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QUICK NOTE: This post was written during the height of the pandemic when all of Europe was completely shut down. But now that things have opened up, we thought it might be nice to read about and start dreaming about your next trip. THIS WEEK, we have groups in Italy, France, Portugal, and Mexico. Travel is BACK! Some restrictions are still in place for testing and vaccination, so please check with us for specific regulations if you are planning a trip. But isn’t it great to know that things are finally opening back up? – The Select International Tours Team

Last November my husband and I took a trip we’ve anticipated for many years: a Danube River cruise. Select International Tours’ unique pairing of spiritual offerings, such as daily Mass and Eucharist Adoration, with exquisite churches, historic monasteries and castles convinced us that this particular trip would fit our priorities.

Now none of us can travel to Europe. We pray that these understandable health restrictions will lift soon. In the interim, I would delight in sharing some of our wintry experiences there.

The abundant beauty of the German and Austrian Christmas markets completely changed my view of cold weather, which, frankly, I’ve always approached with distaste.

An array of fresh, colorful flowers at the Christmas Market

In Salzburg, the outdoor market booths teemed with winter flowers and berries. I stood transfixed before buckets of dripping rose bouquets in myriad colors: lavender, pink, red, coral, yellow, red-tipped gold, and green-tipped ivory. What a clear invitation to enjoy God’s extravagant beauty revealed in small rosebuds and vigorous dark-green foliage.

Never let me forget—ever—the fresh gingerbread. But for you to fully comprehend my exuberance related to Christmas gingerbread cookies, I must first tell you a little story.

Many years ago while in graduate school studying Classics, I became close to a fellow student who ultimately moved to Germany to work for Lufthansa. Thin-tissued sheets of airmail stationery kept us somewhat connected. But every December for years via air-post, he’d mail me a bag of glazed Christmas gingerbread cookies. They’d arrive in misshapen parcels, a little hardened and stale but intensely edible. While I ate those sharp-scented bites, I told myself that I was part of his world in Germany, or so I hoped.

German Gingerbread Wrapper

Authentic German Gingerbread Wrapper

On this recent Danube trip, for the first time I ate Christmas gingerbread in all its fresh German glory. I unwrapped it from clear, stiff cellophane with heraldic labeling that proclaimed the bakery’s origin in 1886. Covered in a thin, crisp egg-white glaze, full of freshly minced lemon and orange citron, and redolent with spices and ground hazelnuts and almonds—these cookies hadn’t travelled for weeks across the Atlantic in flimsy brown paper.

These mouthfuls of gingerbread cookies eaten on a numbingly cold afternoon while standing on rain-slicked cobblestones brought back my Lufthansa friend so clearly that I could almost see his studious eyes, thin beard, light freckles. And now clutching, not one but two, bags of fresh cookies, I understood what my friend had tried to share with me decades earlier. This moment, this insight, became as delicious as any cookie. Sweeter than any memory; more instructive than any recipe book. I thanked the lady manning the Christmas market table in her practical knit hat and sturdy boots when she handed me the euros in change, then I returned to our group. My mouth, full; my heart, fuller. In a few cities where the Christmas markets hadn’t yet begun, overall-clad workers assembled wooden scaffolding and booths, yelling directions to each other with surprising patience.

In a few places, red-cheeked workmen climbed ladders in steel-toed boots, hanging tendrils of white lights and glitzy stars from lampposts and over high arches. We would walk then sit on cold wooden benches, content to admire details of architectural beauty—Gothic spires, soaring sculpture above empty fountains, carved stone flowers—and leisurely enjoy them as manifestations of artwork created to highlight God’s majesty. Details like this we don’t have in our modern, urban environments at home, and if we did, we’d probably be too busy to notice.

For now, though, I am sitting here—perhaps, like you—yearning for Europe’s beauty and her rich, historic reminders of God’s incarnated grandeur on this earth.

Yes, I am yearning for Europe, yet also yearning for God revealed in creation’s details, most of all.

Yearning for the cold-air Christmas markets where you can watch a no-nonsense vendor—obviously in her annual spot—pinch sauerkraut from a metal soup pot under a table of vegetables, drain it, then fit the squiggly mass into a large zip lock for customers.

Yearning for the thin Nuremburg sausages, grilled outdoors and eaten outdoors with mustard on tin platters, while customers seated on wooden benches also wolfed down their own hard rolls with the same sizzling sausages, and nearby, young moms pushed baby carriages while toddlers followed with arms held out like scarecrows due to the bulky padding of winter coats.

Lovely fresh cut roses at the German Christmas Market

Yearning for tight rosebuds sold in large bouquets next to riotously colored winter berries.

Yearning for the warming cups of Rooibus tea and lemon that the attentive staff onboard served us the moment we stepped on the MS Amadeus Star from our cold adventuring. That same good-natured staff who remembered each of our dining quirks at every meal: salad dressing on the side, an extra glass of water, a coddled egg with black coffee five minutes before disembarking in the mornings.

Yearning for the 24/7 little Eucharist Adoration chapel set up by the priest in a stateroom where both my husband and I often returned to say: Thank you, Lord, God of All Creation. Thank you for allowing these experiences to reveal You to us, to bring us closer to You and to each other.

Maybe you’ll join us on a similar pilgrim journey with Select International. A journey that, while full of incredible art and architecture, delicious meals, and lively Catholic fellowship, will also remind you of the eternal magnificence of Our Most Loving Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Until then, join me in yearning for Europe—God’s Europe. Join me in resolving to go back.

