I adore Christmas, but we’ve ended up having quite a few of them abroad in very un-festive, sweaty and smelly countries eating a variety of curries and drinking iced coffee, not that thats a bad thing, we just prefer snow and mince pies.
Europe has a lot of fab Christmas markets though and annoyingly we’ve been a day or two too early for a lot of them. But they can’t escape us anymore!
We weren’t planning on visiting Bayonne on France’s far west coast, but as we went around the outskirts we saw ‘Village de Noel’ and Craig saw my eyes light up so we decided to follow the signs which led us all the way into the city centre. The city was beautiful, and totally unexpected; tall, colourful, half-timbered houses led along narrow cobbled roads. We continued following the signs and reached the home of the Christmas village; white marques were wrapped around the cathedral and then my face turned to disgrace “There not open!! There not even set up!” A little sign on one said they didn’t open for another two days! Why the hell did signs lead us there then? I felt like writing a letter of complaint to the town mayor, and probably would have done if the city wasn’t so pretty.
La Rochelle was on our route north and I read it had a Christmas market so we headed to the city by the sea. The market was rather pathetic, but on the plus side it was an easy city to enter and find free parking so we wondered around some shops and a local produce market. Much to our delight we came across 6 jolly locals having a jam on a variety of instruments. The music was lovely, and they weren’t even busking, they were just playing a song, then strolling along to the next spot to play another one. They had trombones, trumpets, clarinets and other ones I don’t even know the name of, one man had a flat board against his chest covered in cheese graters and pans which he scraped and tapped with thimbles on his fingers.
We timed our visit to Nantes perfectly, at dusk, so we had enough time to see the city’s impressive chateau and cathedrals before it got dark. Then the Christmas lights sparked to life and were lit along every street. We meandered our way through alleys and followed the smell of mulled wine to the Christmas market. The wooden sheds housed a variety of goods, from slabs of nougat, wedges of cheese and shrivelled dried meats to tea leafs, African masks, jewellery, kids toys and clocks. The stalls were laid out in a stupid circle with an inner circle too and the traffic of people just overwhelmed it. It was swarming with people like a disturbed ant colony. We queued up and got some deliciously spiced mulled wine, but were soon pestered by one of the many Roma gypsies begging in the area. He spoke fluent French to us, so I thought speaking English would work in my favour, I said I don’t speak French. To which he said ‘You speak English?’…oh, normally French speakers don’t know any English, damb. So, I changed tacks and said ‘Espanol!’ (Yeah…go me with my quick wit) suggesting I only spoke Spanish. Then he spoke in fluent Spanish ‘¿tienes hablas Espanol?’ What the heck? Homeless people speak more languages than French natives. I just gave up and said no till he left and moved onto some other people.
The market wasn’t all that, it was too busy, I think kids should be banned, along with prams. Call me a Scrooge, but they just got in the way. The stalls could of looked prettier too as the arches had reefs but no fairy lights so it didn’t look festive enough. Clearly we’re hard to please.