An Amazing Journey Europe’s Christmas Markets

 

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The air is crisp and the scents of spice and roasted chestnuts are in the air as you walk through the village inspired Christmas scenes.   As you glance around you notice Christmas lights fill the streets with a soft warm glow where bobbles, bows, candy and special treasures await. It’s an old world style atmosphere, markets are often at the center of town squares  beneath the spires of the local parish church steeples.   Laughter and music fills the air as shoppers pass by snuggled in their winter coats.    There is just something about Europe’s Christmas Markets that I don’t feel we have quite captured in the United States.  Perhaps it’s the community aspect, the gathering together sipping mulled wine as you let go the stress of the day. Perhaps it’s people coming together and catching up as they experience the warmth of Gluhwein and nibble on delectable pastries.  Europe’s Christmas Markets are simply Magical.

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Europe’s Christmas Markets

It’s the start of Holiday Season as during the first weekend of Advent Christmas Markets begin to pop up throughout Europe.  This annual tradition has been bringing happiness to locals and visitors alike for centuries.  It’s almost like you have been transported back in time to a place of happy memories and the warmth of the season.    Christmas carols surround you as you experience your first glance of the sparkle of snowflakes as they gently fall around the merchants selling their wares.  Many of these markets can take over blocks and blocks and are filled with everything Christmas.

 

 

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Germany’s Christmas Markets

Your taste buds will be filled with sweet, spice, and nutty flavors.  The food of the Christmas markets change with the village or city and sausage rules and changes according to region.  Gluhwein which is a mulled style of spice wine also changes with region, hot coco, and even non alcoholic versions are available for those who don’t imbibe.  Every market also provides a mug for your journey.  You can choose to turn it in after your visit for a deposit refund or take it with you as a souvenir.  These make great little keepsakes and or gifts.

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Christmas Market Food

The Markets are filled with everything from food to trinkets.  Many favorites are the classic wooden Christmas ornaments.  Lace and varieties of Christmas ornaments are also available and many of the items in the markets are hand crafted from local artisans.

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Europe’s Christmas Markets these are a bucket list item
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Europe’s Christmas Markets

Bundle up though as winter is starting to set in and you will appreciate the warmth of the heat lamps that surround some of the merchants.  If you forget something don’t worry you will find many selections of hats, mittens, scarves, and socks.  I recommend a couple of cups of the local Gluhwein to spice up and warm up the day or evening.  It will slowly melt away any breath of cold that sweeps the area.

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Travel with T at the Christmas Markets in Europe

If you are a lover of all things Christmas I can’t recommend these enough.  Once you go every year you will have a longing to re experience the magic again and again.  Christmas in Europe is a memory maker.  Experiences are to me more precious then things so go out and experience and build your memories.  Better yet make it a River Cruise where you can see and experience these treasures as you glide along one of Europe’s historic waterways.

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Half Timbered house of Germany’s Christmas Markets

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Book your Christmas Market visit or River Cruise with Travel with T @ Travel Plus of NC

http://www.travelwithttoday.com http://www.travelplusofnc.com

River Cruising for the Luxury minimalist can we say Viking

DSC_0272 Christmas Markets along the Rhine

Winter, Christmas, Rhine, and River Cruising these definitely are a few of my favorite things.   So when we were scheduled to be in Europe we opted  to pick up a last minute river cruise cancellation.  The deal was not too bad especially for a luxury minimalist as we paid sale price for the cruise due to the last minute cancellation.  It averaged out to a 50 percent reduction on the full cost of the cruise.  Not to bad for my luxury taste and a shoestring budget.

IMG_1640IMG_1635Our Veranda Room

We had a veranda class room which means it has a classic room with a seating area.   What this means is we had an actual balcony with chairs outside to sit at if we chose.  It’s not your typical balcony style as cruise ships have but actually not bad at all.  Also floor to ceiling window glass makes for an incredible cruising experience.   Another popular choice is a French balcony which would have not had the little Veranda sitting area.  It still has the wall to wall window that opens up to provide fresh air (in warmer months) and you are able to lean over a little and enjoy the sights, sounds and experience river cruising gazing at the scenery.   Completely budget friendly and you still have great views.  I would not hesitate to book this style at all.

DSC_0068 Middle Rhine

I have to say being an avid ocean cruiser I did not know what to expect although expected that I would like it.  River cruises always appear to cost more than an average cruise and when you try and compare the two it’s really apples to oranges.   River Cruises are a different product all together and much different really than a ocean cruise.  In my humble opinion there appears to be more bang for your buck with River Cruising than ocean.  Definitely worth the cost.  You are able to see more and do more than a typical style vacation where you are trying to get from one point to another.  In River Cruising it’s taken care of for you.

