One of the best parts about studying abroad in Europe in the fall is the Christmas season. Europeans take the Christmas season seriously and go all out for the occasion. Just about every city I traveled to between November and December had a Christmas market. Trying to picture something like the Christmas markets in America would not work because of the great diversity in our country. On the other hand, in Europe they have a long-standing history of Christianity, and in the winter months, it is displayed in full force through the Christmas markets.
My AIFS program in Salzburg was the first to introduce me to the markets. On a cold day in November, our entire AIFS group, including the Resident Directors, met up at the Christmas market. We all had the chance to sample some of the local food and drink the markets offered, including hot punch and roasted chestnuts. The punch was not my favorite drink in the world, but it did help to warm you up on a cold day. I much preferred eating the chestnuts. I had never tried them before, and they were quite tasty. Having a chance to experience the market with my entire group was great, and then in each city I traveled to, I had a chance to see and experience another market.
Another great perk was the ability to go to the Christmas markets at the towns at Wolfgangsee. AIFS gave us a voucher to take an excursion to visit the three Christmas markets which made up the Wolfgangseer Advent: St. Gilgen, St. Wolfgang, and Strobl. These markets were especially interesting, because we got to see three markets in the span of a few hours. The markets in Salzburg and Wolfgangsee were great, but as I said earlier, almost every other city had their own Christmas market. My favorite markets were the markets in Zurich, Switzerland; and Berlin, Germany.
Zurich’s market did not amaze me because of its size, rather its location surprised me. Zurich set up its market in their train station. It was awesome, because they didn’t have the biggest space for the market but they jammed so many stands into the small area. The market had three or four aisles that ran from the end of the train station almost all the way to where people arrived on the train platforms. While at the market, I had one of the best snacks, quite possibly in my whole life. This snack was a baguette which had the dough inside pulled out and the dough’s space was replaced by melty cheese. It was the perfect snack for a cold winter night.
The other markets which I would consider my favorite were in Berlin. That’s right I said markets, plural. In such a big city like Berlin, they must have had more than five different Christmas markets. During my stay in Berlin, I was able to get to four of them. Berlin was such an awesome place to go to the markets, because you can visit so many markets and different parts of the city while at each market. For example, I was able to meet a great group of people in the hotel, and we took the S-Bahn (the metro) around the city to visit the different markets.
I feel that the best time to visit the different markets is at night, because it seems that both the locals and tourists gather at night to enjoy time outside while they sip on their hot punch or gluhwein and eat whatever tasty treat the markets offer. Another great thing about the markets is that you can take care of your holiday shopping all in one place by buying family members and friends some of the great crafts the local artists sell at the market.
Interested in seeing the beauty of Austria, learning about its culture and enjoying the joy of the holidays in Europe? Visit our website for more information about AIFS in Salzburg!