We crossed the border into Germany while we were at Breakfast this morning. Passau is very close to Austria and the Czech Republic. There was snow on the banks of the Danube and it continued to snow today. Really feels like Christmas.
We had biting wind for our walking tour of the old city; it is perhaps the coldest day of our weeklong trip. Our guide is a University student who grew up in Passau, went to Munich for his undergraduate degree, and was back in Passau for his masters. He told us he chose to return to his hometown for his masters because the school was 65% woman; the odds were in his favor. Passau is in the region of Bavaria. Our guide said he considers himself Bavarian first and German second.
In June of this year (2013), the Danube reaching its highest level in 500 years, flooding Passau. There were marks all over the buildings showing where the water reached before receding. The city has a population of 50,000 + 10,000 students. The students proved to be an important part of the clean up team. Because it was important to remove the mud before it harden and became like concrete, volunteer crews worked quickly to clear the city in one week. The government normally compensates flood victims 50% of the cost, but this year reimbursements were up to 80%, presumably because it was an election year. We saw some incredible pictures of the flooding and devastation.
Always fun to have a student guide and hear his perspective. We learned a lot about the local breweries and special events. We walked down one street where the cobblestones were colorfully painted and we were told that this street is where an annual race occurs with the runners all in high heels. The winner takes home 100 Euros; the participants were all men.
At perhaps my favorite spot in the whole city, a large advent wreath encircled the fountain. Originally the wreaths had 24 candles to represent all the days in December leading up to Christmas. There were designed in response to children’s pestering questions about how soon Christmas would be. In years when candles were scarce, the number was reduced to 4 to represent weeks. Four is the typical number of candles seen on advent wreathes today.
After touring the historic buildings, we ended the tour on the major shopping streets. There was a gingerbread-making demonstration that our group chose not to attend. Boris was interested in a tradition outfit, but we went back to the shop where we saw them and saw the cost was $1,800. We passed; Boris pouted.
This was our last day of shopping, so we had high hopes when we went to the Christmas market. It did not disappoint. The morning and afternoon on weekdays are wonderful times to visit the markets because they are not crowded. Today is Saturday and it is packed. We found the wonderful ceramic Bavarian houses we had heard about. There were linens, ornaments, chocolates, and even packed sausages among our purchases.
The market is on the main square outside the Cathedral, a sister to St. Stephens in Vienna and far lovelier in my opinion. The organ concert came highly recommended, so we broke off from our shopping to attend. It was packed; I could not believe the number of people that were in attendance. The concert featured pieces by local composers and their mentors. While I only recognized one piece, I could certainly appreciate the performance.
We returned to the market after the concert and made a few final purchases. We also tried a few food items. It had one of the seriously long bratwurst. Fabulous. Boris also spotted this wonderful melted cheese that was spread on rye bread. They you could add red onions, speck (ham), or berries on top. Wonderful.
Since the boat docked right next to the old town, we headed back to drop off our packages and warm up. In spite on keeping on my thermals, coat, hat, and gloves, I was freezing during the concert (probably because we sat still for so long). On the way back, I spotted another shop off the beaten path that sold traditional clothing and suggested we go after lunch. Boris stopped pouting.
After the food at the market, we really weren’t that hungry, but it was a special Bavarian lunch on the ship and it was perhaps the best meal of the entire trip. (Didn’t regret eating the food in the market though; I’ll have to diet next week.)
After the meal, I dealt with the impossible Internet so I could check in for our flight home. About 2:30 or 3 pm we ventured out again. We started at the clothing store. Boris got a vest and shirt to match his Loden jacket and hat. He really wanted me to get a traditional dress, apron, and blouse (a dirndl). He picked a silk one. There was also a fabulous jacket of cloth, leather, and embroidery that he picked out for me for Christmas. I was rather surprised. Prices were about a ¼ of the other store’s prices. I think Boris was just so excited that I found the shop.
We went back to the advent wreath so I could get a picture by it and we stopped in a few more shops to pick up those last few gifts. The Christmas lights at the market came on before we went back to the ship to pack. There was a farewell reception and dinner. The evening’s entertainment was two folk singers; I knew all the songs. Nobody could really stay long as you either needed to get up early for the 1 hour and 40 minute drive to the Munich airport (some were leaving as early as 3 am) and/or still needed to pack. On the River Cruise it is not necessary to have your baggage out until 45 minutes before your departure time.
We had a wonderful trip. I recommend both the river cruise and the Christmas Markets.