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Christmas Markets!

This year I took my grandsons and younger daughter (their aunt) to the Christmas markets, our trip planned for last December which diverted to Venice and Rome six days before we were to fly, when the German Christmas markets cancelled and Austria closed their borders to foreigners. My guys are 13 and 15, and we flew out the night before Thanksgiving so we could get in 9 nights on the ground and miss only the 5 days of school the next week. Our plan: three nights each in Rothenburg, Salzburg, and Munich.

Getting there

I bought our tickets in July, knowing the prices would probably drop, but that Delta would refund the difference. They did drop, and Delta did refund a couple of hundred bucks each, and put it in directly in the boys’ accounts, not mine, LOL. A few weeks before our trip Delta offered a great upgrade price for Comfort which made the flight better for all of us. Nobody got much sleep, and the child who needed the decongestant packed all his meds in his checked bag, but it was still better than it could have been. (As luck would have it, the back of the plane was practically empty, and we could have probably had entire rows if we had stayed there!)

I decided to do this trip all by train, and booked the two ICE trains and even the VGN day ticket ahead of time, infinitely better that standing on a platform trying to figure out the ticketing machine. Got the discount prices available ahead of time and had all the tickets on my phone. That said, even though I have an EU driver’s license and can comfortably drive almost anywhere in Europe (not London and Naples!) let me decide to take a train, and I am probably going to screw up something.

Landed in FRA, claimed our checked bags in minutes, took the shuttle to the long distance train station, and started looking for our nonexistent platform 9. Might as well have been looking for platform 11 1/2. Total rookie mistake. Even though I googled this several times before I bought tickets, the train we are ticketed on is leaving from the Frankfurt Hauptbanhof, NOT the FRA airport!

Luckily I had built in a little extra time, as now I had to buy tickets to get us into the city and find the train going there. With the help of a kind local at the ticket machine, I got my sleepy travelers to the Hbh and even had time to feed them before we took the first of three more trains to get to Rothenburg. Hours later, arriving at our Rothenburg hotel at almost 4PM, all I could think was “if I had driven, we would have been here hours ago!”

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Rothenburg ob d. Tauber

Although this flies in the face of almost anyone’s advice, we all collapsed in our beds and fell asleep instantly. Everyone promised me they would set their phones and get up, and they did. Before leaving home I made dinner reservations at the Gasthof Greifen, and we made it on time. A most memorable Thanksgiving dinner - Schnitzel, Bratkartoffeln, Apfel strudel, and their first taste of Apfelschorle (loved it!) And a half liter of Weißwein halbtrocken for me! A walkabout in the crisp winter air for windowshopping through quiet streets decked out with fresh greenery and festive lights, back to my favorite little hotel over a grocery store - Pension Elke. No problems sleeping tonight!

Friday is opening day of Rothenburg’s Christmas market, after two plague years, and there are smiles everywhere. Grandsons loved their first German breakfast in the charming attic breakfast room of Pension Elke. We were first in line when Kathe Wohlfahrt’s flagship store opened. Need to see this one, fill a little basket, and get out before the madness starts. They wanted to try schneeballen, and we watched schoolchildren line up in the main square to climb a ladder and hang their ornaments on the tree. To Sant Jakob for a little history and to the castle garden for the views. They were enamored by the Steiff animals in the windows, then shocked back into reality by the prices. We shopped at the always friendly Anneliese Friese shop near where Santa was playing his hand-cranked rolling mechanical organ, and the boys continued their food crawl with brats, waffles, and Nutella crepes. I’ve never been a huge fan of gluhwein but it seemed unusually good this year, everywhere!

I can always depend on Herr Endress at Pension Elke to send me to good local restaurants, often off the tourist grid, and tonight he reserved us a table at Gasthof Butz. Jaegerschnitzel was excellent. We were out in time to join the herd following the Nightwatchman from the main square at 8PM. I’ve enjoyed bringing friends on this hour-long walk for almost twenty years. Rant here: The English tour at 8 is almost all Americans. The price is small. I think a LOT of people stiff George. Many drop off on the last street. He only collects money at the end. This year two Americans asked my daughter to give him their money. When I looked at it, they gave him about 1/3 of the price. Not nice. He never calls anyone out, so he’s probably resigned to it.

