The original plan for today was to visit both Colmar & Strasbourg Christmas markets. It didn’t take long for us to audible Colmar out of the day’s equation, not because we didn’t want to go there, it’s just that Strasbourg was already a three hour drive away from us and has something like 11 market areas all on its own. We had a quick lunch with Bob at our most frequented European restaurant, the Ratskiller, and then hit the road to France for our first kidless Christmas market adventure.
On the way to Strasbourg, just after crossing the border into France, we had our first experience with European highway rest stops; check out our Instagram if you haven’t already. Outdoor urinals are a thing I’d expect in a tropical climate, like Jamaica, but not on the side of the highway in eastern France. Why not though, right? If there were no urinals, us boys would just pee in the field anyway. And as a matter of fact, while we were waiting to use the indoor bathroom, there were guys just peeing in the field next to the unoccupied urinals anyway.
The indoor bathroom was also something we had never seen before. Instead of a deep hole in the ground for waste, these bathrooms had a not-so-deep hole with a conveyor belt at the bottom. There are instructions for pumping a poop peddle x5 after each use, so the waste gets carried away before the next person. Where does the waste get carried away to? We’re not sure. There is probably a vast underground network of poop belts, all used for nefarious French purposes.
I just wrote two paragraphs about poop. Just stopping to point that out.
Finding our AirBnB in Strasbourg was a bit on the tricky side but we did eventually find where to park. We hopped a tram over to the Christmas markets and began exploring the French version of things.
We’ve seen police at all of the Christmas markets but Strasbourg was the first market with a military presence and entrance security. Each of us had to unzip our jackets and open our bags for general inspection. Not an overly intrusive process, similar to the routine for entering a college sporting event, and adds that little extra piece of mind.
Now to the question that everyone wants the answer to: how do French vin chaud cups compare to the German gluehwein cups? Well, the French offer multiple cup sizes, for those of us who want more than 0.2l per fill, which is great. The downside is that the French cups are plastic, something you might expect to get as a collectible from McDonald’s or 7/11. This difference may not actually be a French vs. German thing, I’ll keep reporting as we continue our tour de Christmas markets.
Our Strasbourg market visit was a tale of two cities. Daylight brags the city’s age, architecture and canals both capture and reflect the setting sun in a way that feels pleasantly dystopian. Night brought with it a side of the Christmas markets that you really need to be there to appreciate. It’s not special that they have large Christmas trees with multi-color lights, or that they have angel decorations lining the rooftops. It’s special that all of this somewhat normal Christmas decor is surrounded by beautiful cathedrals and a mixture of modern and historic architecture in a city that is over 2,000 years old.
History is largely what pulls us to visit Europe. 23 & me says that 30-40% of my heritage is of the Germany (Bavaria & north Rhine), France, and Poland regions. We might not always have specific questions, but we are always finding new clues to answers that matter when taken in context of the whole.
One of my favorite parts of Strasbourg was that they speak French. My French is a million times better than my German, not great, good enough to both speak and understand. I successfully ordered wine and food for Brianna and I, on multiple occasions, in French. Boom.
If I was to give advice to other potential travelers, I’d say that learning 50-100 words is the difference between being able to order something kind of like what you want or the thing you actually want. Learn colors, numbers, salutations, and common foods. I think there is a lot of pressure to become more fluent than necessary, which causes people to give up and fail (what happened to us when trying to learn German). It’s highly UNLIKELY that you’ll be standing around asking the locals what the weather looks like in their common tongue. It is far more LIKELY that you will be ordering food and paying for it.
For foods, we indulged in a variety of baguettes, some Spaetzle, and a Nutella crepe. Oddly or not, Strasbourg had no Bratwurst options. My personal favorite was the Spaetzle.