A Christmassy Weekend in Strasbourg (with Germany and Switzerland on the side)

Just when you thought the whole Christmas shabang was over, I'm going to be really annoying and take you back to all that festive excitement with a tale about my not so recent trip to Strasbourg (I was super busy before Christmas ok?).

You never know, it might help with the post Christmas blues.

So my visit to the lovely city of Strasbourg (in France, just in case like me, you're thinking it sounds like Germany) came about courtesy of my best buddy Guy, fellow year-abroader and German course mate.

Having friends on their own year abroad is a great excuse to get some travelling in and so is a long weekend (thanks to a religious holiday in Italy - ha what else!?). And...it just so happened that trains to Switzerland, where I would be changing for Strasbourg, were a special price because of the Christmas markets.

It would have been silly not to go really. Make the most of opportunities and all that you know?

One minor issue. The train was at 7.25 am on a Saturday morning from Milan and I live in a little town outside the city where transport is poor . But very kindly mia amica let me stay at hers in Milan. (she has been my saviour many times, late at night when I haven't been able to get back to my house, ohh the memories of running to the station only to find the train is delayed so I would miss the last bus).

But one advantage of getting such an obscenely early train is that all you want to do is sleep for the first couple of hours meaning the time just flies by!

And before I knew it we had crossed the border into Switzerland and some scary looking men in black uniforms were asking for my passport.

Now, irrevocably awake, I took to admiring the views. Slighty gutted with my poor window viewing access I got up to take a better look as we passed by the mountains. Forget the Bernina express, the views here are beautiful!

So I was actually quite enjoying my four hour train journey (slightly daunting for someone who's longest train journey was down to Exeter from the south east).

That was until we broke down in a random swiss station.

I had just began to chat to the guy next to me when we heard the driver say something over the loudspeaker. Something that sounded an awful lot like everyone needs to get off the train.

At first I thought it was a joke, or I had misheard (he had spoken in Italian afterall), but everyone was already scrambling from their seats.

And so we stood, bewildered on the platform in a random station in Switzerland totally and utterly lost as what to do next. No one told us anything. I'm so glad I had my new acquaintance to talk to ; it distracted me from panicking.

A few minutes later a train arrived on the other side of the platform and everyone from our train started piling on, so we thought this must be the next available train that the driver had vaguely referred to.

(yeah really helpful btw)

We managed to get a seat on the crowded train and I breathed a sigh of relief as we started train journey no.2. But alas, this was not the end of our train troubles. We discovered, through chance when stopped in a station, that this train was not headed for Basel....

Oh no, we were going to Zurich!!

Oh god I thought, I'm never going to get to Strasbourg!

But someone must've been feeling nice  that day because hearing our panic the two passengers opposite us, who could actually use their internet told us we could change at Bern and they even showed us what time and what platform.

8 minutes.

Ah piece of cake, I'd spent the past 5 months in Italy running for trains!

So we made it to Bern and made the train and finally made it to Basel where by some miracle and a bit of running because I still had to collect my tickets and had no idea where, I made my connection to Strasbourg.

Funny thing was, it wasn't even the Italians' fault this time!

My stressful morning was soon forgotton though when I arrived in Strasbourg. I didn't even care that I had gone from a rainy Milan to a just as rainy Strasbourg.

That familiar feeling of excitement in being somewhere completely new had hit.
And of course the excitement in being re-united with my best German buddy who I hadn't seen since end of Uni which was all the way back in June.

Besides, it's impossible to be grumpy in a city as Christmassy as Strasbourg!

like what even are these things?!

The festivity was infectious and kind of hard to ignore when everywhere you looked decorations adorned buildings and at night the town was lit up by the most ridiculous amount of Christmas lights ever seen.

No surprise then that they call it the Capitale du Noel, a very fitting name for a city that were voted best Christmas Markets in 2014 and again for this year, beating Aachen and Vienna, other very popular Christmas market destinations. So if you're looking for some festive cheer, there's no doubt you will find it here!

There were a few different markets dotted around the city with different themes which meant it wasn't just the same stuff over and over again, like some of the markets I've been to. It felt really authentic too, none of that touristy crap, but homemade and handcrafted products of the Alsace region.

And of course, a Christmas market wouldn't be complete without Mulled wine (or Vin chaud aka Gluhwein as it's known here). What's more it was cheap as chips which makes it taste even better.

Wine and a souvenir cup for 3 euros? Bargain. See how happy it made me?
Not both mine by the way!

As well as a mulled wine (or two), another Christmas market essential is trying the vast array of tempting food on offer.

Especially those local specialities, like a certain cheesy, carby speciality from this region which is called Alsace and as Guy tells me, the locals feel pretty strongly about their Alsation (yes really) heritage. It's called Flambé or if you're German,  Flammkuchen (they tend to use both, it's practically in Germany anyway).

I actually ended up having this twice, once as a take-away version from the market and again in a resturant (not on the same day though!). Both slightly different but both the same cheese smothered bread with lashings of lardons. I decided not to think about how unhealthy it was on concentrate on how yummy it was instead.

Speaking of local specialities, naturally we had to stop in a patisseire for a macaroon, the very essence of all things French. Also because I have a slight dangerous macaroon obsession after trying the ones from Ladurée in Milan (I'm totally blaming you Lucy if you're reading).

