Monday, December 23, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Celebrating at the Capital of Christmas

Jeudi, 19 décembre.

As you could probably tell from the length of my last post, it would have been absolutely impossible to fit all of my Strasbourg adventures in one post. We just saw and did (and ate) too much! So here begins part two of the Strasbourg adventure -- this time, all about the Marchés de Noël.

As the city holds the title of "capital of Christmas," it's not surprising that they have Christmas markets down to a science. There are over 300 chalets -- little booths, selling everything from pretzels to mulled wine to tree ornaments -- spread out over eleven villages throughout the city. It's all super well-organized: there are giant maps everywhere! (Perfect for a photo op.)

The biggest of these markets is the Christkindelsmärik (an Alsacian term that translates as "Baby Jesus Market"). The history of the market goes back to 1570, when a Lutheran priest, who in an effort to eliminate the very Catholic tradition of venerating saints, was trying to get rid of the city's traditional Marché Saint-Nicolas. Instead of fully cancelling the market, city council decided instead to change its name! And so the "Baby Jesus Market" was born.

Although the Christkindelsmärik is the oldest and most famous, another of the city's Christmas markets -- at Place Kleber -- had another distinction: it's the home of the city's 30-meter Christmas tree! I've never been a fan of over-decorated Christmas trees (like the National Christmas tree in DC, which hardly looks like a tree once they've finished lighting it up), so I loved that this one retained its "tree-ness."


I loved the lights and the little illuminated village at the bottom! Although both the tree and village were truly glorious at night, they're also quite lovely during the day.

As for the Christmas markets themselves, they definitely lived up to my expectations! They were a little different than in Heidelberg: the stands were more unique and seemed to have more artisanal goods ... and there was no bratwurst!

Sightseeing in Strasbourg

Jeudi, 19 décembre.

I had been looking forward to our trip to Strasbourg since August, when Molly and I first sat down to plan our semester full of adventures and decided to make the pilgrimage to the city's world-famous Christmas markets. And, as the final trip of my study abroad experience, it did not disappoint.

Allan and I got a little preview of the city on Saturday morning, during the couple of hours between our train from Montpellier and our bus to Heidelberg -- it was rainy and wet, but after a ten hour night train, we were just excited to have made it! After 24 hours in Heidelberg, we returned to Strasbourg on Sunday night. Molly arrived the next morning and the three of us explored the Christmas markets until Allan had to go  back to Montpellier. But Molly and I still had one more day before we finally left on Tuesday afternoon! Strasbourg isn't a very large city, so during the course of a couple days, we wandered through most of it several times. For the sake of not confusing you too much, I've given up on explaining our trip chronologically. Instead I'm dividing Strasbourg into "sightseeing" and "christmassing." You can read more about the city's world-famous Marchés de Noël here, but in the meantime, here are all the slightly less-festive (but still VERY cool) sights!

My first stop on both Monday and Tuesday mornings was Petite France, a historic neighborhood in Strasbourg that is full of maisons à colombages -- those beautiful half-timbered houses you see on postcards. The style, called "half-timbered" in English, is typical of the Rhineland region and definitely makes you feel the city's German influence. Also it's just gorgeous.




Because we were there so early, we had the streets pretty much to ourselves. I loved taking advantage of the quiet to grab some up-close pictures of the beautiful buildings!


Also located on the city's historic Grande Île ("Main Island") is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. We stumbled across it as we walked through the city streets and let me just say ... WOW.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hallo, Heidelberg!

Mercredi, 18 décembre.

If you've been following this blog, you know that I've been waiting all semester to get a chance to go back to Germany. I haven't been back since we moved to the States in 2001 and I've been relying on increasingly fuzzy -- but always incredibly positive -- memories to sustain me. Sure, I got a chance to spend a couple hours in the country when travelling through Frankfurt-Hahn in October, but I really wanted to go back for real.

So this weekend, during a several day trip to Strasbourg, my friend Allan and I made the two-hour bus trip from Strasbourg (on the very edge of the French-German border) to Heidelberg. Although not quite as personally significant as Stuttgart, Heidelberg is a beautiful city with a lot of historical buildings -- rather unique in Germany, where so many cities were destroyed in World War II -- and, of course, a fabulous Christmas market. We got off the bus, partially expecting to be immediately welcomed into the historic inviting streets of ancient Heidelberg... this is what greeted us instead.

Is it a horse? A dragon? A giraffe carrying a shield? We'll never know. (And I mean that, because if 10 minutes of intense Googling couldn't identify it, nothing could.) The statue was unexpected, but surprisingly pretty in its own little way. As we headed into the Altstadt ("Old City"), however, things started getting a little more ... well, German!

