Well hello there! Today, I am here to share a chilly winter evening at the Strasbourg Christmas Market and a seemingly commonsense but nonetheless very important travel life lesson for you.

I am back from an ever-dramatic (ok, I’m being dramatic calling it dramatic) evening of being stuck in France. I also make this sound far away (Karlsruhe is on the border). But still, we were stranded I tell you!

But first, Strasbourg…

On Sunday afternoon, we ventured across the border to Strasbourg, France, for what is known to sport some sort of Christmas Market epicness. After visiting, I cannot say a lot for the Christmas Market (crowded, touristy, too many candy stands, no real Christmas items), but the city of Strasbourg is pretty spectacular. It has a beautiful mixture of French, German, medieval,  and gothic styles that totally blend into something showy but charming. I can’t explain it. The tall, narrow buildings squish together and are distinguished by their sloping roofs, wood frames, color choice, etc. It’s all pretty spectacular, and if I was any sort of good photographer, I could sit in Strasbourg for days trying to pinpoint all of its beauty.

At the border, clearly excited to get this show on the road. They trains do not share tracks, so we had to walk from the DB tracks over to the French trains’ side.


It’s really not fair. Like how did I grow up in Houston? Or rather, why doesn’t Houston look like this?

Discussion of the day: how could you not be religious back in the day when people were building this? It’s like, I wanna go! I wanna go!


They also really outdid themselves with Christmas lights. I hope no one from Strasbourg visits Karlsruhe this time of year. I am probably a little bias, but I do love the market here much more do to its smaller size and more traditional offerings. However, Karlsruhe lights look like they have been recycled from the 70s. Strasbourg looks like it is putting on a show of sorts, with entire streets themed, lighting up, changing colors, etc. Unfortunately, I was straight terrible at catching this in the photos, but if you can get to Strasbourg during the Christmas season, I highly recommend it.

Strasbourg Christmas Tree

Galeries Lafayette department store

Many buildings had elaborate displays like this set up. We all did what a good tourist should do, fail at capturing exactly how cool it is despite taking a million photos.

Entrance gate

The whole city was decorated spectacularly!

Cooking up Gluehwein, pretzels, and pretty much anything you can name on a baguette.

They had an incredible variety of hot wines and drinks – no complaints there.

Our brain lapse…

After sufficiently freezing ourselves, we decided to warm up with some beers before heading back to Karlsruhe. We arrive back at the train station at 10 pm, only to see that the next train across the border to Offenburg is at 12:05 am. Whatever, guess we’ll head back to the bar. We decided we should go ahead and get our tickets, and head to the counter instead of the machines in order to use our discount cards. The ticket counter informs us that sure, we can go to Offenburg, but there is no connection from there to Karlsruhe until 5 am.

Hold on, WHATTTTTT?! Mind you, it was a Sunday so we all have school/work the following morning combined with the fact that I slept 3.5 hours the night before and literally all I wanted was a full night’s sleep in my bed. Is that too much to ask?

Cue Alex madwoman/find-a-solution mode. Order of initial thoughts: 1) Bus 2) Mitfahrgelegenheit (ride share) 3) Taxi 4) Stay the night. To explore all of these options, we needed Wifi. Naturally, we find the nearest McDonald’s and set up Google-shop.

Responses: 1) no buses 2) last ride left 30 minutes ago 3) taxi quoted us a merely 1080 Euro 4) this will have to do – it is.

We ended up each with beds in a Hilton for 26 Euro/each, pretty sweet deal if you ask me. If I was not so dang exhausted, I really would not have cared. But I was, and last thing I wanted was to be in a random hotel, in France, spending more money, not sleeping in my own bed, and waking up at 7 for our train home.  Maybe next time I’ll avoid the trains with one of those cheap flights to France.

Check in

This short trip made me realize a couple of things 1) I am in desperate need of a vacation (Amsterdam this weekend!) because I felt overwhelmed being in a country where I could not communicate at all. Ok, my hand signals usually did the trick, but I mean with words. 2) It also made me realize how far I’ve come with my German. I never feeling overwhelmed or lost here anymore. This little realizations make all the difference when you are sick and tired of trying to learn new words. Then again, there are SO many more people willing to speak English or French in Germany. The French were quite relectuant with us in both English and German, even at the tourist information stands and train station.

