Christmas 2019 is now just a fond memory. But if, like me, you like shiny things then you are in for a treat. During a recent trip to Europe, we travelled by train from Frankfurt in Germany, to Salzburg and Vienna in Austria, and lastly to Budapest in Hungary…. to see the Christmas markets. These are bucket-list destinations and easily accessible, given how close the cities are to each other. There are so many markets available… some cities have twenty or more scattered around various plazas. We managed to take in just a few but some cover many acres, Surprisingly, each one was different. Be prepared to have all your senses working full time with the sights, sounds, aromas and tastes.
On this trip, we were in search, specifically, of snow and struck it lucky in Salzburg. Coming from years of excessive heat and drought in Australia, the sight of a very cute miniature snowman in a park; crisp, white snow settling on Christmas market stalls; and snow-dusted mountains seen in the distance from Salzburg castle, added so much to our experience.
I had thought the crowds might be too great but they were manageable especially if you went late afternoon before revellers had hit the glühwein stalls and in time for an early dinner of tantalising street food. In winter time, it gets dark early. Usually by about 4pm, the twinkling lights beckon.
You might be wondering how this topic fits into a medieval theme but these markets, and others like them, have an historical pedigree: some, going back to 1294 as in the case of Vienna. Medieval life was often dominated by death, disease, war and famine. Frequently, life was hard and short. People sought solace and structure in religion and aspects of the religious calendar were celebrated with gusto.
It is fascinating that countries in modern times are now in the throes of the Corona Virus and the threat of disease, as in medieval times, reminds us lives can be brutally cut short and lifestyles which we accept as a given may also change beyond recognition. Another serious threat has been terrorism which has seen events, where vulnerable crowds gather, cancelled. I wonder how the years ahead will pan out and how lovely family festivals such as these will be affected. I am certain though, despite overt commercialism and these significant threats, the Christmas message of peace, love and hope will continue to resonate.
Now the festivals are a place where artisans sell their wares and food sellers work extra hard to summon up huge supplies of grilled sausages and meats, stews, traditional sweet treats such as stollen and gingerbread, and if you fancy rooster testicles (??) then you are in for a treat!
We found the markets to be uplifting and fun, also great places to buy unique Christmas gifts.
In the towns, streets are lit up and many stores remain open to entice meandering family groups. Everywhere, people are laughing and sharing, casually strolling along taking in the lights above and around them. Nearby in the commercial streets of Budapest, we saw these enterprising Christmas decorations reflecting local wares.
One of my favourite things is to visit covered market halls and the one in Budapest was exceptional. Christmas decorations light up the cavernous spaces above as you explore the food stalls below. Stall holders entice you try their local produce and a favourite memory was trying freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, just the thing to fight off winter sniffles.
This experience offered so many distinct memories to savour: the unique quality of these regional Christmas markets and the opportunity to experience a joyous European wonderland, and yes, lots of shiny things!