Thursday, 8 December 2016

Christmas Market in Colmar: A Quick Visit to the Covered Market of Colmar

After we visited Petite Venice, we came upon the covered permanent market in Colmar. Going to the market is always a favorite thing for us to do when we are traveling.
Petite Venise

This structure was built in 1865, with a metal framework and bricks. This market hall is well laid out, with wide aisles, and is kept very clean.

There are about 20 merchants selling everything - meats, fish, poultry  cheese, fruits, vegetable, deli meats, pastry, breads, condiments - that you would look to buy in a French market. In the corner locations, there is a little cafe or a bar for a short stop, to have a cup or coffee or a beer. 

Organic dairy products from the local farms

This holiday season, there are a few stalls dedicated to carrying Christmas decorating essentials and gift packages.

A quick stop here was all we needed to have a break. We  picked up some goodies and beverages for our afternoon snacks, and continued on our Christmas market tour.

Covered Market of Colmar
13 rue des Ecoles
68000 Colmar

Le Comptoir de Mathilde, Chocolaterie - Epicerie Fine, Colmar

Le Comptoir de Mathilde - a chocolaterie and epicerie fine, carries products that are made from recipes using artisanal methods, showcasing French gastronomy in little packages or in bulk. Relatively new, as it was just started in 2007 by Richard Fournier - the founding president, looking at the  variety of products on their shelves is like being in a gastronomic paradise of epicurean delicacies and fine chocolates. 

Quality ingredients - no GMOs - are used to make dark chocolates with, at least, 70% of rich cocoa (which, by the way is a brain-food); premium spreads with 30% to 50% of hazelnut (no palm oil) ; condiments - mustards, oils and vinegars, salt and pepper; and specialty alcohol - wine and liquor.

As their retailing business grew in the last couple of years, their boutique-type concept stores carrying their same name have sprung up in France in the south-east, and the rest of the world with franchise-shops. Their storefronts are designed in vintage style, with the use of 100% reclaimed wood.

I came across this store when I went to the Christmas Market in Colmar, France.
At the Colmar location

It is quite an experience to enter this place - the eyes feast on many things that awaken the appetite, complemented by the aromatic scents that fill the air. There is free-sampling of featured items - a good way to get to know their products. The beautiful packaging and the product display make for an effective marketing presentation on the spot. I was sold!

Confiture (fruit jam) and Advent calendars on display

 Here is a gourmet gift suggestion for 54 euros, 
or you can also create your own.

Different types of vinegar, wine and liqueur sold in bulk,  or bottled; tapenades, baba au rhum - their house specialty 
Confiserie ( Confectionery)
Candy pops and fruit bars

Chocolates - plain or with added fruit bits or nuts, 
in different sizes

Olives enrobed in chocolate

Salts and peppers

Bottled Olive oils and olive oils sold in bulk

Vintage-designed delivery trucks - metal containers to package goodies of your choice for gift-giving 

There are numerous varieties of each product to choose from.  I just gave you an idea of what the store has to offer. Especially, at Christmastime or on any other occasion, they make excellent gifts. But, of course, there is not need to have a special occasion to enjoy these culinary delights. For, after all, everyday is to be celebrated with good eats.

Just in case you want to try your hand at making one of these, like confiture , here is a site to make jams with just a fruit-and-sugar combination, the French way. 

Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo, Puglia, Italy

From San Giovanni Rotondo - after visiting St. Padre Pio, we found ourselves in Puglia - in a church that was built to find a resting place for a miraculous history - the intercession of  St. Michael the Archangel, in a series of apparitions. We  headed to the Church of St. Michael Archangel under snowy, stormy weather conditions.
The snowfall along the way did not diminish our interest to get to this place. When we finally got dropped off here, the wind was howling and the temperature had dropped down to very cold levels.
This looks like another gothic church, but there is a unique feature to discover - a "sacred cave." In the Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel, it is said that  he had appeared here three times: in the years 490. 492, and 1656.

Also known as Monte Sant’Angelo or the Shrine of St. Michael the Archangel, it is located in the hills of Promontorio de Gargano (Gargono Promontory) in the east coast of the south-central part of Italy, right by the heel strap of the boot-like shaped peninsula. 

In the courtyard, to the right is a flight of stones leading down to the church where the cave, where St. Michael had appeared in, which has been made a main part of this church.

