Thursday, December 19: I first read of the Christmas Village in Baltimore in the December 8 edition of the Washington Post Travel Section, in “Two villages of good cheer, in Md. and Pa.” The article followed the headline article about the Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Germany. Of course the idea of sampling a bit of Europe here in America enticed me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about when I could squeeze in a trip to visit the market in Baltimore, as well as the one in Philadelphia, a city to which I’ve never been despite it being less than 3 hours from northern Virginia.
According to the Post article by Andrea Sachs, these are a pair of “German-inflected colonies featuring crafts, local and Deutschland foods, toe-warming beverages and decorative lights as bright as a diamond tiara.”
On this Thursday morning, I deposit myself at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor after about an hour and 20 minute drive. At first sight, all I see is the harbor, the Legg Mason Building and other gleaming skyscrapers, rippling reflections of buildings and boats in the water, and the Maryland Science Center with a big sign for its Mummies of the World exhibition. Finally, tucked in a little spot off the wide paved walkway, I find the Christmas market. It seems a small affair, with a smattering of 14 open front timber shops strung with greenery, colored ornaments and white lights, open to the cold air. Some of the luckier vendors, 29 out of the 43, are inside a heated tent strung with festive white lights.
In the outdoor part of the market, I find vendors offering landscapes on plexiglass; German Gluhwine, hot chocolate and apple cider; works of art and handmade felts, knits, and wovens, as well as bags handmade from recycled jute, hemp and cotton — all from Nepal; glass Christmas ornaments from Egypt; glass jewelry; Russian Christmas ornaments, nested dolls, wooden ornaments, amber jewelry, wooden carved Santas; homemade soap and body butter; and South American woolens. It’s a truly international market!
My first stop is Alpaca Girl, a shop selling alpaca fashion, scarves and soft teddy bears. A young woman sits wrapped in a woolen poncho, totally engrossed in her cell phone. She can’t even look up to offer some Christmas cheer, so although I think of buying a warm wool scarf for my mother-in-law, I don’t want to bother with someone so, well, uninterested in a sale.
I ask the vendor at Norden Arts if he’s Nepalese and he tells me, yes, he is. I say that I was just there in January, in Kathmandu and Pokhara, and he perfunctorily says, yes, it’s beautiful isn’t it? Then he goes back to the business of selling. It’s strange because I can’t imagine there are many people in America who have actually visited his home country.
It seems to me that vendors these days need to learn the art of small talk. At both of the above shops, I considered buying something, but was put off by the all-business attitude of the vendors.
I wander inside the big tent where I find numerous other vendors, but the first one that catches my eye, and my nose, is The German Grill, selling bratwurst and sauerkraut. As it’s just after noon, I order the bratwurst and sauerkraut, and a Hofbräu Original. It’s not too early for a beer, is it?
Wandering around the inner part of the tent, I find Sylca Designs, a booth selling jewelry and woolen ponchos. The owner says she designs everything herself and she’s friendly and welcoming without pressuring. I buy a poncho for my mother-in-law and some earrings for myself (from Santa!). I find another friendly vendor at Nut’n’better, selling roasted almonds, nuts, and sweets, and offering samples to potential customers. There I buy four packages of cinnamon encrusted almonds.
I wander into the tent’s anchor shop, Kaethe Wohlfahrt, which sells incense smokers, nutcrackers, pyramids, Schwibbogen, music boxes, wooden and glass ornaments. I snap a picture of a mural of the medieval town of Rothenburg on the back wall. As I aim my camera at a pretty display of nutcrackers, the sales girl tells me no photos are allowed. I say, that’s a shame, because I’m writing a blog about the market.
It seems unless you’re a writer for the Washington Post, you have no clout here. I don’t know why vendors try to prohibit people from taking photos of their goods; they will only benefit with the wide array of social networking used by most everyone these days. People will inevitably post their pictures on Facebook, Instagram, blogs, Twitter, or PinInterest, giving their business free publicity. It seems these vendors could use some marketing lessons.
Meanwhile, in another shop nearby, I find a woman from Ukraine who sells pretty Russian and Ukrainian nesting dolls and Santas. She is very friendly, and not pushy at all, and though I don’t buy anything from her, I’m tempted to support her just because of her warmth and good cheer.
There are lots of gifts to be found here in the Christmas Market in Baltimore, but to be honest, I had more fun just wandering around the Inner Harbor, visiting the National Aquarium and eating a light dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory (stay tuned for more on the Inner Harbor).
By the time I leave the Inner Harbor, it’s dark and I pass by a sprinkling of festive lights. Walking back through the Christmas market on my way to the parking garage, I find the only Christmas tree I’ve seen in the entire Inner Harbor.
Europe it’s not, but it is a nice little outing if you’re looking for some gifts from afar.
The Christmas Village in Baltimore is at the Inner Harbor, 501 Light Street. Check out Christmas Village in Baltimore for details. Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Free weekdays; $1-$5 weekends. Closes December 24.