Category Archives: Cultural Travel

European Christmas Markets

A Guide to Christmas Markets in and around Germany

The origins and history of the German Christmas Markets

Nowadays, it is easy to keep warm during the winter. Thanks to heaters of all kinds, you can survive the winter months without shivering. However, this was not always the case. Not too long ago, inhabitants of cold countries had to find other ways to keep warm. Setting up fires was one option. But a significantly more celebratory one was Christmas markets.

European Christmas Markets

Christmas market in Cologne, Germany cc Image courtesy of Swiv on Flickr

Many people might think that Christmas markets came about to celebrate Christmas. However, if you really read the history, this was only a secondary purpose. The markets didn’t come about as Christmas markets as such. Instead, they were winter markets in more general terms, specifically serving the purpose of combatting the cold.

In Germany, inhabitants would come together to huddle around fires and sip “Glühwein,” literally meaning “glow-wine.” Already in the 14th century, the markets served as a place to purchase goods that would keep them warm during the long winters. From furs and hats to coats and gloves, just about any item that would protect you from the wind and snow was sold. In addition, the outdoor markets were a place where you could find handicrafts, such as woven baskets or artisan toys. To keep energized, people would stock up on baked goods, such as the typical German gingerbread (“Lebkuchen”). If you wanted something savory, simple hot meals, such as sausages and soups, could be eaten at the stands as well.

 

The 21st century version

German Christmas Markets

Lebkuchen,” the typical German gingerbread cc Image Courtesy of Patrick Ciebilski on Flickr

As time went by, the markets became an important event approaching Christmas Eve. Today, thousands of tourists flock not only to Germany, but also to Austria and Poland to visit these kinds of markets. In fact, sometimes it may be that more English, Spanish or Japanese is being spoken at the markets than German.

Over time, the markets have also become more commercialized. Glowing lights have been added, as have more modern cooking tools and heaters. But that doesn’t mean that the traditions have been overtaken completely.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of different markets in and around Germany. Clearly, some are more well-known than others, and they also vary in size. In fact, there are even significant differences in their names. While some are explicit Christmas markets (“Weihnachtsmarkt”), others are called “Christkindlmarkt,” which refers to the angel that provides children with presents on Christmas Eve. Others, in turn, go by the name of “Adventmarkt,” meaning advent market.

Planning your trip

German Christmas Markets

Glass decoration on sale at the German Christmas markets. cc Image Courtesy of Nanand81 on Flickr

Due to the popularity of travel during the Christmas season, which includes visiting the markets, it is advantageous to plan ahead.

As mentioned above, there are a plethora of Christmas markets in and around Germany, so you might be asking yourself “where do I get started?” Here are some of the most famous Christmas markets to choose from:

Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg. This market is one of the most well-known versions, especially since it includes the figure of a “Christkind,” represented each year by a young girl.

Christkindlmarkt in Munich at the Marienplatz. This market originated in the 14th century, when it was called the “Nikolausmarkt,” meaning “Santa Claus market.” With the influence of Protestantism in the 19th Century came the transition from the Nikolaus to the Christkind as the one who brings the gifts. In Munich thus happened what had already occurred in the 16th century in cities such as Nürnberg and Straßburg: the Nikolausmarkt became the Christkindlmarkt.

Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt in Cologne.

These are the most well-known markets in Nürnberg, Munich and Cologne. However, each city is also home to numerous other versions. In Munich, for example, you can head to the Wittelsbacherplatz square to go to the Mittelaltermarkt, which literally means “medieval market.” Here, you can revel in traditional goods, sold at reconstructions of medieval stands. All the vendors are even dressed in medieval clothes!

Outside of Germany, famous markets include the versions in Salzburg and Vienna in Austria, and Bremgarten as well as Lucerne in Switzerland.

If possible, come visit on a weekday, as weekends are particularly crowded. Moreover, the closer you get to Christmas, the more hectic it becomes as everyone is rushing to buy last-minute presents. If you can, buy your presents early so you won’t have to be in a hurry.

Once you are there

Visiting a Christmas market has, as already mentioned above, become more and more of a commercial event. However, you can still relish the old traditions.

Be sure to try the local foods, such as the Lebkuchen (typical baked goods) and Rostbratwürstchen (grilled sausages) from Nürnberg and the typical Maroni (chestnuts) offered almost at all German, Austrian and Swiss markets. At the latter, a Raclette (bread dipped in cheese) will surely warm you up as well.

As for drinks, adults should try sipping Glühwein and Eierlikör (egg-nogg liquor) and the children should head for Kinderpunsch (children’s fruity “glühwein” without alcohol) – there’s something for everyone! Most of all, the idea is to have a good time with friends and family.

Last but not least, dress warm. Wearing ski pants has even become an option for some, especially little kids.

All in all, the goal is to forget the Christmas stress and relax!

Anzac Battlefields, Attaturk, Gallipolli

Gallipolli Battlefields and Anzac Day

[ad#World Nomad 2LP]Traveling around the world is really about the knowledge you gain. Let me clear the air and explain that before visiting Gallipolli, I really had no idea what Anzac Day was since I’d never heard of it. I thought Anzac was a Turkish word.

In fact Anzac is a compound word created during the first world war when Australia and New Zealand still did the bidding of the British Empire. It’s a word used to describe the people from Australia and New Zealand.

Gallipolli Battlefield TurkeyAt the time of the first world war, hundreds of thousands of Anzacs were shipped to the Galibolu or Gallipolli Peninsula where they were supposed to defeat the Turkish soldiers, open up the Dardanelles, and then take control of the Bosphorus, Istanbul, and the Black Sea.

