Let's go / best bets
Nativity scene workshops
The tradition of wooden Nativity scenes in Germany goes back to the 1600s. One of the places associated with the carving of religious figures is Oberammergau, located north of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany. About 60 wood sculptors currently work there.
This weekend, you can watch the artists create Nativity figures, explain their techniques and answer questions in Living Workshops in the Pilatushaus on Ludwig-Thoma-Strasse 10. A nearby shop sells the figures.
Workshops are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They’re also held from 1-5 p.m. Dec. 26-30 and Jan. 2-6.
See more at www.ammergauer-alpen.de (in German).
Prague Christmas package
Through Dec. 28, the Corinthia Hotel in Prague is offering a Corinthia Christmas package deal. The hotel is across from the Prague Congress Centre, two metro stops from the city center.
The package includes two nights’ accommodation, buffet breakfast, early check-in, candle-lit dinner with local wine, and late checkout. The cost is 125 euros per person, double occupancy. Extra nights cost 95 euros per person. Children up to age 12 stay free, and those 13 to 18 receive a 50-percent discount.
Find more details at www.corinthiahotels.com.
What romantic soul hasn’t dreamed of sweeping across the floor in formal dress to the sounds of a Viennese waltz at a fancy ball in Austria’s capital city? This oldest of ballroom dances is still popular in Vienna today, with more than 300 balls held in the first three months of the year and all open to the public.
The most famous is the Opera Ball on Feb. 19 (www.staatsoper.at) at the Vienna State Opera, which both locals and famous people attend. Admission is 230 euros, with prices for tables starting at 160 euros. Not all balls are this expensive, with admission often starting at 40 euros and some not requiring formal dress. A variety of organizations put them on, giving each its particular atmosphere, for instance: the Coffee House Owners Ball, the Flower Ball, Ball of the Military Officers, Russian Ball, Viennese Confectioners’ Ball, Rudolfina Masked Ball and the Life Ball.
For details, see www.wien.info/article.asp?IDArticle=16641.
Best betsENGLAND: Between the 15th and 19th centuries in London, the weather was extremely cold, so much so that ice on the River Thames would freeze hard enough for the city to hold festivals on its surface. The first Frost Fair was in 1607 during this "Little Ice Age." Today the river doesn’t ice over so thickly, so the Londoners hold their fairs on the river’s banks. On Friday and Saturday, the 401st Frost Fair takes place on the Bankside between the Tate Theatre and Globe Theatre with a full program: an opening lantern parade, sled-dog racing, ice sculptures, street entertainment, bands, river procession, workshops, food and beer tent. The fair is open both days 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Sunday, a Bankside Winter Market is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.
GERMANY: The castle in Ronneburg, northeast of Hanau, holds the last of its medieval Christmas markets this weekend. Costumed artisans will sell medieval wares, food and hot drinks inside and outside the walls of the 13th-century castle. Jugglers, fire swallowers and musicians will perform. The market is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost 4 euros for adults and 3 to 3.50 euros for children. Find out more at www.burg-ronneburg.de (in German).
SWITZERLAND: Geneva celebrates its annual Fête de l’Escalade this weekend. The event marks the unsuccessful attempt by the troops of Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy to take the wealthy city on the night of Dec. 12, 1602. City inhabitants prevented the forces from scaling the city walls, thus remaining independent. During the festival, the Old Town will have a 17th-century atmosphere with military re-enactments, live music, traditional food and historical visits of the town. A costumed parade begins at 5 p.m. Sunday and is followed by a bonfire in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral. For more information, see Geneva’s tourist board, www.geneve-tourisme.ch; there is an English section.