During the early hundred years in our calendar history, the Roman cult of Mithraism – the shedding of the bull’s blood in caves, was in practice. According to the traditional story, in 490, there was a noble man – Elvio Emmanuele, who was searching for the best bull he had in his herd that had gone missing. As he went around, he found the bull kneeling in a cave. Since it was difficult for him to approach the bull, he shot an arrow towards the bull, but the trajectory of the arrow changed and hit him, instead. Surprised and bewildered, he went to see his local bishop who had asked him to pray and fast for three days. After three days, St. Michael appeared to the bishop and identified himself  “ I am Michael the Archangel and am always in the presence of God. I chose the cave that is sacred to me. Where the rocks open widely, the sins of men will be pardoned. What is asked here in prayer will be granted. Therefore, go up to the mountain cave and dedicate it to the Christian God.” Thinking that he may be going mad, the bishop did not do anything about his visionary encounter.

After two years, there was a town under  the bishop’s diocese – Siponto, that was attacked by the pagans from the city of Odoacre. Once again, Michael the Archangel appeared before the bishop with a promise to save the beleaguered city. Soon after, a big storm visited Odoacre,  and sidetracked her people. This was how the city of Siponto got saved. Greatful, the bishop led a thanksgiving procession to the mountain cave, but dared not to enter it. Was it skepticism or fear that kept him from entering the holy cave?
Now a grotto, this is the cave. With an altar set in and pews for the pilgrims, masses are held here regularly.

Still at another time, the archangel gave the bishop one more visit, to explain “It is not necessary that you dedicate this church that I have consecrated in my presence. Enter and pray with my assistance and celebrate the Sacrifice. I will show you how I consecrated this place.” As the bishop, finally, entered the cave, there was an altar covered with a red mantle, “a crystal cross and a footprint on the ground.” This was enough to convince the bishop that he was not seeing nor hearing things and soon commissioned a church to be built by the cave’s entrance, which became known as the Celestial Basilica.

There are still some remnants of frescoes that used to decorate the ceilings and walls of the church.

We were back in the car and heading, yet, to another church...
when the sun peeked in. 

Just like a painting, this town suddenly appeared as we were driving downhill. 
And, then we were at sea level, and driving towards another church where a Eucharistic miracle had taken place.

September 29 is the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. His name signifies "Who is always with God." In the Christian religion, he is the character who led the good angels in the heavenly battle, triumphantly, against the evil forces of hell.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness 
and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, 
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Fetes de Lumières 2016, Lyon, France

December 8th is a very special day in Lyon, France. It is marked with a grand and elaborate celebration that goes on for four days - Fête des lumières (Festival of lights). Just what is this all about? 

Lyon was visited by the plague in 1643. On September 8th, a promise was made by the local officials to honor Mary if the town were to be spared. Grateful that their prayers were answered, it became a tradition for the people to make a solemn procession - to light candles and to make their prayerful offerings of thanksgiving to Mary, at the Chapelle de Notre Dame de Fourvière (which  was replaced by the Basilica of  Fourvière in 1872)  every 8th of December, on which date the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated. It was on this date, December 8, 1643, that the city of Lyon was consecrated to the Virgin Mary. 

In 1852, the statue of the Virgin Mary was erected. The golden statue of the Virgin Mary is atop the tower on the hill that was built next to the basilica, overlooking the city of Lyon, below.
Our Lady's statue was the work of the renowned sculpture, Joseph-Hugues Fabisch, who was commissioned by a group of famous Lyonnais Catholics. It was turned over to Maurice Cardinal de Donald in 1850. In the original schedule, the statue was to be inaugurated on September 8, 1852, on the day that the Nativity of the Virgin is celebrated. But that was not to be as there was flooding in the Saône River.
The Saône River

 From the surrounding areas on both sides of the basilica, there is a view of the city below, of Lyon , on both sides of the river.

Thus, the new inauguration date was moved to December 8, 1852. As this was already a day of celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary, on this special occasion  - the inauguration - there was added preparation in place that included the use of flares and fireworks, marching bands on the streets, Catholics to light up candles on their balconies or by their windows,  for the launching of the statue on top of Fourvière Hill. But as the day came, a storm greeted Lyon in the morning. When cancelation of this inauguration was being contemplated, the skies soon cleared up and the people of Lyon lit their candles by their windows and came out into the streets, with flares to illuminate the statue and the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière in the evening hours. The celebration went on into the late night, as the people cheered "Vive Marie!" and sang hymns. 

And so, this was the beginning of the tradition of Fetes de Lumières, which continues up to now. Scheduled for 4 days, from December 8 to 11, this year's celebration is scaled down with added security measures at Place Bellecour. The Festival of Lights program is composed of professionally run performances put up by the city council. Click on this link for an idea of what to expect.

The people from Lyon continue to participate in this celebration in their traditional way. Aside from getting their Christmas decorations ready, the families set out their collections of stained glass or colored glass with votive candles - lumignons - to burn on their windowsills on December 8th.

As the city of Lyon continues to give thanks to the Virgin Mary, 3 to 4 million people are expected to join in this celebration.
The Basilica of Fourvière 

On this day, let us join the people of Lyon and give thanks to our dear Virgin Mary for being our dear Mother in Heaven who watches over us.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Strasbourg - The Christmas Capital of France

Welcome to Strasbourg - the "Christmas Capital of France" in the Alsace region, in the Haut Rhin territory. Alsace is a historical region located in the eastern border of France, and on the west bank of the Upper Rhine to Germany and Switzerland. 

A quick observation one gets about Strasbourg is that there is so much in common or influences between France and Germany, in this border-town region. Her history goes back to the time when two brothers made an agreement, as described in the "Oaths of Strasbourg," which gave birth to the two countries of France and Germany. There was a mutual pact of allegiance - an oath of solidarity - between Louis the German who was the ruler of East Francia, and his half-brother Charles the Bald - ruler of West Francia, that was made in February 842, in opposition to their eldest brother, Lothair, who was the nominal ruler of the Carolingian Empire Frankish Kingdoms and the Holy Roman Empire.

Subsequently, Strasbourg and other parts of the Alsace region have been made part of France and Germany, back and forth, through the centuries in the little, local wars;.Strasbourg was annexed back to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War in 1817; and after World War I ended, it was given back to France after the allied forces won and Germany surrendered in 1944.

Going to the Christmas market in Strasbourg, or any other in the Alsace region, takes planning. As early as September, I had purchased the roundtrip train tickets from SNCF and booked lodging with airBnB. This way, I was able to get substantial savings as the train tickets were 70 euros, roundtrip, first class with a senior discount, weekend card. With airBnB, the offerings get lean the closer you get to the month of December. 
The Strasbourg Christmas Market 2016
November 25 to December 31, 2016

The first Christmas market was held in 1570 in Strasbourg. It was called Christkindelsmärik - Market of the Infant Jesus. The tradition of celebrating an Alsatian Christmas continues up to now as it celebrates its 446th year in 2016.
The Office of Tourism - the first stop to get information and maps about Strasbourg and the Christmas market locations. With more that 300 hundred stalls to visit in the historic, city center, this is one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe where you can find regional food products and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations and crafts in a beautiful holiday atmosphere.

Place Broglie
The historic "Christkindelmärik" - Market of the Infant Christ, first, started here in 1570. Here you can watch craftsmen at work as they make their crafts, showcased every week at the association of craftmen's special stand.

Place de la Cathédrale 
Aside from the market, the Grand Nativity is set up inside the cathedral.

Place du Marché-aux-poissons and on the terrasse of the Palais Rohan 
Taste the delicious food and wine made by local bakers, winegrowers of the Couronne d'Or, Alsace foie gras producers, the Tribu des Gourmets d'Alsace and local beer brewers, and  Bredele Christmas biscuits.

Place Kléber
With more than 100 charities, humanitarian organisations and service clubs, you are invited to help those in need, at the Sharing Village, Place Kléber.
Place Gutenberg
A new addition to the Strasbourg Christmas Market is the Portuguese village, offering a wide range of delicious rural produce, such as charcuterie, wine, craft beers, bolo rei, pasteis de nata, traditional cakes made for the Idanha-a-NovaFestival.  Aside from food and spirits, you can find typical Portuguese crafts  - embroidery from Castelo Branco, traditional drums and guitars, filigree jewellery and ceramics.
Here is a bit of history as to how this became the Market of the Infant Jesus.
At the Strasbourg Christmas Market
The Great Christmas Tree

Every year, there is a giant, decorated Christmas tree that is placed at the city center in Place Kléber. This year, the tree rises to a height of about 30 meters. 

A plea for help to lend a hand to Père Noël (Father Christmas) to take care of families in need this winter.

These people are among the 2 million visitors expected to come this year.

Lit-up buildings around Place Kléber.