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We have one more day before we travel onward from Rothenburg. My grandsons are both interested in history, and I want them to see some of the historical sites in Nuremberg, which is an easy RT train ride from Rothenburg on a €21.50 VGN ticket. Nuremberg’s Christmas market is one of the largest and best, and it’s total madness on Saturdays. And this is the first Saturday it’s been open since 2019! I have vowed never again to go to to Nuremberg on a Saturday. So we’re getting on the train at 10am, arriving in Nuremberg at 11:35AM, and I’m hoping we can see a little of the market before it gets too crowded and before we meet out tour guide at 1:30PM. This plan mostly works. We got our Nurnberg brats and shopped rows of red-striped booths while they were still passable. When we headed back toward the train station at 1:15 the crowd was approaching shoulder-to-shoulder.

I booked a four hour private tour with Kevin of Our original plan was to divide our time between Nazi sites and old town Nuremberg. When we met, Kevin explained we could keep to our plan and brave the traffic snarl and near impossibility of parking on Saturday in the city or spend all afternoon out at the rally grounds, ending at the Nuremberg War Trials Courtroom. It seemed a better plan to stick to the Nazi sites.

Kevin was knowledgeable, and it was an intense four hours. He picked us up in his comfortable van, and we drove to different areas of the rally grounds where walking to them would have taken much too long. There’s so much history here, it merits much more than one afternoon. We had a short time to read a few of the exhibits at the courtrooms, and we did see the updated video in the courtroom itself, which is fascinating.

I’ve visited the Nazi Documentation Center several times in the past, and think that is the most interesting, best documented part of any of the Nazi sites. This museum alone takes at least a couple of hours. We concentrated on the outdoor areas and did not do this museum on our tour. I would recommend his tour, but if I were visiting for the first time and had limited time, I think the Documentation Center itself is the most important to see, and then a walk to the nearby outdoor arena to get a better idea of the scale of Hitler’s megalomanic building plans. Kevin’s tour added to my understanding, but I still want to see the bunkers where they stored the art during the bombing!

Kevin dropped us at the train station and we were back in Rothenburg in time for our dinner reservations at Hotel Sonne down the street from our hotel. My daughter and I had perfectly cooked fresh trout, eyes looking at us, and boys had beautiful steaks. (My own kids grew up knowing they better read right to left on most menus, but with grandkids, especially on holiday, I’m the one saying “Order whatever you want!”)

Sunday morning our train to Salzburg left at 11AM, leaving time for a relaxed breakfast, packing up, and for me to visit a nearby backerie for fresh-out-of-the-oven treats for our train ride.

Parting thoughts on Rothenburg and Nuremberg

Rothenburg is still my favorite place to start a Christmas market trip if I’m flying into FRA; a great place to un-jetlag. Boys loved it. It’s at its best in the mornings and evenings when the day trippers are elsewhere on their busses. The market is small, but it’s spread over different Platz and passageways and never feels overcrowded. Hotels are reasonable here; stay in the old walled city for the magical evenings. Let your hotelier find your evening restaurants and make reservations. It’s definitely a tourist destination, but I still enjoy it.

Nuremburg’s market is huge, a shopper’s paradise, but avoid the weekends when it’s miserably crowded. (I try to avoid ALL the big city markets on weekends; a good time to visit villages and Bavarian countryside.)

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My favorite of all the European markets! Love staying at Hotel Weisse Taube, around the corner from the ice rink and a block from the Domplatz. If I’m visiting with musician friends we try to be here for mass in the Dom on Sunday and a concert on Saturday or Sunday night. (The Adventsingen is my favorite.) With my crew this year it took all day to get here, even on the ICE train which had a delay, and it was already dark when we taxied from the train station. Had hoped to make a quick visit to the Heilbronn market tonight (which will be closed on Monday and Tuesday) but just not enough time.

