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Christmas is coming

December 22, 2017 • By

Christmas is coming. The Kelster is getting fat, please put a euro in the old gal’s newly purchased hat(s). If you haven’t got a euro, a cup of glühwein will do, if you haven’s got a glühwein, then God save you.

After visiting more than 30 Christmas markets throughout Austria, Germany and France, I am an expert on sausage, pumpkin soup in a bread bowl, pretzels, waffles, glühwein, chocolate, and Advent wreaths. There is a consensus that once you try one, you have tried them all but I don’t subscribe to that logic. Each market is regionally themed and the crafts and food are a reflection of the surrounding villages and towns. There are many similarities like handmade candles and paper stationary, Nutella crepes, local wines and liquors, and staged stalls constructed around city halls and historic parks and former palaces but the flavor and presentation change from place to place. In Nuremburg, stalls are striped red and white, in Vienna, ice skating rinks wind through the City Hall Rathausplatz and in Strasbourg, the proclaimed Capital of Christmas, colored ornaments and chubby gingerbread fill the shelves and cheese is the topping of choice. The towns come alive with locals and tourists from all over the world visiting the Christkindlmarkts in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. There is music and dancing and eating and drinking. Relive childhood memories and revel in the spirit of Christmas.

Before you go, here are a few tips to make the most of your visit.

1.) Eat everything. There are so many goodies to taste that are special to Christkindlmarkts in Europe. You need hearty food to keep you warm and there are a variety of soups, sandwiches and desserts to fill your tummy.

Fantasy Aisle, Eggnog liquor at the Vienna Christmas markets

Eggnog liquor at the Vienna Christmas markets

2.) Drink the Glühwein. Try hot mulled wine with Whiskey or Amaretto and pick the spot with the busiest stall to mingle with locals. Try the Glühwein with a shot of Bailey’s or eggnog liquor once but definitely not twice. Each market has a specifically designed mug for visitors. Keep yours as a reminder of your experience or return it to retrieve your deposit.

3.) Pick a few markets to see. Each village or city throughout Europe offers several themed Christmas markets throughout the area. Don’t try to conquer every market in Europe but select an area you have also wanted to see as a tourist and enjoy the markets as a bonus. If you have children, there is usually one market that caters to kids with rides, treats and fictional characters.

Fantasy Aisle, Capital of Christmas, Strasbourg, France

Capital of Christmas, Strasbourg, France

4.) Visit the markets by day and night. The daytime is often less crowded and people tend to grab a drink or quick bite and leave. At night, electricity fills the markets and people browse stalls and linger around glühwein vendors. The alleyways, storefronts and decorations are illuminated creating a romantic atmosphere. There are usually carolers and musicians performing on main stages.

5.) Dress in layers. Expect rain, wind, snow and cold. You will spend many hours outside. Be prepared with boots, gloves, warm hats and coats.

Fantasy Aisle, Example of some of the candles sold at the markets

Example of some of the candles sold at the markets

6.) Shop until you drop. Vendors sell ornaments, candles, jewelry, hats, socks, liquors, wine, honey, soaps, local desserts and other items for purchase. Most items are handmade. Consider buying something special to the market you visit.

7.) Learn something new. Each market offers walking or on the bus off the bus tours featuring the destination or even an overview of the history of the market. Several places offer Christmas museums where you can learn about Christmas traditions through the centuries. Take a break from the glühwein and cold and duck into a museum.

8.) Book hotels in advance. Christmas markets are very popular for tourists. If you want a spot nearby the city center or close to the action, be prepared to book early. This is an annual activity for many groups.

9.) Go by foot. Wander through the stalls admiring the skill and craftsmanship of local artists. Grab a pair of skates and twirl around the rink absorbing the sights and sounds of Christmas.

10.) Follow the signs but get lost. Most of the markets take place in the old city or in the center of town and are thoughtfully planned around access for locals and tourists. Follow your nose to one market and the bold and beautiful lights of the next. Just when you think you have seen them all, another market more spectacular will greet you.

