Christmas Market Dazzles in Wiesbaden, Germany

December 2020: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many cities and towns in Germany had to cancel their annual Christmas Markets, a tradition since the 1300s. Some places are allowing markets with only a few, widely spread booths. Here’s a look back at warm memories of the Christmas Market in Wiesbaden, which was cancelled this year.

I grew up with a lot of German Christmas traditions, and for years I’ve thought going to a Christmas market in Germany, would be fun way to kick off the season. My hunch was right: Germany knows how to celebrate Christmas in an Old World way.

Wiesbaden’s Old Town Square fills with people enjoying the annual Christmas Market. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Wiesbaden, just a half-hour train ride from Frankfurt, hosts the lovely Sternschnuppen Market (sternschnuppe translates as “shooting star”). I was enthralled at its beauty, which combines traditional seasonal décor with contemporary lily-shaped light sculptures above the marketplace. (The lily, or fleur-de-lis, is on the town’s motif.) The whole affair—wooden huts where vendors sell foods and handcrafts—is held in the old town’s historic square, in the shadow of the church, or Marktkirche.

Tree ornaments are just some of the goods for sale at the Christmas Market. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At the annual market, locals and tourists alike gather to hear live music—one night I caught a quartet of alphorns (you just don’t hear that every day in the States!)—to shop, to mingle, and to toast the season with glühwein (hot, mulled wine sold in specially designed mugs that you either keep as a souvenir or return for your deposit).

Tempting Christmas cookies sold at the Sternschnuppen Market, Wiesbaden. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Flavors of Christmas

I quickly discovered that German Christmas Markets and glühwein go hand in hand. When the temperatures drop, nothing warms you more than a mug of steaming red or white glühwein held between your mittens while you sip and chat with friends while admiring the Christmas lights.

And who can resist the aromas of cooking? There are plenty of traditional market foods as well, including bratwurst and other sausages of various kinds and sizes, and potato pancakes (kartoffelpuffer) served with applesauce.

The Germans are passionate about sausages. Giant grills cooked all types of bratwurst, including the long, half-meter brats (cut in half to fit them on a bun. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I tasted these yummy, crisp-fried treats with Wiesbaden’s mayor, who happened to be at the Puffer Christ’l stand at the same time as I was. Owner Christl Glöckner joined us and brought some white glühwein for us to share.

Through my handy translator and guide Yvonne Skala, of Wiesbaden Marketing, the newly elected mayor told me one of the things that makes the city’s Christmas Market so special is that the organizers select vendors who sell handmade or German-made crafts.” No “Made in China” stickers here.

Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Sven Gerich and Christl Glöckner, owner of Puffer Christ’l potato pancake food truck, toast to the Wiesbaden Christmas Market with some glühwein. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Indeed, as I browsed the huts, I found traditional ornaments, carvings, candles, nutcrackers, knitted gloves and hats, handmade lace, wooden toys, local cheeses and game, and more. For amusement, there’s a colorful, Baroque-style carousel for kids of all ages to ride.

Presiding over all the festivities is the high-spired, Marktkirche church, built in the mid-1800s.

As a special treat, Yvonne took me to the daily weekday 5:45 organ music inside this Protestant church. We sat in one of the pews and gazed at the star-painted ceilings and neo-Gothic arches while the organist pulled out all the stops on the pipe organ. Compared to the revelries outside, it’s a welcome, contemplative timeout for some reflection on the quieter side of Christmas. Visitors are welcome to stay for the following Advent church service, but we continued out into the marketplace.

Wooden incense smokers ©Laurel Kallenbach

Shelter and Relaxation

I stayed in posh digs in Wiesbaden: the Hotel Nassauer Hof, a historic hotel that has hosted the likes of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, the Dalai Lama, and Vladimir Putin. Among the hotel’s many attributes was a location just a five-minute walk from the Christmas Market.

Another plus was that the Nassauer Hof has its own thermal spring, which feeds into the hotel pool. The result is naturally warmed mineral water, slightly salty, which buoys you up. Floating in heated water was the perfect antidote to several hours at the chilly outdoor market.

Another way to warm up during the Wiesbaden winter is in the saunas, steam rooms, and mineral baths at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme. This spa is built on the ruins of the ancient Roman baths, and the current baths were built in 1913, and restored for the centenary. I’ll blog more about this later, but it’s a truly unique place to visit and “take the waters.”

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

(Originally posted on December 21, 2013)

Read more about Germany’s Christmas markets:

The stage at the center of the market often has live performances, such as the four alphorn players I listened to. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bath Thermae Spa in England: Better Health through Water

When the traveling gets tough, the tough take a bath. After a long day of sightseeing or hiking through the countryside, one of the best things to do is soak your achy feet in the hotel hot tub or spa.

