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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 4: Friday, Passau
PassauWeather Report: Overcast, Dreary...A Fur Hat Day

Today we arrived in Passau mid-morning and started our sightseeing with a walking tour of the old city. Known as the "City of Three Rivers," Passau is located at the convergence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers -- all important trade routes -- and as such has enjoyed a rich history over 7000 years. Passau also has a history of flooding and was one of the cities most affected by the recent floods in Europe, as evidenced by the history of high water marks on one of the buildings closest to the river.

What's most interesting about Passau's architecture is that the city was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1662, after which it was rebuilt in the Baroque style of architecture, seen throughout the old town. Of particular note is the spectacular St. Stephan's Cathedral, built by a famous Baroque architect Carolo Lurago, which has glorious stucco works and frescos painted over the entire ceiling and walls, as well as Europe's largest pipe organ with 17,774 pipes.

I was a bit disappointed that the timing of our visit meant that the tour didn't include an organ concert. These are held on Wednesdays from April to October and between Christmas and New Year's. Occasionally the riverboats have arranged a special concert for their passengers; if you take a Danube Explorer cruise during the summer months, you might want to book one that includes an organ concert.

Passau has a small Christmas market in the square outside the Cathedral. Of all of the markets we have visited so far, it was the least interesting in terms of shopping. However, starting in late afternoon and early evening, families from the area gathered to socialize and enjoy performances by local student groups. Both at the market and inside the Cathedral there were some beautiful hand-carved nativity scenes, and the market also had a good selection of ceramic houses, designed in traditional Bavarian style, with windows illuminated by the votive candle that rests inside. We also found a more interesting selection of "smokers," or unusual Christmas incense holders, which are wooden Bavarian men with pipes and holes in their mouths through which incense smoke rises.

Today's walking tour felt a bit disjointed as we stopped twice enroute to visit local shops. The first was promoted as an "advent wreath-making demonstration" at a local florist; the fact that the demo lasted just two minutes tells you we didn't learn much. Far more successful was a session at Cafe Simon where we learned about the art of gingerbread making and the three different types of gingerbread that are traditionally made in Germany.

Gingerbread is traditionally served not only at Christmas time in Germany, but also at most big celebrations, including weddings. The traditional or old-style gingerbread is made with honey and no sugar, and is coarser, drier and less sweet than the gingerbread in the States, which is also made in Germany, using molasses.

After the demonstration, we decided to eat lunch at Cafe Simon rather than returning to the ship, and had a scrumptious apple strudel with homemade ice cream, which I highly recommend. Cafe Simon also sells homemade chocolates and other delicious pastries. An added bonus: We found a good selection of Rausch Angels -- a traditional angel with wax face and hands -- in their gift shop.

This afternoon while shopping, we ran into a bit of a problem at a local bank. The Christmas market vendors take cash only, and it's relatively easy to spend a couple hundred Euros while shopping at the markets. We hadn't thought to call our bank and alert staffers to our trip beforehand -- and we found out the hard way that after the ATM's first usage at the airport the bank had thought the card was stolen. And put a hold on the card. Which meant that...the ATM ate it.

Suffice to say retrieving the card (next to impossible in that kind of instance) and then actually getting the cash wasted a good part of the afternoon. So take a tip from us: If you are traveling to an unfamiliar place, let your bank know! And it's a good idea to also carry back-up traveler's checks or a credit card for cash advances.

After dinner, a talented local musician played traditional Bavarian music on half a dozen different instruments in a very entertaining fashion with quite a bit of audience participation.

But since we were staying overnight in Passau and it was a Friday night, we were in the mood to experience the local nightlife. We wandered off Viking Spirit with a lovely Australian couple we had met onboard. The Christmas market, alas, closed at 8 p.m., and what bars there were angled for the student crowd. After a beer at a smoky Irish pub where we were the oldest customers (by a generation!) we threw in the towel and headed back on board.

Tomorrow we dock in Linz and depart on coaches for a two-hour bus ride to the enchanting city of Salzburg!
Day 3: Regensburg red arrow Day 5: Salzburg

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