Monthly Archives: December 2022

A Very Alsatian Christmas: Day 4 – Strasbourg Grub Crawl

And so another trip comes to an end. Can’t complain when I have managed to have three very different trips in a year although it remains to be seen how next year will pan out given what a painful time we are likely to see in the UK.

Anyway, happier things. Today was the final day of the trip and, with a later afternoon train out of Strasbourg, that meant we were able to have another go around some of our favourite Christmas markets with much much MUCH smaller crowds than on Saturday.

This ended serving two purposes. First, it was the time to mop up any souvenirs we wanted to get. For me it meant to fulfillment of a long-time desire of mine to have a proper Christmas Market grub crawl. After all, there were three of us which means we’d be able to try a bunch of things whilst not having to buy three portions of everything.

First was a visit to the Christkindelsmarik, aka the oldest market and the one we did last back on Saturday. The food was spatzel with knockwurst and a Munster sauce. This is the kind of spatzel I had really been fancying when we’d visited Colmar – so I am extremely glad to have had some now.

We then went through the largest market, with the Christmas tree, towards the Place au Chateau market. The food was a tartine flambé with sausage and emmental. There is not a theme here, but having seen a lot of people walk around with this, I just really wanted to try it. It’s something so simple and when I think of the price point of 6 Euros, the London markets really do have a lot of nerve.

Walking onto the Saint Thomas market, we had the best part of the grub crawl – potato galettes with Munster on. Honestly, it didn’t really need the cheese because the galettes were just so flavourful and crisp. This is something I am going to have to look up at some point because I need to know how to make these and then watch myself balloon.

Finally it was back to the Place Kleber market to have dessert of a chocolate covered soft bretzel with a final cup of hot apple juice. The grub crawl was complete and final souvenirs have been bought. All that is left is to actually get on the four trains that will get me home and rest up before work in the morning. Trips like this really are just too short, but should be enough to lift the spirits as I write my magnum opus (aka my handover notes so I can move on to a new job). This blog will be quiet once again until late April where more holiday diaries will hopefully be going up – covid permitting.


A Very Alsatian Christmas: Day 3 – Europa Park

The ability to stay in one country and then hop over a border for a day trip is something that (as a little islander Brit) still flummoxes me. This is the beauty of Europe and the EU and… well anyway not going into those feelings.

Part of the big sell of Strasbourg for me was that it would mean a return trip to Europa Park. I was there previously in August 2018 and I have been telling anyone who asks that this is the best theme park in the world full stop. Have I been to enough to make this judgement? No, but as a package it just blows everywhere out of the water.

In December, the ways to get there are a bit more limited as we aren’t exactly in the on season. There is the traditional train and express bus route – but it’s a bit of a faff as you need to change trains and that’s not something that you want to be doing too late at night. Thankfully there is a daily coach that stops there as part of a route between Strasbourg and Freiburg – which ended up being perfect.

I think in my post from four years ago, I went into a lot of detail about the things we did on our day. Most of this still stands. Europa Park is just this perfect mix of excellent theming and variety in well made attractions. They are even starting to lean more into their own IP as part of creating an internal universe, which I think is brilliant. If some of their kids books had been in English, I would have been tempted to pick up a copy.

So, what is different between now and over four years ago? For one thing the entire park has been decked out for Christmas and the results are truly stunning. During the day, it is pretty but you wait in anticipation for the sun to set and the lights to go on. And when they did it was a unreal fairyland. Everywhere came alive. The German main streets, Spain and Scandinavian areas were especially magical with all their Christmas lights on. I would have been happy to stay longer and just walked around without getting on rides.

Being the area of the world we are in, there is also a Christmas Market here with a main concentration of stalls in Germany, but other country areas also have their own offerings. Even though lunch was a return trip to the Foodloop where we had some pretty brilliant burgers delivered by rollercoaster, there was a chance to have some actual winter snacks from the market. Namely dampfnudel and a cinnamon sugar covered Baum-striezel. Perfect for an evening before watching the parade.