There were the expected Sunday night crowds at the big market, but it felt festive, and we had a great dinner at Zwettler’s, very close to our hotel. Salzburg’s pedestrian historic center is not big, and the best restaurants are always filled at night. Two weeks before we arrived I sent the Weisse Taube names of four restaurants I like, and asked them to try to get us reservations for our three nights, and choose others if they couldn’t book any of these.

With two full days in Salzburg we had plenty of time to visit the market stalls on blissfully uncrowded weekdays. We took the walking tour with the guide from the tourist office, which visits all five plazas that make up the old historic center. In previous years this tour went inside the Dom and at least three other churches, but I think because of the one person on our tour who badgered the guide with so many questions, we were so long leaving the starting point that there was no time to go inside any churches! (We did go back on our own later in the day.)

A highlight of our day was visiting the Christmas Museum on Mozartplatz beside the ice skating rink. This is a wonderfully curated exhibit of very high quality Christmas and Advent objects from 1840-1940. My daughter was most impressed with the many scary Krampus figures. She really wanted to see the real parading Krampus, but unfortunately Krampusnacht is on December 5, and we’ll be back in Atlanta by then!

Our dinner reservations tonight are at Trattoria la Stella, Italian for a change of cuisine. We had some time before to wander and window-shop when I heard the unmistakeable rattle of chains and bells. We rushed down side streets toward the racket and found ourselves in the middle of a Krampus Run! There were at least a dozen of the fearsome shaggy, horned beasts who traditionally scare out misbehaving children. These were more interested in chasing the pretty girls in the crowd, and if you get too close, you’re likely to get whacked with their chains.

Jordan, my daughter, was thrilled, and got a great selfie for her Christmas card! Most exciting and unexpected!

On our last day we sampled more treats from the market and went to the noon organ concert in the Dom. This only lasts about 30 minutes, and the organist played three of the five organs, starting with the oldest and ending with the big one in the rear balcony, the one played on Sundays. A first to see an organist performing in a down jacket and wool scarf!

We walked through historic St. Peter’s Cemetery and Catacombs, bought cookies at the St. Peter Stiftsbäckerei, the 800 year old bakery with the waterwheel, then took the funicular up to the Fortress. If you keep climbing the stairs up to the outdoor lookout on top, there’s a wonderful 360 degree view over the city below. Back at river level, we had hot chocolate at Cafe Tomaselli where Mozart drank his hot chocolate as a boy, and finished our shopping. Nobody’s laughing anymore at the two fold-up duffels I brought; they’re full! (We haven’t bought a huge QUANTITY but what we have bought requires a huge amount of packing material to keep it from breaking!) Last Salzburg dinner tonight at pretty Humboldt Stubn.

Parting thoughts on Salzburg: Everyone’s favorite!

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We left by train mid morning, using a Bayern ticket, a group ticket that got the four of us to Munich for 42 € (13 yo still rides for free.) We got more than 42 € worth of excitement when our train stopped along the route, TWICE, and German police with assault weapons boarded and searched each car. The second stop, at least 20 police boarded and searched again, and left with one guy in handcuffs. I was a little unnerved when they pushed in bathroom doors with their feet, thinking there are a lot of fingers near triggers near my family, and should we be ready to duck and cover, when I noticed my younger grandson calmly eating his last Nutella packet, not too concerned about whatever might be happening. (This was on November 30, if anybody knows what was going on. I don’t think it was the right wing coup business.)

In Munich we’re staying at the Hotel am Viktualienmarkt which has a perfect location right at Munich’s charming outdoor market. Months ago I booked their two room, 4 beds, 1 bathroom apartment, at 210 euro a night, with breakfast, an amazing deal for this location. And with what I’m dropping in restaurants for my merry band of foodies, I need a deal somewhere! We have to walk through the boys’ bedroom/living room to get to the bathroom, but this works ok for a family.

