Posted by: Mary | August 19, 2012

Strasbourg is the Capital of Christmas!

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Strasbourg, France is just over the border from Germany in the Alsace region and it is known as the “Capital of Christmas“.  In December 2011, while staying with friends in Germany, I took the two hour train ride to find out why.  I bought a short distance ticket to the Hauptbahnhof in Karlsruhe where I was able to purchase a round trip ticket to Strasboug.  By purchasing the Baden-Württemberg train ticket and then purchasing a separate round trip ticket from the last stop in Germany to Strasbourg (this can be purchased at the same time without getting off at the last stop in Germany), I was able to save significantly over a point-to-point ticket from Karlsruhe to Strasbourg and back.  (Note: there are travel limitations, like traveling after 9:00am; and you can purchase a ticket that covers 2-5 people traveling together, which makes it extremely affordable.  If traveling alone like I did, you can save a few dollars if you ask for a ticket for one person.)

When I arrived in Strasbourg, I stopped at the Tourist Information office in the train station to get a map of the Christmas Market.  Strasbourg has been holding its Christkindelsmärik around the Cathedral since around 1570 and it has over 300 stalls spread throughout the city.  It was, by far, the largest Christmas market I visited and the city was incredibly for the holidays.  It’s estimated that there are between 1.5-2 million visitors each year and for good reason!

I spent the day wandering through the stalls and never made it to all of them.  There are a few just outside the train station and then I headed toward the cathedral where the majority are located.  As I turned a corner on one of the narrow streets, I looked up and saw the Cathedral of our Lady of Strasbourg and it was amazing in its size and architecture.  I’ve visited a number of cathedrals in different countries and found all of them to be beautiful, but there was something about this one and the way that I didn’t see it until I turned this corner that really struck me.  With all of the stalls surrounding it, I couldn’t get any great pictures of the whole thing, but the detail work on it was beautiful.  After visiting all of the stalls around it, I bought a ticket to climb up to the top for the view and also visited the interior.

I headed on to some of the stalls in other areas of the city, which included the wood carver’s nativity scene, the fresh-baked goods stalls, the Swiss Village, and others.  I tried some of the food at the stalls, but skipped the Glühwein.  The mugs here were 5 euro instead of the usual 1-2 euro at the other markets and the wine was more expensive, too.  My guess is that the popularity of the “Capital of Christmas” makes people pay the higher prices (like going to Disneyland), but since I was visiting so many markets, it wasn’t necessary for me.

Speaking of Disneyland, Strasbourg puts Disneyland’s Christmas decorations to shame.  Okay, maybe not “to shame”, but they go even farther than Disneyland does with its decorations.

I purchased a few Christmas ornaments and some Williams chocolate in the Swiss Village (chocolate filled with pear liquor that I have only been able to find in Switzerland, or online for extremely high prices).  As with the markets in Germany, I found that the best time to do some shopping and looking at the stalls is early in the day when they first open.  by mid-afternoon, the place is packed and at night, it’s beautifully lit up with people sharing food and drinks, but nearly impossible to walk through!

I caught an evening train back to my home base at my friends’ house, but would highly recommend spending a night in Strasbourg so that you can see the entire market, if you wish, an also have the opportunity to see more of this pretty city itself.  That’s exactly what I plan to do whenever I make it back to the capital of Christmas!

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