IMG_1648 One of my favorite people

Viking Cruises did not disappoint me in any way.  From the moment we walked aboard until the moment we departed.  You are presented with a much more intimate form of cruising.  The vessels are smaller and the service is impeccable.   Your price includes not only your floating hotel but your meals, not to exclude wine and beer at dinner and at lunch, but also your tours in every stop you make.  You even have the option to purchase additional tours while you are in the various ports.  Transport to and from the different areas if needed is also included.  This might be somewhere that has a city center that may be a little farther away from the dock.   On an ocean cruise you arrive and you are on your own unless you have purchased or purchase on shore a pre-planned tour package or transport.

IMG_1652  Chef’s were always awesome on Viking Kvasir

Of course the luxury  minimalist is always looking for not only a little luxury but also value in the product she is purchasing.   Viking river cruise on the Rhine supplied just that.   Hotel rooms are not only smaller In Europe but very expensive if you want to be close to the city centers.   At 50 plus being the luxury minimalist I prefer not to choose to stay at a hostel.  Which would completely offer affordability but not much on luxury.  I am just fine staying at a nice hotel in the center of town adjacent and close to things. Because train, tram, and bus travel adds up when you are trying to see various places.

So river cruising is a great value for the money.  Your floating hotel is with you, your transportation is provided, you have a tour guide if you want to take advantage of it, your meals are included, and to top if off so are drinks.  Well beer and wine at least for lunch and dinner.  Give me wine and I am sold.  Ok, so the picture is of a beer but you get the point.

IMG_1654 My typical lunch beverage

IMG_1653Lunch on the Aquavit Terrace served daily

So once you can get over the sticker price shock and then start to realize the value of the service you are being given and you understand the said value it’s really a fantastic option.   I cannot think of one area where Viking failed me.  From start to finish the product was top notch.   Service was everything that it had promised and more.   There was not one moment that anything we needed was not available or easily acquired.   I never let on I was in the travel industry as not to change their perception or mine.

DSC_0108 Scenic Cruising at it’s finest

On a River Cruise similar to an Ocean Cruise they have what is known as the Program Director except the program director on a river cruise is completely accessible and is on the ground when you depart the ship.  He or she and the concierge make sure everything is in order on the ground, that everything is coordinating and that the local tour guides are there, ready, and have everything they need too.   They make sure you understand they are available and even go on various tours with you.  It’s pretty cool really and you are taken care of very well.  It’s that extra little step to make sure you have a wonderful time.  You will never be lost, and losing valuable time up trying to find things, places, streets, hotels, trams, buses and everything else that goes along with that.   When you only have so much time for your vacation and are using your hard earned cash this makes all the difference in the world.

IMG_2049 German food while we were in Cologne

Meals on board are exceptional with a nightly dinner for all in the main dining area.  Often featuring local cuisine styles and chef inspired creations.   Most of the evenings we chose what the chef recommended and were completely satisfied and often delighted.  It’s fine dining and more.

IMG_1700 Enjoying our evening with wine of course

We chose Vikings “Rhine Getaway” River Cruise which began in Amsterdam with a visit to Kinderdijk for a visit to Netherlands UNESCO Windmills.  We were then on to Cologne, Germany for a visit to Colognes magnificent Gothic Cathedral dating 1248 another UNESCO site.  It was then on to Koblenz and a tour of Marksburg Castle which took around 700 years to build.  We traveled down to Rudesheim gliding along the most scenic portion of the Rhine filled with medieval  castles, quaint little towns, picturesque countryside, while passing the Lorelei, a legendary rock formation rising 440 feet above the river.   From this it was on to Heidelbery & Speyer and then on to Strasbourg, France.

DSC_0298 Strasbourg, France Photo Credit TravelwithT.net

The final two stops were the Black Forest in Germany and concluding in Basel, Switzerland.    So in 8 days you will see 4 countries, amazing history, as well as some of the most amazing scenery in the region.  Christmas if fantastic for seeing this region often with less traffic then the summer season.  Not to mention those fabulous Christmas Markets.

IMG_1744 View from Cathedral to Christmas Market Photo Credit TravelwithT.net

In the next part of this series I will delve a little more into the sights and sounds of the Christmas Markets and the places themselves.