Things didn’t go as planned. Instead, the battle raged from 25 April 1914 until 9 January 1916. The battle called by various names, in Turkey- The Cannakkale Wars, – in Australia and New Zealand, Gallipolli. For the Turks (then part of Europe’s sick man- the crumbling Ottoman Empire) it was the brave last stand before the fall and for the Gallipolli Lone PineAnzacs, it was the first real battle. Despite the huge casualties to both sides, the battle built a lasting friendship between the two nations and people. Each year tens of thousands of Anzacs come to Gallipolli. In total nearly 400,000 casualties resulted from this battle.

Anzac Battlefields, Attaturk, GallipolliIt was trench warfare at it’s most ugly and despite the many deaths, it was also considered to be one of the last ‘gentlemen’s battles’ of any war as the long suffering troops would share tea, hard biscuits, and other food items. Turkish soliders earned immense respect for often putting themselves in harms way to rescue their enemies. Rescue Anzac Soldiers in Gallipolli

Perhaps the most defining events of the battles were when a relatively unknown officers named Mustapha Kemal disobeyed orders and in fact, stopped the Anzac invasion with his troops. Nearly his entire regiment perished and he too would have died if not for a watch in his chest pocket which stopped a bullet from going into his heart. Anzac Day, Gallipolli, AnzacThe battle made Kemal famous and later he came to be called Attaturk which means, Father of the Turks. He built modern Turkey into a secular republic. Perhaps I will write more of this remarkable man in the future. Read more about Attaturk.

Our tour of Gallipolli was fantastic. We booked it through Crowded House Hotel and were fortunate to have perhaps the most famous guide of the peninsula.

Gallipolli Battlefield ToursOur tour guide was the energetic Bulent Bill Korkmaz. ‘Bill’ was a wealth of information and made the battlefields come to life, luckily without the flying bullets. The tour was 45 lira and included lunch, the lunch was really awful, a tasteless cheese sandwich and some junk food snacks thrown in a bag, but the tour was worth it anyway. Bill’s Aussie accent (he’s Turkish but he’s spent so much time guiding Aussies that he sounds like one) and his colorful stories of the history of the place, the history of tourism in Gallipolli, and the history of his tourists. When he began there were less than 1000 tourists in a year. Now Anzac Day alone brings upwards of 10,000.

It was more than just an interesting tour of a beautiful place with a rich historical background. It was a look into the soul of this nation that we are now living in.

wonders of the world

10 Wonders of the World

The wonders of the world have been presented in various media with different listings, but there is a common agreement regarding seven of them, featuring in the “the 7 wonders of the world.”

However, taking the wonders of all ages into consideration, here are guest writer Gabriella Reznick’s top wonders of the world.

10. Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

This is the only wonder of the ancient world that is still standing, and it is great in every aspect. Built over 20 years (2580-2560 B.C.), the pyramid held the record for the tallest man-made structure in the world (at 480.6 feet) for over 3800 years.
wonders of the world

9. Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Composing of large stones that are in a standing position, and form a circle, Stonehenge is believed to have been built around 2500 B.C. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recent studies have led archaeologists to believe that it was used as a burial site in its time.

8. Golden Gate Bridge, USA

Completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is an engineering marvel for its times and can be considered a wonder of the world. Connecting San Francisco to San Marino, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered by the Frommers Travel Guide as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed bridge in the world.”

7. Machu Picchu, Peru

The literal translation of Machu Picchu is “Old Mountain.” It is located 2430 meters above sea level on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is believed to be a Inca site.

6. Mount Everest, Nepal

Though not man-made, the absolutely amazing peak of Mount Everest certainly deserves a place in the top 10 wonders of the world, as a natural wonder. Standing at 8848 meters tall, it is the highest peak in the world above sea level, and was first conquered by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

5. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Certainly one of the most known structures in the world, the leaning Tower of Pisa is indeed a leaning structure, standing at 55.86 meters tall. The Tower used to lean by 5.5 degrees, but restoration work carried out between 1991 and 2000 has reduced that angle to 3.99 degrees.

4. Chichen Itza, Mexico

Meaning “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”, Chichen Itza is a large site built by the Mayans, and consists of many stone buildings; all of which are under various stages of preservation. All structures are connected by a network of roads that were formerly paved, called sacbeob. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is monitored by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico.

3. The Coliseum, Italy

The Coliseum is a massive structure, which is actually an amphitheatre, and is the largest ever built in Italian history. The Coliseum is elliptical in shape and is capable of seating 50,000 people! Though damaged partially by massive earthquakes and stone-robbers, this marvelous feat of Roman engineering has stood to survive all the tough times, and is a must visit.

2. The Taj Mahal, India

The Taj Mahal, meaning “crown of buildings”, is a breath-taking structure made of marble, and is located in India. Built over 30 years, the Taj Mahal comprises of a dome mausoleum, and also has the shrines of its creator, the emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Begum, in whose memory the structure was actually built. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of iconic beauty and love.

1. The Great Wall of China, China

This structure is also one of the most famous ones in the world. Built originally to protect the northern borders of China against attacks, the Great Wall is actually a collection of walls built across centuries by many dynasties. The whole series, collectively called the Great Wall, spans 8851.8 kilometers, and is a fascinating wonder.

Gabriella plans to visit all of the world’s wonders and blog about them at World Wonders but tells us that her site isn’t ready yet. If you would like to guest blog or submit your own list of wonders at Vagobond, submit your travel story, list, or tips for review using the button at the top of the page.