Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ich Liebe die Christkindlmarkt

Eine gluhwein, bitte.
Wo ist die gluhwein?
Ich liebe gluhwein.

And that's the extent of my German. But it was enough to get me through a week in Germany and Austria. That's because what I have mastered to say is:

One mulled wine please.
Where is the mulled wine?
I love mulled wine.

And when I needed the toilet, I substituted the noun for toilette in the second phrase.

So yes, I spent a week in December visiting the famous European Christmas markets. The original plan was to hit seven markets in seven cities in seven days but that got abandoned very quickly when I realised I was stressing myself out with the self-imposed pressure. Instead I equipped myself with a Eurail flexi-pass and the mere obligation to eat, walk and shop. Gee, life can be tough sometimes.

Austria first and, to be honest, the primary motivation for going there was to re-live scenes from the Sound of Music. I flew into Salzburg and within an hour, had found three Christmas markets. Walking through the market in Dom Platz – one of the main squares in the Old Town – it magically started snowing on us. For food, I followed the locals to the busiest stalls and for drinks, well... there was no shortage of gluhwein. As the sky darkened, it started to snow more heavily. And by next morning...

Perfect day to walk in a foreign city venturing (without a map) many, many miles from the main town. So I should explain that four years ago, I had visited Salzburg and did the official Sound of Music tour and was bitterly disappointed by its quality. The guides clearly had never seen the movie and a vast number of film locations had been left off, including the front of the Von Trapp house. So I did my own bit of research and located the house, which is now part of a music school, and caught a local bus to Schloss Hellbrunn (where Liesl’s gazebo also happens to stand) then walked FORTY MINUTES IN THE SNOW to find the familiar yellow house. So worth it despite the scaffolding!

And before leaving Austria, a side trip to Innsbruck where, in one meal, I consumed the equivalent of my carb intake for the next six months. This is a typical Tyrolean dish – cheese pasta, spinach pasta and potato chips topped with more cheese and fried onion. Washed down with gluhwein.

In Germany, I based myself in Munich and took day trips to Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Hohenschwangau where King Ludwig II’s fairytale castle Neuschwanstein is located. It is believed that Walt Disney based his Sleeping Beauty castle on it. In any case, it’s rather magical.

Less well-known but still impressive is the nearby Hohenschwangau Castle, where King Ludwig II actually grew up.

So here it is at a glance - my favourite markets in the five cities that I visited in not seven but ten days (as Heathrow was forced to shut due to snow, thus keeping me in Munich for an extra couple of nights).

The christkindlmarkt in Salzburg's Dom Platz where to the side was a grand church, and a choir could be heard singing carols throughout the night.

Innsbruck's markets were scattered across the narrow streets within the 'altstadt', or 'old town'.

Munich had many markets. This is the one at Marienplatz, the main city square. The giant Christmas tree with the fairy lights beats any tree I have ever laid eyes on. (Sorry Bruce!)

Nuremberg. Supposedly the most famous of all christkindlmarkts in Germany without actually being the oldest or the largest.

Stuttgart was not recommended by Lonely Planet, which is why I was pleasantly surprised when I got there. Worth seeing and lovely people.

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