Christmas Shopping In Europe

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Yes, it’s time again to think about ordering Christmas cards and to consider what you want to do for the holidays.

Some stay with friends and relatives, others stay home and enjoy the special time with family and neighbors. And then there are a few who will take a shopping trip to New York or Europe.

If you are considering Europe, think a shopping tour. Why? Because it will give you the best exposure to the places you should visit for the shopping opportunities. There are several fine tour companies that will take you to wonderful locations.

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Dazzle friends and family with arts and crafts from intriguing shops like this in Spain.

A fine company, Tauck Tours, has a wonderful reputation and it would be hard to go wrong with them. They offer several Christmas market trips along the Rhine River as well as others. You first must get yourself to Europe and then join one of the tours there.

I have selected one that begins in Cologne. There, you will board the river cruise boat Swiss Sapphire. The eight-day trip will offer guides, history, excursions, transfers and little off-the-beaten-path trips to famous bakeries, and major Christmas markets along the Rhine.

From Cologne, there will be a side trip to Aachen for a tour of a major church, a local bakery for those tasty holiday goodies (you can eat some cookies on the spot) and then visit some stores for crafts, clothing and candies. Yes, plan to lose at least 10 pounds before you leave home.

Sample homemade potato fritters, marzipan and printen. You’ll also enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch overlooking the Rhine in nearby Petersberg.

Then sail away down the Rhine to Rudesheim to enjoy holiday carols and other joyful noises such as carousels and children laughing as you walk about on cobblestone streets to browse the shops and stalls. Of course, Christmas lights will be blazing throughout this and other towns and cities you visit. In the market square here is the largest nativity scene in Europe. You’ll be guided to the Drosselgasse, a narrow lane known for its wine bars and they are all adorned in yuletide green and gold.

Sample Rudesheim Coffee, laced with locally produced brandy. That will keep you warm!

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Wandering down narrow, cobblestone streets in the smaller cities of France can lead to the discovery of unique gifts for the holiday season.

A guide will take you to the train for a ride to Siegfrieds Mechanisches Musikkabinett, which is housed in a real castle.

On to the University town of Heidelberg — This is a storybook town that looks as though it is right out of a Disney movie. The trees will be full of twinkling lights and hundreds of booths spread across five city squares with an ice rink close to Heidelberg Castle. There will be a glowing Christmas pyramid in the center of the Marktjplaz. At the Universiatsplatz, a glowing carousel is turning with the scent of almonds in the air. Here, you will want to hunt for black forest cuckoo clocks and assorted handmade goods, some of which can only be found in Heidelberg. Chances are, you will meet fraternity members from Germany’s oldest university. If you are lucky, you can watch a fencing match. And, be sure to take a walking tour of the Old Town. Have a look inside the Heidelberg Castle.

At Baden-Baden, if you do nothing else, see the Belle Epoque casino complex; called the Kurhaus, which some consider the most beautiful casino in the world. Marlene Dietrich thought so anyway. Probably you will hear local choirs and bands performing holiday music and, of course, you will check out the many booths along the streets and perhaps purchase something you just can’t leave behind. Here you will find carved wooden toys, ornaments, silver jewelry, and decorative candles and yes, goodies you must taste. Baden-Baden has everything Christmas!

The next stop is Strasbourg. Here are towering Christmas trees, gingerbread, Advent wreaths and, almost next to the gigantic Strasbourg Cathedral, glowing lights and decorations. You’ll find traditional holiday cakes of Alsace, and at least 12 themed markets that fan out from the cathedral along the Grand Rue. Here is the famed Marches de Noel, the oldest and largest in France, the Bredle Market. There are stalls that stretch as far as you can see in this ancient canal-crossed city. A guide will walk you through La Petite France before leaving this magic place.

The Alsatian village of Riquewihr is a fascinating Christmas stop. It was once a wine village in the 16th century. You’ll find more stalls filled with crafts and local delicacies set among historic houses and little shops dressed in holiday attire. This is another spot that looks as though it is out of a Disney fantasy film.

Colmar looks like a Christmas card. This is a medieval city on the Alsatian Wine Route with its 14th and 15th century buildings. Here are the lights, the gingerbread, merry-go-rounds and animated Nativity scenes. There is a children’s market along with crepes, sausages, baguettes, chocolates and wine of all kinds. There are sculptors, jewelers, candle makers and a Gothic Dominican church.

This particular tour ends in Basel, Switzerland.

It is priced at $1,990 per person, double occupancy plus airfare. Single prices start of 40 percent above the double occupancy fare. Some meals are included. Be aware that this type of tour requires quite a bit of walking. More information is available from Tauck Tours at: www.taucktours.com.

There are other riverboat cruises available from several tour operators that will take you to various river towns and cities for Christmas shopping.

I suggest that you contact an experienced travel agent for consultation.

If you simply desire one city for all your shopping, then perhaps you should consider Vienna, Austria or Nuremberg, Germany or even London, England.

The weather in November and early December will be quite cool to cold. So you will want to take a heavy coat, sweaters and perhaps even long johns to wear under slacks and pants. The shoes should be of the solid walking variety and can withstand rain and snow. Perhaps your coat can be a thickly lined rain-resistant one. Remember a good hat is a must as well. Yes, gloves should be considered.

Take several credit cards, plenty of travelers checks and some cash. Merry Christmas giving!

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