Joyeux Noel a Strasbourg! (Merry Christmas from Strasbourg!)

I want to tell you about Strasbourg, and then I want you to go and visit there. Believe me, you will want to after you see my photos. I was fortunate to borrow the tried-and-true Canon Rebel T3 camera from my dear friend Katrina of prettygirltrekking, and the photos it could take were incredible. Day, night, snow, indoor, outdoor, you name it: it took the shot and took it well. This was a very good thing, because a lot of the beauty was at night when the Christmas lights blinked to life and made the streets look more like Times Square than sleepy Strasbourg.

Strasbourg at night .. who needs street lamps when you have Christmas lights?

Strasbourg at night .. who needs street lamps when you have Christmas lights?

I miss France already; I love France – I love it so much I personally adopt Ernst Hemingway’s quote, “America is my country, but Paris is my hometown.” So many people here in New Jersey, especially the macho military men I work with, blast the French as wimpy, lazy, feminine dolts. Not true: the French are truly some of the kindest, most appreciating of life, and most appreciative people. Visiting a place is very different from living there, I know, but France is so lovely to visit that I can pretend that’s what life would be like if I lived there – and that somehow makes everything even more enjoyable. My husband and I loved stopping at a boulangerie in the morning for a croissant and a baguette to go (yes, he carried it under his arm and ate it throughout the morning! He’s such a picky eater that baguettes and croissants are some of the few French foods that he likes), strolling along the cobbled streets, grabbing a pick-me-up café crème in the afternoon, and taking a leisurely time at dinner – always with at least a glass of Crémant and usually half a bottle of wine.

Food aside, no place does Christmas like Strasbourg does Christmas. They call themselves “Le Capitale de Noel“, and that is not an exaggeration! I’ve never been in Germany over Christmas – which I know is famous for their Noel celebrations, what with the tannenbaum and all – but I can’t imagine a city doing Christmas bigger or better than Strasbourg does. Over at Yahoo Voices, I wrote an article about what the city does from November 23 to December 31. It is nothing short of spectacular! The decorations, the lights, the markets (marches), the store fronts, the hot spiced wine….

We drank vin chaud nearly every evening as we strolled; it's a wonderful combatant to the chill. Only one vendor placed an orange slice into our wine, but it truly makes the difference between fair and spectacular mulled wine.

We drank vin chaud nearly every evening as we strolled; it’s a wonderful combatant to the chill. Only one vendor placed an orange slice into our wine, but it truly makes the difference between fair and spectacular mulled wine.

The city itself – sans Noel adornment – is breathtaking enough …

The south bank of Le Grande Ile lies on the right, mirrored in the River Ill.

The south bank of Le Grande Ile lies on the right, mirrored in the River Ill.

Snow falling on Place Kleber, home to my favorite crooked buildings in Strasbourg.

Snow falling on Place Kleber, home to my favorite crooked buildings in Strasbourg.

But the city becomes absolutely magical when the storefronts turn into winter wonderlands and the Christmas trees are lit …

Santa landed in Strasbourg - everywhere!

Santa landed in Strasbourg – everywhere!

The large sapin at Place Kleber

The large sapin at Place Kleber

… It almost seems to be a competition between the stores, as if the mayor will be handing out awards for the most over-the top scene (the feast or the owl tree takes the trophy for me), most theme-appropriate décor (the notions shop’s “ribbon spools” do it for me), or most enthralling window (our home away from home, Maison Rouge, had a snowy display of penguins and polar bears who bobbed their heads and waved their paws – much to the delight of every passing child and adult alike).

This store is having a Christmas feast, apparently.

This store is having a Christmas feast, apparently.

I'm biased because I adore owls (and any bird, really), but look at that tree! And the owls! they're everywhere!

I’m biased because I adore owls (and any bird, really), but look at that tree! And the owls! They’re everywhere!

A notions store at Christmastime, of course!

A notions store at Christmastime, of course!

This window display was too cute for words .. imagine the penguin heads bobbing in a circular motion and the polar bears' heads bobbing and paws waving.

