Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Market Madness

Christmas market season is upon us! I love everything about the markets: the lights, decorations, food, and gluhwein. In fact, I was so excited about the markets that I somehow convinced myself (and then my husband) that the market in Aachen opened Thanksgiving weekend. That Sunday, we drove over to Aachen with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.

The streets were mostly empty and we passed a lone vendor selling roasted chestnuts before we came upon the city center. All of the booths were in position but we were a week early. Oops. We stood there in the cold rain as I sheepishly looked at the ground. Suddenly I remembered another market!

"Okay, so maybe I got Aachen wrong. But I know the Valkenburg markets opened today!" I exclaimed proudly.
"What makes you so sure? Did you read about that one, just like you supposedly read about this one?" asked my husband.
"Yes... well, I'm about 78% sure. I was 100% sure but now I don't feel comfortable with my odds. Anyway, we have to pass by the exit on the way home so we might as well check."

With renewed optimism (on my part), we hopped back into the car and made our way to Valkenburg. Signs on the highway pointed toward the Kerstmarkt and I felt as if I'd saved the day!

Peter Pan and Captain Hook made their
way into the decorations.
The tiny village's streets were difficult to navigate because of all of the people. At least we knew we were in the right place. After we finally found parking, we paid admission to go into the first cave market. We'd been in the caves before for the guided tours but it was really interesting to see the marlstone walls lit up by Christmas lights and festooned with decorations. I must be honest and admit I wasn't very impressed with most of the wares. I expected handmade Christmas ornaments and unique Dutch items. Instead, there were a lot of vendors offering kitschy jewelry and overpriced (and imported) scarves and hats. Compared to the German markets, it was a little disappointing but the unique setting was a fair compensation.

I certainly never thought I'd be drinking gluhwein in a cave.

Cafe in a cave.
There are two caves in Valkenburg and both have markets for Christmas. We paid to go into the second one to make sure we experienced everything. The second market boasted the same vendors as the first. My advice would be to choose one cave and stick with it, especially since both charge admission. Unless of course you want to continue drinking gluhwein among the marlstone. It's not a bad idea.

The next weekend was the opening of the Aachen Christmas market-- I checked and double-checked to be absolutely sure. We decided to go on Saturday and fight our way through the throngs of people.

Aachen Christmas Market
Everything was exactly as I remembered. The Aachener Dom provided a breathtaking backdrop for the colorful stalls. Handmade ornaments and children's toys, wooden boxes and leather wallets, lace doilies and dainty earrings, a partridge in a pear tree... anything you could possibly imagine was for sale. We spent several hours wandering around and warming ourselves with gluhwein.

Even after a year, Aachen is still one of my favorite cities here.

Before we knew it, the next weekend (this past one) was upon us. Because of my market hysteria, I can't let a weekend pass without visiting one. We loved Monschau so much that we decided to return for its market. We were enthralled once again by the half-timbered houses and gurgling creeks. This is what a German village is supposed to look like.

We managed to complete most of our Christmas shopping in Monschau. The wares were basically the same as in Aachen-- except for the mustard. I'm not ashamed to say that we greedily re-stocked our supply of Monschau mustard. We bought with abandon, as if we expect a mustard shortage and can't bear the thought of naked bratwursts. Speaking of bratwurst, we stopped at a tiny station with just one man at the helm of the grill. With fanfare, he produced two perfectly-grilled bratwursts carefully decorated with mustard and said, "This is the best bratwurst at the market!" It was the best bratwurst I've ever tasted. Bratwurst are typically served inside a brotchen (roll). I usually don't like the brotchen because it's too hard and difficult to gnaw through, but this brotchen was slightly heated and it crumbled deliciously. That bratwurst alone is almost reason enough to go to the Monschau market.
Roasted Chestnuts!

I also ate my first roasted chestnuts! They were very meaty. Jack Frost was nipping at my nose as I nibbled on the chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My visions of a Bing Crosby Christmas have been fulfilled.

Our next stop on the whirlwind Christmas market tour will be somewhere in Belgium. I feel the need to experience Christmas in the tri-border area thoroughly. And now that we are well into December, I know for sure that all of the markets will be open.

We had our first dusting of snow here on Monday. It didn't stick but it was lovely as it fell. This week the weather has been mostly unpleasant: freezing rain, dark clouds, and cold wind. Fortunately the Christmas markets are lovely despite rain, snow, and clouds. By the end of the season I'll have had my fill of bratwurst and gluhwein. Until then, onto the next market!

Monschau Market, from above.


  1. Hey, do you have a facebook so I can follow you there?

    1. Kari, I'm sorry-- I don't have a Facebook. Thank you for reading!