A cruise through Austria and Germany a few weeks before Christmas is a holiday with a bonus. Besides stunning autumn scenery there's the attraction of shopping where many familiar Christmas traditions began. My cruise along the Danube starts in Budapest and meanders along the river through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany to wind up in Nuremberg, passing through the places where tree ornaments, Christmas toys, gingerbread men, nutcrackers and Saint Nicholas folklore were invented. It's perfect. But when our tour director delivers news that the following day is a public holiday in Germany and all the shops in Passau are shut, there are groans of disappointment. Shops shut? How are we going to finish our Christmas shopping? Many of those on board are intent on returning home with bulging bags of Christmas goodies. A public holiday in Passau is an unwelcome setback, although it doesn't help that we're eating our Christmas gifts almost as fast as we're buying them. After all, who can resist a mouthful of fine Viennese chocolates or a nip or two of apricot schnapps? Don't get me wrong. It's not that the MS Amalegro's kitchen is starving us - far from it, we're being wined and dined like royalty three times a day. The menus change daily with regional specialities and fine wines that reflect each region we cruise through. There are appetisers such as pear cocktails with schnapps, entrees of fresh salmon trout on beetroot sauce with celery fennel ragout and noodles, and desserts including Austrian germknoedl (yeast dumplings served with plum compote and sweet poppyseed butter). I hadn't booked a cruise with the intention of shopping, but there are so many lovely things to buy I can't help myself. It all began in Budapest, where we boarded the ship laden with presents - Hungarian dolls, delicate Zsolnay hand-painted vases and bottles of Tokaj wine - destined for family members back home. I don't usually buy many gifts while travelling because it's surprising how just a few extra things can fill up your bag quickly. But this time it's different. 'We're on a ship where you unpack once and sleep in the same room each night,' I say to my husband, who gingerly surveys my growing collection of presents as I pack them away in the roomy closet in our stateroom. Day two brings us to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. After a short walking tour of the old town I drag my husband through fashion, shoe and accessory shops. He looks so glum that we abandon the shopping and end up in a cosy cafe sipping mugs of hot chocolate. We nibble on dainty handmade pralines so delicious that a box finds its way into my shopping bag. On our third day, in Vienna, we forgo the sightseeing excursion arranged by the cruise company in favour of searching the city for handmade cakes, for which it is famous. The city is already in festive swing, with twinkling lights decorating its grand buildings and plazas. Cafes and restaurants are packed with early merrymakers. And my shopping bag fills up with dainty miniature chocolates wrapped in colourful boxes, chocolate cigars and gaily decorated cakes. The next day we stop at the quaint, cobblestone village of Durnstein in the Wachau Valley, where Britain's Richard the Lionheart was held captive by Duke Leopold V in 1193. After a tour of the village and castle the serious business of shopping begins again. I pop in and out of narrow shops examining Austrian dolls, scarves, knits and Christmas baubles. In Germany, Regensburg and Nuremberg are filled with stores dedicated to Christmas decorations. Regensburg is full of colourful stucco facades and is an architectural melange of medieval Gothic, Romanesque and baroque buildings. Most of its old city escaped damage from the bombs of the second world war, and the warren of cobblestone streets in the well-preserved medieval centre is bustling with shoppers. There are shops selling goods made by local artisans such as pottery, sculptures, soaps and beeswax candles. Other stores specialising in expensive German Christmas decorations are already holding sales. There are carousels and music boxes decorated with reindeer, miniature Santas and Biblical figures. Nuremberg was devastated during the war but many of its historic buildings were rebuilt using the same stone. A bus tour whizzes us past the rally grounds used by the Nazis, their Congress Hall and the Hall of Justice. Hitler chose the city as the site for his annual party rallies and it later became the location for the trials of Nazi war criminals. But Nuremberg is also famous for gingerbread, toys and angels, first sold at the city's Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market) more than 400 years ago by a local doll-maker who had lost his daughter. The market is Germany's largest and the aroma of roasted almonds and chestnuts, gingerbread and sausages wafts through the air. We make a beeline for Kathe Wohlfahrt, a favourite local Christmas ornament store, from which we emerge with bulging bags of colourful Christmas baubles. Even my shopping-averse husband gets into the spirit of things by buying a traditional wooden nutcracker. The shops being shut in Passau was no problem after all. Getting there: Lufthansa ( www.lufthansa.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Budapest via Frankfurt.