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I watched the petite woman carefully pick her steps on the snowplowed cobblestone streets, as we quickly rounded the corner of a centuries-old building. Her heavy scarf blew in the wind and she smiled with anticipation of what lay ahead in the Christmas Market in Passau, Germany.

She had been here before but it was my first time. Our small river cruise ship had docked close to town and she mentioned that was good because she might return to the ship and drop off purchases throughout the evening.

Along the smooth Danube River with land on each side of the 150-passenger ship, I easily walked off the ship to ports in Austria, Germany and Hungary to enjoy village Christmas Markets lined with stalls of handmade regional items. Cruising past castles and maneuvering through locks on the Danube, our boutique-style AMA Waterways cruise ship had docked for shopping in one of many European Christmas Markets.

Colorful lights were displayed and there was a festival merriment within the town center.

On the way to the sausage stand, my friend pointed out the ceramic mugs lined up to serve from the large vats of Gluehwein, the traditional hot mulled wine to keep warm and to wash down the sausages slathered with mustard.

Cheery merchants welcomed us with displays of wooden holiday decorations, piles of woolen scarves and freshly made gingerbread cookies.

At last my friend made her way to a makeshift round building with glass windows encircled with lights and a door to keep in the heat. We spent a long time looking at nearly every handmade glass ornament, watching the light reflect through the prisms of each angle and painted décor. She chose so many ornaments that the shopkeeper had to hold people at bay while he wrapped them carefully for travel.

I finished buying gifts for friends that were neatly and securely wrapped for my trip home and strolled back to the ship following the path which had led me into the markets.

The next morning over espresso and thick coffee cake, my friend used her hands to explain the upcoming stop at Nuremberg, one of the biggest markets in Europe. I got my shopping bag ready and smiled, realizing the ports were as much fun as the journey.

M’Liss Hinshaw lives in Lakeside. Do you have a travel experience to share? Send it to travel@uniontrib.com

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