Holiday Markets cruise

It’s not unusual for me to fall in love with a place all over again once my memory starts to fade and my recollections get reignited through the photos I took during a trip. Especially now, with the global pandemic. Traveling internationally seems like a dream right now, and flying to Europe last December seems like a lifetime ago.

But it’s true: Last December, we’d barely gotten the Thanksgiving leftovers eaten and the Christmas decorations put up when my husband, Dave, and I left the country to host an ISU Alumni Association Christmas Markets cruise along the Rhine River.

Looking back at these photos, it was such a lovely experience. Our river boat, the MS Amadeus Silver III, was just the right size. It was a small ship, free of the unnecessary frills of so many of the huge, ocean-going cruise ships, but with a personable crew and great food.

Our itinerary was equally ideal. Much of our time was planned out for us, with city tours and other excursions built into the price. But we also had ample time for discoveries and adventures on our own. We took advantage of the flexible schedule to enjoy most of our lunches in local restaurants or from food vendors, seek out views from the top of cathedral towers, drink beer in local pubs…and, of course, shop the Christmas markets.

We started our trip by flying Swiss Air into Zurich. Once we landed and met up with some of our fellow travelers, we were transported to Basel, Switzerland, where we boarded our river boat – our floating hotel for the week (below).

We spent our first full day of touring in Basel (above). After a guided tour of the old town (in the rain), Dave and I visited the holiday market stalls and discovered that glühwein (a warm, mulled wine) tastes mighty fine on a cold, damp day. Basel is such a charming city, and it was beautifully decorated for the holidays.

We climbed many steps to the top of the Basel cathedral, where we were rewarded with stunning views of the charming old city and holiday markets below. This may have been the highlight of the day. I love these views!

We also ate pretzels, drank beer, and acted like a couple of little kids with play money when we got Swiss Francs out of the ATM.

The next day, we visited Breisach, Germany (a university town with a bustling farmers’ market in addition to its holiday market, above). It rained again, but we made the best of it. The glühwein helped.

Breisach’s holiday markets were adorable and not terribly crowded. It was in this town that I learned that vendors along the Rhine cruise would be selling Polish pottery. I LOVE Polish pottery. I knew I couldn’t buy a lot of it, because it would be too hard to transport home, not to mention too expensive, but it was such fun to see it. I bought a small bowl from this vendor:

Later that day, we had the option of going to one of the famous holiday markets nearby or go on an excursion to Riquewihr, France, for a wine tasting. We figured we’d have our fill of shopping by the end of the cruise, so we went to Riquewihr, and I’m so glad we did.

The brochure described the outing in Riquewihr (pronounced something like “Rick-vere”) this way: “Riquewihr is an enchanting Alsatian village that looks much as it did in the 16th century. Its architecture, including half-timbered houses and medieval fortifications, add to its storybook quality. Selected as one of the most beautiful villages of France, Riquewihr charms all who visit. Stroll through the town, known for its fabulous wines and romantic charm, on a walking tour and stop to enjoy a wine tasting.”

Well, it was all that and more, except for the strolling part, which was impossible due to the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. The wine itself was really delicious, and the more I sipped, the happier I got. After our wine-tasting we had lots of time before we had to be back to our bus, so we threw ourselves into the Epcot-like crowds along the town’s main street, which was lined with Christmas stalls, food vendors, and winemongers.

We learned pretty quickly that if you get off those main streets, you have the super-charming side streets all to yourself, so that’s what we did:

Although I’d never heard of it before, Riquewihr was one of my favorite places on this trip. It truly was like walking through a storybook. I could not stop smiling and taking pictures the whole time we were there.

Another highlight was Strasbourg, France, which we visited the next day:

Strasbourg is a gorgeous city made even more beautiful by its extensive holiday decorations and markets. It was another chilly, rainy day. We escaped the weather with a long lunch in a cute café and by visiting an odd little museum that, it turned out, held some of the original Medieval statues from the huge Notre Dame Cathedral that stands in the city’s main square. We found this strangely wonderful for some reason.

Also, from the upper-floor windows of the museum, we found fantastic views of the cathedral and a small holiday market.

Strasbourg had several Christmas markets. We loved this one in one of the city’s beautiful old squares. If I lived in Strasbourg, I’d definitely buy my tree at this market.

Later, we waited for the sun to set and the holiday lights to come on and took a gazillion photos:

Then it was on to a full day in Heidelberg, Germany, where we started with a tour of the castle that sits way up on the hill.

That’s our group on the castle grounds (above). That castle was cool, but even cooler was the VIEW of the town below:

Heidelberg is a fabulous place. We visited the holiday markets, attended a classical opera performance, drank great German beer (and more glühwein), and walked through streets decorated with the most beautiful lights.

Heidelberg is also the town where I found the MOST delicious lebkuchen cookies. This day was another fairytale experience, start to finish.

The next day, we started in the small town of Rüdesheim:

Our walking tour began, unfortunately, with a herky-jerky little train ride that, not unlike the spinning teacups at Disney World, caused me to have motion sickness for the next two hours. After bailing on a music museum tour because the room was spinning, I walked back to the ship for a little while until I felt better.

So, I don’t have great memories of Rüdesheim except to say that the vineyards were pretty (above) and that  the famous Rüdesheimer Kaffee, a flaming, brandy-spiked coffee drink, was delicious (and thankfully it stayed down!)

The rest of that (sunny!) day was spent sailing the phenomenal Upper Middle Rhine River, lined with castles and storybook towns:

We spent our last full day in Cologne, Germany. That is a great city, where I took one of my very favorite photos of the whole trip:

Cologne has this gargantuan, famous twin-spired gothic cathedral:

After a city tour by the best tour guide of the whole trip, Dave and I climbed the 500+ steps to the top of the cathedral for views and bragging rights. The views were so cool!

We spent our afternoon at the Cologne Christmas markets, which featured an ice-skating rink and by far the best food vendors of the trip.

Before we headed back to the ship, Dave and I went to a pub for one last German beer, and who should stumble in but a very drunk Santa?

This might have been our best day … but all the days were so great, it’s hard to choose.

We came back with a suitcase filled with way too many glühwein mugs, not nearly enough Polish pottery, a bunch of Christmas ornaments… and chocolate. It was awesome.

If you go on one of these holiday markets cruises, my advice is this: Dress in warm, waterproof layers; bring very warm, waterproof boots that are comfortable to walk in all day; take a small backpack along on day trips; and leave enough room in your suitcase for all the goodies you’ll want to bring back.






1 comment so far

  1. Sara on

    That trip looks amazing. European Christmas markets are on my bucket list. Aren’t Swiss Francs the best?

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