The Rooftop Pool at Thermae Bath Spa overlooks a glorious view of the city of Bath, including Bath Cathedral. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

It turns out this watery antidote for stress has a long tradition: The ancient Romans had a saying for it: “sanitas per aquam,” which translates as “health through water.” And not coincidentally, the word “spa” is an acronym taken from that Latin phrase.

Geothermally warmed mineral springs were the first spas—used for healing. These waters naturally bubble up from the ground, bringing minerals from the earth’s core—minerals that can help improve certain skin conditions, arthritis and other musculoskeletal ailments.

In Bath, England, warm mineral waters have welcomed visitors for millennia. The Celts worshipped the water goddess Sulis there, and the ancient Romans (who ruled Britannia from the 1st through 5th centuries A.D.) built stone-enclosed pools and steam rooms for their health and restoration.

During the 1700s and 1800s, the British aristocracy flocked to the town of Bath for social parties and to “take the waters,” encouraged by the tale of how Queen Mary’s fertility troubles ended after she bathed in the waters and ultimately gave birth to a son.

Modern Spa, Ancient History

Today, Thermae Bath Spa is located in a chic modern building not far from the ruins of the ancient Roman baths. Although no one’s claiming anymore that the water cures infertility or any other major health problem, this is still the perfect place to shed your street clothes and spend a half- or full-day in a robe and swimsuit soaking like a Roman.

The indoor Minerva Pool has jets and moving water currents. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

My husband and I visited Thermae Bath Spa on a chilly, drizzly English afternoon, when a hot soak was most inviting. We started with a dip in the Minerva Bath, a large, indoor thermal pool equipped with massage jets, a whirlpool, and a “lazy river” with a current strong enough that it carried us around the pool. We hung onto flotation “noodles” and cruised the perimeter without moving a muscle. Between the water’s temperature (92°F) and the mineral-rich water (the slight sulfur smell is the giveaway), we felt like limp noodles.

After a long drink of water (it’s important to rehydrate while you soak), we checked out the über-cool co-ed steam rooms where we sweated in glass-enclosed circular steam areas. Each had a different aromatherapy scent: lavender, eucalyptus, rose and frankincense. A central waterfall shower was the spot where everyone gathered to cool off before trying a new scent.

At the center of the Thermae Bath Spa Steam Room is a ceiling shower for cooling off after a hot steam. © Thermae Bath Spa/David Saunders

A note about facilities: pools, steam rooms, and the locker rooms are all co-ed. This is Europe, after all! It was a little odd for us Americans who are used to gender segregation in public restrooms, gyms and pools, but we went with the flow. The locker rooms do have private cubicles where you can dress. Bathing suits (what the Brits call “swimming costumes”) are required.

Although Thermae Bath Spa offers a number of water-centric therapies—including watsu (massage done while you float in a warm pool), Vichy showers, body wraps and more—we opted for pool soaking, which we could enjoy as a couple. If you’re visiting Bath for several days, I’d highly recommend taking a separate day for a massage or special treatment.

For the grand finale, my husband and I deepened our relaxation in the steamy Rooftop Pool. The water was perfect, and the views of Bath’s skyline were spectacular. A high-pressure cascade gave us a deep-shoulder massage and sent a wave of tingles over my scalp. The added bonus: A huge rainbow appeared in the sky, arching over Bath’s cathedral. The entire pool population ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the sight. Unforgettable.

Feasting in the Natural Foods Restaurant

The spa’s Springs Café serves wonderful local cuisine. Photo courtesy Thermae Bath Spa

Afterwards, we realized we were hungry, but weren’t quite ready to leave. No problem, the spa’s Springs Café Restaurant serves everything from light snacks, appetizers, paninis, and hot gourmet meals. The atmosphere is casually elegant, and almost everyone comes in their robe. So, in our white, toga-like wraps, we dined quite well on slow-cooked Wiltshire beef and wild mushroom and Bath Blue cheese risotto with glasses of wine. The menu emphasizes nutritionally balanced foods made from locally produced fare.

Soaking, steaming, feasting—what more could we ask for? My husband and I came away from Bath Thermae Spa feeling relaxed, radiant, well-fed, and squeaky clean. The ancient Romans definitely had the right idea—and the city of Bath has created a first-class modern version of the historic baths. Add it to your itinerary—it’s a highlight of the city.

Clean Water Policy

The thermal water at Thermae Bath Spa bubbles naturally to the earth’s surface, and is estimated to be 10,000 years old. It contains more than 42 different minerals, the most concentrated being sulphate, calcium, and chloride, which are reported to be good for sore joints and some skin conditions.

The spa filters the water to remove iron and bacteria. A tiny bit of chlorine is added for sanitary reasons.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted May 2013

For more information on visiting Bath, England, see Visit Bath.

Read more about my travels in England:

The Georgian exterior of Thermae Bath Spa shows the honey-colored Bath stone that appears in buildings throughout the historic city. © Bath Tourism Plus/Colin Hawkins

Soak Up Serenity at Santa Fe’s Ten Thousand Waves Spa

Pagodas blend into the mountainside setting near Santa Fe at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style bath sanctuary and spa where you can sample treatments seldom found outside of Japan and relax into the Zen of warm water.

