In search of snow

Our last day in Europe, after six weeks in search of snow was spent in Belgrade. We had been travelling on our Eurail Global Pass throughout Europe, visiting Christmas markets, enjoying a Rhine River cruise and wishing and hoping for a white Christmas. We had left behind the hot Australian summer and more than anything we wanted was to see it snow.

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We had experienced some chilly weather along the way which saw us rugged up with our thermals, scarves and gloves more than once. But we had not seen any snow 🙁 Starting off in Paris in November, it was cold, but very sunny most days. We then travelled to Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt. All pretty, cold and had a few days of light rain here and there, but still no show. In Frankfurt we were greeted with a bright, sunny room and told they were having the hottest winter in 100 years, which was great, but not what we wanted to hear. The final day in Frankfurt was very foggy as we made our way with Avalon Waterways along the Rhine River to Heidelberg, Mannheim, Speyer, Strasbourg, Obernai, Breisach, a Black Forest tour and onto Colmar.

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We visited some beautiful places, fortified walled towns, half timbered houses and enjoyed delicious French pastries, drank lots of warming gluewein, and ate stolen. We sipped wines in a typical Alsation wine cellar and drove through the cold but very picturesque Black Forest to visit an authentic sixth generation Cuckoo clock maker at work. There we sipped cherry wine, ate Black Forest cake and watched the wonderful craft of wood carving. Our final stop on the cruise was Basel. Finally in Switzerland we were convinced we would experience a winter wonderland. But no. From Basel we ventured to Berne and Zurich, Lucerne and Chur where we boarded the famous Bernina Express.  We thought this would be a sure thing to see lots of fluffy white snow capped mountains, but even the ski slopes we passed had barely any snow and they were concerned to keep their tourism alive during the unseasonally warm winter.

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From Tirano we travelled to Milan for an overnight stopover and onto Salzburg via Innsbruck. Despite the lack of snow in the hills of Austria we weren’t let down with lots of fun on a Sound of Music tour. After a few days in Salzburg it was onto Ljubljana for a few days, travelling onto Vienna where we would spend Christmas. We were told our hopes for a White Christmas were doubtful and although quite cold, there was no forecast for snow. We made our way to Prague and then Budapest via Bratislava in time for a low of -11c for New Year’s Eve. It was bitterly cold there, but you guessed it, no snow.

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Our final stop was a quick stopover in Belgrade before flying back home to warm and sunny Perth. The journey from Budapest to Belgrade was an exhausting eight hour train trip, with no toilets onboard and we were not permitted to get off the train at the border checkpoint. Finally, just on dusk we arrived at Novi Beograd station tired and showing signs of forty days of travel having taken it’s toll. We had checked our phone for the forecast and were clearly not getting our hopes up, despite it showing -16c there was only a 30% chance of snow.

This was our best odds in the last six weeks. As we were approaching the station we could see what we later learnt was a very light snow flurry. We were in oblivion at first, seeing what we first thought was dust blowing about. But this soon turned to excitement, much to the locals’ amusement. We were in our element to see our closest chance of real snow before we depart Europe to return to the heat of Australian summer. I’d seen snow on the ground twice before, but I’d never seen it snow. It was so beautiful and amazing, I felt like a child exploding with excitement. After checking into the Courtyard by Marriott hotel we wandered around for an hour or so in the very light flurry, which was barely more than very light rain. But we were content. We had seen it snow. We went back to the hotel restaurant and had a wonderful meal. Was it the Beef Bourguignon warming me with each bite as we sat and watched the weather outside? No, it was that we had finally fulfilled our desire to see it snow, as light as it was, we were satisfied to have finally, on our last night, seen a little snow falling.

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Next morning we were super excited, as I pulled back the curtains we were amazed at what we saw. The pavements were white, the streets covered in dirty sludge, we had woken to a snow shower. The flurry from last night continued through the night and had got a little heavier.

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Quickly we made our way outside, donning our heavy winter jacket, wool lined boots, gloves, etc. It was beautiful, white fluffy snow and such a pretty sight and a moment we will never forget. The hotel staff were scattering salt to melt the snow, the snow trucks were going along the streets clearing the snow and the people were scarce. Except for us. We were in winter wonderland, mesmerized by the vision of pure white snow. It was my first time seeing the little flakes floating down. It was really cold outside, every step I took I was crunching the snow on the pavement and feeling the sharp little flakes hitting my cheeks.  After six weeks, many in negative degrees, temperatures I had never experienced before, we were finally rewarded with snow.

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It was a great opportunity to wander around, appreciate the beauty of snow and take some photos. Everything was covered in white flakes, it was so beautiful and definitely a highlight for us and a moment in time we will remember forever. For an Australian in my 50’s who has never seen it snow before, this trip to Belgrade will be an experience of a lifetime. Steve wandered around for about four hours, rekindling his British childhood. Belgrade was simply breathtaking and our wish had been granted, just hours before we were due to depart.

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I have to say winter in Europe is beautiful, but when it snowed in Belgrade it was truly magical.

Seeing it snow for the first time was a really awesome experience. Have you seen it snow? What was your first time like?

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Christmas markets in Europe

We headed to Europe in November for six weeks and one of the main attractions for going at that time of the year was to experience the Christmas markets. We found them such a contrast from Christmas here in Australia.

