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Effervescent storyteller.

Welcome to My Modern Diary, an electronic journal filled with tales of nostalgic cuisine, wistful wanderings & personal recollections by Sarah Orman.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg

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It's been just over two months since our overnight stay in Strasbourg, France. Re-living the tales of colorful half-timber houses, cobblestone lanes and exuberant festive decor as I wrote this blog post was nostalgically magical and although spring is right around the corner, I can't help but be a teeny tiny bit sad to say goodbye to the wonder winter brings.

We arrived in France's most Eastern city around 3 PM on December 17th after a scenic and comfortable ride on the TGV from Paris. A short taxi ride from the train station took us to meet our Airbnb host, Camille, in front of a quaint boulangerie a couple of blocks from her secluded apartment. After dragging our suitcases along the pedestrianized cobblestones and up two flights of stairs tucked away down a dark alley and behind an old wooden door, we finally found ourselves getting acquainted with our home away from home for the evening.

Despite our struggle to communicate in "Frenglish" {a broken mix of French and English} Camille was extremely kind and sweet. She took some time to show Erkan and I around her apartment, pointing out the freshly pressed apple juice and pastries she had picked-up for us on the kitchen counter. A brief glance at a local map with her and she was gone, thanking us for choosing her home and insisting that we contact her if we had any questions.

A brief sit down followed by a quick glance at the map by ourselves and we agreed that we would head towards the cathedral, a short 10 minute walk from our apartment. With dusk beginning to settle on the city, we wrapped-up warm and headed out to begin exploring.

After zig-zagging through one or two side streets, it wasn't long before we were surrounded by throngs of locals and tourists alike, submersing in the magic of Christmas that the picture-perfect old town of Strasbourg is famed for. It was at the base of the glowing Gothic cathedral we found our first Marché de Noël.

If you followed any of our Christmas 2014 travels {Vienna and Salzburg} you surely know that I am a huge fan of Christmas markets, especially in Europe. There is something so magical about sipping a mug of steaming mulled wine from a tiny log cabin while being surrounded by festive lights, joyful music and excitable people, their faces aglow as they too enjoy the whole encounter. Over the years my husband and I have had the pleasure of visiting Christmas markets in Scotland, Austria, Iceland and now France. In every city we have been genuinely captivated by the localisms that each region has managed to embody in the experience, and of course Strasbourg was no exception.

As we meandered through the quaint wooden stalls, the cathedral towering above into the night sky and the half timber houses completing the picturesque backdrop, I couldn't help but squeal with delight {this is not uncommon when I'm super happy}. The cool evening air was fragrant with the scent of "vin chaud" and at every other cabin, Alsatian treats from sizzling sausages with choucroute to fresh bretzels dusted liberally in sugar tempted our taste buds.

At each turn there were brightly-lit windows welcoming shoppers inside and the facade of every building was outrageously adorned with whimsical Christmas decorations, each shop-owner clearly competing to out-do his neighbors efforts. We wandered without purpose or direction, taken down inviting side streets with twinkling fairy lights strung high above, pausing to admire homes and businesses that looked as though Christmas had literally thrown-up all over them. The city of Strasbourg was pulsing and vibrating with Christmas cheer, it was merely impossible to take it all in.

With approximately 300 wood chalets over 11 Marché de Noëls, there was initially an overwhelming anxiety to see and experience everything Strasbourg has to offer during the holidays, however, the joy of this charming European city is that it is not particularly large. Divided by the river Ill and a series of locks, channels and tributaries, the picturesque old town is no more than 1500 square meters. What's more, during the festive period, each Christmas market seems to naturally progress to the next, making covering all of the must-see sights and attractions relatively easy.

From the cathedral, we made our way towards Strasbourg's central square, the Place de Kleber. We wandered slowly, stopping to admire stalls brimming with local fair and artisan treats. There were vendors selling a delicious array of jams and jellies, giant wheels of ripe Munster cheese and sweet brioche bread studded with raisins and almonds known as "Kouglof" were piled high on display.

