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Christmas Markets Virtual
Day 1: Embarkation at Nuremberg
Day 2: Nuremberg and Danube cruising
Day 3: Regensburg
Day 4: Passau
Day 5: Salzburg
Day 6: Melk, Durnstein and Danube cruising
Day 7: Vienna
Day 8: Disembarkation
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Day 2: Wednesday, Nuremberg and Danube cruising
Nuremberg and Danube cruisingWeather Report: Overcast and cold, but bearable.

Our ship stayed docked in Nuremberg overnight, and today we started our tour of the city at 8:30 a.m. after an early breakfast. Leaving by bus from our ship, we had an excellent local guide onboard who told us about the local history of Nuremberg, which dates back to 1050. From 1216 until 1806, when it became part of the kingdom of Bavaria, Nuremberg was a free imperial city, whose citizens elected their local leaders and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations, who lived in the local castle for 500 years. As such the city developed quite independently of any heavy church or outside influence, and during the 1500s was known as the Venice of the north for its art and culture.

Nuremberg is well known in Germany and Europe for its toy making, which dates back to the 13th century. Up until 100 years ago, over 250 local toy factories were still operating. Many of the Christmas toys and traditions we enjoy today, such as nutcrackers, the nutcracker ballet, gingerbread houses, gingerbread men and the concept of Christmas tree ornaments, originated in Nuremberg and are still popular in the Christmas market.

In the U.S., Nuremberg is known more for the Nazi war crime trials that took place after World War II, and that was the focus of our morning tour, in which we had the opportunity to visit the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Congress Hall and the Hall of Justice where the trials took place. Today was a particularly gray day, which somehow seemed fitting for this "gloomy period" -- as our guide put it -- of Nuremberg's history.

Interestingly enough, Hitler chose Nuremberg as the capital of the Nazi party efforts in part because of the fact that it was less cosmopolitan, less influenced by the church and more purely German. It was also chosen because it was a centrally located city with an excellent network of trains to transport the million party members who were brought in for the annual Nazi party rallies.

Our tour continued on to the Nuremberg Castle (or Kaiserburg), where we briefly toured the exterior and enjoyed panoramic views of the city. The castle overlooks the old city, which is surrounded by a virtually intact wall that's three miles long. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the city was destroyed by bombing during World War II, as was most of the castle -- though it has, however, been restored.

From the castle we walked downhill on cobblestone streets to the Christmas market for more shopping! Today we arrived at the market around 10:45 a.m. and it was quieter, less festive and much less crowded. That quickly changed around lunchtime when the shoppers started arriving in full force and the Gluhwein stands were once again hopping. At noon in the market square, a crowd gathered to watch the Glockenspiel (a huge clock framed with all sorts of mechanical toys -- drummers and horn-blowing angels -- that offer a cacophony of sound on the hour) at the front of the church.

We returned to the ship at 1:30 p.m. for lunch, and at this point the cruise -- technically speaking -- really began. We started sailing down the Danube (alas, much of Nuremberg, save for the walled city, is a not-terribly-attractive contemporary city -- though I have to admit the stretch where the canal actually crossed overtop a freeway was pretty interesting). As such, scenery-watching wasn't much fun. More visual, however, was a glass-blowing demonstration, hosted by a fifth-generation master glass blower from Nuremberg. He had worked with the U.S.'s famous glass blower Dale Chihuly (and few of us, me included, could resist purchasing his exquisite glass angels).

Throughout the afternoon and evening we would pass through some 14 locks! It's an odd sensation, watching the ship rise in what amounts to a concrete cavern.

Tonight was the captain's welcome reception, followed by our daily briefing on dinner and the next day's destination. This evening our fixed menu included a shrimp salad, salmon mousse with champagne sauce, a very nice veal entree and a dessert sampler. Although many of the meals are fixed or have only two entree options, you can always choose chicken or prime rib as an alternative. My favorite part of dining is that it is completely open seating and you can choose to seat wherever and with whomever you choose at tables of four or six.

Off to bed and onward to Regensburg!
Day 1: Embarkation at Nuremberg red arrow Day 3: Regensburg

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