To expedite the writing process, we have decided to combine the months of November and December, primarily because our time spent in Alsace was so interwoven into exploring Germany, and we literally didn’t go ANYWHERE in December. But also because I’m lazy and want to freaking catch up on our months.
November was spent in Strasbourg, France, in the Alsatian region. I won’t lie, for the month of November, Strasbourg is pretty dead. First, 95% of French businesses close in the middle of the day for a 2-hour lunch (I know, right?), but it was also this weird time after the wine harvests and fall festivals and before the Christmas market. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful city, caught between French and German influences. For the first two weeks, we explored the city, taking very brisk strolls along the river, exploring the Old Town, consuming delicious wine and eating way too much bread and pasta. Over the week of Thanksgiving, we rented a car to further explore the outer region. Alsace’s wine country is known for their crisp and slightly sweet whites, and they did not disappoint. Cruising through the vineyards with autumn leaves still clinging to the vines, hopping from tiny village to tiny village in search of wineries (that were actually open), it is a beautiful country. The Friday after Thanksgiving, their Christmas Market opened (Strasbourg is known as the Capitale de Noël - the Christmas Capital), and we were like "Oh here are all the people!"
We also ventured to Germany quite a bit, hiking the Black Forest (Grimm Brothers!) and along the Rhine. I’m pretty sure the main reason Travis was so up for all the hiking was it gave him a chance to whizz his way down the Autobahn.
Since nowhere else in the world celebrates Thanksgiving, we decided to head to Baden Baden, Germany, for a luxurious day of relaxing in the old Roman bath houses, complete with hot tubs and massages. Above Baden Baden is the Hohenbaden Old Castle, where you can explore and climb all through the castle ruins to view the city below. No railings, no entry fee, no guard watching each and every person so someone doesn’t do something stupid, get hurt and sue the place. Oh those no-nonsense Germans; what responsibility you take for yourselves! We later Facetimed with family and cooked a Thanksgiving feast. All in all, quite the successful holiday.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, we also decided to make the 3-hour trek down to Switzerland to get some viewing time in the Bernese Alps. To be honest, it's hard to describe how big they are. Majestic, huge, silencing, unreal. It's fueled us to plan a 4-day hiking trip this summer.
In December, we had a house and dog-sitting gig in a tiny (and I mean tiny) German town, Schwäbisch Hall, an hour out of Stuttgart. We didn’t have a car, and the trains were too long to get anywhere for a day trip, so we literally did not go ANYWHERE for the entire month. Disappointing at first, as we were supposed to have a car and explore all through Bavaria, but it actually gave us a chance to relax, refocus and prepare for the next year. The town itself is adorable and magical, and had an awesome Christmas market, where we indulged on glühwein and bratwurst and the general merriment of the Christmas season. We also visited what I can only describe as the most unsettling museum I've ever been to of marionette puppets, as well as the strangely best Modern Art Museum collection we’ve seen to date (Wasser, Wolken, Wind was the exhibition they were featuring). We celebrated Christmas with a delicious homemade meal and all our favorite Christmas movies (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation drinking game while facetiming with the family - it's tradition!). We then rang in the New Year in a modest fashion, with Champagne and fireworks in the town square, and was treated to snow on our last day.
We also spent a few days in Stuttgart, exploring the city, trying the German craft beers and climbing up to Birkenhopf just south of the city. Birkenhopf is literally called "Rubble Hill," and is where they transported the city's rubble from World War II. It's a unique kind of memorial, and it has a beautiful view of Stuttgart, which is in such a low valley, it looks like it's in the bottom of a bowl.
Overall, the Alsace region of France and southwestern region of Germany was exactly how we imagined it - a beautiful mix of fairytale magic, beautiful landscapes, wonderful wine and awesome markets. For the Christmas season, it was exactly what we were looking for.
But now, we're pretty happy to be getting out of the cold ;)