I’ve been obsessed with Christmas Markets since I was a kid. I always liked quaint decorations, fairytale villages, and a calm, peaceful throwback style of Christmas. As a teenager, I’d flip through my AAA newsletter and see the “European Christmas Market” tours, which first got my mind going. This is a thing? People do this. I want to see! In 2006, Rick Steves, my travel idol, released a special Christmas in Europe special. I’m watching it right now as I type this actually.
I bought the set as a gift for my mother which also included a Christmas CD and a cookbook, and thus began our annual tradition where we’d watch and get in the old-fashioned spirit. He took us to England, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland for enchanting markets, beautiful scenes, and heartwarming traditions. I really wanted to go! But I was a teacher, and most of the markets closed on Christmas Eve. How could I fly to Europe before break? Then finally when I planned a trip to Belgium after Christmas in 2009, I learned the markets of Bruges and Brussels were open! I bundled in many layers, and wandered for hours and hours enjoying the setting. I finally got to a European Christmas Market. But Germany was the king. I had to go.
Once I moved to Italy, that became a weekend option. Several colleagues wanted to join me in December 2012, my first year. As we were all on a budget, we scanned Ryan Air for affordable flights to German cities. While Nurenburg and Bremen were more famous, the ticket prices were exorbitant even for Ryain Air. So, we soon booked flights to Dusseldorf.
In early December, we dashed to the train station after work for the 1.5 hour trip from Genoa to Milan. As we approached, we looked out the window and saw the tracks and fields covered in . . . snow! Living in the temperate Mediterranean climate of Genoa, snow was rare and special, so we were super excited and totally in the Christmas spirit. We hopped on a bus to Bergamo airport where we learned our flight was delayed because of the snow. We worried our flight would be cancelled, but thankfully it wasn’t.
When we finally did land in Dusseldorf, our entire flight had missed the bus transfer to the city center. Yes, Dusseldorf has an airport right in the city with easy train connections, yet to get our bargain price, we had to fly to a commuter airport way outside the city. It was around midnight when we approached the customer service desk. “What do we do?” We asked frantically. We tried to get a cab, but the queue was too long as everyone else was doing the same thing. Exhausted and faced with the possibility of sleeping on the airport floor, we were delighted when she said, “We have a hostel here on the property. We only have a few rooms left. We could book them for you, and you could go to Dusseldorf tomorrow morning.” After a bit of deliberation, we were so excited for a bed and said, “Yes!”
While the hostel was on the property, it was about a 20 minute walk away through snowy, dark woods. Some of my colleagues were freaked out, but I was mostly intrigued by the new surprise and pretty location. The air was fresh and crisp, and the hostel was like a little farmhouse, warm and inviting with basic accommodation. I took the single room since I actually like being alone, and fell into a deep exhausted sleep. I awoke the next morning to wooded snowy views, met up with my friends, and finally took our bus and train connections to Dusseldorf as the sun rose over the serene landscape.
The snow caused a nightmare travel interruption–and I felt really guilty since I planned everything on this super tight budget– but we were safe, well-rested, and Dusseldorf was covered in a rare magical white blanket. We were still in the Christmas spirit. To make it even better, the hotel in Dusseldorf did not charge us for our first night since we had informed them we couldn’t make it. Awesome!
This was not my first trip to Dusselforf. I had popped through on a tour of the Rhine with my friend Mike while studying abroad in the English countryside back in 2001. The Rhine had flooded, although I still remember Dusseldorf as charming and adorable. Those pleasant memories helped inform my decision to return.
The streets were decked in quaint and tasteful decorations, extra magical with the freshly fallen snow sticking to the trees and lamposts. It was cold, so we had to keep ducking into cafes for a hot chocolate or a quick bite. And it was so crowded that it was hard to check out the wares in the stalls without being swept away by the tide of holiday shoppers. But it was all worth it. I was ecstatically happy to be there with new friends and about to see old friends in a couple of weeks when I flew back to America. I loved my life.
I bought some ornaments and trinkets, drank a few glasses of hot mulled wine (gluhwein) in souvenir glass mugs, and then after dinner we were back in the hotel changing for a fun night out. While I intended to return to the hotel early to chillax, I ended up staying out super late because Dusseldorf’s party street was filled with so many fun folks and great vibes.
Since it was 2012, everyone went crazy for Gangnam style, especially the Germans. in the club I will always think of Dusseldorf when I hear it.
Cheers and dancing, and finally a tipsy, happy walk back to the hotel for a deep slumber. It was a quick yet magical visit, and I knew I was totally not done with Christmas Markets. As I’ve said before, I don’t travel to check things off a list. I travel to experience and enjoy. I enjoyed this! Merry Christmas! Buon Natale! Fröhliche Weihnachten!