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.
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….
The city itself – sans Noel adornment – is breathtaking enough …
But the city becomes absolutely magical when the storefronts turn into winter wonderlands and the Christmas trees are lit …
… 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).
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:
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:
Every spice you could wish for….
The most succulent candied and dried 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.
… 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!
You could also get a nosh – anything you desire from crepes to Belgian waffles to bretzels to little pain pizzas.
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!