Journey through Christmas land

Dottie and I just got back from a float on the Rhine River. We were on Viking Long Ship’s annual “Christmas Market Cruise” that runs from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Basel, Switzerland. It was a nice trip, made even nicer by the company of good Sonoma friends, Gary and Marcia Nelson and John and Phyllis Gurney.

Celebrating Christmas and a tradition that goes back centuries, many cities along the Rhine hold month-long outdoor Christmas markets packed every night and weekend by locals and visitors.

In some ways they are like our own Sonoma Farmers Market, except that the emphasis is on Christmas, and they sell lots of great food, beer and “gluhwein” ( hot mulled wine) and Christmas gift items, instead of fresh produce.

Even small towns have markets supported by the business community, civic leaders, and the community residents themselves. They are set up in plazas and on some closed-off downtown shopping streets so the local merchants can participate.  Imagine the Bay Area’s Dickens’ Faire set up on the streets around the Plaza.

The best small town Christmas market faire we saw was in Rudesheim, a romantic little village of 10,000 people. There were close to 100 separate outdoor booths that look like little Tyrolean houses (complete with wooden floors, wooden walls and roofs), from which handcrafts from the area, and traditional local goods (nutcrackers, clocks, etc.) were sold. Food huts were plentiful and offered everything from sausage sandwiches and french fries to many kinds of sweet things like donuts, strudel and more.

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