As for new rides, two have opened since we were last here and one has reopened since it was damaged in a fire back in May 2018. Starting with the new (at least to me) there is the CanCan coaster – which opened very soon after we were here. It’s a bit of a batshit take on Space Mountain where you are randomly bombarded with Paris Ian imagery and then end up in the Moulin Rouge with cancan girls and fireworks – I loved it.

Second is new this year: Josefina’s Magical Imperial Journey. This is a replacement of a ride that was part of the shrinking Adventure Land, and a welcome replacement at that. What was previously a ride through ‘Africa’ in a way that smelt distinctly colonialismy, has become a fairytale boat ride in an expanded Austria area. A good move to remove racist depictions from the park and another expansion of the internal consistency of the park.

That finally brings me to the Pirates of Batavia. I bet if it hadn’t burned to the ground in 2018 it would not be anywhere near as good now. They took their time rebuilding and this current incarnation first had visitors in 2020. In many ways it’s a typical dark ride much like the similar ‘Pirates’ ride in Disney. However, the animatronics are so much better and so much is happening in every scene that second ride was well worth it.

It’s sad to leave Europa Park. It’s one of those rare places where I just have moments of the unmitigated joy that comes from being a child. Whether it’s catching air on Woden, flying through Europe on the Voletarium (which made me cry, again), or watching a T-Rex having a birthday party – Europa Park just speaks to me in ways that few places do.

I will be back in a few years to see what they are going to come up with for their new 19th land: Croatia. Will we have a similar experience today where pretty much all attractions were immediately walk on to ride? Probably not, it was pretty insane today. But I just cannot wait to see what their take on Nikola Tesla will be.

Tomorrow is our last day here and I am writing this having picked up a small dinner from the McDonald’s across the street. My rule still applies of trying to have something unavailable in the UK – so I had their version of the Croque Monsieur and the brand new McQuesadilla that is being trialed in France. I would have both of those again, but I probably won’t as tomorrow will be a final whip around of the Strasbourg markets before heading back to London.

A Very Alsatian Christmas: Day 2 – Colmar

If we had really wanted to, we could have found a second full day’s worth of things to do in Strasbourg. That would have been one or two of the museums and then maybe some more time in the Christmas markets. Thing is, we already have most of a day on our final day that we plan to do mop-up… so three nearly full days felt a bit much.

Enter my husband who did some research and came up with today’s day trip out to the small Alsatian city of Colmar. I had never heard of this place before he mentioned it to me, but after looking at some pictures I was more than convinced that this would be an excellent Christmas Market day trip.

Colmar is only half an hour away by train and, as long as you don’t have strikes like we did, the trains are pretty frequent. It is then a 10-15 minute walk from the station to the town centre… although there are signs of Christmas stuff well before you make it into town.

For one thing, the Champ de Mars (which is a more common name for a French park than I’d realised) has a path lined with green and white Christmas trees – the path leading you to Place Rapp. The trees were lovely, but Place Rapp set the scene of a lot of what is to follow.

There is no market here, but there is an ice rink, mini-roller-coaster, carousel and a carousel bar (think a small bar in the style of a carousel, which slowly spins as it plays remixes of Christmas songs). As an overall feel, if I was to have a child and take them to a Christmas market, I would go to Colmar. There is a family-friendliness here with many markets having a ride (think cars on a track or a horseriding ride) whilst also having things for the adults to enjoy other than the liberal amounts of mulled wine. There is also a proper sized Ferris wheel, which we would have gotten on if visibility has been better.

I also think that this child of mine would probably end up loving Disney films and so Colmar would be another perfect pick. I don’t think that I have been to a more picture-perfect chocolate box kind of a town when it comes to this specific Germanic style of buildings.

Yes, Colmar is in France nowadays – but Colmar and the Alsace region has swapped hands enough times over the years that it is both French and German in influence. Makes you wonder how different things could have been if the old Kingdom of Lotheringia hadn’t quickly failed.

