U.K and many European countries in July, Christmas in July provides an opportunity to remind us that the holidays are only five months away and the perfect time to start planning yuletide festivities. 

What better way to celebrate the holiday season than enjoying the festivities and traditions of other cultures that date back hundreds of years. July is the perfect time to plan for Christmas and design itineraries that celebrate the holidays in countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or Hungary.

Germany

Rudesheim Cable Car decked out for Christmas

In the Deutschland, the Christmas season begins with the celebration of Advent, the official holiday season in Europe, which starts at the end of November and lasts four weeks until Christmas Day. Many visit worthy traditions specific to individual regions are held during this period throughout Germany. 

One of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne, is known for its annual Heinzels Wintermärchen festival within the Alstadt (old town) historic region of this gothic,  culturally diverse city. Next to the iconic Cologne Cathedral, the annual event features the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas market), an alley of artisans selling toys, ornaments and holiday treats for folks of all ages to enjoy. This Christmas village also features an outdoor ice rink that will have you swirling in winter bliss. 

Nuremberg, the Bavarian capital of Germany, is home to the annual Christkindlesmarkt, one of the largest holiday markets in the world. Dating back to the early 1600’s, the market centers around Christkind, a symbol for gift giving in Nuremberg. The market features a local teen named as the Christkind representative. Dressed in gilded attire, she is present throughout the festival to greet guests as a representative of holiday spirit to the children in Nuremberg. Within the holiday market, you will find wood badens (booths) filled with handcrafted items, and holiday treats like gingerbread and traditional almond spice cookies (spekulatius).

  One of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany, a Unesco World Heritage site is Regensburg. The city takes a unique approach to the holiday period as it comes to life with glistening holiday lights that complement the medieval architecture surrounding Regensburg’s Christmas markets. Regensburg’s largest market can be found at the medieval Neupfarr church. The excitement doesn’t stop at the markets. Walking the cobblestoned streets you will venture into courtyards, passageways, and find other gems the city has to offer. Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon secret stalls of local craftsmen featuring handmade items that can be taken home as gifts or souvenirs. Throughout your time in the city, dabble in the holiday entertainment, regional cuisine and indulge in the merriment also found along the Danube river and the surrounding beautiful winter scenery. 

Rudesheim, a small wine village in the Upper Middle Rhine valley, brings a more international holiday experience with their annual Christmas Markets of Nations. This village’s representation of the traditions and customs of 20 countries from six continents draws visitors for a unique spin to the traditional German Christmas market experience. Featuring the traditional foods, goods and entertainment of each country makes this a fun and global way to celebrate the holidays. Rudesheim also presents the largest Nativity scene in Europe which can be found within the market square. Some of the more popular activities include festive storybook boat rides along the Rhine river and

breathtaking views of the river and Rudesheim’s vineyards on the decorated cable cars to the Niederwald monument. 

France

Strasbourg in northeastern France is the original capital of Christmas. The first Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) began over 500 years ago and has drawn visitors for centuries as the flagship holiday market experience. Squares throughout the cities offer unique themed areas filled with mini wooden houses (chalets) featuring the largest number of market food and craft vendors. Place Kléber, the central square of Strasbourg, is the prime location of celebration for the festival backdropped by a handpicked and decorated 100 foot Alsatian Christmas tree. Due to Strasbourg’s French and German heritage, you can find that popular foods like pain d’épices, gingerbread and spiced cookies, are influenced by both regions. Among other Alsatian specialties, don’t forget to try the Vin Chaud mulled wine that is a signature part of a Christkindelsmärik encounter. 

Riquewihr is a magical French Alsatian wine village that is known for its fairytale-like architecture with half timbered houses that are spruced up with holiday decorations. Strolling the cobblestone street and seeing the village decorated with holiday lights and smelling the scent of chestnuts roasting will create a charming French holiday experience. The Riquewihr Christmas market is filled with cheer as you walk the wooden chalet’s filled with locally crafted item, stopping to enjoy a glass of local wine, or one of the local holiday treats of French spiced bread or German bretzels. You will be happy you stopped in this quaint Christmas town, unlike anywhere else in the world,

Netherlands

Amsterdam Canal during Christmas

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, well known for its canals, is even more magnificent during the holidays. The annual light festival proves to be a winter highlight with it’s art light displays accompanied by live music and street vendors along the city’s canals. While these displays can be spotted from the bridges and walkways along the quay, the best way to experience the Amsterdam Light Festival is by a tour boat traveling along the canals. For another purely Amsterdam holiday experience, visit Amsterdam’s Museumplein museum square area. Centered around an ice skating rink, the Ice Village features a wooden chalet serving local Dutch dishes like cheese fondue that can be enjoyed offering views of the 800 year old Rijksmuseum, which houses the art of Dutch master artists. 

