Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Markets in Regensburg (or, how I convinced Mike to go on a weekend long shopping trip!)

Be prepared, this is a long one, but it comes with pictures!

When Mike and I started talking about how to spend our Christmas holiday, one of his ideas was to take a German river cruise.  When I started to explore options, they were all based on going to the Christmas Markets of various German towns and cities along the Danube or Rhine.  Well, it seems like we weren’t the only ones with that idea, and everyone else had it about six months before we did.  As a result, the ones we were interested in were already sold out, but that idea provided the inspiration for our November trip.

We left Helsinki on Friday night bound for Regensburg, Germany, about 125 kilometers northeast of Munich.  At the airport, we watched a man get in an argument with the Lufthansa ticket counter woman, and then her supervisor.  We both just stood there and talked about why you would ever argue with them.  At the end of the day, you don’t get to fly if you make them mad.  And guess what, the guy and his too heavy suitcase stayed in Helsinki.  The Germans take their luggage weight VERY seriously!

After arriving in Munich, we met our driver and passed a Starbucks.  I have been dying for a decaf, non-fat, toffee nut latte for ages.  Since we were already headed to the car and it was late enough, I figured I’d just have one at the airport on the way back to Helsinki.  Lesson learned – get your Starbucks when you can get it.  Just because there are several in most large US airports, there aren’t in most European airports.  Never to see that Starbucks again (wahhh!).  We loaded up our luggage in our Mercedes Benz station wagon and were on our way with the world’s most chatty German driver. 

We soon hopped on the Autobahn and were whizzing along.  My clue that it was the Autobahn (because it’s not like there is a sign that says, “Welcome to the Autobahn”)?  The Porsche that blew by us like we were parked at the mall.  Sheesh.  Apparently, those Porsches can go kinda fast.  It was dark, but we got a play by play of what we were passing from the driver.  Lots of hops, not to be confused with hogs.  Good thing Mike can interpret heavily accented English for me.  I was much more focused on watching the odometer tick further and further up.  Our top speed that I saw was 190 kilometers per hour (kph).  It’s not quite a 2:1 ratio between kph and miles per hour, but I knew we were going more than 100 mph.  When I looked it up after we got to the hotel, it was 118 mph.  Fastest I have ever gone, and something tells me that the Mercedes Benz station wagon goes a little faster than the old Ford Pinto station wagon we had when I was a kid.  The drive explained we could have gone faster, but the weather, the nighttime, and the winter tires all have to be taken into consideration. It would be interesting to do it in ideal driving conditions!

Upon arriving into Regensburg, we got a little mini-tour.  Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage city and one of the oldest and best preserved medieval cities in Germany.   It’s a neat little city to see by night and the most impressive structure is the Regensburg Cathedral.  It was just so beautiful lit up at night.  

 This bridge was built in the 1100s and is still in use as a foot bridge today.
By the time we got to the hotel, it was 11:00 and we were ready for dinner.  Sidewalks roll-up pretty early in this little town, so it was a good thing there was a McDonald’s right across the street.  We were able to kill two birds with one stone – have dinner, and continue Mike’s quest to eat at a McDonald’s in each country we visit. I do have to say, the food was consistent at this one, there were no disgusting fly issue (see previous post about McDonald’s in Espoo) and this one had a separate counter area called the McCafe.  They made all sorts of fancy coffee drinks, served different kinds of bagel sandwiches, and had lots of pastries from which to choose.  Like a Starbucks inside of a McDonald’s.  But, not.

We had decided on Saturday that we wanted to take a boat ride on the Danube.  After trying to figure out where to go, we were a bit stymied because the boat rides actually stop in October, run during the Christmas Market season, and then don’t start again til Spring.  It was not easy to figure out where we should be and the fact that I had made a serious error in judgment when selecting my shoes for the day did not help.  We eventually gave up and my prince of a husband took my shoes from me while I had a cup of tea, he went back to the hotel and exchanged them for my much more practical new snow boots.  After I was re-shod, we started off for our first Christmas Market, the Lucreziamarkt.  On the way, we saw a tourist info office and we’re able to get info about the boat ride.  Yeah!

