No, Strasbourg is not in Germany. Once you get near Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), all the streets seem to alternate between German, French, and Dutch names. I really wanted to visit Frankfurt or Munich but there just wasn’t enough money left in the coffers so I cheated and went to Strasbourg, which is in the Alsace region of France – as German as you can get without actually crossing the French border. Luckily, it is also the “Capitale de Noel” or Christmas Capital. Unluckily, I hadn’t the foresight to factor in increased levels of homesickness during the holiday season when I decided to be cool and travel solo for a weekend. Thanksgiving had just passed and I was hitting that three-months-away-from-everything-familiar mark. And you know what cures that, right? Three days in an even more unfamiliar city on the weekend that every European family and couple decides to go out and be merry together at the biggest festival celebrating the love of togetherness and friendship.
But no, all in all, my first experience traveling alone was relaxing and beautiful. Though I’m beginning to think that Europe is just beautiful everywhere. You can walk around a corner and oops, I ran into this 12th century perfectly preserved and still in use Gothic cathedral, my bad. Case in point:
The entire thing – inside, outside – still overpowers my senses today in the same way it has for centuries. Let that sink in a second; before the world wars, before the founding of the United States, before the discovery of the New World, these walls already stood. Countless people throughout all that time have tilted their heads back at distressing angles for unforgettably long pauses to take in the ceiling’s criss-crossing beams, the exact same way I did now. How many sick or dying have these candles burned for? How many echoes of whispered prayers have swept through the halls? Some human behaviors never change, such as the need for comfort from others, and hope, and community.
Traveling alone gave me much more time to be with my thoughts. I realized I’m a sappy romantic, I can try to hide it behind this resting bitch face and monotone voice but just one solitary walk along a cobblestone river bank and I turn into fricking William Blake.
And trust me, Strasbourg has a lot of rivers.
And they don’t kid around when they say Christmas Capital of the world. Throughout the city center, there were probably five or six huge Christmas markets spread out and all with a specific theme. In my opinion, the theme of Christmas markets is food. I cannot tell you if I tried how many bretzels and manalas I ate over a three day period. This is what a manala/mannele (an Alsatian brioche in the shape of St. Nicolas) looks like:
Yes, raisins for eyes and buttons!! History and recipe here.
I definitely plan on traveling solo again but ecoutez, if you want a fun, social time choose your hostel wisely. The hostel I stayed in was not really geared towards youth as much as for group tours of retired elderly couples… Nonetheless, still met a Canadian woman I shared the room with who traveled alone in Europe for three months at the age of seventy. So all you wanderlust kids scared of being alone in a strange new world: if she can do it, you can too.