Best (and Wurst) of the Rhine River Christmas Markets

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    Strasbourg -- Best Food/Drink: In Alsace, a French-German border region known for delicacies like foie gras and oysters, the Kugelhopf takes the ... well, cake, at Christmastime. This treat, bearing a passing resemblance to an American bundt cake, is filled with raisins and other fruit -- not to mention liquor -- and dusted with icing sugar. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Strasbourg -- Best Souvenir: This frightening face may not scream Christmas, but a house witch is an important member of many households in Alsace. Place her facing out your front window, and, the belief goes, she will ward off bad luck and evil spirits (and probably nosey neighbors). Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Strasbourg -- What to watch out for: While you're walking up the Rue du Vieux Marché aux Poissons into Strasbourg's famous Christmas market -- the world's oldest, with its beginnings in the 16th century -- try not to stray into the bike lane. Cyclists are used to speeding along their way unimpeded in this bike-friendly city. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Rüdesheim -- Best Food/Drink: Rüdesheimer Kaffee (coffee) is a guaranteed pick-me-up after a long day shopping for Christmas presents and eating as much wurst (sausage) as your stomach can handle. This festive drink is made using Asbach liquor (think cognac), which is set alight in the special cup. The coffee is then poured in and whipped cream topped with chocolate sprinkles is placed neatly on top. Be sure to take care when lifting the mug. It's hot! Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Rüdesheim -- Best Souvenir: A staple at all Christmas markets is glühwein. Like mulled wine in the U.K. or spiced wine in America, it's served warm and is generally made of red wine mixed with spices and fruit. Rüdesheim gets the distinction of having two alcoholic beverages on our list because its quaint cobbled streets (don't miss the Drosselgasse) create a maze-like market that draws a crowd and keeps it partying until Santa comes to town. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Rüdesheim -- What to watch out for: As a party spot, Rüdesheim has no strict rules against smoking indoors (particularly at drinking establishments), so be sure to keep that in mind if you want to keep your clothes smelling nice (and your lungs working properly). Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Koblenz -- Best Food/Drink: Eggnog (called Eierpunsch in Germany) is a holiday treat on offer at most Christmas markets, and Koblenz is no exception. Made with egg yolks, sugar, white wine and vanilla (occasionally cream, custard or rum is added), Eierpunsch is sure to warm you on a cold winter's day. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Koblenz -- Best Souvenir: We got a tip that Koblenz's Christmas market was known for its candles, and we weren't disappointed. These all-natural beeswax candles were among the best crafts we saw. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Koblenz -- What to watch out for: Aside from the candles, however, we were generally disappointed by the lack of quality, handmade crafts in Koblenz. Watch out for cheap, mass-market manufactured items like these pots and pans. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Heidelberg -- Best Food/Drink: As a meat-loving culture, the Germans are renowned for their wurst (sausage). Take the chance to sample bratwurst, weisswurst or feuerwurst (if you're into spicy food) straight of the grill while you're in Heidelberg. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Heidelberg -- Best Souvenir: We loved the thought of picking up a coffee cup with our name on it at a German Christmas market. Unfortunately (but understandably), most of the names were German, but most booths selling the cups will print to order. At this particular booth, inexplicably, the blue cups went for just over seven euros, while the gold were nearly nine. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Heidelberg -- What to watch out for: Heidelberg is no stranger to glühwein, and theirs packs an extra punch (no pun intended). The glühwein with an added shot of rum is definitely something to take in small doses. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Cologne -- Best Food/Drink: Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without cookies (biscuits). These buttery, sugary delights captured our hearts (and tastebuds) with lovely designs and professional presentation. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Cologne -- Best Souvenir: This curious and energy-saving little contraption serves up baked apples using just a tea candle. The process takes an hour, but at the end, you're left with a deliciously sweet treat that is complimented with a bit of cinnamon and sugar. Photo by: Kate Lynch
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    Cologne -- What to watch out for: Old Saint Nick. You'll see Santa Claus everywhere at German Christmas markets, even, like the gentleman in the picture, made from chocolate. Enjoy! Photo by: Kate Lynch
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