The massage pagodas at Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe. © Deborah Fleig

There’s almost nowhere more relaxing—and this beautiful, outdoorsy spa is perfect for slowing down and re-energizing.

Although Ten Thousand Waves is just 10 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, it feels worlds away from city life. I’ve visited three times, and on each, I’ve relished soaking in a hot tub while breathing in the scent of pine trees and listening to the cry of hawks and crows circling over the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Who can help but relax at a place where nobody hurries and where warm water washes your worries away?

 

Baths on a Budget

This lovely retreat has created warm baths and cold plunges for all budgets. Soak in a communal Japanese bath for just $28 per person—there’s no time limit. There’s one co-ed communal bath and another for women only. In the past, the communal tubs allowed bathers to go au natural, but now bathing-suit bottoms are required. If you want to bathe in the buff, you may do so in the women’s-only tub or in a privately rented tub. (Don’t worry about nudity in public places: Everyone wanders through the Shangri-La-like spa in provided kimonos.)

The private Ichiban tub © Deborah Fleig

You can also reserve a private bath (like the Ichiban pictured above) starting at $60 per person for 90 minutes. I’ve tried both public and private options—and they’re equally delightful and stress-banishing.

One other favorite of mine is the foot bath, a communal bench where you can sit and read a book or converse (quietly, of course) with a friend while your eyes drink in the beauty of the Zen Garden. The foot bath is open and free to all visitors—you might just have to wait a few minutes until another happy foot soaker leaves a space on the bench.

Hot Stone Massage from Heaven

For deep immersion, Ten Thousand Waves offers spa treatments. The therapists here specialize in classic treatments done expertly: Swedish or deep-tissue massage, Thai massage and wonderful facials that take beauty more than skin deep.

One of the spa’s most popular treatments is the Nose-to-Toes, an 80-minute sampler that lets you experience Japanese foot massage; gentle Thai stretches; Hawaiian lomi-lomi massage strokes; skin exfoliation; and Yasuragi (Japanese) head, neck, and shoulder massage. Yum!

My hot stone massage at Ten Thousand Waves truly rocked. Therapist Aurora used the warm stones on acupoints on my body. Surprisingly, she also used cool stones from time to the time. I was on Cloud Nine.

In fact, I was so blissed out that I completely lost track of everything. During the treatment, Aurora placed small river stones between the toes of my right foot, but I thought she’d forgotten my left. Just as I was about to remind her, I wiggled my toes and realized the stones were between my left toes too. I had just drifted off for a few minutes.

The beautiful outdoor koi pond. © Deborah Fleig

On my most recent trip to Ten Thousand Waves, I sampled the Japanese Organic Facial Massage—a divine experience that erased all my worry lines. Danyelle alternated stroking, kneading, and a percussive technique that felt like rain falling on my face. She told me this helped increase circulation, muscle tone, and lymphatic drainage for the neck and face. All I have to say is it made me radiant.

The Green Side

New Mexico has a dry landscape, and the folks at Ten Thousand Waves are very water conscious. All water from the tubs is recycled and used to keep the landscaping lush and green. The entire spa is chlorine free: Bathwater is purified with ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide, copper/silver ions, and ozone.

Natural building materials keep the location feeling natural and ecofriendly: cork and tile floors, stone, and plenty of sustainable bamboo are used throughout.

Last but not least, Ten Thousand Waves’ signature spa products are all natural and contain no mineral oil, alcohol, artificial colors or animal products. And they’ve been tested on bathing beauties, not animals.

 —Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted in April 2012

Updated August 2019

 

 

Wish I Were Here: Turks & Caicos

Unusually dreary winter weather (for Colorado) has me dreaming of the vibrant colors and tropical breezes of the Caribbean.

When going through my photos from my 2012 visit to Grace Bay on Providenciales island,Turks and Caicos, this shot of rainbow had me weeping.

Rainbow over Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos ©Laurel Kallenbach

Rainbow over Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos ©Laurel Kallenbach

What I wouldn’t give right now for a rum punch served at The Regent Grand hotel pool, which overlooks the ocean.

Poolside at The Regent Grand hotel ©Laurel Kallenbach

Poolside at The Regent Grand hotel ©Laurel Kallenbach

And there was  plenty of pampering in the Teona Spa at The Regent Grand.

Teona Spa at The Regent Grand ©Laurel Kallenbach

Teona Spa at The Regent Grand ©Laurel Kallenbach

And there were colorful shells at Da Conch Shack & Rum Bar oceanside eatery.

Conch shells ©Laurel Kallenbach

Conch shells ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visiting the ocean always makes me feel like a kid again!

Sand castles on Grace Bay ©Laurel Kallenbach

Sand castles on Grace Bay ©Laurel Kallenbach

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor