Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Capital of Christmas, Part I

I am a little EXCITED to be living in the city that calls itself the capital of Christmas. They take Christmas very seriously in Strasbourg. The Christmas markets here are the most famous in France, and some of the most famous in Europe. A ton of tourists come here for the Christmas season, so they really deck out the city.

The decorating process started early- November 4th. That’s the day that the huge Christmas tree was delivered to Place Kléber (a minute’s walk from my apartment!).

It looked like this.

Two days later when I stopped by Place Kléber again, the tree was up!

Since then, I've gone on walks every few days to check on the decorating progress.

This past weekend, they really stepped things up. Now there’s a lot more decorations on the big tree, and they’ve started putting up the booths for the markets.

I'm so excited for what's to come! When they turn the lights on and open the markets, it's going to be magical!

Since I don’t have the privilege of celebrating Thanksgiving (no pumpkin pie...no Black Friday...tragic), I decided that I was allowed to start listening to Christmas music at the beginning of November. I decided this when I walked into the cathedral one day, they had some lovely French Christmas carols playing. There are few things that I love more in this world than French Christmas music. I’ve been trying to find some good French Christmas music to buy, but every Christmas cd. that I’ve found is at least half American Christmas music that I already have, so it would be a waste of money. But I secretly love that they don’t even make Christmas cds without American contributions wahaha.

So this Friday is the big day when they turn all of the lights on and the Christmas markets open. I’m so there. Can’t wait. I feel like Europe just really understands Christmas.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Everyday in Strasbourg

So I live in a pretty cool city, which means that sometimes (okay, usually) my everyday life is pretty cool. When I get bored, I just wander around the city. Sometimes I have a destination in mind, but a lot of times I just like to go on walks and see more of Strasbourg.

This is the church that’s on my street, St. Pierre le Vieux. It’s right next to my grocery store, and I walk by it to get to the train station every day. I also love hearing the bells from this church all the time! Church bells are one of the things that I’ll miss the most when I come home from Europe.

Speaking of churches, on one of my random walks I stopped inside this one. It’s called the Temple Neuf. This church is right off of Strasbourg’s Place Kléber, the main square of the city.

On that same walk, I decided to stop by my favorite place, Strasbourg’s cathedral. Usually at night there aren’t a lot of people at the cathedral, but this time I saw tons of people going in. Then I saw men wearing medieval costumes and holding trumpets going inside. The obvious choice was to follow them.

I was slightly concerned that I was crashing an important wedding or some other private ceremony, but at the door I was handed a program and it looked like it was just a special mass.

I’m still not entirely clear on the reason for the mass and why so many people were there, but it had something to do with an organization that shoots wolves?  There’s a group of men called the ‘lieutenants de louveterie,’ who are apparently part of a wolf-hunting guild established by Charlemagne that are still going strong. If anyone can explain that one to me...like as to what wolf hunting has to do with mass?...then you get a prize.

If anyone would like some trumpet background music while you read the rest of this post, I found a youtube clip of this same ceremony last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FUizlHgOwk

A few minutes after I got there, every seat in the cathedral was filled. And that is a big cathedral. By the time the mass started, it was standing room only, and hundreds of people were standing on the sides. My seat was towards the front, so there were a ton of other people behind me too.

I’ve been to a few other masses, but I’ve never seen one where so many people attended (the party outside in St. Peter’s square aside...). I’ve also never been to a mass with a choir, so that sounded awesome. And not to mention the medieval trumpet players! 

It already feels like you’re stepping back in time when you go into the cathedral, but hearing the singing and music and being surrounded by so many people made it even cooler. I’m glad I stumbled upon this and got to party with the wolf hunting guys.

The next weekend, I decided to visit Strasbourg’s palace, the Palais de Rohan. I can’t believe it took me two months to make it to the palace. Me and palaces get along really well together. There are actually three museums inside the palace, but on this day I only went to the section where you can see what the actual palace rooms look like.

One of my favorite people in the world, Marie Antoinette, slept in this room on her first night in France. Since Strasbourg is right on the German border, she stopped here overnight on her way to Versailles.

The part of the palace that's available to tour is pretty small, but it was definitely worth seeing.

I also discovered that the palace courtyard is a good place to take pictures of the cathedral. You can actually see the top! That's always a challenge because it's so tall.

That segues into this picture... I couldn't quite get the top of the spire in the frame with this cute carrousel.

The day after my Palais de Rohan fun, I did some more quality Strasbourg wandering.

Since I live on an island, there are always more river views to take pictures of.

Kind of by accident, I discovered Place Broglie, one of the main plazas of Strasbourg. This is where the official government buildings are found, hence all of the flags. Compared to America, you rarely see flags on display in France. Discovering this area was a surprise. It was beautiful with the fall leaves!

I loved this view of the cathedral from Place Broglie. 

That concludes the summary of my recent wanderings around my city. My next post will be all about tracking down Christmas decorations as they’re put up in Strasbourg.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crossing borders

So last summer I was a bit internet deprived. At the Jerusalem Center there wasn't any internet on my floor, and when you went upstairs it was really slow internet and lots of essential websites (like Facebook) were blocked. Luckily, I discovered a partial solution. I started bringing my laptop to my Old Testament class, which we had every single day for two long hours. Most people were actually good little students who wouldn't do such a thing, so the internet was really fast! It was always magical.

