A Christmas Treat
There are many who like to go to the same destination for a holiday each year. I am not one of them. I am forever looking for new experiences. However, there is one exception. Though we’ve been to Strasbourg a number of times, come Christmas time, I am raring to go again. Since 1570, this city has held a Christmas market each year, or so they claim. Now its become a major tourist attraction. The market runs from the end of November to the end of December. I’ve been quite a few times but come November, I am happy to plan one more weekend in this perfect little city. I just love the atmosphere – the whole old town lit up with Christmas decorations, the various stands in the market selling handicrafts and appetizing treats, the air permeated with the intoxicating smell of mulled wine and gingerbread, the street musicians with amazing talent, the crowds milling around – I love it all. And above all I love the wonderful, marvellous, immense (add as many other superlatives as you like) Cathedral presiding over the festivities.
We are a bit apprehensive as we start the drive as there is quite a heavy snowfall. We are hoping that it won’t develop into a full-size storm.
But the weather clears somewhat after a while and the roads are quite clear. We listen to our favourite old CDs and enjoy the ride in this winter wonderland.
We find ourselves sandwiches at a rest stop and I stop to admire the beauty of the winter landscape. As you can see, there isn’t that much of an accumulation but the look of pristine new snow if simply lovely.
First stop : Fondation Beyeler in Basle to see an exhibition called Vienne 1900 showing works by Klimt, Schiele and other artists of their times. I am entranced anew at the mastery Klimt has over his canvas. Truly a gifted man.
Its about –5°C and its snowing heavily. I am cold in spite of my three layers. I reckon its time to get the down jacket out !! We take the German autobahn towards Strasbourg and arrive there by 4pm. The streets are clogged with traffic and it takes us a long time to get to a parking near our hotel which is in the centre of town.
We check into our miniscule room at Best Western Hotel de l’Europe. I am unimpressed by the room and feel a bit overcharged but its location is incomparable. We are in the heart of the city and the location more than makes up for the tinyness of the room.
We head out immediately. The Christmas market stalls are set in clusters throughout the city. This is the area near the Cathedral, you can see it looming in the background.
But first we buy ourselves some delicious mulled wine. Called Vin Chaud in French and Glühwein in German, its a delicious mix of red wine, juice, spices, sugar or honey and some fruit which are mulled and offered piping hot from stands across the town. In fact, if one stumbled and fell, one would no doubt fall face down in front of a stand selling hot wine to be happily revived in no time and totter on towards the next stand selling the same !! With view to researching the quality of various stands, we heroically try multiple glasses from across the city. Though the alcohol content is not potent, I am light headed quite soon! Its delicious though..and addictive.
There are lots of handicrafts on display. Ceramics, wooden items, glassware, handmade jewellery, candles, Christmas decorations are just a few of the items I stop to admire. I buy myself a little ceramic half-timbered house which doubles as a candle stand and perfume dispenser.
Then there are the eatable gifts like the pain d’épices (gingerbread) above, handmade chocolates, sweet items of various kinds, cakes, sausages, preserves, jams etc. There are also many stands selling typical Alsacian food for the hungry hordes.
We go inside the Cathedral of course. I’ve seen it so many times yet it leaves me in a state of awe each time.
The streets are jammed with people. It is the opening day so perhaps even the locals have come to visit. There are tour bus loads of people walking around in groups speaking in many tongues. I have fun overhearing conversations and trying to guess the language!
The whole town gets into the act. Businesses, homes, restaurants…everything is lit up and dressed to attract.
My favourite decoration is this blue tree. Isn’t it beautiful?
We have dinner at a nice pizzeria (lucky to have found a table !!) and then wander back to our hotel under a shower of wet snow/rain. I love the way the lights reflect off the pavements and stop often to take pictures.
The reflections are pretty, aren’t they? We find our way back to the hotel and sleep soundly, no doubt helped by the hot wine we’ve imbibed!
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set out for a little walk before leaving town. This area called Petite France is one of my favourite places in Strasbourg. Look at the fabulous half-timbered houses from the 16th century.
The canals were used by the tanners who used to live in this area.
Each building in this quarter has character and its a pleasure to stroll here.
We go to check out the gigantic Christmas tree in this beautiful square. We then head out towards Colmar, where there is another Christmas market. Its about an hour’s drive away, on the way home.
Colmar is not as busy as Strasbourg was and there aren’t so many stands either. But it is a beautiful town and I enjoy looking at the wonderful old architecture.
We feel obliged in the name of science to compare the Vin Chaud on offer here as well !! hmmm…Strasbourg had better offerings..
The Cathedral in Colmar is quite big but after having seen Strasbourg…….I am spoit (and biased)!
We find late lunch in a little restaurant and then head home. I am asleep in no time but the man on the wheel says that it was an easy drive home