Avalon Waterways – Christmas Markets River Cruise, The Markets

A Christmas Markets River Cruise is a bucket-list item for many travel aficionados. We had the good fortune to enjoy a Christmas Markets River Cruise through France and Germany in 2019, and it was nothing short of spectacular, and even more than we imagined and expected it would be!

Strasbourg Christmas Market at dusk. Wonderful!

 

This particular Christmas Markets cruise commenced in Frankfurt, where the one of the city’s largest Christmas markets is located just a short walk away from the starting location/Westin hotel, at Römerberg and St Paul’s Square. There is a huge Christmas tree that is brought to the square annually, and its truly one of the most magnificent squares that we witnessed in Germany. Who knew Frankfurt held so much magic!!??

Our group decided to take a few days before the cruise started, to sightsee in Frankfurt and drive to a few nearby Castles, since we were “in the neighborhood!” We always find this is a great way to see some of the local treasures, and enjoy the region, before commencing your actual travel itinerary.

 

 

Once we embarked on the river cruise, the celebratory ambiance and magic continued day after day, as we made our way towards Switzerland and our end port of Basel.

 

Each day we had a choice of activities and included sightseeing tours off-boat to take part in. Each passenger can choose from several different options as to which excursion they wish to take part in, or they can just walk off the ship into town to stroll leisurely on their own. The pace of these river cruises is marvelous and unhurried.

Ridiculously long sausages

One of the stops along this Christmas Markets cruise is Breisach, which some call the ‘gateway’ to Germany’s Black Forest. The markets here did not disappoint, with offerings of Black Forest ham, links and ridiculously long sausages of more meats than you can imagine, cherry cake (and EVERY every kind of cake and treat you can imagine), and cuckoo clocks galore.

 

If you’ve ever dreamed of old fashioned Christmastime scenes, Germany and France immerse you in this dreamland, with sights of sugarplum fairies dancing in the streets (no lie!), and the sweet scents of swirling smoke from the chimneys of stalls offering up both mulled wines (Glühwein) and ciders, and smoked meats from the Black Forest. It is everything you can imagine!

 

In Strasbourg, France, the ambiance is truly magic! That’s the only way to describe it. Strasbourg is home to one of the oldest and finest Christmas markets in Europe—dating back to the 16th century. Take in the aromas of mulled wine, spice cakes, and biscuits.


In Strasbourg you can partake in a tour to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, which overlooks the city in all its magnificence. At Christmastime, the markets are spread over five town squares and include an ice skating rink at one end, for those who wish to partake. Each day in port winds down to the quiet beauty of the markets in all their twinkling glory at night. Bask in the holiday cheer with Glühwein (hot mulled wine), bratwursts, and other regional delicacies.

Colmar is yet another stop during this XMas markets cruise that is truly fabulous; Colmar’s timber frame houses will fill most passengers with delight, both at the architecture that makes this city so special and the magic of Christmas adoring every doorway!

 

Almost every building in Colmar was designed to enchant with its medieval, time-style, designed-with-love-and-christmas-magic styling!

We had plenty of opportunities for Christmas trinkets and presents, as well as talking with local tradespeople and craftspeople who design the beautiful Christmas decorations in each stop.

The Christmas Markets of Europe, is surely to be a trip you’ll not soon forget!

Let us help you decide which river cruise company is right for you!

 

Typhoons, Tears and Luxury – Philippines

Wow, flying into the eye of what is being called “The World’s Largest Storm on Record.” I’m an avid traveler, and have traveled almost 50 countries now, so not much phases me with respect to travel anymore. I get on planes, I hunker down for the ride, and I arrive in a new destination.

Sometimes I arrive in extreme luxury like Cathay Pacific’s First Class cabin, and other times it’s less than luxurious, but I do it because I love travel, I love new destinations and I love sharing my stories with people who also love to travel, or whom live vicariously through my travels – bottom line, we all love some sort of travel.

