As promised, this is the first installment about my two-week Christmas trip with the fam to Strasbourg, Paris, London and Berlin. Although it seemed a little surreal at times, what with having only a couple of days in a random city to see “everything” (clearly impossible), it was a fantastic vacation. As trips to foreign cities usually go, our experiences revolved primarily around sightseeing and food. The nice thing about traveling with one’s parents is that they have money to buy real meals, and aren’t forced to make that awkward decision between purchasing either dinner or alcohol. One can have both! This was a nice change from my usual traveling style and, come to think of it, my actual life in the couple of months before I got a job in Vienna.
Traveling definitely isn’t as fun in the winter as any other time of the year, for pretty obvious reasons, but we powered through the inclement weather and simply ended up sheltering in many a café for the circulation-restoring warmth and to imbibe copious cups of coffee. I know that not everyone can hang out for that amount of time in small spaces with their family members without losing a limb and/or one’s sanity, but I’m lucky in that my family’s pretty chill.
We ended up having a theme song for every city we went to, which kind of came naturally. Strasbourg didn’t have a song because people don’t write songs about Strasbourg, apparently. The exception seems to be this random song called “Strasbourg” by The Rakes that I just found on YouTube. It doesn’t really encompass my feelings for this first leg of the trip, but it is kind of growing on me:
For my last night in Vienna with Mink and the gang for a couple of weeks, we hosted an all-nighter Christmas party – because we’re hardcore like that. What good is a Christmas party that ends at a decent hour, anyway? I packed whilst tipsy, said my farewells to everyone, and caught a cab at 4:30 to get to the airport for my miserable 6:00 am flight. Due to weather conditions in Frankfurt, the 6:00 am departure became an 11:30 one, but I made it to the city with baggage intact to meet mom, dad and Dave. After a 2-hour shuttle ride to Strasbourg, we checked in to Holiday Inn and took the tram to meet Laur at her residence. We got a late bite to eat, during which I was delighted by being able to speak French again instead of my abysmal German, and then went for a beer at a cute hole-in-the-wall bar before passing out cold for about 12 hours.
We ate crêpes and galettes in a restaurant with a distinctively dungeon-esque décor, and our waiter tried to peer pressure us into trying the local cider but we decided against drinking at breakfast. We braved the slush to check out the Christmas markets in downtown Strasbourg around the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, which is truly an amazing building and seems, to Laur and I anyway, to be more ornate than the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. At night, we ate at a traditional Alsacian restaurant with red and white gingham tablecloths near the river, and then walked around the cobbled streets of Pétit France.
Dave, Laur and I had coffee with Laur’s friends from her program, Luise and Adi, in a cute coffeeshop in the afternoon, and we ate dinner on the Grand Rue by Place Kléber, the central square in Strasbourg with a giant Christmas tree. Mom and I ate traditional charcroute and sausages, which happens to have too many cabbagey, vinegary things going on for my liking. Afterwards, we wandered around the side streets of the city, our way guided by the extravagant glow of many, many Christmas lights and decorations. (This city-wide enthusiasm is the reason Strasbourg has decided to designate itself the “Capital de Noël,” although Laur calls it the equally-appropriate “Christmas on Crack.”)
We chilled in Laur’s residence and drank some Kronenbourg 1664 and Desperados (which is tequila-flavoured beer, and it tastes weirdly awesome if you give it a chance). Dave’s general enjoyment of life was severely compromised by the onslaught of food poisoning from whatever he ate at dinner. This has actually been my personal Christmastime phobia ever since I had it really badly on Boxing Day during a trip to Los Angeles a few years ago, but I guess Dave was the unlucky one this year.
In the morning, we checked out of the Holiday Inn — which would be, as yet unbeknownst to us, by far our most spacious and luxurious accommodation during the trip — eagerly anticipating the train ride to Paris that evening. With Dave ensconced in a duvet and a comatose state in Laur’s room for the day, the rest of us ate brunch at an empty café and took a tour of the University of Strasbourg and the institute where Laur studies French. We wandered around the Christmas markets at Place Broglie, yet another lavishly-decorated square teeming with people drinking mulled wine and hot orange juice (which is an interesting concept, but it was too sickly-sweet for me).
Even when Strasbourg is not in the throes of Christmas-induced ecstasy, it is still a beautiful city — I can’t get over the architecture of the buildings there. Laur says a lot of the look is German-inspired, since it’s so close to the Germany-France border. Its skinny houses lean into the streets a little, all nuzzled up against one another. I know I’m being a straight-up annoying North American tourist in Europe by even writing this clichéd description, but I unabashedly love it. My favourite building is in the square in front of the cathedral:
Although it was way sunnier and easier to meander the twisting streets when I visited Mink in Strasbourg in May a couple of years ago, it was awesome to have the chance to experience the Christmas markets. The cobblestones and centuries-old buildings are really lovely in the snow (although, predictably, the streets are also quite treacherous if you’re cooing up at Christmas lights rather than paying attention to your step).
After returning to the residence to ensure that Dave was still alive, we went to train station and found our way to the platform, ready to bid Strasbourg adieu and board the TGV train to Paris.