As always if you have any interest in any kind of travel please don’t hesitate to let me know.  I would be happy to help you book as that is how I make  living.

Europe with a carry on for a wannabe fashionista

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Traveling to Europe in the winter for two weeks can be a challenge for a 50 plus  lovenly plump wannabe fashionista with only a carry on.  It doesn’t have to be though. I am about to board with just that. One carry on and one personal item.   A rather large personal item yet a peronal item non the less.

Having a Delta Amex card grants me zone one boarding meaning I can get on before everyone else and this guarantees my bags make it on with me.   We opted for a upgrade on this flight due to the length and the orginal cost was only 5.60.  So our upgrade to Delta Comfort was 119.00 and this not only gives us better seating but can you guess?  Free WINE, beer, and spirits on international flights you get free booz anyway but my husband enjoys the leg room.  On domestic flights my 6’1 husband gets more leg room and I get free wine.  Fits well into my luxury minimalist lifestyle.  We booked the flight on points and paid a small amount to be upgraded to a little more luxury.  Not bad for me.

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I chose Europe over Thanksgiving for the German Christmas Markets and we did it on points.  We only had a quick  51 minute plane change  and I did not want to take a chance on luggage not making it.  Also with a luxury minimalist less is more right?

Except I did bring on an extra bag which my purse fits in for boarding and then I remove my purse and have another bag.   You never know I might want to bring wine home too.  So that extra bag I carry in my bag for the way home might come in handy.  On the way home I don’t really care if I check a bag as I have free checked bags.  Also if I lose them they are shipped to many at home and it does not interupt my trip.

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I managed to get all my outfits including electronics and extra bag in my carry on and one personal item.  Not too bad and I have several cute mix and match items and accessories.

I did not even attempt the standard tennis shoe or the classic Amercan  pair of sweats or jogging ware.  My style focused on classic, comfortable with a blend of colors that are mixed and matched easily.  For Paris I am choosing greys and blacks.  This classic color combination fits well for a 50 plus woman.  It is easly managed and can be made into many different outfits.

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I myself enjoy dressing yet when I ocean cruise I tend to be a little more casual in style still avoiding tennis shoes most of the time in favor of a nice sandel.  I have always enjoyed my own moms style from a bygone era and she would never be caught dead in the store in sweat pants.   Bring on  Donna Reed from Father Knows Best that was my mom.  Classically beautiful.

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So somehow that must have worn off and I don’t mind one bit.   I actually prefer it.  To each his own though and if sweatpants are your thing wear them proudly.

So I shall arrive in one of the best dressed cities for woman and here is how I did it.

My packing list is as follows

5 pairs of tights various colors for mixing

4 Sweater tops or dresses that can be worn either way

1 pair of jeans not for Paris but maybe for Amsterdam and or Germany

Scarfs at last 4

Knit caps 3 of different colors

Undergarments

Long sleeve tops 2 to wear under my dresses or shirts in case itis too cold

Socks at least 3 pair that I can wash

2 pair of boots one black one brown that is it for my foot wear.  Takes up too much room in winter.

Now I have to admit cramming all this into a carry on is a feet untoo itself.  All in all I am happy with my selection.   It works well and has the abiliy to give me multiple items throughout my trip.

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Of course you will need a little bag for your electronics and such.   I opted for my tablet with my little keyboard instead of my small latop due to the weight of both.   Tablet gets me by for my blogging post but makes it harder to upload pictures.

 

I  recommend pinterest for choosing your wardrobe items it gives a lot help in choosing items for you to wear.  Guidence on what is popular and help choosing the style you wish.

Europe is great in Winter and don’t ever hesitate to go.   The crowds are way down and there is a magical beauty surrounding each

country, especially if you make it at the start of Advent for the Christmas Markets.

As always feel free to use my site to book travel as this is how I support myself.  Or if you would like me to book your travel give me a call or email and I would love to help.  www.travelwithT.mtravel.com

Gotta run time for Gluhwein!

The World of Points: Destination Germany Christmas Markets

Germany Christmas Markets

The world is an oyster for those in the points game and it contains a pearl of great price in the end.

It’s the smell of chestnuts roasting, spices of ginger and cinnamon permeating throughout the market as you head (if your me) straight for the spiced wine.   Everything is lite up and the Christmas spirit is in full swing.  People are mulling around sipping, tasting, and perusing the Christmas wares.   Where?  At the German Christmas Markets of course.