 Mike in front of part of the the Lucreziamarkt.  The cathedral is in the background.

We wandered around the Lucreziamarkt and saw the different crafts and treats that were available.  A few items caught our eye for family gifts and I managed to pick up a gift for myself !  

This carousel was made from all sorts of branches and stumps.  The young woman in the little stand in the back was pedaling it to make it turn.  I told Mike he can make me one :)
We had lunch reservations for late in the afternoon, so we needed a snack.  After perusing the choices, we settled on a baumstriezelei, which is traditional Hungarian baked sweet bread.  It was gooooood.  Here’s a recipe if you want to make baumstriezelei at home

The baumstriezelei oven where the dough rotates on rolling pin sized skewers.

Next was the boat trip where we took a ride up the Danube to Walhalla.  Walhalla is a museum in honor of German scientists, politicians, artists, etc.  A German Hall of Fame, so to speak.  The actual building looks like the Parthenon in Athens.  The boat does not stop at Walhalla, but just gives you a view from the river.  
 Walhalla.  It's 350 steps to get into the museum.

 Our boat and view of the Danube.  It was 3:30 and getting dark.

After the boat ride, we had a late lunch at Wurstkuchl.  Wurstkuchl has been serving sausage for hundreds of years in this location.  We really enjoyed our traditional German sausage and Mike had a traditional German beer to go with it.  I had Orangina.  Yeah, Orangina.  

 Traditionally, you eat outside on the picnic tables, but since it was so cold, we . . .

ate inside in the cafe.

Later in the evening, we went to the main market in the city, which is on the main square of Regensburg.  The place was jam packed.  So many people standing around drinking guhlwein, which is a spiced red wine, eating sausage, and talking with friends and family.  You literally had to push and shove to get through.  We visited all of the stalls looking for the ideal Christmas decoration and gifts and really soaked up the atmosphere.  Everyone was having such a good time and it was quite infectious.  It may be Black Friday in the U.S. that signifies the start of the season, but I think the first weekend of the Christmas Markets starts it in Germany.  After spending almost two hours here, we went for dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by a Brit who lives in Regensburg that we met on the boat ride.

 Decorations around the square.

One of the stalls at the market.  We bought some small star lights here.

And guess what we had for dinner!  More sausage!  This time, it was a little sausage platter with different kinds of sausage to taste, along with a big soft pretzel.  I could only eat so much of that sausage, and by the time we finished dinner, I was sausaged-out!

For those of you who know me well, hold on to your seats, as our first activity on Sunday will probably surprise you.  We went to Mass.  The big, beautiful cathedral is a Catholic church dedicated to St. Peter and home to the Regensburg Boys Choir.  I had seen several references on the internet that the Regensburg Boys Choir is second only to the Vienna Boys Choir (no idea where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir fits into the ranking) and I really wanted to hear them sing. 

We walked into the church about 9:55 and realized that this is the place to be on Sunday mornings if you’re older than about 60.  Finding a seat was very difficult and though we wound up near the front, we were directly behind a stone column that was at least 15 feet in diameter.  We had a great view of – stone.  At this point, we still did not know the denomination of the church, though we were guessing Catholic.  Once the service started, keeping in mind it was in German, the good Catholic that was with me recognized the order to the service.  Yep, Catholic.  Then the boys started singing. When the priest had been speaking, he had been using a microphone.  The boys had no microphones, but the way their voices carried throughout this immense cathedral was amazing.  It was so beautiful.  Sometimes they were accompanied by an organ, and sometimes it was just their signing.  

Picture from Saturday evening.  My photos don't do the cathedral any justice!

