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.


Also way back on November 4th, they started to put lights up.


It’s been a gradual process putting up the lights, but they’re not turning any of them on until this Friday. 

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


After that, I’ve gone on walks every couple of days to check up on the decorating process. Whenever I saw something that was exciting to me, I took a picture.






What I learned is that while the workers are putting up the lights, they’re turned on so they can see how it’s looking. So I’ve gotten a few previews of what it will look like starting this weekend.



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.




Another development is that all of the stores are decorated! So that’s enjoyable.




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 c.d. 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 c.d.s 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 is 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 guys wearing medieval costumes and holding trumpets going inside. So then 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 got 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 Charlemage 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! Hahaha they were great.

It started with this procession thing. 


I tried to get a better picture of the trumpet guys, but I was pretty sure that you weren’t suposed to be taking pictures during a mass, so I was trying to be discreet and it didn’t turn out too well.


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 just went to the one where you can see what the actual palace rooms look like.

Outside the palace:



And inside:



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 on her way to Versailles.


The palace (at least the part of it I went to) wasn’t very big, but it was definitely fun to walk around.

And, I discovered that the palace courtyard is a good place to take pictures of the cathedral. You can actually see the top of it! This is hard because it’s so tall.


That segues into this picture, where I couldn’t get the tallest spire in, but there was an excting merry-go-round!


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

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




Kind of by accident, I discovered Place Broglie, one of the main plazas of Strasbourg. There’s a bunch of official buildings here, like the town hall.

Oooooh. Two French flags in one picture.


Oooooh. Three French flags in one pictures.


And JACKPOT. 



This is the administration building for the prefecture. So it’s a bit like a state capitol building.

On the other side of the obelisk, it has the dates for when the French flag replaced the Nazi flag in different locations during WWII. So the amount of flags makes sense now.


I found my cathedral again in Place Broglie!


Here’s the front of the statue- a memorial for fallen soldiers. This was quite a patriotic place in Strasbourg.


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 haha. 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.

Then 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".

For a while, this word was in the lead.


But then, unexpectedly, this word took the prize.


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


And I even have a picture of me there, because some German ladies asked me to take a picture of them, so I had them take one of me.


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

So besides buying clothes :), this was the most exciting part of my time in Kehl. I got 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 Muslim wedding. I'm pretty sure I accidentally ended up in their wedding pictures, so I took a stalker picture of them just to be fair.


I finally found the exit of the park when I saw these flags. Happy site.


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."

I don't know if I would have known I could do this without the tons of "free time" that I had during Brother Schade's class, so I feel like I should thank him or something.

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.