Wednesday, January 6, 2016

To Market, To Market: Christmas in Europe

A skier's Christmas tree in Colmar
Gingerbread is available in all the markets. 
Christmas is a special time of year for me.  I love all the traditions that my family has built up around the season–and, believe me, we have many! Certainly, Canada is the place I want to spend Christmas day, but the weeks prior to it are pretty fantastic you happen to live in Europe. The lights in every city and the charm of street markets are very special indeed.
Megan and Mara pose in front of the Christmas tree in Place des Halles in Neuchâtel
To be honest, I am just a little obsessed with the Christmas markets which pop up in cities around Europe as soon as the Advent season begins. Last year, I traveled to Germany, France and several places here in Switzerland to enjoy the market atmosphere and to shop for gifts. This year, I managed to see even more destinations, combining my travel for work and leisure with time spent in front of a wooden kiosk.
Festive Carnaby Street
When I was in London on November 22nd, I did not expect the festive atmosphere that I encountered in the city, but, by the time of my visit, decorations were festooned everywhere and a little market had popped up in front of St. James Church in Picadilly. Here I bought the first of many stocking stuffers for my family back home.
One of the booths in the little market in London
On a Sunday a week later, I traveled 30 minutes to Bern to visit the two market locations there. The larger market in the Weisenhausplatz was merely a variation of the one that stands in this area year-round. It was made more seasonal with the addition of some lights and evergreens, and, of course, since Bern is German speaking, vendors selling sausages and beer.
Entering the Weisenhausplatz

Crowds at Munsterplatz.
The other Bernese market next to the Munster was the place to acquire unique gifs made by local artisans, and more sausages and beer, of course. It was very crowded that day.
In Vienna, even the trees are decorated
In early December, as I documented in my last blog post, I traveled to Vienna with the NESDA team. On our walking tour around the city, we encountered markets in four locations.  Each had its own charm. We lingered in the one near Stephenplatz at lunchtime that day and shopped for about a half hour in the market in Maria-Theresien Platz. The next morning we spent an hour and half in the largest one in front of the Rathaus, when our hosts took us there by bus.
Kiosks at Maria-Theresien Platz
We all enjoyed exploring the Viennese markets. I picked up more stocking stuffers and a parchment paper journal for my "Secret Santa" recipient. I love these homemade gifts–good thing, since my "Secret Santa" (Terry) bought me the same thing.
Night-time Viennese streetscape at Christmas
More Viennese lights
In December, Vienna's pedestrian main streets are a feast for the eyes. Brightly lit decorations abound. I particularly loved exploring the city after dark. It put me in the Christmas spirit, for sure.
Sundried tomato products on sale in Neuchâtel
I picked up some Titanium jewelry here
Back in Neuchâtel the following week, I decided after school one day to visit the city's indoor Christmas Market, a set up very much like Toronto's One-of-a-Kind Show, but on a much smaller scale. Here the goods are from towns close by. In fact, I had made a trip to one of those outlying communities a few weeks beforehand to shop for treasures in a private home. There I ended up buying items made by one of the women who houses two of our students: these were gifts to myself.

Gifts for myself
On the final Sunday in Switzerland before we all headed home for the holidays, a group of staff traveled to Colmar in the Alsace region of France. This day was the highlight of my Christmas shopping experience.
Jen, Terry, Adam and Bill at the Colmar train station. Patti and Jacob were with us too.

Decorations along the canal in Colmar

Horse ride at the Children's Market
The city has five market areas, and on this day, we were blessed with beautiful sunshine as we made our way through the town. As is common in the region, houses were often cleverly decorated too.
Beautiful Colmar
A decorated house
Crowds gather
It was fun to share the day with my colleagues, as we stopped for lunch in the "La Petite Venise" district for a local specialty, the Tarte Flambée, before tackling the important business of shopping.
Cups and pots for sale
The Alsace region is known for its markets so it was no surprise that these ones were the best I experienced this year. They were beautiful in both the daytime and the evening when the entire town is illuminated.
Another decorated house
The Children's Market at night.
In my final week of classes, I could not resist going to even more markets. (I really am obsessed.) I had heard that the one in Montreux was the best in the country, so I hopped onto a train after my last class on Monday in order to spend an hour there.
A glass-blower's products for sale in Montreux. The man himself is in the middle of the photo.
The beauty of this market is in its setting on Lake Geneva, and its children's playground. It does not cover a large area but it is very charming.
Kiosks in front of the lake

The children's area - a small park.
I got a kick out of two kiosks in particular, both run by Montrealers: one sold maple syrup products while the other offered poutine. Apparently Ti-Jean and his friend come to Montreux for a few weeks every year to give the Swiss a taste of French-Canadian culture.

No business for Ti-Jean at this moment.
On the Wednesday, I squeezed in another market visit, this time to nearby Solothurn. It was the smallest of the ones I saw. Still, I found some more stocking stuffers here as well.
Fires warm up the customers in Solothurn
Finally, as I was heading to the airport the night before my return to Canada for the school holiday, I visited the Zurich market housed in the train station. It is notable for its beautiful tree adorned with Swarovski Crystals and colourful lights on the brick walls. Apparently it is the most expensive Christmas market in the world. All I spent my money on though was some raclette, a Swiss cheese and potato dish.
Crystal tinsel on the tree

The "Welcome" sign is part of the light show on the wall of the train station in Zurich
By the time I boarded my flight home on Friday morning, I had a suitcase full of gifts for family and friends. I was ready for Christmas Day!

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