Eating in the Viltualienmarkt is fun and everybody can find something he likes. For our late lunch we had brats and frites, and then they found the crepes stand. The big market in the Marienplatz is a 5-10 minute walk. The giant tree was lit, and there is always a musical group performing in the evenings on the balcony of the New Town Hall. Crowded but festive. I took them to Kaufhof to see the animated Steiff windows, then to the basement grocery store to fill a bag with Haribo and chocolate. We google-mapped the nearest Bayern Munchen fan store, and they each blew several months of allowance on football kit. (That translates as soccer shirts.) Dinner reservations were at 8 at Altes Hackerhaus, an old favorite. Our server must have thought my 6’4” and 6’1” grandsons looked hungry, because she brought them each huge plates of sauerbraten, which they loved.

On Thursday morning we took the U-Bahn from the Marienplatz station out to BMW Welt for the guided tour of the BMW plant. I know very little about cars beyond how to drive one and how to fill up the gas tank, but found this tour fascinating. The robotics are so advanced that different models of cars alternate on an assembly line, and the robots figure it all out.

Back to the center on the U-Bahn to weather that is deteriorating. Excellent gulaschsuppe in the Viktualienmarkt at Die Münchner Suppenküche for lunch, but guys were definitely ready to eat again at 8 PM, fish and chips and steaks at Der Pschorr, a nearby brewery restaurant our hotel recommended, which was filled with revelers and Christmas decorations.

Friday is our last day, and weather is grim. Considered the walking tour from the TI in the Marienplatz, but walking in rain doesn’t sound great. Took a taxi out to the Icebox Surfers and still got wet on the walk back to the market in the Residenz courtyard. Dried off and thawed out with cappuccino in the coffee shop at Kaufhof. Boys and Jordan headed back to hotel, and I made my final blitz for gifts. Being solo brought back good memories of the years I lived in Germany and spent much of my time exploring and wandering on my own.

A final dinner at a shared table at the packed Nuernberger Bratwurst Gloeckl am Dom and it’s time to try to pack it all up. On Saturday morning it was a ten minute walk to catch the S1 train at the Marienplatz station, and a 35 minute ride to the Munich airport. I had never done this, but it was faster than a taxi, smoother than a swaying van, and at this time of day, definitely uncrowded.

Final thoughts
I would have ordered better weather for Munich!

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Lagniappe, or a little something extra, as they say in Louisiana where I grew up:

I think I’ve found my perfect travel purse! I’ve never needed to wear my money, cards, etc. hidden under my clothes. I just carry a normal cross-body purse with a decent zipper and pay attention. But sometimes that purse starts feeling too heavy.

For a trip to Italy in October, I ordered a Tom Bihn Cubelet, and I love it. The official dimensions are 5.7” (w) x 7.3” (h) x 3” (d). I know it holds my big IPhone, my AINIMOER Small Leather Wallet (from Amazon), an Anker power block, a hand sanitizer, a lip gloss, and my sunglasses with room to spare. The strap is adjustable and I make it very long. It fits under my jacket in winter, and I never have to take it off. It’s now made a fall driving trip and a winter trip, and it’s working well for me. So much better than the collection of multi-pocket travel purses I can load with too many heavy nonessentials.

Thanks for reading! Hope you’ve found something useful or inspirational in all this. Happy travels! So great to be on the road again!

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I enjoyed reading your report, sounds like a wonderful trip. You grandsons are very lucky!

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Loved your report and share your luv of Rothenburg, great any time of year. We were at the markets in 2019, and hope to return!
Thx for sharing !

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Thanks for your report. You certainly worked your way skilfully through some adventures!

I enjoyed my time this year at the Frankfurt area Christmas Markets and have a tiny idea to go back to Munich for more. Taking notes!

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Great report, Ruth. It brings back wonderful memories of our time at the Christmas markets in Salzburg, Munich and Rothenburg in 2015. It sounds like you planned the perfect trip and your grandsons will have warm memories for years to come of their time spent with you and their aunt at such a beautiful time of year in Europe.