I can now hear the background noise of all the clamoring about travel is expensive and I don’t have the money.  I am here to share with you, yeah sometimes it is expensive, but it is so worth it.   I love the quote “Travel is the only thing that you buy, that  makes you richer.”

Yet, for those who need to go as expensively as possible I have something else.  I want to share that you can do it for very little of your own money if you are will to play a game.  It’s all about the points.  If you have not heard about the points game definitely keep reading.  Because you are missing out on some of the best deals for travel with very little of your own money.  it’s time to read some blogs and learn how to take advantage of those big bad companies people are always talking about.    There are free flights out there for those willing to put in a little work.  How much depends on you.

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My travel style is varied and I use a lot of methods to do it.  A lot of the time it’s plain hard cash.  Sometimes,  I use those wonderful little methods of accumulating points for travel like sign on bonuses for credit cards. You need to be responsible and you need to have good credit to do this.

There are many out there who live and breath points, and travel for pennies.  People like the Points Guy have made a career out of traveling using points. There are great blogs out there that will show you exactly how to do it.   People like Ben who blog at One Mile at a Time and travel the world using this method all the while making it look so easy.

I use a variety of different methods and I try and make the most of what I do.   My goal is to come out getting more for less.   I usually don’t have the time to travel full time as I am still working and my husband is finishing up a masters.  I just do what I can, when I can.

So, it was here at this juncture I found myself.   I knew I had been sitting on lots of points and I was dying to use them.    While traversing the blog world is one of my favorite past times it is often dangerous for me.  I was doing this and was also perusing the amazing world of Avalon Cruises when I discovered Germany and it’s Christmas Markets.  I was amazed and delighted at the beauty and culture and I wanted to immerse myself into it immediately.  That is once I got past the aspect of being cold.  It took only a few seconds and I was off to dreaming of sleigh rides, roaring fires, and warm spiced wine.  I started to warm up quickly, I grabbed a glass of wine myself and began.

After the dreaming process for me, starts what my husband refers to as the scheming process.  I like to refer to it as strategically planning which then leads to the execution of said plan.  I figured I had more than enough points for a flight in and out of Europe with points left for another jaunt at a later time if I should decide.

I have been sitting on close to 200K Barclay world arrival points.  Barclay also just came out with new rules for utilization and now they are redeemable in 10k increments.  This aspect is perfect for someone like me sitting on lot of them. Not so good if you are only trying to redeem a few.

I try to only maintain a few cards at a time.  That way I don’t lose track and then waste points I have accumulated by not using them.  I try and keep enough just for the near future.  When I have utilized them I start on the next series.  This keeps me current and I never have to worry I will lose them or heaven forbid they become devalued at some point.  I am a earn them and burn them strategist.

When using points for flights if it’s somewhere you really want to go start early.  This gives you the best options.  I started in June knowing I wanted to book over Thanksgiving weekend.   After a hour maybe longer of checking and rechecking I decided on a flight out of Salt Lake City into Paris on Delta for both my husband and I coming in at a whopping 5.00 dollars.  I was on a roll.  I decided to upgrade us to premium economy which includes drinks for a little over 200.00   This is how I use my points in a way that works for me.  I don’t mind throwing in some cash for an upgrade.  I am sure the professional point travelers can do better but for myself I just want to gain some benefits without a lot of effort.

Edelweiss

For hotels the options are varied for me.   I have 100K plus Marriott points which can get me either a couple of nights at a higher end Marriott or a week or more of nights at a lower tier property.  I think I am going for the higher end this time. I have to admit I am a little bit of a hotel snob.  So I do enjoy a little better hotel.  Since I will be flying into Paris and spending two days, I will use them there.

From Paris we will be taking a train into Germany stopping a few places like Nuremberg and Heidelberg before we continue on to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  We have reserved a place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen using our military benefits so we will be staying at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort .   You will need to be prior military to do this and being my husband is a retired Marine we qualify.  Listed as one of the most desirable destinations in the Bavarian Alps, the Edelweiss Lodge is in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area and is an idyllic location nestled at the foot of sweeping alpine vistas.

Garmisch

All my details are not completely worked out yet and of course I will be blogging about the journey itself.  I do know we will be leaving out of Austria and with taxes this cost me a little more than the flight in.  I believed it rounded out at a little over 200.00 per person.  Still not bad for air out of Europe. and yes you can get it cheaper if you put in more work.    If you have not stepped into the world of points you are missing out.  The whole world awaits you.

Maybe I will see you in Germany at the Christmas markets.  We can share a mug of warm spiced wine.   Because the world is definitely waiting to be discovered.