Anyway. Old European history aside – the old town of Colmar is utterly stunning even on a grey and rainy day like we had. It’s like a magnified version of what makes the Petit France section of Strasbourg so wonderful. Colourful timber-beamed buildings that don’t quite hit right-angles alongside other building that may have a random turret or just a lot of heads on it (okay that’s one building, but it helps with the point). You can just spend a lot of time wandering around enjoying the beauty and I can only wonder how it is during a sunny spring day.

In total, there are 6 main Christmas markets in Colmar – although the Marche Gourmand near the Cathedral is more a fancy covered food court than an actual Christmas market. Still though, this was five regular markets which were all head and shoulders above pretty much anything I have seen in the UK in recent years. Even the inside artisinal art market had some really lovely things – especially the ceramics.

Food-wise the markets in Colmar had similar offerings to Strasbourg. We’re talking a lot of Alsatian food including bretzels, tarte flambé, choucroute and the smell of Munster cheese. I think I ate a bit of everything I just listed and honestly could have gone for some of the sausage with Munster cheese… but I need to save some things for Tuesday.

There were also a lot of different things on offer at each market – again each one was not a copy-paste of the other. Some had more gift things mixed with the Christmas stalls, then others would be more oriented around different kinds of decorations (like Christmas lights disguised as leaves or flowers) which I have never seen before in a market.

In terms of setting, there are two markets that really stood out thanks to the beauty for the area. You have the market in the Place de l’Ancienne Douane – which is around the old customs house. The large building itself is all patterned roof tiles and arches – the kind of building you could imagine Disney building to hide various mechanisms. The surrounding buildings compete by having their own beauty supplemented by their decorations – which caused many a pedestrian snarl as everyone tried to get the perfect picture.

The other was the market in Petite Venise. I mean, with a name like Petite Venise it doesn’t take a genius to get why it would be so beautiful. The buildings feel more like a film set built around a lovingly maintained set of canals. This is where the self-proclaimed ‘romantic hotel’ can be found and, well, they certainly got that name right.

We ended our time in Colmar with a visit to the Carousel Bar. I had my second hot apple juice of the day and my rusty French language skills continue to get the workout it desperately needs. As an idea, the carousel bar needs to be replicated as it is such fun – even if their upbeat remix of White Christmas has been stuck in my head for the remainder of the evening.

Despite the slightly patchy service, we lucked out with the train back to Strasbourg and even managed to get seats despite many people insisting on having a seat for their rucksack. Truly never seen so many people in a single carriage do this.

Anyway, dinner was back in Strasbourg and I ended up having another choucroute garnis. The burger on the menu I liked the look of was gone so I went with this second choice. Still though, for a second choice it’s still pretty great to be having sauerkraut and all the trimmings. This picture is a pot I shared with my husband… although I would have given all the sausages a go and not looked back.

Tomorrow we are hopping over the border into Germany as we do a revisit for what might be my favourite theme park in the world: Europa Park. Fingers crossed it stays dry and there isn’t too much traffic for the coach. Honestly, I cannot wait.

A Very Alsatian Christmas: Day 1 – Strasbourg

If there was further proof within my personal life that the worst may be done with COVID-19, we have the reinstatement of Christmas Market trips – which had been an almost annual tradition for some time. I mean, the last trip I took before the world shut down was a trip to Seville for their Christmas times.

This time, we have ventured to Strasbourg – the self-styled capital of Christmas. To make things that much easier, we went there by train – first by Eurostar between London and Paris and then onwards to our final destination via the TGV. It was a post-work trip (even then I managed to pull enough overtime to get an agreement in that I could leave 90 minutes early) which meant we arrived around midnight local time.

So now it’s Saturday and our first full day on this trip. Woke up feeling dehydrated and thoroughly rotten. Breakfast helped a bit, but wow was that a lot of carbs to load up on straight away. Still, the pain au chocolat was nice and it was a good excuse to have some jam without having to get a whole jar.

This is one of those rare holidays where there is no real itinerary for each day, just a vague idea of what major thing I want to do and see. Makes for a different kind of trip than I have done in recent times, but does allow for a bit more meandering. We just knew that over the course of the day we wanted to visit Strasbourg Cathedral and the 13 different Christmas markets.