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Ruth, this is an absolutely delightful report. Your trip sounds wonderful -- and what a generous grandmother and mother you are ! - and you have written it up beautifully. This post, along with Emily's earlier in the season, really makes me want to follow in your footsteps to make a Christmas market pilgrimage, especially to Rothenburg and Salzburg .

I am so glad you had a great time, and thank you for taking the time to write it up !

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What a wonderful trip! We too were in Munich and Salzburg for the markets a few weeks ago. Also stayed at the same hotels there! We have been to Rothenburg, but I really want to return during the markets. We also ate at Der Pschorr in Munich as we had a good meal there in a prior trip. I felt like I was traveling alongside you 😊

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Ruth, loved your report and since I will be in both Rothenburg and Nuremburg in just a couple months, I am making note of your restaurant recommendations AND going to go check my train tickets to be sure I didn’t make a rookie mistake because this next trip is the first one we are doing all by train and I am very nervous I booked something wrong. The perils of being the travel planner!

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Sounds like you had a wonderful trip, thanks for sharing!

I’d love to find out what goodies were packed in your two duffels!

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Your report was delightful. I too enjoy saying to the granddaughters order anything you want when we’re in Europe. Sounds like the 4 of you had a wonderful time!

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Enjoyed your report, Ruth. I was in Hallstatt on December 5th in 2019 for the Krampus run that night. Very scary creatures making a lot of noise, came out chasing people around a big bonfire in the middle of the square. Our hotel was right on the square. Very interesting, later in the evening about 11 pm, St. Nicholas came out and gave presents to the children gathered around the bonfire.

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Ruth thank you for a great report! We shared Munich and Rothenburg with you!

We had hoped to visit Salzburg but it didn't happen, so I appreciated your detailed description. We are playing with the idea of a return in Dec 2023 to correct the lack of Salzburg, and also fold in Budapest and maybe Bratislava--and you definitely make me feel like it's the right decision to get to Salzburg! I'm so glad you found a Krampus Run. We couldn't "schedule" one either but also stumbled across one in Munich. It was great fun, though I understand why people say it might be hard on young kids from NA who aren't raised with it! I'd be terrified if I was looking up from a height of about 3 feet!

I wonder if you saw much of spice bouquets? It is one of my quests. My boyfriend-now-husband bought me one in Salzburg in '86 (only maybe 3" across?) and I still have it. He found this company--the kind
of thing I'm talking about is pictured on the right side of this page

Thanks again, it was fun to read your report.

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Thanks, everybody, for your kind words!

JoAnne, I did come home with a little spice bouquet! That was the first thing my 13yo grandson bought in Nurnberg. Saw them in Salzburg too. Mine is heart shaped and has a red ribbon for hanging. Will have to figure a way to "re-scent" it next year.
At the Krampus Run, the beasts were wonderfully terrifying and quick to sling their chains at adults, but I watched one very carefully approach a little boy and gently give him a high five, then turn on his heel and snarl back into the crowd of adults!

Priscilla, what was packed in my duffels! For me, 8 antique Steiffs from Rothenburg, one Rhinestone tree from my favorite store in Salzburg, some painted pewter ornaments from a specialty shop on Munich for my best friend (and a couple for me.) Mostly I had my family's glass and carved ornaments. I told both boys I wanted them to choose an ornament from each market we visited and I would buy. Then they can keep them until they have their own trees and can see them and remember this trip. I usually buy blown glass ornaments, but I've got ENOUGH, since I've been collecting them since the 80s. And this year the blown glass was very expensive everywhere. What I used to find for $5 now starts at about $20. The more special ones are $40 or more. I was even more careful when I packed them all away after Christmas this year!

Kim, a good place between Rothenburg and Salzburg is Regensburg for the Thurn and Taxis market at the castle! We were in Paris and London the December before Notre Dame burned. So grateful I got to see the lovely creche and attend a Sant Lucia concert there that year. I wonder when that will be possible again!