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Christmas lights in Alsace

Posted: 2016-12-23 20:05:00, Categories: Travel, France, Germany, 344 words (permalink)

A few half-timbered houses in Christmas dress, Colmar.
A few half-timbered houses in Christmas dress, Colmar.
Sandra and I would like to wish you all peaceful end of the year 2016 and happiness for the upcoming 2017! Following our tradition, the wishes are accompanied with our Season's greetings card.

The Christmas market in Colmar.
The Christmas market in Colmar.
December is the season of Christmas lights and markets all around Europe. In our area in Southern Germany almost every village sets up a market at least for a day or two, larger cities do it for a full month. Glühwein, sweets and handicrafts are sold in small booths, typically in the pedestrian zones. We're not much into shopping, but it's always nice to visit the small event in our village, which lasts only one weekend and is less commercial than most.

This year we also checked out two towns in Christmas dress on the French side of the border: Colmar and Saverne. The markets were quite similar to the German ones, but the lights and decorations clearly topped all we have seen here. Almost the whole old town of Colmar was illuminated, with rows of coloured lights emphasizing the shapes of the beautiful half-timbered houses (Fachwerkhaus in German). Video projectors casted alternating scenes on more evenly coloured walls.

Colourful facades along the main street in Saverne.
Colourful facades along the main street in Saverne.
A fountain converted into a Christmas installation, Saverne.
A fountain converted into a Christmas installation, Saverne.
In Saverne, there was less glitter on the edges but the houses were beautifully lit with large lamps pointing upwards, creating a row of coloured facades on both sides of the main street. Statues of Santa, dwarfs, reindeer, gigantic candles and other Christmas paraphernalia were arranged in large decorative installations. We wondered where are they all stored for elevent months of the year waiting for the season, or are new ones built each year and thrown away afterwards.

The main reason of our short trip to Alsace was visiting friends and we spent a day hiking in the Vosges mountains. Also here in the German Alps it's still possible to go for walks — there is some snow higher up but not so much that one would need snow shoes yet. We'll have to wait a bit before we can go sledging like in the photo of our Christmas card.

Spring holiday in France

Posted: 2008-04-30 16:50:34, Categories: Travel, Hospitality exchange, France, 514 words (permalink)

Walking in a city park in Besancon, France. Kamei and Maki, two Japanese friends of mine, came for a 12 day vacation in Europe. We spent a few days in Finland, did a short trip over the bay to Tallinn and then traveled to France together. First time in years I was on a classic holiday trip, including odd things such as hotel reservations and pre-booked transport tickets.

For Kamei and Maki the trip was to experience Europe. For me, the main themes were enjoying food and meeting old friends from the time I spent an exchange year in Lyon. With Kamei I had tried the best food I ever had in Japan, and relaxed meals in atmospheric small bistros are one the best things France has to offer. During the slow dinners I also had the best discussions and felt being on the same frequency with my friends. Perhaps a couple of glasses of wine helped, too.

Sightseeing was naturally part of the trip. I did enjoy it, but it wasn't very important, pretty much as I expected. The best parts were views from hills in the countryside of Eastern France, where one of my friends now lives and hosted us for a couple of days. He and his wife are also building a very interesting ecological house. In Paris, I visited first time the Centre Pompidou and was impressed by some of the modern art pieces there. Still more than that, I liked wandering in the streets of Montmartre and riding around on a city bike (Paris has a city bike network nowadays!) which I did while my friends went shopping.

After Kamei and Maki left, I CouchSurfed for one night in the eastern parts of the 18th district of Paris. I immediately liked the area: a lively mix of different ethnic groups, old buildings which were not too classy but still in good condition, and friendly small bars. As my hosts explained, it remained one of the neighbourhoods where people continue to go out in local hangouts and get to know each other. We even got invited to a flat party after simply chatting for a while with other customers in the table beside us.

The last day and night I spent at another friend's place in Noisy-le-Grand, an Eastern suburb of Paris. That had a quite different feel from the more central areas. Buildings were architecturally interesting and looked quite nice from the distance, but they were too big and rather poorly maintained. There were no small shops in the bottom floors which would contribute to the atmosphere: smell of fresh croissants, fruit salesmen, couples discussing over a cup of coffee, perhaps artists showing their works. No, a hike or drive to the nearby mall was the only option. Curiously, even very few kids were playing outside. Overall, a completely different way of planning the area, which felt kind of distant and somehow alien to the French way of life. Naturally, that didn't prevent me from having wonderful time with my friend and his kind and hospitable family — after all, to meet them was what I traveled there for.


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