Posted by: vlibrizzi | December 20, 2009

Warmed by the Christmas Spirit at the Strasbourg Christmas Markets

On Friday, we woke up to even more snow than we had on Thursday. It seemed like it was never going to stop…and, for all intents and purposes, it really hasn’t. 🙂

Despite the snowy weather and the freezing temperatures (it has been in the teens for the past week!), we braved the elements and drove to Strasbourg on Friday. 

We were on a real Christmas Market mission! 

Once we arrived on Friday night (the drive from Fontainebleau to Strasbourg is almost 5 hours), we checked in at our hotel, and took the really convenient tram to the Palais du Musique et Congres to see a performance of Handel’s Messiah. The concert was our Christmas gift to C.’s parents (who joined us on the trip to Strasbourg), so we were keeping our fingers crossed throughout the drive that we would make it to Strasbourg in time for the concert (Luckily, we showed up only about 10 minutes late).

The concert was beautiful! I had never heard the whole Messiah before and it is absolutely wonderful. If you’ve never heard it performed before, you must go. It is so worth it!!! I had chills during the Hallelujah chorus….which they played twice for us! 🙂

Then, on Saturday, we spent the whole day exploring the city’s Christmas Markets, which completely take over the city.

Seriously, we had no idea what we were in for. Thousands of people descend upon Strasbourg and there are 14 different Christmas markets selling all handmade crafts and treats for the holidays. Strasbourg was so packed that we were only able to find a hotel room in the city for one night (we stayed in a town outside of the city on the second night), and although we called more than a month ago, we couldn’t get a reservation at a restaurant that came highly recommended to us. So, if you do go to Strasbourg for the Christmas Markets someday (which I HIGHLY recommend that you do sometime), make sure to book VERY far in advance. 

But, back to the markets. Although it only reached a high of 15 degrees fahrenheit on Saturday, we were Christmas troopers and spent the whole day walking through the markets. We stopped every once in awhile for some vin chaud or some chocolate chaud, but for the most part, we were “warmed by the Christmas spirit” as C.’s mom said. 

(To the left is a photo of me at one of the many stands selling glass ornaments)

(Then, here’s a photo of the entrance of one of the markets all lit up at night)

(And, here’s a photo of me standing with my vin chaud next to the Ill river on our way to one of the markets)

It was hard not to feel all warm and Christmas-y at the markets. And even if you’re not into shopping, there are two huge ice rinks set up around town, and a beautiful tree in the center of the city to help even you scrooges get in the spirit 🙂

For dinner, we made reservations at a Rick Steves recommended winstub (local Alsatian wine restaurant) called Chez Yvonne. We were really looking forward to a great, warm, and hearty meal of traditional Alsatian food to warm us up after a day of walking around the markets. But, unfortunately, the food was only so-so (the best dish of all was C.’s kielbasa and potato salad), and the service was really poor. For example, we showed up a bit early for our reservation, and even though there were plenty of available tables, our  hostess told us to go back out into the freezing cold and come back at the time of our reservation (So French!). Then at the end of the meal, our waitress asked us if we wanted to add a tip to our bill when it was time to pay. Since we’ve been living in France, we know that the tip is included in the bill at all restaurants here so you don’t need to tip at all (unless the service is exemplary when you would tip a few euro at most), but the waitress clearly wanted to take advantage of us, unknowing tourists, and asked if we wanted to put even more of a gratuity on the bill. Of course, I said no, but she didn’t seem to be too fazed. She knew that she had been caught. So, suffice it to say, I would definitely not recommend Chez Yvonne to anyone…and am not sure why our trusted Rick Steves recommended it at all. 

But, after dinner, we got in our car and drove to our absolutely lovely hotel (La Moulin de la Wantzenau) in the town of Wantzenau (about a 15 minute drive outside of Strasbourg). The people there were extremely friendly and helpful….and the breakfast buffet that we had this morning was fantastic, complete with homemade jams, an excellent array of cheeses, and wonderful fresh baked bread!

We needed the big breakfast to get us back to Paris on what turned out to be a marathon trip back from Strasbourg. Almost as soon as we left Alsace, we hit a snowstorm, and spent the next few hours cautiously driving and skidding through the French hills. Since France doesn’t usually get much snow (or so we’ve heard), they weren’t really prepared for the storms we’ve been having the last few days. So therefore, the roads were in really bad condition and the French drivers, who are usually quite terrible and reckless to begin with, were making the driving even worse by being even more terrible than usual.

We finally got back to Paris at around 6 pm. But all was not lost. We had a light at the end of the tunnel….

…falafel! 

With C.’s family, we went to L’As du Falafel to introduce them to the restaurant’s wonderful falafel and shwarma sandwiches. And, let me tell you, after a day of sitting in the car with only some Bonne Maman madelines to munch on, the falafel we had for dinner was absolutely wonderful!

So, with full stomachs, we left C.’s family in Paris and arrived at Gare de Lyon just in time to find out that, because of the weather, our train was delayed….which meant that we missed the bus!

Then, when we finally got to the Fontainebleau-Avon station, we had to wait 40 minutes for the next bus….but that bus never came.

It was only after almost an hour of waiting in the freezing snow that we found out that the busses were canceled due to the inclement weather! (As David Lebovitz says….WTF!!!). Luckily, we were able to call a friend to give us a ride home and all was not lost. 

Our hearts were still warmed from our trip to the Christmas Markets….but I’m not sure I could say the same for our fingers and toes 🙂

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