Zagreb Christmas Market

Another year is coming to an end and we are enjoying December, a festive, feel-good month in which we reminisce about the year and make plans for the new one. December is also a time for one of my favourite experiences – visiting Christmas markets nearby with the people who are near and dear to me. And after several years of traveling to Austria in pursuit for the ultimate, most festive Christmas market experience, this year our travels didn’t take us far at all and the choice fell on a one-day visit to Zagreb.
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Even though Zagreb was voted ‘Europe’s Best Christmas Market’ two years in a row, which is quite a feat, you must admit, I always have a problem of taking places that are very close to my home for granted – as if, due to the vicinity and familiarity, they can’t make me feel all the things that faraway places and long planning and discovering of something new can. And then, of course, every time I get persuated to visit these ‘familiar’ places, I get blown away with their beauty and get reminded, over and over again, that the joy of travel is not necessarily in going away to faraway places or seeing new things, that it can sometimes be about seeing familiar places with new eyes.
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The recipe is always pretty much the same – festive decorations, smell of mulled wine, Christmas music, colors, chatter of people, an experience for all senses. It is about how these elements are combined to become means of not only conveying the holiday image but means of showcasing the city as the main holiday prop used to perfection. Christmas can be romantic, family oriented, urban, traditional, contemporary, and small neighborhoods, squares and streets of the city of Zagreb, with their individual atmospheres, are used in a perfect way to display one of these holiday experiences in an original and absolutely beautiful way.
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Let me not complicate things with too much words, observations and thoughts. Instead, here are some photos that I hope you might enjoy and that may help you, if any help is needed, to put you into the festive mood:
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 I wish you all the happiest Christmas and all the best in the new year!

Holiday Season in Rijeka and Graz

DSC_0454With the arrival of the holiday season, the mood instantly changes. It becomes more elevated, more nervous at times because there is so many things to do, so many presents to buy, cakes and cookies to bake and visits to plan, but also more cheerful as you keep hearing the holiday songs on the radio and you see the towns put on on their most festive apparel and are full of lights, decorations and the smell of mulled wine.

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This year, I am especially proud with the holiday decorations in my hometown Rijeka. I don’ t remember it ever being so beautifully decorated, and I believe that everyone noticed it as well, because the town center is full of people at all times, and the atmosphere is louder and more cheerful than ever.

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Add to that the constant sound of holiday music following you around from hidden speakers on our main pedestrian street of Korzo and I can openly admit it: I adore my home town in every time of the year, but this Christmas, it is more beautiful and magical than ever and I love it even more!DSC_0502DSC_0501DSC_0483DSC_0499

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Among the short holiday day trips I took this December to towns close by, I again visited Graz. I did not regret my decision to come back to one of the towns that epitomize the European Christmas experience and spent a wonderful day shopping for presents, enjoying mulled wine on Schlossberg and in the city center, eating roasted chesnuts and the local specialties.
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Graz is full of people an tourists from all around Europe in this time of the year, but handles them well, in a way that allows you to enjoy it and feel the atmospfere despite the huge crowds of people. And when the night comes, the holiday magic becomes even more accentuated as the town dazzles with Christmas lights and decorations.

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Christmas Wonderland in Austria

Finally, one of my greatest wishes came true! After years and years of being the craziest and most enthusiastic Christmas-obsessed individual around, terrorizing everyone with holiday preparations and festive spirit long before they were due, my family finally granted me the wish and organized a weekend trip to Vienna and Graz, to visit some of their Christmas markets that rank among the most famous ones in Europe. I was really excited about “Christmas coming early this year” in a literal sense, and  the experience really did not disappoint me one bit – for two lovely days, in two beautiful Austrian cities, I have lived Christmas with all my senses. 

Viennese street

As a part of our two-day Christmas warm-up adventure, we spent a day in Vienna, visiting the famous markets on Stephansplatz and in front of the Rathaus, and a day in Graz, where we spent a lazy Sunday wandering around town and stopping at the Christmas Market in front of the City hall.

Christmas market in front of the City Hall, ViennaChristmas Market stalls, Graz

The weather was perfect for the occasion – it smelled like winter and snow, but was not too cold to prevent us from spending hours out in the open, it was crowded but not too crowded to enjoy strolling around stalls and although Christmas lights and decorations were not fully lit up yet (this happens around December 6th), the festive, Christmasy atmosphere was present everywhere I looked.