Austria

Ringstrasse Holiday Train

Vienna offers similar holiday experiences to what you will find in Germany but with a uniquely Viennese flare. Offering many Christkindlmarkt in the city, you are bound to find one that is your favorite. The largest market, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt found on the Rathausplatz within the center of Vienna’s historic area, is appropriately named for its large offering of local sausage vendors and has approximately 150 booths. Surrounding the market, you will find a carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating and the holiday “Tree of Hearts” decorated with illuminated holiday hearts. For a smaller, more upscale Christkindlmarkt, Schönbrunn offers the beautiful background of the glowing decorated summer palace of the former Austrian royalty, the Habsburgs. The heart of the Viennese holiday experience is the elegant light displays that illuminate the Austrian city. Whether you are strolling the Stephansplatz shopping area outside of the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral or riding the Ringstrasse train around the outside of the Vienna altstadt, you will not be disappointed with a multi sensory Vienna Christmas experience.  

Salzburg, the Austrian Alps city that borders Germany is known as the birthplace of Austrian composer Mozart and the filming location for the movie musical, The Sound of Music. But during the holidays, Salzburg becomes a fairytale land filled with colorful festivity, snow and choirs singing the Austrian hymn “Silent Night”. Visiting the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt in the city’s centre, one of the oldest Advent markets in Austria offers a holiday experience among the backdrop of the snowy rooftops of this beautiful Alpine old city. In Salzburg you are bound to see parades, hear ye olde Christmas stories and tune in to choral concerts. While visiting you will want to tour one of the many of the local nativity scenes, visit the Salzburg Christmas Museum, and stop into the beautiful Salzburg Cathedral. In typical Salzberg fashion, enjoy a music performance with 360 degree views of wintery Salzburg from the observation tower of the Fortress Hohensalzburg. A holiday highlight is Salzburg caroling featuring songs by Mozart and other traditional local holiday songs. 

Hungary

St. Stephen Basilica Christmas Market in Pest

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is two cities separated by the Danube river united into one. For a traditional holiday experience, take the funicular car to the top of Buda Hill on the western side of the Danube river. Here you can explore the quaint, charming town of Old Buda (Óbuda) and visit their Christmas market outside of the town hall building. Don’t let the small size fool you, you will find within this holiday area concerts, a carousel, skating rink and many more festive activities. For a larger and more modern holiday experience, head across the Danube river and into the eastern portion of the city, Pest. In Pest, you can visit the largest of Hungary’s holiday markets in the shopping district surrounding Vörösmarty square where you will find traditional crafts, artists, plus food booths and daily concerts by local Hungarian bands. A favorite holiday experience in Budapest is the intimate Christmas market that sits outside of the breathtaking St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to a small ice skating rink and a picturesque Christmas tree, you will find a holiday light show that occurs hourly upon the face of the beautiful exterior of the cathedral. 

Switzerland 

Basler Weihnachtsmarkt

Basel, is a city on the Rhine river in the northwestern portion of Switzerland bordering France and Germany. The main markets of Switzerland are found in Basel’s center of the city within the old town. Basler Weihnachtsmarkt in the central shopping district is the largest of the markets with the most vendors in Switzerland. The Weihnachtsmarkt on Münsterplatz is smaller in size, however exquisite with its large, decorated Christmas tree adjacent to the Basel Münster (cathedral). Climb to the top of the cathedral towers for fantastic views of the illuminated old town. These Christmas Markets are distinguished by their wooden chalets featuring local artists’ creations and popular food items influenced by Basel’s location near both France and Germany. The most popular items include house made waffles, Gluhwein (mulled wine) and sausages among Swiss favorites like Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) and raclette, a melted cheese. The holiday spirit of the city is spotted among the decorated streets, within the windows of the local businesses, residences and along the Rhine as you stroll along its wintery banks. 

