Monday, December 7, 2015

A series of unfortunate events

Yes, it's a rather sad title for a post about a vacation (it's the name of a book series, if you're not aware). I was originally going to call this post “Il était une fois,” which is the French equivalent of ‘Once upon a time’, because visiting Alsace during the Christmas season is really like stepping into a fairy tale. Unfortunately, real life is not a fairy tale... and real life does not stop just because you go on vacation.

When I go on vacations I like to have everything planned so that I can maximize seeing new things. I have a hunger to see (most of) Europe, and I wanted to capitalize on being relatively close by in Israel while I can. I leave Israel for good in January, and who knows when I can cross the Atlantic again.

I had a pretty great week planned in France, and I built it up in my head that it was going to be the best week of my year. I was so fortunate to have had an amazing trip to France last February traveling in Switzerland, the French Alps, Alsace, and Paris (which set the bar pretty high for this trip). This time, my plan was to see Lyon, Grenoble, Gap (David’s hometown in the Alps), some new cities in Provence for a few days, and then the Lyon Festival of Lights on my last day.

The Festival of Lights is something I’ve wanted to see for years. It kicks off the Christmas season in Lyon with light displays and shows in the old town of the city. That was the first thing to get crossed off my list. It was cancelled due to security concerns after the Paris attacks. Completely the wrong decision if you ask me, but unfortunately they didn’t remember to consult me about it. That was what I planned my whole trip around, but at that point I was still determined to make the best of things.

Strike two was David and his mom getting pretty sick with something contagious that I didn’t want to catch. I decided to delay arriving in their city for a day to avoid them having to entertain me while they were sick and to avoid getting sick myself. Instead, I hopped on a train to Strasbourg to visit my old city, which was actually pretty fun.

Strike three was that while I was flying to France, David’s dad ended up in the hospital having to get his appendix out. Because of that, we wouldn’t be able to travel around Provence at all. I decided to stay in Strasbourg alone for an extra day in order to stay out of the way. 

Strike four was getting the news while in Strasbourg that my beloved puppy wasn’t going to make it past the next day. Even though she was very old, it came as a total shock and it just broke my heart. I’m dreading going home now.

That’s all, I promise! But it was quite the week. Thankfully, that seems to be the end of the series of unfortunate events for this trip. I’m currently en route back to Israel.

Anyways, enough about the sucky parts of my week. Onto the fun parts...

I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday walking the streets of Strasbourg admiring the amazing Christmas decorations and markets. I also had the chance to visit all of my favorite stores for some wonderful shopping time and to eat all of my favorite French foods. After a week in France, I am full to the brim with delicious bread, cheese, and chocolate... and my suitcase is full to the brim with the results of my shopping. You know it’s been a good shopping week when you have to sit on your suitcase and it’s still a legitimate workout to get it closed.

I also spent a few hours on Wednesday in Colmar, which is a town about 30 minutes away. It’s kind of like Strasbourg’s little sister. It’s more quaint and more like a village than a city.

Adding to the fairy tale look of Colmar, a straight out of a storybook gypsy woman I think tried to eat me. As I was walking into the city, she jumped in my path and opened her coat to show me the crap she was trying to sell. When I kept walking, she came closer and whispered in my ear “What... are you afraid of gypsies, little girl?” and then threw her head back and cackled. That actually happened. (By the way- do I look like a little girl? hahaha).

A quick note about the effects of the Paris attacks- there was a TON of security in Strasbourg. Like Lyon, they actually thought about canceling the markets (merci for not doing that!). Most places I went inside, my bag was searched and I had to open my coat. There were also soldiers walking everywhere. It felt just like home in Israel! I also saw a few tributes to the victims and a lot more flags than usual.

On my first full day in Gap, I went with David and his mom Nicole to Mont-Dauphin, a place not too far from where they live. You can see the fortifications that Louis XIV had built here. When we went, it was completely deserted and we didn’t see other tourists or really anyone who lived there. It’s a gorgeous place surrounded by mountains on all sides, and it was kind of fun to have it to ourselves.

Driving back from Mont-Dauphin we saw an amazing sunset. It was a little hard to capture from inside a moving car, but I did my best.

We also made a quick stop at the Abbaye de Boscodon, where you can casually see some 12th century Romanesque architecture.

The next day, we went to Gap’s open-air market in the downtown area. I think downtown Gap is kind of cute and colorful. After some authentic Italian food made by David’s uncle, we went to see the last Hunger Games movie. It was great because in French they say “le jay-moqueur” instead of mockingjay and ‘Kahtnees’ instead of Katniss, and I laughed every time. There were some pretty lights in downtown Gap. It wasn’t Strasbourg, but still. :)

We had a low-key day on Sunday. I had fun listening to church in French at their little branch (though it was pretty big compared to the Galilee branch). We also popped in a store to look at Christmas decorations, and then the cathedrals in Gap to check if they had their crèches (nativity scenes) set up yet.

One did, and the exciting part was that they had little stones that you could write your name on and add to the display. Sooooo, basically I’m famous in Gap now.

To add up the positives of this interesting trip (because I’m American and I feel obligated to end this on a happy note):
-Visiting Strasbourg during the Christmas season (for the 3rd year in a row!!!) was an amazing opportunity. It’s magic, and there’s nothing like it.
-I got to speak French and be in France all week (in a lot of ways, France feels like home to me). 
-David and his parents were all feeling better, and it was fun to get to hang out with him and get to know his parents better. It was nice of them to do things with me even when their family had other things going on.

Au revoir, France! J’espère revenir bientôt. Merci à la famille Rubino :)

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