Last November my husband and I took a trip we’ve anticipated for many years: a Danube River cruise. Select International Tours’ unique pairing of spiritual offerings, such as daily Mass and Eucharist Adoration, with exquisite churches, historic monasteries and castles convinced us that this particular trip would fit our priorities.

Now none of us can travel to Europe. We pray that these understandable health restrictions will lift soon. In the interim, I would delight in sharing some of our wintry experiences there.

Beautiful roses from the German Market

The abundant beauty of the German and Austrian Christmas markets completely changed my view of cold weather, which, frankly, I’ve always approached with distaste.

In Salzburg, the outdoor market booths teemed with winter flowers and berries. I stood transfixed before buckets of dripping rose bouquets in myriad colors: lavender, pink, red, coral, yellow, red-tipped gold, and green-tipped ivory. What a clear invitation to enjoy God’s extravagant beauty revealed in small rosebuds and vigorous dark-green foliage.

Authentic German Gingerbread Wrapper

Never let me forget—ever—the fresh gingerbread. But for you to fully comprehend my exuberance related to Christmas gingerbread cookies, I must first tell you a little story.

Many years ago while in graduate school studying Classics, I became close to a fellow student who ultimately moved to Germany to work for Lufthansa. Thin-tissued sheets of airmail stationery kept us somewhat connected. But every December for years via air-post, he’d mail me a bag of glazed Christmas gingerbread cookies. They’d arrive in misshapen parcels, a little hardened and stale but intensely edible. While I ate those sharp-scented bites, I told myself that I was part of his world in Germany, or so I hoped.

On this recent Danube trip, for the first time I ate Christmas gingerbread in all its fresh German glory. I unwrapped it from clear, stiff cellophane with heraldic labeling that proclaimed the bakery’s origin in 1886. Covered in a thin, crisp egg-white glaze, full of freshly minced lemon and orange citron, and redolent with spices and ground hazelnuts and almonds—these cookies hadn’t travelled for weeks across the Atlantic in flimsy brown paper.

These mouthfuls of gingerbread cookies eaten on a numbingly cold afternoon while standing on rain-slicked cobblestones brought back my Lufthansa friend so clearly that I could almost see his studious eyes, thin beard, light freckles. And now clutching, not one but two, bags of fresh cookies, I understood what my friend had tried to share with me decades earlier. This moment, this insight, became as delicious as any cookie. Sweeter than any memory; more instructive than any recipe book. I thanked the lady manning the Christmas market table in her practical knit hat and sturdy boots when she handed me the euros in change, then I returned to our group. My mouth, full; my heart, fuller. In a few cities where the Christmas markets hadn’t yet begun, overall-clad workers assembled wooden scaffolding and booths, yelling directions to each other with surprising patience.

In a few places, red-cheeked workmen climbed ladders in steel-toed boots, hanging tendrils of white lights and glitzy stars from lampposts and over high arches. We would walk then sit on cold wooden benches, content to admire details of architectural beauty—Gothic spires, soaring sculpture above empty fountains, carved stone flowers—and leisurely enjoy them as manifestations of artwork created to highlight God’s majesty. Details like this we don’t have in our modern, urban environments at home, and if we did, we’d probably be too busy to notice.

For now, though, I am sitting here—perhaps, like you—yearning for Europe’s beauty and her rich, historic reminders of God’s incarnated grandeur on this earth.

Yes, I am yearning for Europe, yet also yearning for God revealed in creation’s details, most of all.

Yearning for the cold-air Christmas markets where you can watch a no-nonsense vendor—obviously in her annual spot—pinch sauerkraut from a metal soup pot under a table of vegetables, drain it, then fit the squiggly mass into a large zip lock for customers.

Yearning for the thin Nuremburg sausages, grilled outdoors and eaten outdoors with mustard on tin platters, while customers seated on wooden benches also wolfed down their own hard rolls with the same sizzling sausages, and nearby, young moms pushed baby carriages while toddlers followed with arms held out like scarecrows due to the bulky padding of winter coats.

Vibrant and fragrant roses and flowers at the German Christmas Market

Yearning for tight rosebuds sold in large bouquets next to riotously colored winter berries.

Yearning for the warming cups of Rooibus tea and lemon that the attentive staff onboard served us the moment we stepped on the MS Amadeus Star from our cold adventuring. That same good-natured staff who remembered each of our dining quirks at every meal: salad dressing on the side, an extra glass of water, a coddled egg with black coffee five minutes before disembarking in the mornings.

Yearning for the 24/7 little Eucharist Adoration chapel set up by the priest in a stateroom where both my husband and I often returned to say: Thank you, Lord, God of All Creation. Thank you for allowing these experiences to reveal You to us, to bring us closer to You and to each other.

Maybe you’ll join us on a similar pilgrim journey with Select International. A journey that, while full of incredible art and architecture, delicious meals, and lively Catholic fellowship, will also remind you of the eternal magnificence of Our Most Loving Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Until then, join me in yearning for Europe—God’s Europe. Join me in resolving to go back.

Sarah Cortez Chooses Select International Tours

About the Author

Sarah Cortez is the president and founder of Catholic Literary Arts, a nonprofit to guide, educate and mentor Catholic writers of all ages and connect them with audiences. www.catholicliteraryarts.org. She has been an award-winning  professional writer, editor, and educator for over twenty years.

Join Sarah Cortez on a Pilgrimage to Italy in 2022! More details are available HERE.

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