Halloween is long gone and Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day for Americans) is over, so there is no longer any reason for me to hold back. My very favourite holiday of all holidays is just around the corner! It’s time to bring on the carols, hang up the ornaments and, most importantly, finalize the Christmas travel plans! Who’s with me?
Christmas is especially amazing when you’re married to a teacher. December is a whirlwind of crafts and concerts, followed by two wonderful weeks off. If we’re lucky, my husband even comes home on the last Friday of school with some yummy treats from his students which he generously shares with his lucky wife. Sure, it’s a bit of a challenge to plan our Christmas trips around the two busiest weeks of the year for travel on the entire calendar, but overall I appreciate how lucky we are to have two weeks off at Christmas every year to spend as a family.
This year is especially exciting for us since we have a truly epic trip planned for Christmas. Sure, our New York New Year’s trip was pretty awesome two years ago and it’s hard to beat the Disney cruise we snagged for a bargain price last year, but this year’s trip is even better.
My husband and I have talked for years about wanting to see the beautiful Christmas Markets in Germany and experiencing a traditional European Christmas. However, the logistics of such a trip aren’t exactly easy. Most markets start at the end of November and wrap up a day or two before Christmas. School gets out the Friday before Christmas, so most years we’d only be able to experience a couple of days there before Christmas. We initially thought that, like the fall foliage in New England or Carnival in Venice, it was just one of those things that would have to wait until we retired.
But this year, everything worked in our favour. Christmas is on a Friday, which gives us a full week off before Christmas day, and my husband was able to work out a couple of extra days off, which means that we’re able to arrive in Germany a full week before Christmas eve. In addition, I was able to find a few markets in Eastern France that continue right up to the New Year, which means that our family’s Traditional European Christmas Trip is on!
We’ll be flying into and out from Munich, which is probably my favourite city in Germany. It hosts several Christmas markets, including one that spreads out over the beautiful Marianplatz in the centre of the town. After three nights in Munich, we will travel two hours by train to Salzburg, the home of several more traditional markets as well as a lovely old town centre with a towering fortress overhead. While in Salzburg, I’m hoping to take a side trip out to the small town of Oberndorf, where you can visit the chapel where “Silent Night” was composed and first performed.
From Salzburg we’ll return to Munich and pick up a rental car and drive about three hours north to the lovely medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I visited this town on a solo trip back in 2003 and it is one of my favourite small European towns. Even in October it felt very cute and Christmas-y. We will be staying at a small, family run hotel for four nights over Christmas and I’m hoping that this will be the perfect place to settle in and enjoy some family time. We will arrive just before the town Christmas market wraps up and perhaps we’ll take advantage of having the car to visit one or two other small towns in the area on the 22nd or 23rd before everything winds down on Christmas Eve.
December 26th will see us packing up from Rothenburg and moving to another small town in a new country. Ingersheim is a small town on the outskirts of the small French city of Colmar, about three hours away. It has a strong German heritage (the region changed hands between France and Germany multiple times in the past few centuries) and their markets continue operating a few days longer so we’ll be able to squeak in a few more market visits if we’re not too tired of cute ornaments and mulled wine by then.
After a few days in France we’ll be returning to Germany and stopping in the Alpine town of Fussen for a night to visit the famous castle of Mad King Ludwig before returning to Munich, returning the car and spending our last night in Germany near Munich’s airport. We’ll be flying home via London and arriving back just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with family.
This trip will have quite a few firsts for our family. It will be our first Christmas away from extended family. We’ve travelled on Christmas day before, but only as far as Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It will be our second trip to Europe with the kids, but our first “backpacker style” trips with lots of movement and short stays. Last year in Italy we only moved three times in 23 days. This time we have 14 days and 7 different overnight stops. The kids are pretty good little travellers by now, but it will be a challenge.
It will also be our first time in Europe in the middle of winter. I sort of viewed our New Year New York trip as a bit of a test to see how we did in winter and I have to admit that even with a snowstorm labeled as “snowmageddon” by the media the kids did great. Good boots and mitts, lots of layers and frequent rest stops with warm food and drinks seemed to keep everyone happy and moving. Road conditions are another issue and there’s not much that can be done about that, but our distances aren’t great and hopefully we’ll be able to avoid any serious delays due to weather.
So that’s our exciting Christmas travel plans for this year. It will be our first Christmas in Europe but hopefully it won’t be the last. And there will be a lot of new ornaments for the family tree by this time next year!