Luckily, the man at the end of the pew left pretty early in the service, so I was able to easily enter and exit the pew and as a result, able to see some of the choir.  Now, if I were in a church in the US, of course I wouldn’t get up and down during a service, but people were coming and going pretty regularly.  Some were probably tourists, but others seemed to be parishioners, so I felt like I could get up to see what I could see.  One thing I noticed, the boys were as cold as all of us and many of them were actually wearing gloves (everyone in the church, with the exception of the priests, was bundled up in coat, gloves, and even some in hats). 

I also noticed that no hymnals or bibles were provided, but some people did BYO.  I thought that was interesting.  Mike was the one who noticed the average age of the attendees and this matched what the woman on the boat had told us.  Young people are leaving the churches in Germany in droves.  Similar situation in Finland.  As I understand it, both countries require their residents to tithe X Euros as part of their annual tax filings and the only way to not complete the tithe is to renounce your membership.  I wonder if that has anything to do with it.           

When it was time for communion and everyone moved forward (a lot less organized than what I had seen the times I went to St. Anthony’s in CG), we made our graceful exit.  There was actually an area roped off in the back for tourists who were just coming and going during the Mass.  I am really glad that we went in and listened to the full Mass (or almost full Mass) and didn’t just pop in for a few minutes.  Mike is right, there is always something peaceful about Mass, even when you don’t know exactly what is being said.

From there, it was back to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas markets.  Our third and final market was the Romantic Market at the Thurns and Taxis Palace.  This palace is larger than Buckingham Palace, if you can believe that.  I spent a few minutes reading their website, and am still not sure what they are the royalty of.  As far as I can tell, it’s because they created international postal service.  I am sure that isn’t exactly right, but I like to now think of them as the Prince and Princess of the Post Office!

 The Romantic Market at the Thurns and Taxis Palace.

This market was so beautiful.  I really wish we had come through here on Saturday night to see how it looked in the dark with all of the holiday lights.  We found a few more gifts and enjoyed lunch.  Since we swore off sausage by this point, I had a bread bowl of potato soup.  We did have another treat since there was a vendor selling crepes.  A little crepe with Nutella and banana.  Made me feel like I was in Paris!  We continued the hunt for the perfect Christmas decoration, but to no avail.  By this time, it was really cold and one of us was freezing.  This is the one of us who hasn’t bought a new winter coat with a temperature rating of -10F, snow boots, and thermal gloves because she commutes on public transportation many days!  

The really bright light on my coat is my reflector.  All good Finns wear a reflector this time of year so the cars can more easily see you.  Looks like it works!

We headed back to the main market to buy some Christmas decorations that we had our eye on and then made our way back to the hotel. We stopped at McDonald’s to get a hot drink, since literally everything in town was closed and Mike was done with the guhlwein.  At the hotel, we repacked our suitcases (we had strategically packed a big one and brought an empty smaller one) with our goodies and waited for our car back to Munich.  Our driver appeared right on time with her big Mercedes Benz van.  She wasn’t nearly the lead foot of our Friday night driver so no new top speed to report.

We ate dinner at the airport and caught our flight home.  As we were getting ready to pull out from the gate, the pilot came on and said since it had started to snow, we would need to be de-iced out on the runway. For some reason, at the Munich airport, de-icing occurs out on the runway and not at your gate.  You taxi for a ways and pull up to this large apparatus where they spray the de-icing stuff and then you are on your way.  About 20 minutes after take-off, the pilot came on and told us we were really lucky.  We were the last flight to take-off from our runway, which was now closed because of the snow.  The planes were starting to back up for the single run way and things were now delayed.  With our tailwind, we even had a nice early arrival back to Helsinki.  Overall, a great weekend!       


  1. Tracy~ you have such a wonderful way with words. Thanks for the giggles and making me want to come visit!

  2. Wonderful writing and pictures...brings back memories of trips I've taken to Germany. I hope your Christmas was nice and you found an exciting way to ring in the New Year! (And I hope you are feeling well...loved the belly bump pic in another post!).

  3. Hi, fellow expat blogger. Germany is famous for the Christmas markets and yet in spite of living just across the border for 10 years, I've never gone...
    you've put me to shame already!