Our Locations in France

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Our Quick Trip to Alsace....with a little Champagne on the side

Wow....where has the time gone?!?!

It is now January 3rd, and we are already past the mid-point of our stay in France.  Boo hoo!  Don't get me wrong...I miss a lot of things from the U.S.  I miss my dog most of all, although I do get wonderful updates and photos from my dear friend Susan.

Lounging like I own the place!
But I also miss family and friends...especially my mom, whom I usually see at Christmas.  Thank goodness for FaceTime!  

Fortunately we have things to distract us here, so the homesickness is kept at bay.  Rick posted a bit about the Christmas market here in Angers, but that is small potatoes compared to the Christmas markets held in the eastern part of the France.  Once Joanie was finished with school, we decided to drive over to see how the holidays are celebrated in Alsace.

We left on Saturday morning, and drove to the town of Marmoutier, which is about 30 km from Strasbourg.  Since we planned this trip at the last minute, staying in Strasbourg was not really an option.  I found a place on Booking.com called Air et Vie, which it turn out is a Catholic retreat centre.  The accommodations were simple and clean.  Our room had a bunk bed...one bed on top, two twin beds on the bottom.  Joanie thought this was fantastic!  
This was not our room....but gives an idea of what it was like
The next morning, we drove to Colmar, a smaller town than Strasbourg, also know for its Christmas Market.  Along the way, we happened upon the town of Gertwiller.  This town is known for its gingerbread (pain d'epices).  There is a museum called Le Palais du Pain D'Epices, so we stopped to check it out.  It was really a pretty interesting stop.  The Palais is an interactive museum that takes you through the history of gingerbread and how it is made.  There is a bakery where you can watch them making it, but unfortunately it was closed on the day we were there.  At the end of the visit, there is a huge store where you can buy all sorts of things made of gingerbread.  Look what Joanie found.....


Across the street from the Palais, there was a little Christmas-themed village.  Joanie got into the Christmas spirit and became an elf for a nano-second, posed with some reindeer, and then she was done!

"Mom, this is the last picture" (said through gritted teeth)

We finally arrived in Colmar, which is a picturesque city on the Alsacian Wine Route.  It has wonderful medieval half-timbered and Renaissance houses, some  with quirky architectural details like the one below called Maison des Tetes (built in 1609):

Now a ***** hotel

Check out the head on the bottom left!

We wandered the streets of Colmar, going from one Christmas village to the next (there were five markets scattered throughout the old town).  
Directional sign to the next Christmas village

Wandering the streets of Colmar

We did see some fun and interesting things....

Best Christmas tree ever!!!  I want one!
Christmas tree decorated with pretzels..yum!

We even picked up a souvenir or two:

Made in China
Made in Alsace
But Christmas markets for not for the faint-hearted....

Onward to Obernai......

Joanie's music teacher and her husband are expats who have been living in France for 30+ years.  When we told them we were headed to Alsace for the Christmas markets, they told us that Obernai was their favourite town in Alsace.  Intrigued, I checked on the map, and it is located between Colmar and Malmoutier.  So it was a perfect place to stop on our way home from Colmar.  Lucky for me, even small Alsacian towns have Christmas markets!!!  I really enjoyed Obernai.  Perhaps it was the delicious mulled wine and pretzel that I had while we walked the market, or the enjoyment in watching a glass blower demonstrating her craft at the market.
Waiting in line for pretzels and mulled wine

Glass blower at the Obernai Christmas market

Whatever the reason, we had a fun evening and enjoyed a yummy typically Alsacian meal at a local restaurant....Taverne Obernoise.

Chocolate Mousse...traditionally Joanie's favorite!
Baeckeoffe....traditionally Alsacian

We headed back to Marmoutier to get some shut eye before heading to Christkindelsmärik, the famous Christmas market in Strasbourg.....the following day.

Strasbourg    Capitale de Noël
The Christmas market in Strasbourg is immense, almost to the point of being overwhelming.  There are many markets, spread throughout the city, so we were happy that we had worn our comfy walking shoes.  Since this was going to be our only visit to Strasbourg, we decided to take in some of the sites in the city while strolling the market.

The first place we visited was the Cathedral de Notre-Dame.  We had read about the Astronomical Clock that is located in the south transept of the cathedral and decided to queue up for tickets to see it.  
This was as close as we could get and still have a view
The mechanism for the existing clock dates to 1842.  At 12:30 everyday, the clock puts on a show that, while less than five minutes long, is quite elaborate.  An angel sounds a chime, and then a skeleton chimes his bell 12 times, followed by the 12 apostles parading before Jesus while the cock crows three times.  There is a good video on YouTube (because my arm got tired).  While I liked seeing the clock and the performance, we spent a lot of precious time in line and then waiting once we were inside.  If we had several days to see the city, then maybe it would have been worth the time to see.

From there, we headed out into the Christmas market.  Here are some of my favourite things that we saw....
Joanie in front of the Strasbourg Christmas Tree

I could have watched this man making pretzels all day.  It was like a ballet.

La crèche de Noël réalisée en bretzels

Rue des Hallebardes....the Baccarat store and the street lined with nine Baccarat chandeliers...incredible.

We also really enjoyed the Musée Alsacien that is located on the Quai Saint-Nicolas.  Three former houses were used to construct this wonderful museum that is filled with typical Alsacian furnishings and clothing from the 18th and 19th century.  They have also reconstructed what parts of a home would look like, which I found fascinating, as life in Alsace is so different from the rest of France.

After spending one more night in Marmoutier, we headed home.   Lucky us, our drive would take us through one of the most important regions in France.....Champagne.  Knowing this ahead of time, I scheduled a visit at my favourite Champagne house, Champagne Pannier, located in the town of Chateau-Thierry.  What I did not realise about Chateau-Thierry is that it also has an immense monument dedicated to the American and French soldiers who fought in this area during WWI.  Together, they were able to keep the Germans from crossing the Marne River.  Since we arrived in town with time to spare, we decide to take a quick detour to check it out.

View of Chateau-Thierry from the monument

Joanie is one with the monument!

Last three verses:

It stands as a lasting symbol of the
friendship and cooperation
between the French and American armies

Finally, on to Champagne Pannier....

We had a wonderful tour of the cellars, and even though Rick and I had toured here back in 2002, I found it helpful to have a refresher course on champagne making.  At the end of our tour, we tasted about three different champagnes, as well as a relatively new product called Ratafia.

A votre santé!
And seeing as the New Year was approaching, we felt it behooved us to pick up a few bottles before heading home.

With our wonderful guide, Eve Ganson
Link to map of where we were:  Alsace and Champagne

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