A month of Christmas markets
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I spent every weekend in a different city, then spent the weeks recovering. And clearly not blogging. But read on!
November 27th, the day after Thanksgiving, I went with four of my teaching assistant friends to Grenoble, a beautiful city close to the French Alps. The first thing I noticed was that Grenoble is a much more international-feeling city than Clermont-Ferrand. People tended to make a friendlier first impression and weren’t turned away by people speaking English like we’ve gotten used to in Clermont-Ferrand. Overall, Grenoble is a picturesque city where the Alps are prominently feature in the landscape – although we didn’t get a good view of them because of the clouds. This is also when we came to realize that the French just don’t do brunch. They prefer to eat a measly breakfast, ie. hot chocolate, toast, croissants, coffee, orange juice.
In the month of December, Strasbourg is one of the most talked about cities in France. It is locate in the region of Alsace, which used to be part of Germany. Because Christmas markets were originally a German tradition, the Alsace region and Strasbourg in particular have a swarm of tourists during the Christmas season. Visiting Strasbourg at Christmas was something I didn’t want to leave France without doing, and was lucky to be hosted by a friend who is working on her master’s degree in Strasbourg and did an exchange at Hamline University last year! Strasbourg is now in my top 3 favorite French cities. The culture is unique because it is still influenced by both German and French culture. There are also rivers throughout the city that add to its charm and beauty. Something I learned on my visit was that there are a bunch of important European institutions in Strasbourg, notably the European Parliament.
The best part of my month was a visit from my sister Nadia! We spent a couple days in Clermont-Ferrand while I finished up my work week, then three days in Paris. Here are all the things we saw:
- Christmas market on the Champs-Elysées
- Macarons at La Durée
- Hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots
- The Musée D’Orsay
- A picture in front of the Louvre – not enough time to check out the inside…it really is a massive museum
- Eiffel Tower
- Notre Dame cathedral
- Centre Pompidou modern art museum
- Luxembourg Gardens
- Musée Orangerie, where Monet’s water lilies paintings are housed
- Climbed the Arc de Triomphe for a panoramic view of the city
- Photo by the Moulin Rouge
- Sacré-Coeur cathedral in Montmartre – one of my favorite parts of the city!
We also visited one of the sites of the Paris terrorist attacks exactly one month after they occurred, which was a shocking and moving experience. We also really enjoyed our experience staying at the “Trendy Hostel” where we made several new friends and played Phase 10 in the evenings! These friends included two girls from Québec, Canada who ended up coming to Clermont-Ferrand a week later to stay with me!
My friend Julia and I spent an afternoon and evening in Lyon before our flight out to Berlin the next morning. I instantly fell in love with this city… the lights on the river at night, the beautiful church overlooking the city, the historic old part of the city, and the liveliness of the city. That night Julia and I tried Couchsurfing for the first time! for those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing is an online community of travelers and people who have a spare couch or bed to host them for free. Since many of the young people in Lyon had already gone home to their families for the holidays, we had trouble finding a place to stay near downtown, but we stayed in a suburb of Lyon in a spacious house with very hospitable people! We learned a new card game and they shared homebrewed beer with us! It was very memorable.
Before you travel to Berlin, you should know that it is a HUGE city. In area, it is over eight times the size of Paris! During our stay in Berlin, I learned about and was reminded of all the history the city holds. World Wars I & II, the legacy of Martin Luther (Berlin has the first Protestant cathedral I’ve visited in Europe!) and the Berlin Wall.
Perhaps the fondest memory I have of Berlin is visiting a bunch of different Christmas markets throughout the city. Gendarmenmarkt was by far the most beautiful, and it was worth the skepticism we had about the 1 euro entry fee (all the other markets we visited were free entry). Other highlights of Berlin include the TV Tower, which is especially picturesque at night, cheap doner kebabs, climbing to the top of the Berlin cathedral for a panoramic view of the city, top-notch street art throughout the city and on the Berlin Wall, and finding out that none of the good nightclubs are open on a Tuesday night but it is still worth going out, because you could make some cool new friends! Also I was mildly disappointed to learn that Germans don’t put sauerkraut on bratwurst.
Since the Clermont-Ferrand airport doesn’t serve many destinations and isn’t cost-effective, traveling long distances is more time-consuming than when I lived in Nice. So, when I found a 10 euro Ryanair flight from Berlin to Brussels, I jumped on it. Then I took a train to Paris then Clermont-Ferrand, which turned out to be a little more expensive than I would have wished, given that I was traveling on Christmas Eve. But, this gave me four hours to explore Brussels a little bit! I had “visited” Brussels in 2013, which was not a real visit but just an overnight wait in the Brussels train station on my way to Germany. My objective in these four hours was to have an authentic Belgian waffle, Belgian fries, and Belgian beer (they have the best beer!!). My mission was accomplished, along with a little wandering around the city. It’s a surprisingly small city for being the administrative center of Europe in many ways.
Stay tuned for a post about my New Year’s travels!