German and Austrian Guide to Eating and Drinking at the Markets

Glühwein – Hot mulled wine. Red wine (white wine more traditional in Austria and France) made with spices and citrus fruits and can be spiked with whiskey or amaretto

Punsch – Juice with liquor or without for kids

Heidelbeer-GlühweinBlueberry mulled wine

Eierpunsch – Hot spiked eggnog liquor. It’s rich and strong with whipped cream

Fantasy Aisle, Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Vienna, Austria. Rathausplatz, City Hall

Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Vienna, Austria. Rathausplatz, City Hall

Heiße Schokolade – Hot chocolate with or without whip cream

BrezelsMade to be eaten daily, pretzels are sold in bakeries and shops across Germany, Austria and Alsace, France. Pretzels are plain with salt, covered with layers of dark and white chocolate and other sweets

Kartoffelpuffer Greasy potato pancakes eaten with salt or topped with apple sauce, sugar or cinnamon

Fantasy Aisle, Kaiserschmarrn, shredded pancake with raisins, rum and topped with sugar or applesauce

Kaiserschmarrn, shredded pancake with raisins, rum and topped with sugar or applesauce

Kaiserschmarrn – My favorite! A traditional Austrian and Bavarian dish named after Kaiser Franz Joseph I.  It’s similar to bread pudding with raisins, nuts, plums and apples and topped with vanilla sauce or apple sauce

Spätzle – Short egg noodles with cheese or ham or bacon and onions

Pommes Mit Mayo – Steaming hot French fries with mayo on top

Fantasy Aisle, Chestnuts or Maronen, Maroni, Marrons

Chestnuts or Maronen, Maroni, Marrons

Maronen (Maroni) Marrons – “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”

Raclette – A large wheel of Swiss cheese that is heated. The top of the cheese is scraped off and put on toasted bread. Bacon can be added

Lebkuchen – German cookies similar to gingerbread

Gebrannte Mandeln – Toasted almonds

Fantasy Aisle, Waffles with Nutella

Waffles with Nutella

Waffeln – Waffles with Nutella, marzipan, powdered sugar

Bratkartoffel – Baked potatoes with all the toppings

Fantasy Aisle, Sausages, Sauerkraut and more in Strasbourg, France

Sausages, Sauerkraut and more in Strasbourg, France

Bratwurst / Rostbratwurst – Fried sausages

Stollen/Christstollen – Traditional German Christmas cake similar to a coffee cake with dried candied fruit, nuts and spices. The original comes from Dresden

Betmännchen – Chubby doughy gingerman looking treat made with yeast

Krapfen – A Berliner Pfannkuchen is a traditional German pastry similar to a doughnut with no central hole. Made with sweet yeast dough fried it is filled with marmalade or jam and topped with frosting, powdered sugar or regular sugar.

Schokofrüchte – Chocolate covered dried fruit

Fantasy Aisle, A local doughy dessert like dumpling filled with plum and topped with vanilla sauce

A local doughy dessert like dumpling filled with plum and topped with vanilla sauce

Riesen Germknödel – Popular in Austria and Southern Germany (Bavaria) it is a bun shaped sweet dumpling filled with plum jam and covered with a thick vanilla sauce. It’s a traditional dish that locals eat regularly

Baumstriezel – Thin dough wrapped around a baking spit and then rolled in sugar, nuts, chocolate and cinnamon. It has a deep hollow center. It originated from the Hungarian areas of Romania where it’s called Kürtőskalács

Fantasy Aisle, Baumstriezel, dough wrapped around a spit topped with sugar and nuts

Baumstriezel, dough wrapped around a spit topped with sugar and nuts

In Stasbourg, France

Beignets – A deep-fried pastry similar to a fritter. Can be plain or filled with chocolate or strawberry

Fantasy Aisle, Pretzels with loads of cheese and bacon in Strasbourg, France

Pretzels with loads of cheese and bacon in Strasbourg, France

Bretzel aux lardons – Hot pretzels with loads of cheese and bacon sprinkles

Tartes flambées – A specialty of the Alsace region, it’s a piece of bread covered with thick cheese or cheese and onions or bacon

Fantasy Aisle, Bread with melted cheese in Strasbourg, France

Bread with melted cheese in Strasbourg, France

Chocolat chaud – Yummy hot chocolate. It’s nearly as thick as pudding

Vin chaud – Hot mulled wine (red or white)


Africa, Europe, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

What to see and do in Malta?