Cruising the Rhineland on the Moselle River in Germany

So now that you know about the various holiday experiences that await you in Europe. So what is the best way for you to start your planning? A Christmas Market river cruise will transport you into Europe’s most popular cities and villages covered with snow-capped Cathedrals and brimming with holiday cheer. 

From late November through December, travel along the waterways of central Europe from Amsterdam to Switzerland or Germany to Hungary visiting the traditional and authentic charming markets that still appear as they have for hundreds of years.

In addition to the Christmas experience, you have plenty of time to explore fairytale castles along the Rhine Gorge, the gorgeous mountainous snowy alps or the dreamy gilded sites of Vienna and the cathedrals of medieval Germany. Tours are included in ports to visit the landmarks of each city with ample time to explore the unique offerings of the local holiday delights.

Discover more about river cruising. If you would like more information on a Christmas Markets River Cruise, BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with planning the perfect river cruise experience.

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Celebrate the New Year in Spain

The current climate of the world may keep us from being with that special someone for New Years, this year. The out with the old and in with the new which took us from 2020 into 2021 was a highly anticipated and desired change for most of the world. And although our new years eve may have looked very different this year, there is much to look forward to in the future. 

Many countries have traditions, rituals and superstitions that they practice to assure themselves healthy and prosperous years. Here in the United States it is customary to make resolutions and to share a kiss at midnight. Other countries may have a traditional item that they consume like in the Netherlands where they eat deep fried dough. Other countries have more unique traditions like in Brazil they throw white flowers into the ocean, Greece they hang onions on their doorways, New Years eve masses are held in cemeteries instead of churches in the country of  Chile and in Denmark they throw dishware at their friends and neighbors’ front doors. 

Spain though has many rituals that are practiced throughout the country and take New Years Eve very seriously just as they do their Christmas celebrations and post New Years. New Years in Spain is referred to as Noche Vieja, old night and reflects the culture of the Spanish people. 

Some of the fun New Years traditions you will find within Spain are;

Red Underwear

Yes you read that correctly, if you are looking for love in the upcoming new year, the Spanish ritual of wearing red underwear is a popular one. It has been said that the underwear must have been a gift and you are required to give them away at the end of the night, for Cupid to target you in the upcoming year. 

Celebrating in the Plaza Central

The locals head to the central square of their towns or villages that is centered around a a large clock on the post office tower. The main square in Spain is Puerta del Sol in Madrid which can be compared to New York’s Times Square where thousands gather to celebrate the arrival of a new year and their annual consumption of twelve grapes. Post midnight, the squares will be filled with Cava (sparkling) wine corks popping, confetti, noisemakers and streamers with revelers celebrating the new year. 

Doce Uvas (Eating 12 Grapes)

The most well known tradition requires that when the main clocks of Spain strike midnight, as each chime rings, celebrators swallow one grape before the next chime consuming a total of 12 grapes before the clock stops ringing. This tradition brings happiness, prosperity and good luck for each of the next twelve months of the year, with one grape bringing one month of luck in the upcoming year. The site of thousands of Spaniards stuffing grapes into their mouths and swallowing them whole is sure to be quite a site in itself and worth traveling to Spain to celebrate the Noche Vieja. But we are not done yet with the celebration. 

Cava 

The traditional Spanish sparkling wine is a popular tool for celebrating ringing in the new year, similarly to other parts of the world. What makes this tradition unique is that to bring fortune in the new year, it is custom to place gold items into the glass before midnight and the entire glass of cava must be consumed and the gold item retrieved. Many married couples will place their wedding rings in their glass as a symbol of fidelity and you can probably guess what is the most popular night for wedding proposals in Spain. 

Right Foot

It is believed that if you start off the New Year on the right foot, you will have a year of prosperity. That means literally using your right foot. It is conflicting based on who you ask, but some believe that you must step foot into your home after returning from your celebration while others have said that upon leaving your house on New Year’s day, your first step should be with your right foot. We guess either way, it is a step in the right direction. 

Foods:

Roscon de los Reyes (Twelfth Night Bread) is a popular New Year’s dessert. A circular cake, covered in candied fruit with a hidden gift placed into the cake. Similar to a Mardi Gras King Cake, the person who gets the surprise is crowned king or queen for the night. 

Churros are a customary treat to start the day on New Years enjoyed with hot chocolate. 

Lentil soup is a common Spanish tradition to eat on New Year’s day. The round shape of each lentil symbolizes a coin and enjoying a bowl of the coin soup will bring you wealth in the upcoming year. 

