The fêtes, the fêtes, the fêtes! Here this means St. Nicholas, Noël, New Years, and Epiphany. They are finally over. Well, except for the unofficial fête which starts January 2nd, known as "Les Soldes" (The Sales.) This is the relatively familiar-to-most-occidental-nations orgy of post-Christmas-discount-shopping. We were out for a walk on the 2nd of January in downtown Liège, and it was frightening how many people seemed to be squished into one of my favourite shoe-stores. I did notice from the window however that the (outrageously expensive) pair of boots I've been coveting for some time now is on sale, and this morning when I went to apply what I thought was just a needed re-coat of some waterproofing spray to my current pair, I saw that in fact a new pair of boots is actually now a need (my foot got wet the other day because there's a hole in my boot!)
It would be lucky timing I guess if I chanced upon a new pair of boots at a great price, however I'm dubious because The Soldes is a little like a game which I'm not sure I want to play. The longer you wait, the more the prices go down, but also the less stock you have to choose from. This is because the stores are trying to clear out their old merchandise and they only have a month to do it. (Yes - like most other things in Belgium, The Soldes are also regulated. They only happen twice a year, with the duration of a month.) I guess we'll see. I'm not big into fighting crowds for a thrill, however there are a few things I've needed for awhile which I just haven't found, and now with the death of my boots I suppose I should battle my way into the mêlée to see if I can't save a little cash on things I'll have to buy at any rate. I'll try to make my boots survive a tiny bit longer while I browse The Soldes, and maybe (hopefully) lady luck will smile on me.
I can't help but wish the hole in my boots would have waited a week or two to make itself known, as then I wouldn't be stuck with the need to venture in so early. I'm more of this mindset when it comes to The Soldes : It's almost better not to look until the end, so as not to become too attached to anything or to know what you may have missed. If you browse at the end and happen to find something you LOVE, well then it's a great score with no regrets, and you've essentially gotten away with murder, much like my friend, the darling Tea Party Crasher recently did. But I did say "almost better", which I suppose means that subconsciously I've already committed to wading into the madness. I suppose it's not so bad - the Princess Tam Tam and Etam stores have been begging me to look inside for AGES, and I've been really, really, really good about not shopping for anything other than essentials in my time here... Did I mention that I forgot to pack my pyjamas when I came here, and have been sleeping in old boyfriend t-shirts for the past 9 months? Really.
Enough about shopping though.
The evening of the 28th we celebrated both of us having a few days free together by visiting the Marché de Noël in Liege for one last walk around.
The Christmas market in Liège is unlike many in Europe. Most Christmas markets have about 80% artisans, and 20% food vendors. Here it's the inverse, but there is great variety in the food which makes it a fun place to go and have a drink, socialize, and munch. Why yes, that *is* a Canadian vendor in this picture for those who noticed the flag.
There is also a ferris wheel to throw the kiddies on while you sip your hot spiced wine, or champagne, or beer...
This evening in particular we had some seriously amazing, (and correctly made with whiskey and fresh cream rather than Baileys,) Irish coffee as our apéro. We then abandoned the market to eat at a little Vietnamese place we've recently discovered.
The following day was terribly hard. We picked out bottles of champagne, and went to get side-by-side massages at a fancy-pants spa in Liège. Actually, the masseuses had fancy harem-pants. We had no pants, and were given little surgical-cloth/paper thongs to change into. We found this simultaneously hilarious and mortifying since these paper-undies were one size fits all and both of us found that one size to be a little too big (and as a result, exposing!) But, when you're there and you've paid to relax, you tell yourself that it's a professional working on you, and it's their own bloody fault if they get a view of something they might not care to see!
(There will be no photos from the spa.)
The 30th of December we hopped in the car to make our way to Strasbourg, France. Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsatian region. This picturesque region has changed hands between Germany and France at least 4 times, which has resulted in a blending of cultures that can be noticed in the styles of food, wine and architecture to be found there.