I tell this story because this is when I did a lot of research for France and Strasbourg. Also, it's when I posted pretty much all of my blog posts but that's besides the point. It was during an Old Testament class that I discovered that there was a pedestrian bridge between Strasbourg and Germany. I thought it was very exciting that you can just walk between two countries.

There's no border control or anything, thanks to the European Union. It immediately became my goal to  be able to say that I'd walked to Germany.

This post is actually a little overdue. I accomplished this goal over a month ago. I think it was actually on my dad's birthday, because I remember that I came home to video chat with him afterwards.

I decided to go to Germany with little to no planning. I'm impressed I was able to find it, actually. It was my first weekend alone here and I was bored.

First, I took the tram to the end of the line, and then I hopped on a bus that said 'Destination: Kehl'. Kehl is the town that's just on the other side of the Rhine from Strasbourg.

I thought that the bus would drop us off at the border, but it actually crossed the border and I got off in Kehl. So...I didn't actually walk across the border, but stay tuned (I did walk back to France!). The bus I took was a normal Strasbourg city bus, so I didn't think it would actually go to Germany.

I wasn't sure when I got off if I was for sure in Germany, but this sign cleared things up for me.

I knew that Kehl was a small town, so I just wandered around and figured I would see most of the town. I was right. Here's what most of it looks like-

I heard later from a teacher at my school that Kehl used to be more impressive, but that it was pretty much totally destroyed during WWII. So I think a lot of things were rebuilt in the old style, but most of the buildings are new.

I always visit the churches!

Right across the street from the church was a huge H&M. I mean, you have to buy a souvenir when you visit a foreign country, so I had to buy a shirt.

After some shopping I found a pretty little park.


WWI memorial-

By this time,  I wanted to start heading back because I was supposed to talk to my family. Of course, before I left, I wanted to give out the award for "longest German word that I saw during my hour in Germany". This one took the prize. Don't ask me what it means.

I was able to find the pedestrian "Bridge of Friendship" that goes over the Rhine. It looks like this.

This bridge symbolizes that Germany and France are now BFFs and that Germany is now  done invading France. They totally promise.

The most exciting part of my time in Kehl was getting to walk back to France! When I got off the bridge on the France side, I was in the middle of a huge park that I had no idea how to get out of.

I wandered around for a long time, and even came across a wedding. I'm pretty sure I accidentally ended up in their pictures.

Thankfully, I was able to find the same bus and tram that I'd taken before and make it back to my apartment. It was very fun to say to my family, "Sorry I'm late, I went to Germany."

Since I'm so close to Germany, I'm planning on going on more day trips there too (to cities that are even more exciting!). Next weekend, I'll be in Stuttgart. I like Europe.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Leaning the day away

On my last day in Italy, Jenna and I decided it would be worth it to spend 4 hours on a train just so we could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That may sound a little crazy, but let me assure you it was totally worth it.

My first thought when I saw the tower was literally “Wow, it really is leaning.” So intelligent, I know. I guess I was really impressed with the degree to which it was leaning.

People watching definitely made the train ride worth it. I would willingly sit on a much, much longer train ride just for the opportunity to watch so many people taking pictures as awkward as these.

We really enjoyed “accidentally” taking pictures of other people taking pictures. There are people leaning and posing in every possible way, and they all happen to look even funnier when you can’t see the tower in the background.

There’s A LOT of this going on. 

Before we got there, we wanted to have a contest to see who could take the funniest picture of someone else posing. I think we decided that this one I took was the winner.

The complete lack of expression combined with the dress shirt/tie/sweater vest and tracksuit/tennis shoes combo just screams WINNER. I absolutely love this man.

Of course, we took some of our own pictures as well. At first, we tried to get the classic pictures touching/holding up the tower.

Not quite:

Getting closer:

Not bad:

But that was actually really hard, so we decided it would be funnier to take pictures where we come nowhere close to the vicinity of tower, but look like we’re trying to touch it.

That was a lot easier, and very amusing.

So we spent a long time entertaining ourselves that way. Right next to the tower there’s a cathedral, so we stopped in there too. This was my last Italian cathedral! Sad.

Once you start holding things up, it’s really hard to stop.

The inside:

After all of that fun, our day in Pisa was complete. Here’s a picture of the town of Pisa that I took on the way back to the train station.

And that concludes my amazing trip to Italy! My train left Siena the next morning at 6, and then I traveled for about 12 hours. I had to take 4 different trains to get back to Strasbourg. Probably the only day in my life where I will have my breakfast in Italy, my lunch in Switzerland, and my dinner in France.

I've never been to Switzerland, so I enjoyed seeing some views from the train.

From what I saw, the entire country is made up of lakes and mountains. But I'd have to say the best part of my time in Switzerland was eating Swiss Swiss cheese during my train layover in Basel. It was delicious. Another highlight included sitting next to some crazy American study abroad-ers talking about their experiences- like how they passed out drunk with some hobos and ended up sleeping under the Eiffel Tower. They didn't know I spoke English, so I heard lots of fun stories. And that was probably the tamest one.

It was nice getting back to Strasbourg. I was completely satisfied with my vacation. Such a memorable trip.