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Not just because of the chill in the air, but all the sights, sounds and smell that create a festive atmosphere. The sights of the sparkles and glow of the lights twinkling through the foggy air and the sounds of the music of the carousels and Christmas carols.

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Best of all is the enticing smells of gluhwein, ginger bread and bratwurst filling the air. The Gluhwein is served in cute little cups and many give a token. You can either return the token for a refund of around 2 Euro or keep the cup as a souvenir.

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People young and old, local or not gather everywhere near the ice rink, the carousel, listening to the magic in the air. To experience the festive atmosphere is like we are walking straight into scenes from Christmas cards.

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There are little wooden huts selling everything from hand crafted Christmas decorations, candles, soaps, jewellery all unique and quirky and an impressive selection of culinary delights.

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The hotels we stayed in at Cologne, Frankfurt and Basel were ideal for seeing the best of the markets in those cities.

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These charming Christmas markets are set throughout the streets and squares, amongst the architecture of cathedrals and town halls. Almost every Christmas market has massive beautifully decorated Christmas tree, a carousel and a nativity scene, we even saw one with a living advent calendar.

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Cologne, which has about 5 Christmas markets, has a little train that takes people hop on-hop off style to each of the markets. Several have the traditional wooden Christmas pyramid. These are decorated with angels or manger scenes and traditionally the wooden propeller at the top spins from the rising heat of candles that light the pyramid.

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Europe is transformed as the nights are longer, the days are shorter and it’s not just the aroma of gluhwein that warms the soul.  These markets bring locals and tourists together to share in the spirit of a true winter wonderland.

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Regardless of whether you visit these Yule themed markets for seasonal shopping, wine drinking or indulging in gastronomic delights with a choice of so many European towns hosting these markets, you will find each one unique.

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It may be cold but the magic of Christmas and the ambience from the illuminated decorations creates a warm Christmas mood in the heart of many towns. We visited markets in France, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia and could not choose a favourite.

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Have you been to any European Christmas markets?  Which was your favourite? Please leave a comment below and let us know.

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European Christmas Discovery – Planning

We’ll be travelling again and I can’t wait to start our next big adventure. We will be spending five weeks in Europe which will include Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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Our biggest consideration was the time of the year. We had been invited on a four day Rhine River cruise from Frankfurt to Basel so had to take those dates of that into consideration. We decided we would like time in Europe both before and after the cruise

As soon as we decided on our itinerary there was booking flights, accommodation, housesitter, travel insurance, what to do and what to pack.

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I have planned taking only one roller suitcase to make it easier getting around so have to think out my winter wardrobe carefully. I also have to take into account when packing that clothes will be much more bulky but I have decided to take the following. 4 long sleeved tops, 4 jumpers, 1 vest, 3 pairs trousers, 2 pairs shoes/boots, 4 pairs socks, 2 full sets thermal underwear, hat, 2 x gloves, 3 scarves, 1 jackets, 1 coat, plus regular underwear, nightwear, umbrella, 1 over shoulder travel bag, 1 tote bag, camera, iphone, IBM Thinkpad and toiletries. I bought the best quality coat and thermals I could afford in an end of season sale, cashmere jumpers, cashmere/wool blend socks and gloves and waterproof wool lined boots.

We have to factor in that we’ll be leaving Perth in extreme heat of summer and arriving in Paris in icy winter, so need to carry our coat with us, which at least will leave some room in my case for any purchases from the Christmas markets.

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Our itinerary changed a little during the planning process as we just couldn’t fit some things in around the dates that were fixed. But we are confirmed and booked now to leave at the end of November and will be travelling to Paris, Brussels, Bruges, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Basel, Lucerne, Vaduz, Chur, Tirano, Milan, Salzburg, Ljubljana, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Budapest and Belgrade and plan most all our travel via rail. We hope to get a good opportunity to explore the areas staying around 2-3 days and incorporating some daytrips in areas we are staying a little longer.

Update: We added daytrips to Ghent, Antwerp, Bern and Zurich and went to the Black Forrest, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Colmar and Strasbourg as part of the Rhine River cruise. When not part of the cruise we did all our travel by train.

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We have organised some walking tours, food tours, Winter Wonders in Brussels, the oldest Christmas markets in Bern, a Rhine River cruise, Vienna Opera and a restaurant at Fisherman’s Bastion for New Year’s Eve.

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We are excited to be visiting many parts of Europe for the first time and returning to some of our favourite places at an exciting time of the year. We are thrilled to be returning to Vienna, one of our favourite cities in Europe, which is why we have scheduled our very first Christmas there and also to Budapest where we will spend New Year’s Eve. This will be a very different experience for us and plan to make it a trip of a lifetime. This will be our first Christmas outside of Australia and an exciting time to share with our readers as we explore the European Christmas Markets.

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Many Australians dream of one day experiencing a winter wonderland for Christmas. We’ll enjoy all the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas and the magic in the air at the famous European Christmas markets. We’ll see snowy scenes and experience the festive atmosphere of walking in scenes straight from a Christmas card as we see all the decorations and lights twinkling, as the air fills with amazing smells of traditional ginger bread, hot mulled wine and hot roasted chestnuts. Listening to the magic in the air with the traditional concerts and Christmas carols is something we are really looking forward to. Christmas in Europe will be very different than our usual Christmas in Australia.

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Where will you be spending your Christmas? Have you ever had a Christmas or New Year away from your friends and family? Where were the absolute best Christmas markets you’ve been to?

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