So, this story of travel is probably my most heartbreaking and daunting one thus far. I left Toronto for Manila on Nov 8/2013, expecting to arrive in Manila on Nov 9-10, just when this horrific typhoon was supposed to arrive with its whopping winds of 195 miles/hour. Needless to say, family and friends asked me if I was crazy, if I had a death wish, and some just knew, as I did, that everything would be ok. What airline or pilot would realistically fly into a typhoon or hurricane? So I went.
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Arrival in Manila was actually very good, like any calm after a storm, the wind was a peaceful breeze, but you could tell something had just gone through here. There was an eerie stillness in the air, in the city of Manila itself, and the only witness that “something” had occurred here, the day before, were the many billboard signs around the streets that were taken down and rolled up so the wind did not knock them over.

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Deserted airport arrivals area the morning after Typhoon Haiyan

 

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Billboards with all signage removed

 

This, of course, was because most of the damage had occurred in the outlying provinces past Cebu City, in smaller communities like Mindanao, Tacloban, and other eastern Visayas or provinces. Our group was blessed to be able to help out in a small way with the Red Cross cleanup effort, before we were provided with the luxury of staying at Shangi-La Mactan in Cebu.

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Red Cross Effort at Cebu Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan

If you have ever wondered or dreamed of travels to world famous beaches in the Philippines, we highly recommend this wonderful destination.

What an incredible nation of people, who come together when these regular and terrifying storms fall upon their lands, they always rebuild, and always help each other, with a smile. This is the nature of the beautiful Filipino people, and we are blessed to have many Filipino clientele we cherish!

Ganga Aarti Ceremony – Varanasi, India

Viswanath Ghat, Varanasi India

Truly, one of the most incredible travel and life experiences I’ve witnessed in all my travels was the Ganga Aarti festival, which is a ceremony or offertory of prayer to the Ganges River.

Bus that took us to the tuk-tuks. Just look at that traffic 😬 as far as the eye can see

Enroute to the event which starts at dusk, we passed by throngs of people, thousands of people, all together on the streets of Varanasi in what one could only describe as utter chaos. People darting in and out of alleys ways and shop fronts, cars are buzzing left & right in front of big trolleys and buses full of people, tuk-tuks zig zagging throughout the streets transporting their patrons to the desired places as quickly as possible.

The cacophony of Varanasi streets at night

If the thousands of people scurrying to the waters of the Ganges weren’t enough, then there were street workers working with hot tar, burning in big barrels on the streets, filling potholes as people in cars, trucks, buses and tuk-tuks all drove by (or over) their newly completed scalding hot street work. All this amidst the darkness quickly closing in, as we race through the squalor and madness of the Varanasi streets.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity in this pungent, dark, toxic tar smelling cacophony, we were dropped off close to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, which is one of the main ghats (or sets of wide steps leading down to the Ganges River). If the scene on the streets of Varanasi was not chaotic enough from the relative sanctuary of inside the protection of the tuk-tuk, once you’re out in it all, on foot, you realize how very minute a speck you are in the world. Amazing!

This young lad took right over and was very protective of our group making sure the crowd broke way for us, and showed us where each step was, so none of us stumbled in the darkness. While a simple gesture it was hugely appreciated!

People and street hawkers and children and all the smells and sounds you’ve just witnessed are your immediate in-your-face reality. All at once, all of it invades your senses with such an overload that it’s a bit scary, overwhelming and thrilling at the same time. Every sense is on fire! Someone is touching you, someone else is grabbing you to keep you with the group, another child is beckoning you and offering to sell you flowers or candles or henna, the smells of the tar invading your nostrils, the warmth of the Varanasi night, the sounds of everyone talking and chattering and there you are, on the steps of the Ganges River, looking over a literal sea of bodies on boats, sitting and bobbing and watching this amazing ceremony taking place.

The ceremony itself (that we witnessed) takes place on the rooftop of the Viswanath Temple, considered one of the largest and most elaborate temples along the Ganges. We were hurried down to boats floating in front of Viswanath Temple, and were blessed to sit amongst locals who took part in this ceremony with us.

You sit on these boats, all tied to one another and watch in complete awe and relative silence (compared to the streets) and it’s impossible not to marvel and look around at this sea of people, all watching and experiencing this same religious “life experience.”

Ganga Aarti Festival

If you love to become one with your surroundings, I cannot suggest any experience that will so fully immerse you into local culture than the Ganga Aarti festival on the waters of the mighty Ganges River!