I can tell you already, dear reader, that writing this blog post is going to be deeply challenging for me. It’s not because it’s a difficult subject matter (not even close), but rather because I can feel that I am going to be struggling the whole time to find an adjective to use other than ‘magical’. You see, Christmas in Europe is magical, and there are very few other ways to describe it. Now that I’ve already used it, let’s see how far I can make it into this post before I have to use it again….
So what is it that makes Christmas here so special? Marc and I headed off last weekend to the epicentre of all French Christmas festivities- the Marché de Noël (Christmas Market) in Strasbourg to find out. We decided to take a discount train line called OuiGo and to go from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening. Even before departure, we had a little Parisian magic (ooops, can’t help myself) in the form of a brief but beautiful snowfall on Thursday night. It doesn’t ever really snow in Paris (this was the first time in a couple years), so this felt like such a blessing….I love the snow! Even Murphy had to watch out the window.
The train was annoyingly late, so we only arrived in Strasbourg around 7pm- it only takes 2 hours on the high speed trains, and we left our house around 1:30pm…. yeah, travelling in France can be such a nightmare! We checked into our hotel, which was right in the town centre, and then it was straight off to the markets.
There are several small markets scattered across town, with the epicentre being in the square near the cathedral. It was all incredibly beautiful, the town (which is so pretty anyways) becomes completely transformed into a winter wonderland. There are intricate lights along almost all the streets, and most of the buildings are covered with amazing decorations.
We had one priority upon arriving….and that was FOOD! I love Christmas Market food, there is something amazing about eating scorching hot food outside in the cold. It was cold too…there was a bit of a cold snap hitting northern France last weekend and it was below 0 degrees and windy. It was perfect Marché de Noël weather. We started with a steaming hot bowl of choucroute (sauerkraut), sausages and mustard. Then came a bowl of spaetzli covered in cheese, cream and lardons (bacon). Neither dish looked very impressive, but WOW they tasted amazing! It was really cool to taste the regional specialties- Strasbourg is in the Alsace region of France, and was occasionally a part of Germany, so there are a ton of Germanic influences on their cuisine. The local specialty is tarte flambée (or flammekueche in German), which is tart base covered in cheese and a variety of different toppings. They had a version at the Christmas Market that was made on baguettes….they called it baguette flambée. We ate one for lunch on Saturday and it was spectacular! Also a local speciality….pretzels. Obviously we had both a sweet and a salty one.
Oh, and the vin chaud. It only cost 2 euros for a cup, so we drank lots and lots. It was important to keep warm, OK?
The Marché contained everything you can imagine. This is why I love European Christmas markets- in general they contain very little junk….most vendors are selling something handcrafted and original. There were people selling Christmas decorations, woodcrafters, leatherworkers, glass blowers, and tons of others. Roughly half the stands were dedicated to food- either hot food or candies or nougat.
The markets were amazing, but so was the old town of Strasbourg; we were happy to have the day on Saturday to explore it.The architecture is completely different from Paris, and it was so much fun to discover.
Overall, it was a really cool experience and so worthwhile. The Marché de Noël was definitely very crowded (as I’m sure you could tell by the photos), but there were so many stalls and markets that it didn’t matter too much. We spent around 24 hours there, which was more than enough time to visit the Marché de Noël, but definitely not enough time for Strasbourg itself. We didn’t get a chance to eat in any restaurants, visit any museums, or do much shopping that wasn’t at the market.
As far as other Christmas events go…we had a group of friends in last night for a Christmas party. It was an amazing time- so good, in fact, that I took no pictures. Not a single one. Oh well, the time was better spent enjoying the company than taking pictures. We are so incredibly thankful to have met such a great community at church that we were able to fill our apartment so soon after moving here. God is great!
We have lots of parties and plans for the coming weeks- we are particularly looking forward to a visit from Marc’s mom for Christmas. Also, we are enjoying advent season….advent calendars are HUGE here, so we obviously bought one each (and one for Murphy, naturally!).
Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you are all having a blessed December!
Until next time,