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    Tongeren: Belgium's Largest Flea Market

    Sunday Flea Market
    With more than 40 permanent antique shops and around 350 weekly exhibitors, Tongeren (which claims to be the oldest city in Belgium) hosts one of the largest weekly flea markets in Belgium.

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    Off the Beaten Path Christmas Markets in Europe

    Off the Beaten Path Christmas Markets in Europe

    Although it was a balmy 98º last week here in the Washington DC area, it looks like Fall is finally here with a slight chill in the air.  Which directly leads us to trips to Europe and Christmas Markets!
       
    Even though the better-known markets like Strasbourg (France), Vienna (Austria), or Nuremberg (Germany) are always fun to visit, it may be time to discover some hidden gems.   It's never to early to plan and here are some of the best Christmas markets off the beaten path that most people don't visit.
        
    Tallinn, Estonia - With a walled, cobblestoned Old Town, Tallinn is considered one of the best-preserved Hanseatic town centers in the world. In recent years, the Tallinn Christmas market has been voted one of the best in the world, as the market delights everyone with its coziness, historical location, wonderfully preserved medieval old buildings and long traditions.  More Info
        
    Budapest, Hungary - Decorations, ice-skating, crafts for sale, food: everything you could possibly want  from a Christmas market is here. Located in front of Budapest’s grandest cathedral, St. Stephen’s Basilica, you can take in the dazzling lights while noshing on traditional Hungarian delights like Floyd I and Kurtoskalacs cakes.  While the market is certainly steeped in tradition, it’s also added some modern elements including flash mobs, contemporary art for sale and a light show on the facade of the basilica that spectators watch with 3D glasses.  More Info


         
    Erfurt, Germany -  Erfurt is home to Thuringia’s largest Christmas market, the Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt, spread across the city with over 200 different booths where you can find the best of traditional German food, drink and handmade decor.  Glass-blown Christmas ornaments and handcrafted woodwork (from Santa Clauses to nutcrackers to Christmas pyramids).  More Info
         
    Seville, Spain - The Feria del Belén in Seville offers visitors a different kind of Christmas market, specializing only in figurines and sets for Nativity scenes, known as Beléns in Spanish. Extremely delicate and intricate, you can buy anything from Mary, Joseph and The Three Kings to mini market places, shepherds, and even moving water wheels. Located in the historic centre, near the Cathedral, it runs from November 18th to December 23rd.  More Info
       
    Edinburgh, ScotlandDon't miss the festive markets in the city center. Enjoy delicious food & drink and traditional crafts at the Scottish Market on George Street, pick up unique gifts and goods at the European Market in the Mound Precinct, or choose presents for the wee ones in the Children's Market, part of Santa Land in Princes Street Gardens.  More Info
               
    Prague, Czech Republic -  In Prague, travelers will find not one, but two sensational Christmas markets within a five-minute walk of each other (old Town Square and Wenceslas Square).  Both are dotted with traditional wooden huts brimming with gifts, klobasa (Czech sausages) and Pilsner Urquell.  At night, when the tree in Old Town Square twinkles with lights, the scene becomes even more charming.  More Info
         
    Basel, Switzerland - This Christmas market is so large that it’s actually split into two parts: Barfusserplatz and Munsterplatz.  Between them, you’ll find nearly 200 decorated stalls serving regional fare and selling local handicrafts.  And the kids will especially love this spot, because Munsterplatz’s is home to a “ fairytale forest” and hosts activities like decorating gingerbread houses and making holiday ornaments.  More Info
         

         

    10 Fun Facts about the Oktoberfest

    10 Fun Facts about the Oktoberfest

    Tomorrow is not only the start of Fall and cooler days, but also the start of the world's largest and oldest beer festival: the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.  This year's festival runs for 16 days from September 21st through October 6th.

    Almost everyone has heard of the Oktoberfest, and many have visited it at least once.  Below are a few interesting tidbits that you may not know:

    1. The first Oktoberfest was held on October 12, 1810 in Munich to celebrate the royal wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.
    2. Over the past 209 years, the Octoberfest has been cancelled only 24 times, mainly for reasons like cholera outbreaks or war.
    3. About 6.3 million people attended the Oktoberfest in 2018;  the most-attended festival was in 1985, when 7.1 million people showed up.
    4. Almost 2 million gallons of beer are consumed during the 16-day festival.
    5. And it's not only beer that's consumed.  Over 10,000 whole roast chickens, 124 cows, 48 calves, 59,000 pork knuckles and over 60,000 sausages are eaten.
    6. At the fest there are 38 different beer tents, with the 14 largest tents holding between 5,000 and 14,000 people.
    7. Don't try to steal your stein.  Over 100,000 beer mugs were confiscated from patrons trying to sneak them out in 2018.  If you want a souvenir, they're for sale.
    8. Beer prices keep steadily rising.  This year the average cost of a liter (about 1 quart) of beer is almost $13 (about 11.50 Euro).
    9. Even though it seems like the whole fest is overrun with tourists from around the world, about 70% of attendees are actually from Bavaria, Germany.
    10. The festival makes the city of Munich $1.43 billion in tourism money.

    For more information about the Oktoberfest, click here.

    Do you Need a Rental Car in Europe?

    Do you Need a Rental Car in Europe?

    Photograph by Alexander Spatari of Old Small Red Vintage Car On The Streets Of Rome, Italy

    Since I ship my containers from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to the Port of Baltimore in Maryland, I usually fly into Amterdam's Schipol Airport.  At the airport I rent a car to drive through the countryside (since many of the wholesalers and markets I visit are off the beaten path) and then stay in various B&B's while I'm on a buying spree throughout Holland, Belgium, France and Germany.

    Over the years I have discovered that the best deals on rental cars in Europe can be found at Auto Europe.  Auto Europe is a large car rental wholesale company, working with approximately 20,000 car rental locations in 180 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, as well as North and South America. Auto Europe has been accredited with the Better Business Bureau since April 2, 1993 with an A+ rating.

    Auto Europe always have a good selection of cars in all class sizes at very competitive prices (even vans if you're going to buy a lot at those markets you want to visit).  If you make a reservation, be sure to print out and bring along the car voucher, which you will need when you arrive at the rental location.

    Make sure you fill up the tank at a local gas station before you return the car, or Auto Europe will charge your credit card a hefty sum to do so (gas currently costs about $6 per gallon), and they will double or triple that amount just because you didn't take the time to stop and fill up.

    Another tip: Europe is filled with speed cameras and watch out!  You will often not see them but they will catch you if you'e going faster than a few kilometers over the speed limit.  Having a rental car is no excuse; the local authorities will find you in the U.S. and you'll be responsible for both the ticket and any additional costs that the rental company charges you.

    Stay in a local "Gîte" while in France

    Stay in a local "Gîte" while in France

    If you're traveling to France and want to experience the country more like a local, you may want to keep away from the large international hotel chains and book a stay in a local "gîte" (or "home").  They can be found all over France and come in a variety of options, from single rooms in a private home to large houses and villas.

    Many times these homes are surprisingly affordable;  the entire 3-bedroom home pictured above near L'Isle sur la Sorgue in Provence (a quaint town known for its antiques) runs only about $100 per night.

    There are a variety of websites that offer booking services in English;  below are a few to get you started: