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December 6, 2010

Strasbourg: Capital de Noel

I spent much of my life resenting Christmas. As one of three Jewish kids at my grade level in the entire city, I had a yearly obligation to bring my menorah in and explain dreidel and respond to questions about the "Jewish Christmas," which got really old, really fast. In protest I would merely mouth the words of Christmas carols at school holiday concerts, and snottily retort, "And a Happy Hannukah to YOU!" when I was wished a Merry Christmas.

Thankfully, I eventually got over it and realized that people were not trying to rub my other-ness in my face when they genuinely wanted to know why I didn't have a Christmas tree. This year, I decided to fully embrace the holiday by going with my cousin to Strasbourg, the self-proclaimed Christmas Capital of the World, for their famed Christmas markets.

Our six-hour train ride there was the perfect way to get into the spirit. A light snow was falling as we wound our way through the Alsatian countryside, passing picturesque hilltops and frozen lakes. Our Couch Surfing host picked us up at the train station, and after a snack of St. Nicholas pastries and hot cocoa we left to freeze our tuchuses off at the Christmas Markets.

We got there right at dusk, and were delighted by the fairy lights covering the old city. We wandered around the merchants selling pretzels, choucroute (sauerkraut, lardons, and spaetzle), lots and lots of vin chaud (mulled wine) and every kind of Christmas present you could want. Ornaments. Little Alsatian houses and figurines to accompany them. Beer steins. Tablecloths. Ceramic molds for making kugelhopf. And the gift for the man who has everything: a CD from the local Peruvian pan flautist.

There were about a half-dozen pods of wooden huts grouped together in various parts of the city. The streets connecting them were all decked out with lights, ornaments, and stuffed animals. Despite the frigid cold, the decorations made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

After a few hours our feet had turned to blocks of ice, so we headed back to our host's abode to thaw out. But we were right back in the thick of the action the next morning, wearing three pairs of socks and two pairs of leggings under our jeans and boots.

We scoured an outdoor antique market, where I found a lovely vintage something-something for my dear m'ma. We also visited the Alsatian Museum (which I'd highly recommend) and the Historical Museum (meh...skip it). We tried to make it to the Cathedral in time to watch the astronomical clock do its thing, but it turns out you need tickets and by the time we got there it was sold out.

I guess that means I'll have to go back, which is quite alright with me. This place is charms-a-minute, and melted my cold Grinchy heart.

1 comment:

  1. Tres charmant! (Was that right?) It made me think of all those great travel shows on PBS3.

    Wish I was there!