December 20, 2017 • By

What to See and Do?

  • The Malta Experience – Overview of Malta’s history about a 20 minute video
  • Fort St. Elmo / Malta at War Museum – History of the Knights of St. John and the Ottoman Empire – Interesting WWII exhibits.  Malta was sandwiched between Italian and German forces by land and sea during WWII
  • St. John’s Co-Cathedral – Famous Caravaggio painting of St. John the Baptist.  Elaborate interior and decoration, served as main church for over 200 years to the order of the Knights of St. John (of Jerusalem). Knights were nobleman from the most important families from all over Europe.  Their mission was to protect the Catholic Faith and Europe from the Ottoman Turks
  • Grand Harbour –  Cruise ship docking point, great views, tourist shops and restaurants
  • Grand Master’s PalaceHouses the Parliament, the Armory and the offices of the President. Visit the Palace State Rooms and don’t miss the tapestries
Fantasy Aisle, Mosta Dome, Third Largest Unsupported Church Dome in Europe

Mosta Dome, Third Largest Unsupported Church Dome in Europe

  • Mosta Dome – Third largest unsupported church dome in Europe.  Site where a WWII bomb was dropped during a mass and miraculously did not explode
  • Three Cities – Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (L-Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla) – Old villages mostly flattened during WWII.  Narrow streets.  St. Angelo Fort.  Fun bars and restaurants at night and great views of the Grand Harbour
  • Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum – BOOK IN ADVANCE OF YOUR TRIP only 80 visitors allowed daily.  Columns like Roman structures, very advanced, calendar system for summer solstice, winter solstice, an elaborate system for burying dead.  Three levels of formations.  Used as shelters, playgrounds.  Construction very artistic
Fantasy Aisle, An artist at work in the crafts village of Ta' Qali

An artist at work in the crafts village of Ta’ Qali

  • Ta’Qali Crafts Village – (near Mdina) glass, silver, woodworking and plenty of local crafts to purchase
  • Mdina – Silent City, Arabic architecture, Medieval city served as capital until 1530 when Valletta was constructed.  At the far end of the main gate, take in the most beautiful views of Malta’s countryside
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Mdina – 17th Century Baroque Church in heart of Old City
  • St. Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat
  • Rabat – Cute narrow roads, cafes, restaurants, wine bars, decorative colorful doors, plants outside homes
  • Dingli Cliffs – Enjoy views of the Mediterranean and crushing shoreline
Fantasy Aisle, Seabass, veggie, and wine!

Seabass, veggie, and wine!

What else?

Where to Eat and Stay?


To Eat

Italian influenced and Mediterranean diet.  Seafood, Pasta, Fried Calamari, Rabbit Stew, Fish Soup, Capers, Garlic

La Sfoglia Restaurant – Family run specializes in seafood.  Fun outdoor spot

Taproom Brasserie and Bar – Casual food and a variety of pasta dishes – nice side street location

Trabuxu Wine and Cheese Bar – A favorite spot – romantic, casual good wine

67 Kapitali Artisan Café and Craft Beer Bar – Hot spot, burgers, beer what could be wrong?

To Stay

Grand Hotel Excelsior  – Ideal location, beautiful pool and amenities.  Hotel a bit dated for 5 stars.

Hotel Phoenicia Malta – Recently renovated.  Located in front of old city walls.  Leading Hotels of the World


To Stay and Eat

A.D. 1530 Trattoria, Xara Palace Hotel – Old world class and charm, great location

St. Julians/Paceville/Sliema/St. George

To Eat

La Dolce Vita – Sinola Bay, St. Julians – High end: Oysters, bread, meat, seafood, great ambiance and views overlooking bay

BarracudaRestored 18th century villa, located just over the water edge and overlooking the spectacular view of Balluta and Spinola Bay.  Make sure to get a table on the outside porch or near the windows

To Stay


InterContinental A little bit off the crowded tourist stretch

Le Meridien– Sits on the bay steps from the tourist action

Westin Dragonara Resort

More moderate

Marina Hotel

Radisson Blue

Bay Street Hotel