Inspired by Travel Weekly's stories on European Christmas markets, Insider dropped by at the holiday market in New York's Union Square.

The market, now in its fourth year, is open every day from Thanksgiving to Dec. 24. It features a wide range of gift items, including specialty foods, leather goods, hats, jewelry, picture frames, ethnic artifacts plus a range of really goofy gift ideas.

As in a European market, it also has stalls (though very few) selling handmade Christmas decorations. One stall highlighted German goods and was tended by a young man who had traveled from Germany to join in the event.

The market was easy for shoppers to navigate (read: not crowded, the way Macy's, for example, was on that day).

What is good news for shoppers is another matter for merchants. The seller of German Christmas goods was not too happy that, in a city bustling with economic activity, the Union Square holiday market did not seem well known or even invitingly set up with, say, a nice Christmas tree.

But even Christmas markets, with their long and premodern origins, are finding their way onto the Web. The Union Square market is this month's featured market at one Web site,

Visitors can buy from many of the merchants represented in Union Square (but not the seller of German Christmas decorations, it turns out).


We were tooling around the northern Italian countryside in a van with three other American travel writers and a guide when we came upon an open pasture inhabited by a score or so of very un-nervous-looking deer.

"Are those deer?" asked one writer, incredulous.

"Yes," said our guide, adding in her charmingly accented English, "they raise them here -- you know -- for the meat."

This prompted in the Americans a collective groan, followed by one of those conversations that ineffably break out whenever you pack a bunch of travel writers in a van.

There followed accounts of these travelers' having sampled things like reindeer and ostrich, bison and water buffalo, various insects, parts of otherwise common livestock that don't show up on butchers' charts, plus some species we hesitate to mention here, whatever their status on the international wildlife protections lists at the time they were eaten.

Still, the very idea of farming Bambi set off this reaction among these intrepid souls -- and brought a wistful smile to the face of our guide, who seemed to be thinking not of Bambi but of the full-bodied red wine she most favored with venison.

Amid the alien corn

We have found ourselves lately more and more intrigued by "street food" in our travels. By this we mean something like the equivalent of the New York pretzel or the Parisian crepe -- snacks found on virtually any street corner in a given destination.

2 men in shorts cooking corn.We were, for instance, very fond of the roti we had in Trinidad and Tobago. This is a concoction of East Indian influence, a flatbread stuffed with mashed chickpeas, sometimes along with shredded chicken or goat or lamb.

In the space of six months this year, we came upon two quite far-flung instances of grilled corn -- a sensible and smashing idea -- being vended at curbside.

The first was in Chihuaha City, Mexico, where every couple of blocks, a grill mounted on a cart tempted strollers with corncobs served up smeared with butter (or, in one instance, mayonnaise).

The second time we came upon curbside corn grillers was in the seaside town of Kusadasi, Turkey, where the men pictured above were but two of many such vendors.

The corn we tasted in Kusadasi was served just as is -- no butter, no oil, no nothin' -- and, we're sorry to report, was dry and flavorless enough to qualify as livestock feed (at least to a North American).

But let us not baste all Turkish street corn with the same brush, so to speak: Could be we just hit the wrong cart.

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