“Welcome to the capital of Christmas”. A sign greeted me as I arrived at the station in Strasbourg and I could almost hear the jingle bells playing in the background. I was in Strasbourg to visit the Christmas markets and this was the first time I was travelling without a guidebook, without a mental list of things to see and do, with only a hotel reservation and my wits.
Once you arrive in town, you can’t escape the markets. It seems as if every square is filled with little wooden chalets and the aroma of gluhwein is all pervasive. Coming from the UK, the thought of partaking in a tipple before lunchtime is strictly off limits (with the exception of Christmas day, and when you’re on holiday); so my first purchase was some hot Georgian spiced wine, which I’m pretty confident was laced with chacha and my complimentary beaker. It definitely took the chill off the day and put a spring in my step!
After that I headed round the largest of the markets by the cathedral. This was filled with wooden trinkets, papier mache decorations, jewellery, glass angels and crepes and more gluhwein. I was trying to avoid the pitfalls of buying things, only to realise when you get home that it’s not quite what you think and how quickly can you pass it on to the charity shop. But nevertheless a few purchases made it into my shopping bag – it’s coming up to Christmas after all.
I followed the signs to Petite France – a UNESCO world heritage site – where the poor french tanners used to live. It’s all half timbered houses, the river Ill and Alsation hostelries. Needless to say it was time for lunch.
A meander round the streets past the giant tree in Kleber square to the Christkindlmarkt. Sadly this was mainly filled with tatty Christmas decorations, which didn’t fit the image I had in mind. The afternoon was saved by some hot myrtle juice (a refill for my commemorative beaker). Absolutely delicious: sweet, spicy and a deep, dark red.
If you’re thinking about a trip to the markets, and they happen all over northern Europe, I would highly recommend it. A pre-holidays holiday is a great way to kick off the festive season. Take some time out for R&R and to wind down so you can enjoy the benefits of time off to spend as you wish.
Admittedly I was only away for a couple of days, and my only objective was to see the Christmas markets, but it was still a small leap of faith not to have some back up activities planned. I’ve often found, though, that when I travel, the best things happen when you’re least expecting them – take a turn off the main street and you never know what you might find. If you just do what it says in the guidebook, you’ll only see what everyone else sees.
Be brave. Book a ticket. Go. It’ll be OK, it’ll probably be better than OK!