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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 3: Thursday, Regensburg
RegensburgWeather Report: Overcast and brrr! Cold.

We docked this morning in Regensburg, the best-preserved medieval city in Germany, and embarked on an interesting walking tour of the old city with another excellent local guide. With the exception of two optional tours in Vienna, all of the walking tours and shore excursions are included in one's cruise fare, and they help visitors get oriented in each city and learn a bit about the history, architecture and sightseeing highlights. Our walking tour lasted about an hour and a half and was a good introduction to the history and architecture of this charming city. Afterwards we had free time to explore on our own.

Today has been bitterly cold, so cold that my sister and I visited a milliner (hat maker) to buy a warm scarf -- and she walked out instead with a fur hat! Still, the bitter weather inspired us to efficiency. We made our lunch choice -- an Italian restaurant and pizzeria -- for two reasons: It was near our next market stop and it published its menu in English. The food was actually quite good; however, if you are planning this trip for yourself, fellow passengers raved about their lunches at the oldest continuously operating sausage kitchen in Germany: the 800-year-old Historische Wurstkuche, a small, family-style restaurant. For dessert, try dampfnudel, a local specialty sold at the Christmas markets; it's a light, melt-in-your mouth, sweet white bread shaped like a big dumpling, covered in vanilla sauce and cinnamon.

Regensburg is a beautiful old city, full of colorful stucco facades and architecturally rich with a wonderful melange of medieval Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque buildings, many of which date back to the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Most of Regensburg's old city escaped damage in World War II. Our guide told us that Regensburg was very lucky to have an angel watching out for the city -- an American general who was a son-in-law of the von Trapp family (of "Sound of Music" fame). He apparently gave orders to his troops not to destroy the historic old centers of Regensburg and Salzburg, and Regensburg in particular suffered far less damage from bombing compared to other German cities. There were very few tourists here other than those from our river cruise ship, and I definitely enjoyed our visit much more so than Nuremberg. The local residents are as friendly and charming as the old city itself, and there's definitely an artsy feel in the Christmas markets and local shops.

We had a great day shopping in Regensburg, with its three smaller Christmas markets and wonderful boutiques. Beyond our stop at the milliner -- which was great fun -- highlights include the Lucrezia Craft market and its surrounding boutiques, where we found unique, high-quality handmade goods from local artists such as pottery, whimsical metal sculptures, soaps, beeswax candles, leather goods and unusual Christmas ornaments.

The main Christmas market -- the Old Corn Market -- was a smaller version of the Nuremberg market and much less overwhelming, but the items for sale were very similar to those we found in Nuremberg. It seemed to be the place in town for young people to congregate for eating and drinking at the Gluhwein stands, which got rowdier the darker it got. And it gets dark early! Each day night falls at about 4 p.m.

The Romantic Christmas market in the medieval courtyard of the Thurn & Taxis Palace was by far our favorite as it was full of atmosphere in a marvelous and festive setting. A digression: The Thurn & Taxis empire was created as a result of their invention (in the 18th century) of both the postal service and the taxis that actually delivered the mail.

We arrived after dark to walk through the torch-lit gardens into the main palace courtyard, where visitors gathered around open fires enjoying freshly roasted pig on a spit, and knights roamed by as though keeping a watchful eye. The booths here also offered unusual local handicrafts. Admission cost three Euros; though is the only Christmas market we will visit with an entry fee, it is well worth it.

Dinner onboard was the usual two-hour affair, beginning with appetizer and soup, then moving on to entree and dessert. We loved the entertainment afterwards -- a local male a cappella group sang Christmas carols in English and German. It was the perfect way to wind up our dreamy day in Regensburg.
Day 2: Nuremberg and Danube cruising red arrow Day 4: Passau

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