Puerta del Sol clock in Madrid

In Madrid, the evening usually starts with dinner amongst family and friends consisting of seafood or lamb before heading out to the Puerto del Sol or gathering together around their televisions to watch the clock strike midnight and enjoy their 12 grapes. Once the clock strikes midnight and the cheering and celebrating is over, the older members will head home while the all-nighters will head to a local club where the already active Madrid nightlife is ten fold a regular weekend and they dance into the wee hours of the morning when they can enjoy their hot chocolate and churros right out of the fryer. 

Magic Fountain in the Placa d’Espanya

In Barcelona, also family oriented, celebrations start with traditional dinners before heading out to the Gothic clubs or for a local countdown at the Magic Fountain in the Plaça d’Espanya at Montjuïc. All celebrations will feature the traditional grape eating with fireworks and Cava. Each of Barcelona’s ten districts set off twelve palm tree fireworks that coincide with the twelve chimes of the clock that precede a larger firework show from specific locations featuring larger more elaborate showings.  Post ringing in the New Year it is customary to continue to celebrate at local fiestas throughout the city with flamenco dancing, costumed guests and popular music, like the one hosted at the Spanish Village, Poble Espanyol.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

In Bilbao, the capital of the Basque region, the festivities start early on the 31st with a fun run like the Rekalde San Silvestre race which passes through the center of town or the popular New Years Eve day tradition to hike to the Gorbea Cross.  Parties begin in the afternoon in the Esplanade’s of some of the popular buildings within the Casco Viejo. For formal evenings, special dinner menus are offered featuring la cena cotillón de Noche Vieja specials at the Michlin and popular restaurants throughout the city. If looking for a less formal evening celebrating the night will occur at one of the many popular Pinxto bars throughout the city. The evening ends with a large firework display along the River Nervion over the contemporary landmarks of Bilbao . New Years day an annual music concert is held at the Palacio Euskalduna Hall and a popular attraction for the Basque locals.  

The Spanish culture year round is based on food, drink, music and festivity and the Noche Vieja is yet another reason for the Spaniards to celebrate. Regardless of where you are in Spain, the streets are decorated and lit and the Spanish locals will be joyful and ready to welcome you to celebrate their many traditions and the new year with them. 

Now is the best time to plan your holiday travel for 2021. Contact us to get more information about celebrating in Spain in 2021/2022. 

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Twelve days of Christmas Markets

As we approach the holidays, here is our gift to you:

Enjoying the season in Europe is a treat that everybody deserves. Here is our rendition of the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to describe a Christmas Markets experience along the Central Europe rivers annually from the end of November through Christmas. 

Each verse and accompanying photo will take you to more information, so click away!

Enjoy!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

A Christmas Markets River Cruise in Central Europe

An annual Christmas Market

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Two mugs of Gluhwein to sip as we explore the booths of the Christkindlmarkts

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Three nights pre-cruise in Amsterdam or Budapest

Bicycling the canals of Amsterdam is a must

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Four extra days post cruise in Europe

Chapel Bridge over the Reuss River in Luzern, Switzerland

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Five different countries to enjoy with additional holiday cheer

Decorated Half-timbered houses of Strasbourg

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Visits to six of the most beautiful holiday adorned Cathedrals in Europe

Dom, the Regensburg Cathedral of St. Peter

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Seven full relaxing and enjoyable days of cruising the European rivers

Niederwald cable car Assmannshause in Rüdesheim am Rhein

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eight handcrafted souvenirs to bring home as holiday gifts

Holiday shopping in Riquewihr, France

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Nine ornaments, one from each town we visited 

Bratislava, Slovakia on the Danube river

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Another suitcase for the 10 Christmas market holiday mugs

Nuernberg Christkindlesmarkt, Germany

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eleven active excursions walking, hiking, golfing or biking beautiful towns and villages

Exploring Bernkastel – Kers on the Mosel River, Germany

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Twelve full days of holiday bliss with endless memories of a river cruise experience

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

From our family to yours, we wish you health, safety and blessings during this holiday season. When you are ready to experience the joy and beauty of the Christmas Markets, BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with planning the perfect river cruise.

Happy Holidays!

Categories: Active Travel, Celebration Travel, Eat like a local, Experience, Food, River Cruise, Travel Bucket List | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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