Few Christmas Markets are open on or after Christmas Eve, but at least one of those that is, is spectacular. Triberg, a small town in the heart of the Black Forest, hosts a market that burns brightly for only a few days from Christmas Day to just before New Year’s Eve.
Triberg is best known as being home to the highest waterfalls in Germany, and its Christmas Market makes them a highlight. Each evening of the market, a fire show – a fire-twirling act set to a circus-y story line – is held on a platform at the colorfully lit falls themselves.
This fest is also showier than most Christmas Markets in that it has a lineup of live music, including a great mellow cover band called Voice & Boys, plus a fireworks display at closing time. But it retains a folksiness about it, particularly with an area for visitors to huddle around bonfires (it gets chilly up in the mountains!).
Unfortunately or fortunately, the entry roads to even this small town were guarded by armed police for this event. A sign of the heightened security climate just a week after the terror attack at the Berlin Christmas Market. We are always aware of our surroundings but refuse to live in fear, so took the added security presence in stride and enjoyed the market.
To remember what may be our final visit to the Black Forest, we went into town to get ourselves a coo-coo clock and a Christmas ornament version of the traditional ladies’ hat from the Black Forest state of Baden-Württemberg: an ostentatious affair of large pom-poms (red for single ladies).
And so on the final day of the Christmas season, we say Auf Wiedersehen to German Christmas Markets and feel thankful that our last visit was to one of the most remarkable ones!
Paris is a captivating city, particularly magical at Christmas time. Amongst the standard French city sights (mopeds zipping around narrow side streets and wide chaotic boulevards; a customer waiting for her highlights to set around midnight while a couple of hair dressers smoke cigarettes and drink champagne in the salon; a shopper crossing the street in a fur coat over her shorts and patterned stockings; newly engaged couples kissing along the Seine…), this time it was the signs that stood out at me the most.
As people flock from all over the world to join Paris’s two million or so inhabitants, there are some messages that just need to be put out there for all to read. Sometimes I couldn’t tell what was crazier – the signs or what I saw some few nutty people doing.
We started off in the Catacombs, the world’s largest collection of human remains, arranged below Paris’s sewers and Metro system:
Beforehand we had read online that Catacomb staff check bags when visitors exit, to be sure that no bones have been smuggled out. (!!) I guess this isn’t a high enough tourist season for that now, as we fortunately didn’t have this grisly but apparently necessary experience. We did, however, hear many tourists asking questions that were all answered on the audio guide that was included with admission: Whose bones are these? (Parisians that had been originally buried in cemeteries – all labeled – prior to the late 1700s.) I wonder what bones these are exactly? (Skulls and femurs.) Why are they here? (The city was short on burial space in the late 1700s and had previously built an extensive tunnel system while quarrying out limestone. Two birds with one stone, so to speak.)
What are you doing here? I’d like to have asked.
As we continued on to the world famous Louvre Museum, as for any museum, it should go without saying not to touch the art:
2016: Visitors at the Louvre
1847: Four O’Clock, at the Salon by Biard
1947: In the Grand Gallerie by Leroux
iPhone 7 ad across the Louvre courtyard
Thankfully we didn’t see anyone breaking this rule here with any of the masterpieces, some of which were larger than our ever so cozy 12’x12’ Air BnB apartment. However, at the nearby Museum d’Orsay I saw a lady brushing her hand along one of the many sculptures that line the inner walkways. I guess she just had to know how it felt!
Liberty Leading the People may be one of the most famous paintings in Paris, allegorizing the French Revolution, but Panda Leading the People on this subway ad calls us to arms in the fight for the environment:
Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix
Panda leading the people
As expected, security was heightened for Midnight Mass at Notre Dame. The square before the cathedral was closed off and police officers performed a round of bag checks and metal detector swipes on visitors entering the area. Cathedral security performed a second bag search at the entrance. It was well worth the wait for organ and choir music inside the stunning Notre Dame, even standing all the way at the back.
There was a little bit of a scare at the end of communion, when a small political protest against the Vatican broke out on the altar. Difficult to see or know what was going on at the front of such a large space, many people started heading toward the exit as three protesters waved flags and shouted in French. Well prepared, police swiftly handled the disturbance in an orderly way and immediately brought the three out. Mass concluded as planned.
Here, Charlie Hebdo’s commentary on the current state of security in the wake of the recent Berlin Christmas Market terror attack:
Fyi Paris’s Christmas Markets – which seem less of a French tradition than a borrowed German one – sell vin chaud (French Glühwein or hot mulled wine), as well as French delicacies like escargot, frog legs, and oysters.
Champs-Élysées Christmas Market
Escargot & frog legs stand
We spent Christmas Day touring the Seine River on a fancy lunch cruise. Every step from meal preparation to service is, in France, carefully and elegantly carried out regardless of venue. Except maybe here:
There were no signs on our Christmas cruise ship but maybe there should have been, because we saw an American family walking off with a glass of wine and a poinsettia table decoration after we had docked. What?!
Paris, I hope people treat you right in 2017! Joyeaux Noël!
Watch for pickpockets in the elevator!
View from the top
(Love Paris? Here’s my Paris Tribute from my first trip last year.)
Today the lighting of the first of four candles in a wreath marks the first Sunday of Advent, the official opening of the Christmas season. We recently prepped for the season with a visit to Seiffen in the Erzgebirge, a mountain range far east in Germany near the Czech border.
Even before Advent, the quaint town of woodworking workshops was packed with tourists from all over Germany and beyond, as the finely handcrafted Christmas decorations are sold all over the world. You may recognize, for example, the Christmas pyramids, layered wooden towers with a circle of small paddles at the top that spin when candles are lit underneath. Particular to eastern Germany are also incense burners in the shape of men with pipes, and Schwibbogen: arched candleholders decorated with figures or silhouettes.
The boxy Seiffen church is a popular motif among the carved wooden items, as are woodpeckers, which must be abundant in the densely forested mountain range.
It was fascinating to explore one of the workshops in Seiffen to get an appreciation for the local trade. While more work is now accomplished with machines, there is still quite a bit done by hand or a combination of both. The man we saw chiseling into small wooden cones spun by a machine could churn out a perfectly formed pine tree in less than a minute. Each woodworker we saw was likewise concentrated on one meticulous and monotonous task: drilling a hole in the shoe pieces for the nutcrackers, painting eyes on angel figurines, gluing beards onto tiny dwarves. These woodworms complete a three-year apprenticeship program to become licensed woodworkers, a profession that nearly every family in this small but world-famous town seems to be involved in.
And, of course, these industrious little elves also make toys in addition to seasonal ornamentation. We visited the Seiffen Toy Museum for a further look into the evolution of crafted wooden toys. One display showed how wooden animal figures can be sliced off like cookies on a roll after the outline is carved around a cross section from a log. Various interactive toys and games interspersed among those behind glass keep the museum engaging for visitors of all ages.
The sleepy but studious town of Seiffen seemed to resemble its own candlelit wooden house miniatures more and more as the day wore on and turned to early night. As a memento of our time here, we bought our own Schwibbogen with a fastidiously adorned Christmas bakery set among a silhouetted forest scene, complete with two of its own tiny Schwibbogen decorations.
Looking forward to another season of Christmas markets, newly underway. Frohes Fest! / Happy Holidays!