Strasbourg itself is not a giant city, but does exhibit some cultural and economic attractions that normally might only be found in larger cities. It is the home of the Council of Europe and the European parliament, as well as the University of Strasbourg. The central area of the city has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site, and because of these things as well as it's location in a wine region, along with the fact that many residents are able to speak French, German, and Alsatian, Strasbourg gets a fair amount of visitor traffic. Including us!
Strasbourg is also situated in a microclimate, which resulted in some interesting weather conditions driving in, and back out. It was raining for most of the way on our drive in, and as we got closer, we noticed some odd phenomena. The rain that fell on the ground was rising back up through the trees as steam. A lot of steam. It looked as though the forests were on fire. I re-evaluated my scoffing at the use of fog machines in movies that take place in European forests.
Sadly, I have no pictures of this natural phenomenon, since we drove through Germany on the way in, and I was too distracted by signs that said "Ausfahrt" (which means exit in German, however if you're English it seems more like something else,) and sandwich wrappers that said "Pute" (which is slang in French for man-whore.) What can I say, I'm juvenile sometimes.
The weird weather continued all the way in though, so I DID take a picture after we'd crossed into France and it got all "Hound of the Baskervilles" on us. At points the patches of fog were so thick that you couldn't even see 25 metres in front of you, which made for interesting driving.
The city was still afloat in Christmas merriment and lighting.
*sigh* Romantic lighting for a nighttime stroll.
I loved how each street was lit with different patterns of overhead lighting. It made wandering around downtown both prettier and easier. Some streets even had discoballs or crystal chandeliers encased in plexiglass cubes lighting the way!
The local Cathedral. It looks best at night, as parts of it are more visibly under construction during the day. Not terribly impressive on the inside, possibly apart from the astronomical calendar that resides within.
Stasbourg's Galleries Lafayette: a cathedral of another sort...
Waiting for the tram to take us back to our hotel. Strasbourg's tram system is very efficient and clean, not to mention decently priced.
The following day (New Year's Eve) we walked around and shopped a little, visited the Cathedral interior, and wandered the Marché de Noël to see if there were any treasures to be found (there were!) We ate an early dinner at the Marché de Noël, stopped into the most insanely packed grocery store on the planet to get a bottle of Alsatian wine, and retreated back to the hotel to refresh and imbibe a bit.
I'm not really the sort to feel as though I HAVE to be somewhere DOING SOMETHING on New Year's Eve, and neither is Boyfriend. For me, the big deal is January 1st. I like to wake up and enjoy the unbelievable quiet that can be found on the morning of the 1st. Tradition for me is to ensure the last taste of the old year is champagne, and the first of the New Year is also champagne, so each New Year's morning I sip a little champagne, and make myself a mimosa or two to enjoy while lounging a little, savouring the pristine nature of the New Year.
We figured originally that we'd go back out after freshening up and check out the city centre later in the evening, but honestly we FELL ASLEEP before midnight! We were awoken by the sound of the fireworks going off after the clock had struck 12, so we looked out the hotel window for a minute or two at the fireworks, gave eachother a sleepy kiss, and went right back to sleeping :) New Years morning we lounged in bathrobes sipping mimosas and enjoyed the substantial and varied breakfast buffet offered by the Hilton before packing up and heading back to Liège.
I was a little sad after all our exploring though. Strasbourg is a 4 hour drive from Liège, but happens to be a city that has several stores where it is ridiculously easy (compared to Liège) to find quality couverture chocolate, sugar-work and pastry tools, not to mention sweet clothes, a great cafe espresso at a reasonable price, and a nice variety of ethnic cuisines. It has a larger population than Liège, and is more metropolitan-feeling in it's offerings, yet is more picturesque, more walkable, and has superb transit for when you don't want to walk. I liked it there, and Boyfriend could tell... he asked me if I would be coming back to Liège with him. *Sigh* We'll be back.