All that Christmas market-ing (and eating) had tired us out so we headed back for a rest to Guy's accomodation.
He's studying so is staying in uni accomodation which makes the whole moving abroad thing slightly easier. But... uni accomodation is so not the same as in the UK.
Even in my halls of first year, considered the lowest of the low (it was the cheapest campus accomodation) at least we had a cooker! Here there was just a weird hot plate thing in a kitchen that I'm pretty sure used to be part of a prison...

Maybe the French just live on Baguettes?

So when dinner time came, we headed out again to find some food, passing a light show on the way which transformed the building in the main square into a cool, moving art show.

I was kind of expecting Guy to be an expert on the best places to eat but he's one of those troublesome gluten free people (said lovingly!) so can't actually eat at many places because France, along with most of the rest of Europe hasn't really caught on to the fact some people can't eat certain things (yeah I'm looking at you Italy).

I had never really thought about this before, I guess it's just one of those things you take for granted living in the UK (like reliable public transport). Over there you can pretty much guarantee at least one gluten free dish in a resturant, especially in the chains like Pizza Express and Ask.

So Guy normally eats at this one tiny cafe called Quinoa (however you say it) which is some health food place and one of the only gluten free places in Strasbourg which sucks a bit because it's so restrictive. How can you try the local specialities then, which for me, is an excuse to eat lots of food an important part of experiencing a country? We gotta educate these people!

But of course it's not all doom and gloom because there are plenty of things to do that don't involve food...like visiting the local European Parliment.

Yeah I bet you thought all the European stuff was over in Brussel didn't ya? (me too).

Sadly it was a Sunday so we didn't spot any politicians, shame because I was hoping to see Nigel Farage so I could personally tell him he is an idiot.

You can't actually go inside because of security obvs, but you can go through into the inside outside bit.

And it was pretty impressive.

I have always wanted to work for the EU (although this will probs be very unlikely given the competition) and this was definately one inspiring building.

Did you know Strasbourg also has the European Court of Human Rights?

There was some "interesting" stuff outside it, including tents which I didn't understand if people were actually living in them or if it was just there to be symbolic.

We then found ourselves with quite a lot of the day left and Sundays being Sundays which are extra Sundayey in France because the shops do actually all shut, we were kind of unsure of what to do next. Then I remembered...

We were right next to Germany! Like so right next door that all it takes is a short, 12 minute bus journey to cross the border. Crazy huh? So we hopped on the bus to the closest German town, Kehl. Now, I can't say it was very spectacular, just your average German town but it was just cool that one minute we were in France and the next we were in Germany!

The voices that surrounded us no longer spoke French, but German and Currywurst was being sold from the stalls in the Christmas market. The change was strange because all we had done was cross the bridge over the Rhine; there was hardly anything separating the two towns, yet here we were hearing German.

I tried to practise my now forgotton German (worrying because I'm going to live in Austria in a few weeks) but kept slipping into "si" and "grazie". What can I say, I'm just obviously so fluent in Italian now...

Over the bridge and into a different country
We decided to walk back as we had to wait a while for the bus (although I'm pretty sure it passed us on the way).  I was half expecting there to be some kind of line on  the bridge, marking the border physically so I could get one of those pictures where you stand either side of the line, half in one country half in the other. There wasn't by the way, which makes the whole two different countries thing even stranger.

And then, all too soon it was time for me to leave. We said our Goodbyes, not entirely sure when we would see each other again but promising to visit each other on our next year abroad adventures, (yes Guy you are coming to Vienna).

Strasbourg had been fun, it was a really nice city, picturesque, not toursity (just how I like it) and perfect to get me into the Christmas spirit but my weekend wasn't quite over yet though. I had to change at Basel again and having a couple of hours between my train to Milan, I decided to explore the Swiss town.

Armed with a map from the tourist office I headed towards the circled places the lady had marked for me. It was exciting, I had no idea what I would find or what the city would be like and being by myself I could go exactly where I wanted.  Her directions took me into the small but pretty centre.

Where I stumbled upon a building that belonged in a fairy tale: Basel's Rathaus (town hall).

In fact, most of the city felt like it had come straight out of fairytale. 

Especially with the Christmas markets, casting a warm glow as the light began to dim.
A crazy singing moose 

I finished my whistle-stop tour at the Münster of Basel, which was surrounded by another Christmas market. Unfortunately I couldn't actually buy anything as Switzerland uses the swiss franc and I only had euros..awkward. But it didn't matter I was just happy to wander around, soaking up the magic.

I walked back to the train station, tired but happy, satisfied with my short but lovely stop in Basel and with the whole weekend in general. I was amazed at just how many countries I had been able to visit and experience in just 3 days. France, Germany AND Switzerland! Such a jet-setter eh? But seriously that's probably the most amount of travelling I've ever done. May sound silly to those of your who did the whole gap year thing or travelled to far away lands, but I've never had that opportunity. Plus I was just a teeny bit scared. But moving to Italy has forced me to be more independant so now I just want to travel everywhere! I stare wistfully at other travel blogs, itching to book my next trip.

I've definately caught that travel bug! So here's to more adventures!