It was 11:30 am and I was in the office, finishing my morning tasks and wondering what I was going to do for lunch.  It was a regular day as any other, except we had a 9 pm flight to Munich and after a 12-hour layover another flight to Muscat, and then two glorious weeks exploring Oman.  I was excited.  I was so excited in fact, I decided to go to the airline website just to look at my flights.  My itinerary came up on the screen and there it was – a thick red line running through our Munich to Muscat flight.

I stared at the screen, my mouth agape, at the words “Flight Cancelled” in bold black letters.    I received no call, no text, no email notification from the airline.  The day before, when I tried to check in online, due to a combination of economy airfare and checked bags, I was redirected to check in at the airport.  At that time, both of our flights were still available and “on-time”.

My hands shaking from adrenaline, I called the airline.  It was quickly confirmed that yes, the flight is canceled, but not to worry, we can be rebooked for another flight at no charge to us!  Specifically, the flight that was leaving at 2:20 pm that very day from O’Hare.  It was 11:45 am and I was in downtown Chicago.

I put the agent on hold, called Victor, and screamed that information at him.

“Yes!” he yelled.  “We can do it! Rebook! And drive home!”

I have no idea how I managed to get home, throw random toiletries into my otherwise packed bag, and call Uber by 12:26 pm.  We arrived at the airport, checked in, went through security, and made it to our gate before the flight even began boarding.  It was a true Christmas miracle even if it was still a week until Christmas.

“Hold on…” said Victor, “Our layover is now in Frankfurt?  And it’s 16 hours long?”

In the few minutes before we started boarding, Victor managed to research and put together a quick itinerary for our one day in Frankfurt.

“We’ll be doing same thing I planned for Munich!” he announced and before I could wonder out loud how that’s possible, he added, “Christmas markets! And an Art Museum!”

Eight hours later, we landed in Frankfurt and took a train to the center of town.  It was 6 am local time and we wandered through cobblestone alleys under the serene glow of streetlights.  The architecture of Frankfurt, blending modern skyscrapers with historic buildings, was highlighted in the pre-dawn darkness with the contrast between the old and the new becoming more evident.  We came across a small bakery, already open in this early hour, displaying a mind-blowing variety of pretzels, at least for those unfamiliar with German cuisine.

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After a small breakfast, we strolled the city streets a bit more until the Stadel Museum opened and we immersed ourselves in art for a few hours.  By the time we left, I was ready for lunch and more Christmas miracles.

We walked through a few small Christmas markets, marveling at roasting chestnuts, grilling sausages, and hot wine steaming in giant metal pots. Finally, we reached the largest and oldest Christmas market in the whole of Germany, located in the beautiful square of Romerberg.  Framed by a backdrop of picturesque medieval buildings and St Paul’s church, the hundreds of holiday-decorated wooden stalls crowding around a gigantic Christmas tree looked like a fairy tale came to life. There were intricate Christmas ornaments and decorations, candles and wooden toys, knitted hats and mittens, and all kinds of art and handmade crafts for sale in many stalls, but I was interested in only one thing.  Food! And possibly a little bit of a drink…

The choices of food were overwhelming.  There were stands with dozens of different types of pretzels, breads, cheeses, tons of roasted and candied almonds, and endless displays of gingerbread cookies and marzipan sweets.  It seemed that every other stand had some kind of a potato-based offering, whether it was baked potatoes with toppings, potato chips, potato fries, potato dumplings, spiral potatoes on a stick, or potato pancakes.  And it all looked delicious!  We finally settled on potato pancakes with apple sauce, stewed mushrooms, and a pretzel I picked out with my eyes closed because it was impossible to chose otherwise.  I am happy to report the food tasted as good as it looked.

As I was eyeing a gigantic hanging grill displaying of every kind bratwurst known to man, Victor hustled me along towards a Gluhwein stand where we traded our Euros for a pretty mug decorated with a soccer-playing Santa and filled to the brim with the tastiest mulled wine I’ve ever tried.  It was fragrant, hot, spiced, and just the thing to keep us warm on this chilly December day.  So much so, that we even went back for refills!

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As we were watching kids riding around on the colorful Merry-Go-Round in the middle of the square, I received a call from my cousin who lives in Frankfurt.  I messaged her earlier in the day to let her know that I was accidentally in town for a day, but we weren’t able to meet up as she was recovering from the flu.  She wanted to know what we spent the day doing and was surprised to learn that we were at a Christmas market.

“But United States’ Christmas decorations are so much better!  So modern!  Our old-fashioned markets are probably boring for you!”

“What do you mean?” I laughed, “This is absolutely magical!  There is nothing in the U.S. that even compares to this!”

In the end, we agreed to disagree about Christmas markets and to continue this conversation in person, the next time I visit Germany.  And after this one day in the winter wonderland of Frankfurt, I cannot wait to go back.  We just have to decide if next time we want to visit in the summer and miss out on the magic of Christmas markets (and Gluhwein) in favor of warmer weather.

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