Alsatian specialties at the market

FOOD: Have a gastronomic trip as you walk along the market with the food offerings by the different food stalls. Choucroute - their version of the sauerkraut (sour cabbage), is served with an order of Strasbourg sausage and other pork products. Add to that some roasted potatoes or steamed dumplings and you get a whole meal.

Foie gras (pate of duck or goose liver) made here started in the 17th century. Have a taste of it with some baguette and fig confiture (jam) - oh, so good!

The Alsace region is also known for their fruit juices, mineral water and wine. A recipe of coq au Riesling is their version of coq au vin - a French dish of chicken braised with garlic, typically with red wine, some lardon and mushrooms.

WINE: Alsatian wines have a Germanic influence. The region produces, mostly white wine, notable of which are the dry rieslings, like the Gewürztraminer - a sweet, white wine with the aroma of lychees, while the dry version may also have some additional floral and fruit aromatic scents and flavors. 
BEER: In France, Alsace is counted as the major beer-producing region where the breweriesin (breweries) are located near Strasbourg. Among the branded beers produced here are Fischer, Karlsbräu, Kronenbourg, and Heineken InternationalSchnapps, too, but with the decline in the consumption of strong-alcoholic beverages, production is decreasing.
Baked Specialties

Kugelhopf is a coffee bread baked in a fluted, circular mold, dusted with powdered sugar. It is usually served with a cup of coffee in the morning, with  tea in the afternoon, for in-between-meals snacking,  with wine or beer in the evening. It is also used as the bread in sandwich preparations.

Bredele biscuits  are bite-size cookies, in different shapes and sizes, decorations and flavors. The predominant ingredients used are almond, honey, and lemon.

A partial view of the Cathedral of Strasbourg 

Christmas market by the Cathedral of Strasbourg

Scenes from the 1907 Nativity are staged at the southern aisle of the cathedral, composed of the events leading up to the celebration of the birth of the Infant Jesus. 
The Annunciation 

The Visitation

 The Nativity

 The Adoration of the Magi

The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple
Strasbourg, dressed in Christmas finery

Alsatian arts and crafts:
Stuffed toys with Alsatian characters

Ceramic  timber-framed houses for designing your own Alsatian Christmas village

 Alsatian art of paper cutting

 The wooden Christmas tree pyramids and winter scenes are from the holiday traditions of Germany. 

Gingerbread houses, gingerbread man and trains made with cookie and candy designs are inspired by the witches' house in Hansel and Gretel, a German fairytale published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812
Timber-Framed Architecture 
This type of architecture dates back to the medieval times. The structures that have survived here in Strasbourg lend a traditional, warm background to the Christmas market.
An intricate border design in the timber-frame architectural style

Festive lighting in the city streets:

Beautifully decorated storefronts, specialty stores:
This is the most beautifully decorated street.

Foie gras, anyone?

A bread store

Dried meats and sausages from the Alsace region

Alsatian Christmas store

Gift ideas for the holiday season, all made with the Alsatian motifs and designs

Pain d'Epices (spice bread) is a gateau (French cake or quick bread) made using rye flour, honey, and spices. In today's formulation, anis seed and cinnamon may be incorporated.

Charcuterie (Delicatessen)
In the decoration above the window display are two legs of ham, as the focal point.

Maison Alsacienne de Biscuiterie (House of Alsatian Biscuits)
These macarons arranged in the form of a Christmas tree  is so tempting and inviting.

Patisserie - a pastry shop
The holiday scene above the storefront includes a patissier 
(pastry chef) resting on his sleigh. 

A store specializing in dietary products and supplements

In the Christmas display above, it looks like Santa is experiencing a warm Christmas day.

Visiting the Strasbourg Christmas Market for a day entails a lot of walking. Put on your best walking shoes, with added shoe pads, to keep your feet happy.

If ever you plan to visit Strasbourg, coming during the Christmas season would be the best time to do it. But, be sure to come prepared for the occasional blustery winds that come with the cold, winter temperatures.

Next on our itinerary is a side trip to the Christmas market in Colmar. That is accessible by car , by bus, or by train.  In our case, we bought  round trip SNCF train tickets from Strasbourg to Collar and back. There is a discount for seniors (25% off) and for students with IDs. 

Today, Strasbourg remains as an important crossroad in Europe. The Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament are all located here.

Related article:
Strasbourg Christmas Market : La Féerie de Noël, A Christmas Ornament Boutique


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