Everything in this capital of Christmas is located on an island that makes up the beautiful centre of the city. We started our visit on a little set of peninsulas nearby also known as La Petite France. This is one of those classic areas that used to be undesirable due to the presence of industrial processes but has since become a really beautiful and green area as the facilities were moved out of the city centre.

For the a great view of this small area, there is the terrace over the Barrage Vauban – a covered bridge and dam that once formed part of the cities defenses. It was here that I gave in and had a painkiller and was all the better for it because, in the end, I am here to enjoy the Christmas sights.

La Petite France also had the first of the many markets we were going to visit throughout the day. This market also had three live singers and it was just the perfect way to start this Christmassy experience. The setting with all the old timber buildings was similarly darling and something that would repeat throughout the day.

You see, by calling themselves the Capital of Christmas, there is a lot to live up to. With 13 markets that is already a good start (although some are about 2-3 stalls). None of them have the massive wow factor of the main market in Vienna, but they make up for it in variation and some real unique finds depending on the market you visit.

No, what Strasbourg has in spades is local businesses who go for Christmas with gusto. In the daylight, it is already pretty stunning with many buildings decked out with various bits of greenary and (I guess this is a local thing) teddy bears. I will get to nighttime in a bit, but even in daytime this city was already giving many other places a real run for the Christmas money.

There wasn’t really a lunch per se, I mean you cannot walk far without the smell of mulled wine and Munster cheese commanding your full attention. I had to give into this for lunch with, what was essentially a really fancy cheese on toast with bacon and Munster cheese. They also had a stunning looking one with emmental and sausage on it, but I wanted to follow that smell.

We managed out time well so we didn’t have to queue too long to get into the cathedral. If I have to compare it to another I’ve visited, it would be like a smaller Cologne Cathedral. It’s from the same era and with the same architectural hallmarks. The watchword for this is austere. It has such a big presence and, inside, it is not too ornate but rather there is this might.

At the back, there is main thing you come into the cathedral for: the astronomical clock. It is not the original clock, in fact it is the third incarnation and less than 200 years old. However, it is a beautiful and ambitious timepiece. I wish that we could have been here for solar noon too see it in full gear, but I think there was a mass at the time which prohibits entry.

This cathedral also had a pretty extensive nativity display going from conception to baptism. Truly I have seen some pretty elaborate nativity displays in churches, but not sure if I have seen one that is a literal time, this wide and with such a large depiction of an elephant. Whoever made this had a true love of the humble elephant.

After the cathedral, we visited all the other markets we had yet to see. I think that my favourites ended up being at Place Benjamin Zix, Place au Chateau and the Christkindelsmarik at Place Broglie. Nearly all the markets were completely packed with people given that this is the first Saturday in December. I hope that when we go and buy some things on Tuesday afternoon, it’ll be a bit quieter and we can maybe sample some of the spatzel without waiting 15 minutes in line.

By the time we were most of our way through the final market of the city, the sun was down and the lights were coming on. The city was already rather beautifully decked out for the holidays, but with the lights on – things just got kicked up a notch.

Honestly I’ve never known anything quite like it. The density and the variety of lights on display is something truly special. At times you wonder if there is a competition since some some streets and shops got all out on their decorations. Some of those that fall middle of the pack would make a massive impact back home in London, but here it’s another lovely display featuring lights and some kind of winter animal. We spent a very long time just walking around and staring at the lights. Strasbourg after dark in December is truly special.

For dinner, we went to a lovely restaurant called Au Pont Saint-Martin and shared an absolutely massive serving of choucroute garnie. Literally translated this means dressed sauerkraut, but in practice this variety was sauerkraut with potatoes, three types of sausage, ham hock and thick cuts of bacon. There were three of us and it was meant to serve two… in what universe is this the right amount of food for two people. It’s delicious, but too much. Thanks to our waitress who didn’t try to oversell us!

Since we are here for Christmas primarily, tomorrow will see us venture out to a neighbouring city to see their Christmas wares. It is set to be smaller and quieter than what we saw today, but it should still make for a lovely day as long as the weather holds out.