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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 5: Saturday, Salzburg
SalzburgWeather Report: Balmy! Sunny! Gorgeous.

This is our first port of call that isn't actually on the Danube (Salzburg lies on the Salzach River). As such we actually were transported there by bus from Passau. When we arrived in Salzburg, it was a warm, beautiful, sunny day with a clear blue sky. It was perfect weather for this time of year to enjoy our visit to this truly special city at the foot of the Alps.

It was at this point that I remembered why I hate group bus tours so much. It seemed to take forever to organize us into five smaller groups of 30 for our walking tour of the old city, and then we proceeded to wait a good 15 minutes while those who needed to use the toilets did so. Finally we were off -- along with several dozen other tour groups, making us feel like cattle being herded throughout the city.

After a short walk through the Mirabell Castle gardens, where the "Sound of Music" scene of Maria and the children singing in the trees was filmed, we headed into the old town to see where Mozart once lived. It was Saturday and also market day, and it seemed like everyone in Europe had decided to shop in Salzburg today. Everywhere we went it was wall-to-wall people -- I counted 15 abreast at one point. It reminded me a bit of New York City at Christmas time, with all of the hustle and bustle and wonderful decorations, albeit with the unique Austrian charm Salzburg has to offer.

As we continued our tour, we came upon the first of several Christmas markets in Salzburg -- and I have to say, it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Santa came down the cobblestone street driving a horse-drawn carriage, amid all of the wonderfully decorated baroque shops with their charming wrought-iron guild signs. A string quartet filled the air with classical music (Mozart, of course) and it did begin to feel like the hills surrounding Salzburg were alive with the sound of music (forgive me). Around every corner there were more musicians -- a flutist, a classical guitarist and even an old-fashioned organ grinder with a monkey.

In every town square there was yet another Christmas market, plus street mimes, ice sculptures, Christmas trees and many horse-drawn carriages. We continued on to St. Peter's church, where a special mass to celebrate the feast of St. Barbara was just letting out; dozens of military dignitaries and Austrians in traditional clothing, seemingly out of another era, streamed past us. Everywhere I looked there was something else that caught my eye, and at one point I felt sorry for our tour guide, who had serious competition for her attention what with all of the holiday festivity surrounding us.

We finished our walking tour and headed to a local restaurant for lunch. The restaurant had some beautiful wall paintings, the lunch was good and it was included in our cruise tour (as were all other lunches if we returned to the ship). However, it took a good hour and a half, and there was so much to see in Salzburg and so little time to do so. We skipped desert and were the first ones out the door, as we only had a mere two hours of free time for sightseeing and shopping.

After lunch we took the funicular (like a cable car) to the Hohenberg Fortress, which overlooks the old city, and enjoyed the panoramic views on our clear day. Inside the fortress you can visit some staterooms, a chapel, a marionette museum and the fortress museum as well as walk around the ramparts. There was also another small Christmas market in one of the courtyards. We actually could have spent half a day meandering around the fortress alone, but we still wanted to check out the main Christmas markets so we headed down after an hour. Knowing what I know now, I would have left the tour at the funicular and eaten lunch at one of the Christmas market stalls, which would have given us much more free time to enjoy.

The markets here had somewhat similar items to those sold in Germany; however, they were of better quality and there was a wider selection, along with many different items from those we had seen so far. The main Salzburg market and those adjacent to it were great for traditional Austrian clothing, painted tin ornaments, handmade soaps including some nice Christmas soaps, angels made of straw and feathers, snow globes, children's wooden toys, music boxes, Christmas wreaths and balls, and Christmas lanterns. Had we not just shopped several other Christmas markets and had there been more time and fewer crowds, I would have loved shopping here. Unfortunately, the markets were extremely crowded and we were pressed for time, so we made a quick tour through, bought our Mozart chocolates (tip: it's best to buy the handmade ones in the chocolate store pointed out by your guide or they'll say "Kraft food" on them!), and then headed back to the plaza where we were to meet our bus.

By this time, many of us were feeling like we'd shopped enough Christmas markets to last a lifetime. When we got on the bus, I and several others quickly nodded off for our two-hour bus ride to Linz, where we met up with the ship that had proceeded down river. The die-hard shoppers headed out immediately to the Linz market, but I decided to rest up for tomorrow's full day in Melk and Durnstein.

Tonight's dinner was all right, but not great: butter fish with vegetable lasagne -- a somewhat odd-tasting combination -- or venison stew. The cream of potato soup was excellent as all of the soups have been. After dinner we enjoyed a fun game of "Liar's Club" in the lounge, where we tried to guess which crew member was telling the truth and which ones were lying regarding the definitions of some rather interesting and obscure words.

While our ship continues down the Danube, we'll rest up for full day of sightseeing tomorrow in Melk and Durnstein.
Day 4: Passau red arrow Day 6: Melk, Durnstein and Danube cruising

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