This weekend I travelled to Strasbourg, self-proclaimed ‘Capital of Christmas’, where wonky but charming brightly coloured houses line the cobbled streets, and the delicious smells of the Christmas market are inescapable. As if that wasn’t enough to get me in the holiday spirit, I also spent Thursday evening attending my first Thanksgiving.
To start at the beginning, I had a pretty busy but uneventful week in the lead up to Thursday. My very kind teachers had said I could have Friday off, so I was working more hours the rest of the week to compensate. I also had to sort out packing and trains and my contribution to Thanksgiving, which was mashed sweet potatoes. Cooking for more than a dozen people was an interesting challenge in my tiny little kitchenette, but all the same by 7pm I had finished my lessons for the week and arrived at Madeleine and Sara’s flat with a big bowl of potatoes and some wine.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Thanksgiving; I’ve obviously never been to one before. However, I’ve seen it on American sitcoms, and always thought it looked like an ingenious way to get an extra Christmas meal into the year. As Thanksgivings go, however, I’m pretty sure it was far from typical: we were squeezed in Madeleine’s bedroom as best we could, only three of us actually celebrated Thanksgiving in our home countries, and as a result the food was truly international. Empanadas, baguette and cheese, roasted vegetables, chicken, and seafood was all followed by apple pie and chocolate cake. It was nevertheless delicious! We all took a moment before we ate to say what we were thankful for, which was really nice and a great way for us to start introducing ourselves to each other.
On Friday I headed to the train station disgustingly early to catch two trains and then a flight to Strasbourg with Maddie and Val. We spent a while wandering through Strasbourg and admiring everything, and had a delicious long lunch before heading to our hostel. The food in Alsace is really German based, as the region has a long tradition of being German as well as French- lots of cheese, sausage, and pretzels. Our hostel wasn’t the cleanest, and it lacked both decent beds and doors (??) but at least it was cheap.
After a relaxed afternoon, we went to the train station to pick up Hellie, and then set off to explore the Christmas market together. It was wonderful: huge, bustling, and with a mulled wine stall on every corner! As wonderful as the Birmingham Christmas market usually is, I have to say that this was even more special, because every street had its own brightly coloured decorations, and every single shop joined in the celebration of all things Christmassy.
We had a bit of a late start on Saturday, and went to see the astronomical clock in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame chime at midday. Seeing as it was built in the 1300s, the dozens of intricate clockwork figures on the clock were amazing. In fact, everything in Strasbourg is old, and there has been a city standing in Strasbourg’s current position for over two thousand years. At least that’s according to our tour-guide Gabriel, who gave us really interesting and fun tour of the city in the afternoon. After dinner we had a fun night in playing games, and it was so nice to chill out with the girls and get to know them a bit more.
On Sunday we woke up fairly early and headed to Colmar, a beautiful, typically Alsacien nearby town. Unfortunately we only had a few hours there because the others were getting a plane home in the afternoon, but it was still definitely worth the trip! There was a more intimate, local feel in the streets of Colmar and slightly less tourists, although there were still various Christmas markets to attend.
After an afternoon of relaxation and reading (I’m reading The Girl on the Train if anyone’s interested, it’s great so far!) I met my friend Jeanne in the evening. Jeanne lives in Strasbourg with her sister, and I haven’t seen her since Easter last year, when she was my language buddy on her Erasmus year in Birmingham. She made us dinner and attempted to teach me to play cards. The rules were in French, we spoke in French, and the names of the cards were all in French- safe to say I was an absolutely atrocious player!
On Monday morning there was just time to buy a few Christmas presents and grab a coffee before I got the plane back to Lyon. Travelling by myself was a new experience for me, but all went smoothly and I was back in Lyon by the afternoon. There, my UoB friend Ellie was waiting to show me where to buy hummus (seriously, first world problems) and have a good catch up.
It’s only two and a half weeks until I go home for Christmas, and this weekend has really made me feel like the festive count-down is here. It seems like I only got here yesterday, and yet here I am, two months into my Year Abroad. Time flies…