On reaching the Place de Kleber, we paused to admire the humongous Christmas tree cut from the nearby Vosges forest and the poignant memorial to those who lost their lives in Paris at the hands of terrorists just weeks before our trip.

Back in the thick of a Marché de Noël soon after, we stopped to share a bag of hot roasted chestnuts before continuing our carefree jaunt through the city towards the historic quarter of Strasbourg; Petite France. Here the streets narrowed and the abundant waterways wound their way through the beautiful black and white half timber houses.

After much exploring, it was in a small square adjacent to the river and a quintessentially Alsatian building constructed in 1572 known as the "Maison des Tanneurs" when we finally succumbed to the charm of the steaming "vin chaud" cauldron while watching a small group of carol singers. We couldn't have picked a finer place to pause and enjoy the moment.

After a few glasses of warm mulled wine, the bag of roasted chestnuts was beginning to wear off. Hungry for some substantial food, we set out to find a suitable spot for dinner.

Up and down Strasbourg's side streets we searched, passing-by condensation-covered windows and occasional swinging doors, the lively buzz of the kitchen and the excitable chatter echoing for a brief moment as a patron exited an establishment. So many small "winstubs" and restaurants to choose from, yet everywhere seemed to be fully committed for the evening.

In need of a bathroom break and an opportunity to rest one's weary legs, we stopped at a small bar filled with locals to catch our breath and figure out a plan. Relieved to use finally use the restroom and to take a load off, we made ourselves comfortable and ordered two glasses of Riesling {when in Alsace, right?} A local tipple no more than 5 Euros a glass, it was surprisingly good and very much unlike the sweet and unpalatable wine of the same grape just across the border.

As we sat back and relaxed a little with our wine, we began to pay closer attention to the paraphernalia decorating every inch of our pit-stop. Frames filled with dried butterflies and beetles hung on the stone pillar opposite our table and an impressive collection of small mammal skulls were neatly displayed on the tiny window ledge behind us. Behind a table of two young couples playing chess there was a notable array of taxidermy mounted to the wall and on the ceiling above us, two giant snake skins dwarfed the skeleton of a horned animal I couldn't identify. For approximately 15 minutes we both excitedly surveyed the space, tapping one another and pointing out a new discovery every few seconds.

After chatting a little to a young girl sat reading a book at the table next to us and finishing our wine, we said "bonsoir" and left to find a place for dinner. We decided to head to one of the first restaurants we'd seen back at the cobblestone square where we'd watched the carol singers. The wait list was long, however, it wasn't difficult to keep ourselves entertained.

Opting to enjoy another beverage or two before our table was ready, we visited a bar around the corner. The place was small yet open and inviting. The room was painted a lively red, which glowed in the flickering candlelight and an eclectic mix of art work graced the walls around us. We sat at a table for two in a snug corner by the large glass window facing the street and ordered two glasses of Riesling. We quietly watched the world go by while enjoying yet another cost-effective glass of local fair : )

By 10pm, we were ready for some food. Dinner was at a funky spot called "La Corde á Linge" which literally translates to "clothes line." At a small wooden table for two underneath a real clothes line sporting the occasional white linen neatly hung with wooden pegs, we enjoyed a delicious meal of foie gras, wild mushroom spâtzle and pear and spéculoos crumble. It was a delicious conclusion to our evening in Strasbourg.

The following morning we were up with the sun to enjoy the city in natural daylight. With hot chocolate and pastries in hand, we leisurely wandered through the old town once more, pausing to watch a boat pass through one of the city's original locks. The sky was bright blue and the sunshine was glorious.

After a couple of hours it was time to head back to the apartment to gather our belongings. Our whirlwind visit was over. We said goodbye to Strasbourg as we headed for the airport to collect our rental car; it was time to continue our adventure : )

Homemade pasta dough

Homemade pasta dough

A Mother's Day gift

A Mother's Day gift