This window display was too cute for words…. Imagine the penguin heads bobbing in a circular motion and the polar bears’ heads bobbing and paws waving.

I usually take several hundred photos when I go on a trip, averaging 100-200 photos per day, but I may have maxed out my SD card space this time. Everywhere I turned, I saw a Kodak moment; I guess that’s what the Christmas spirit will do to you! Some photos just begged to be taken, such as these from the Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg cathedral:

The front facade of the cathedral, single-spired, is imposing and beautiful.

The front facade of the cathedral, single-spired, is imposing and beautiful.

saints at exterior

Part of the astronomically astounding astronomical clock inside the cathedral.

Part of the astronomically astounding astronomical clock inside the cathedral.

Flying buttresses abound, holding up the clerestory section of the cathedral.

Flying buttresses abound, holding up the clerestory section of the cathedral.

cathedral exterior

I took a photo of perhaps every window and every angle, I'm guessing. Like many of the windows, these feature a patron or saint topped with a cathedral.

I took a photo of perhaps every window and every angle, I’m guessing. Like many of the windows, these feature a patron or saint topped with a cathedral.

There’s something about a cathedral that absolutely grips me. Outside, I can’t tear my eyes away from the flying buttresses, the carved saints along the archways, the spires I can barely crane my neck enough to see, and the enormous rose windows. Inside, I tiptoe around and try to take in every square inch, but I never seem to be able to. I almost feel as if I can channel the spirits of those who used to roam the nave; I know that sounds bizarre, but these cathedrals have a spooky, almost haunted to feel to them that has a liveliness to me. But despite my eerie words, I really enjoy it and can never seem to tear myself away.

… Until it’s time to shop the marchés! Each plaza – or place – had some sort of market, but the main one was the Christkindelsmarik at Place Broglie. Three alleys of market stalls were packed with ornaments, pottery village houses, lights, and every kind of treat imaginable, but more so they were packed with shoppers. My husband and I felt like the proverbial fish swimming upstream every time we wanted to check out a stall. Besides the gifts, the treats were enough to make me drool into my vin chaud:

gluhwein

Every spice you could wish for….

spices

The most succulent candied and dried fruit….

candied fruit

Mind-blowing mounds of crunchy-sweet and buttery Christmas cookies, or bredle … The most common cookies are riffs off the pain epicé, but there are also cinnamon stars – or zimtsterne in German – and an array of icebox-like cookies in so many flavors.

bredel seller

… And this Strasbourg “delicacy” which I was too surprised to taste (though in retrospect this is really right up my alley): chocolate covered mousse balls!

I imagine biting into this chocolate-covered mousse mound and finding a cloud of pure bliss..

I imagine biting into this chocolate-covered mousse mound and finding a cloud of pure bliss..

You could also get a nosh – anything you desire from crepes to Belgian waffles to bretzels to little pain pizzas.

gauffres and bretzels

We - and the children of Strasbourg - couldn't resist les pains de Saint Nicolas: bittersweet chocolate covered a slightly salty breaded man ... topped off with a raisin belly button and eyes!

We – and the children of Strasbourg – couldn’t resist les pains de Saint Nicolas: bittersweet chocolate covered a slightly salty breaded man … topped off with a raisin belly button and eyes!

Alas, our money ran out and our flight time neared. We certainly ate, drank, and walked our way around and around the streets of Strasbourg – with no regrets. I’m sure Strasbourg is a lovely city to visit any time of year, but it’s especially transformed at Christmastime into an unforgettably magical place. We took with us many memories, six bottles of wine/Crémant, loads of gifts, and too many photos, and when we got home I tried my hand at baking zimtsterne and candied citrus peel, a là France. To me, that’s perhaps the best part of traveling: bringing the food and culture of a place into your own home, and preferably in your kitchen. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Joyeux Noel a Strasbourg! (Merry Christmas from Strasbourg!)

    • I couldn’t recommend a place more…. I will have to sneak in more birds and owls in my photos. Usually there’s a bird on my table runner, as my s+p shakers, on my plates… everywhere! Glad to find a kindred spirit there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s