A more appropriate first sign of things to come was my interaction with the Tourism Office. As we waited in line to request a map, I was relieved to hear the employees speaking in English, French and German to the tourists ahead of us. Although I had been studying up on my German on the bus, I had a feeling that I wouldn't get much further than my original request ("Haben sie ein Stadtplan?"). Well ... maybe my German accent is better than I thought. Or maybe the guy was just tired of speaking in foreign languages. But whatever his reason, he explained the map and the layout of the city in rapid-fire German.

The sun set quickly as we walked through Heidelberg: it was dark by the time we reached the historic Altstadt and started walking through the Christmas markets. We were a little disappointed, as we'd hoped to watch the sun set over the river ... but the Weihnachtsmärkte soon made up for it!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Snapshots of Christmas

Mardi, 17 décembre.

I just got back from the most amazing weekend trip -- four days exploring the sights and Christmas markets of Strasbourg and Heidelberg! I'll be uploading more pictures and anecdotes tomorrow, but here are some black-and-white snapshots to tide you over.

More coming soon!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Strasbourg, 1997

Jeudi, 12 décembre.

In honor of my upcoming visit to Strasbourg, here's a quick throwback to the last Bloxam family adventure in Alsace ... in 1997! I don't know what people are wearing in the city these days, but fifteen years ago, the "look" was apparently baggy jeans, raincoats, and sneakers. (Or, in Emily's case, socks and sandals. Oof.)

We even visited my favorite part of the city ... the Strasbourg Cathedral!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bon Anniversaire!

Dimanche, 8 décembre.

I've been 21 years old for a week now and I've got to say, it doesn't seem very different. I do feel a little more tired than I did at 20 -- but that might have to do more with my stressful week and less with my ever-increasing age. But compared to my friends in the States, whose 21st birthdays mark the biggest coming-of-age moment of all (the ability to legally purchase alcohol), mine didn't seem to have a whole lot of significance. Turning 21 overseas is definitely not the big deal that it is in America: as the drinking age in France, like in most of the world, is eighteen, they don't have quite the same underage drinking culture as we do. Still, after a little bit of explanation about the legal drinking age in the States, everyone seems to understand the need to fêter.

I celebrated la veille de mon anniversaire (my birthday eve) on Saturday evening with a couple of friends, including Molly's friend Amy, who was visiting from Florida! We spent an hour or so in Barberousse, a pirate-themed bar in Montpellier with great decorations and better punch planteur. (Like a rum punch? I'm not really sure. It's fruity and doesn't taste like alcohol, so I like it.)

As everyone had to go home for dinner, we left around seven while the bar was still pretty empty. But it was fun to be there early and have the place to ourselves for a little while! (Besides, during happy hour, the punch planteur is much cheaper.)

I walked back to my house pretty early, which gave me plenty of time to watch a movie online (To Catch a Thief -- what a classic) before counting down to my birthday! It was funny to see which friends remembered the time difference and sent me birthday messages at midnight -- even though for them, it was only 6 pm on November 30th.

On Sunday morning after church (the first Sunday of Advent!), I walked around Montpellier for a few hours. It was nice to see the city so quiet after such a busy Saturday night. I stopped and ate a yummy croissant aux amandes on the steps of the Carré Sainte-Anne and took more than a few pictures of my phone.

All in all, it was a pretty nice birthday. I got spoiled with TONS of birthday treats from Mommy, via Molly. In my little package were all of my favorite treats: chocolate, Pim's cookies, stroopwafels, chocolate-covered gaufres, a bag of pfeffernüsse, stollen (YUM), a couple of Suchard chocolate truffles, and -- to top it all off - a jar of Nutella! (Although it was actually the least exciting part of the package, even that was actually a big treat for me, as I'm a cheapskate and usually just buy the discount store brand.)

I haven't finished ALL of my food yet and have been doing my best to share it with my friends ... but I've definitely made considerable progress on my own! (Cookies and chocolate-covered waffles count as a solid meal, right..?)

In addition to my bag of treats, I got a ton of lovely birthday cards from my family! You can't see all of them in this picture, but I was lucky enough to get birthday wishes from Nanny, Preshy & Boompa, Aunt Libby & Uncle Tony, Aunt Lorry & Uncle Allan, Mommy and Daddy, and even my friend Marika. It worked out perfectly so that it seemed like a got a card each day leading up to my birthday ... I felt so loved!

And to top it all off, I even got wished a happy birthday by GOOGLE. (I'll admit, I was pretty psyched about this. Even if it is just because my search engine is connected to my Google+ account.)