Festive Vienna full of peopleHorses on St Stephen's SquareUpside-down trees, GrazChristmas stalls, Vienna Christmas Market Holiday lights, City Hall park, Vienna

The charm of Christmas markets for me is in the warm, fuzzy feeling that overcomes you, one that makes your eyes glow and that makes you smile all the time, and that fills and engages all your senses. Visiting Vienna and Graz Christmas markets, I could feel it everywhere…

Holiday ornaments, a detailHo ho ho!

In the smell of spicy mulled wine, strong punch, chestnuts and traditional Austrian food found in so many stalls, such as Wursts (sausages), giant beer pretzels, cotton candy and Zuckermandeln (sugared almonds)…

Christmas market stalls

In the sight of thousands of Christmas lights lighting up the Christmas village in front of Vienna’s Rathaus, flickering in all shapes and sizes, illuminating the outlines of the majestic city hall building and almost every tree in the park…

Christmas lights, ViennaFestive Rathaus, Vienna Candle decorations, Vienna

In the murmur of excited visitors and shouts of children experiencing their Christmas fairy tales or crying out because they saw a stuffed toy or a balloon they really wanted…

Balloons!Stuffed reindeersThe Rathaus Christmas Market, Vienna

In the taste of hot mulled wine burning our tongues, sweet Maroni, gingerbread cookies or waffles…

Gingerbread houseHoliday specialties, Vienna

And in the feel of the texture of Christmas ornaments, coming in all shapes, sizes and materials: from rustic, wooden ones, to durable plastic ones or elegant, expensive glass ones that felt so fragile under my numb, frozen fingers that I was sure that, despite being extra careful, I might end up breaking them.  

Christmas ornaments in whiteNutcrackersSchlossberg tree ornaments, GrazA detailChristmas tree ornaments in all shapes and sizes

Some say that Christmas markets in Austria, just like the ones in other parts of Europe, have lost their charm. That they have lost their traditional, crafty atmosphere and that typical, hand-made products gave way to imported goods of inferior quality. That they have become kitschy traps for tourists, too crowded and too expensive. It may all be right, in a way. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t notice. Or is it that I noticed, but didn’t mind? Because I got even more than I hoped for from these Christmas markets, and I had really high expectations. I loved the dizzying chaos of people, sounds, smells, the whirl of lights, colors and ornaments; the sea of smiling faces, joyful children and wonderful winter sights; and the priceless atmosphere of festiveness and joy that is at the same time free and completely priceless. Because Christmas was never really supposed to be about expensive ornaments in the first place, right?

Christmas cheer, ViennaA detail Graz Christmas marketNothing without the Christmas train, Graz

So today, exactly one month before Christmas, I wish you all spend the following thirty days with your loved ones, laughing, having fun, baking, singing, celebrating and decorating. Enjoy your holiday preparations and if you can, toast the holidays with a cup of mulled wine wherever you are!

I wish you all wonderful holidays!

Cheerful December in Ljubljana

For those times when it is not very practical to visit famous Austrian holiday markets, such as the ones in Vienna or Klagenfurt, Ljubljana can be quite a lovely alternative. In December, it becomes an exciting, vibrant and beautifully decorated metropolis, not too large but just big enough for all the holiday festivities that happen there.

Everything happens in the center of the town, around the Prešern Square and the Triple Bridge, in the foot of Ljubljana Castle. Numerous wooden booths selling holiday gifts and local specialties invite the people to stroll down the old streets of the town and feel the Christmasy atmosphere, while the smell and taste of hot mulled wine helps to warm up in the low temperatures. The town center becomes a magical place after dark, when Christmas lights on the giant Christmas tree in the Prešern Square and nearby streets turn the town into a magical place that you simply cannot get enough of.

However, the most important aspect of Ljubljana’s holiday appeal are the people that the center is constantly flooded with – friends, couples, families with young children and pets, it seems like everyone is outside, enjoying the holiday magic. Their chatter, song and laughter demonstrate that there is no holiday atmosphere without the ”human factor” and make Ljubljana’s holiday experience something that you won’t forget very easily.

Street performers on the Triple Bridge

Prešern’s Square

Snowy park Tivoli
Snowy park Tivoli

Wintery detail

Congress Square