For those of you still with me, have we all learned a lesson today?

ALWAYS check the last train, bus, ride, etc. available or you will end up staying an unplanned night.

Have you ever had a complete and utter brain fart like this? Anyone been to Strasbourg?

Side note: You guys may have noticed, but I added a couple of subpages to my blog: ‘i read these’ (aka blogroll) and ‘gallery’ (in the works). Check them out, click some links, you know how it goes.

  • Heather

    Our version wasn’t really a brainfart, but it was a train-related clusterfuck. Sadly it didn’t end with a nice Hilton hotel bed (they are my favorite mattresses in the world), but it did include a lot of drunkenness and public masturbation. Fun! Bottom line: beware of Polish trains.

    • ifs ands & butts

      hahaha loved that post! But I can imagine the Polish trains being just like that. I guess if you travel enough, you’re bound to have these experiences.

  • Leanna

    All of those Christmas lights are beautiful! That’s bad luck about the trains but at least it makes a good story!

  • Anja

    Oh no, sorry your trip turned out like that! Luckily, the day had been good until then, right? But – and I don’t want to brag – I think I can one-up your story: being stranded in Spain with no flights going in or out that airport, with no rental cars that can cross borders, and with a train strike in France (and that was in the days of no wifi on your cell phone. The only thing that was missing from making this the worst day in the entire history of mankind was a comet striking or something like that! 😉

    • ifs ands & butts

      You DEFINITELY win. Why couldn’t rental cars cross the border? Ridiculously dumb. We thought about rental cars too, totally forgot to include that option, but they were all closed. How did you get home??

  • helenesula

    i am so jealous of these pics. I want to be in them so bad. (I say that on almost every post, no?) and I always have brain farts, especially when it comes to transportation

  • bevchen

    I LOVE Strasbourg! And I totally agree on the Christmas market – too much food, not enough other stuff. Although we only went for Glühwein so that was ok.

    I have never been stranded anywhere, but on my year abroad, some friends of mine decided to get out of the last train home for a smoke then failed to get back in on time (this was at about 1 a.m. – the train was a special one that had been laid on because the train we were supposed to change onto had left after the first part of our connection was late). Actually, I believe they ended up randomly taking a train to Strasbourg…

    • ifs ands & butts

      hahaha if you travel on trains enough, I think it’s impossible not to have at least one good story – love it!

  • Svenja Schoening

    LOVE the pictures! Strasbourg must be a beautiful place. Those light decorations are gorgeous, we had them in Eindhoven too (the lighting City, home of Philips, that is why).
    Did you make it in time to work yesterday?

    • ifs ands & butts

      I was a little late, but thankfully I can come in whenever I want as long as I put in my 8 hours, so it worked out :) I haven’t heard of Eindhoven – must check it out!

  • Andrew

    Wow what a story. Neat pictures though.
    If you have a smart phone, check out the DB app. You can put in your start and end and it will tell you all the train connections. Pretty handy. Has helped us not get stranded, or even stuck waiting insanely long at the station. Works for nearly every station I have tried in Europe and on a lot of bus routes at least in Germany too.

    We did Frankfurt last weekend, which was fun but exhausting. We still want to see a few more, but not sure what we will make.

    • ifs ands & butts

      I have the DB app and LOVE it but the problem is the data on my phone doesn’t work (hopefully will when I get my new Nexus 4). So, I always have to get Wifi.

      Oh, and my coworkers have been bragging on the Mannheim market!

  • Bekah

    You need to make it over to our Mittelalter Weinachtsmarkt in Durlach something about the campfire makes it much more inviting than the one at KA marktplatz! My stranded story involves huddling in an elevator in Bruchsal with a stranger for 2 hours because of a missed connection and closed train station. Closing the train station while trains are still running = DB fail.

    • ifs ands & butts

      I went last year – the fires are the best! And I remember mouse races you could bet on and we thought it was hilarious. Did you and the stranger become besties? Ok, probs not it’s Germany but that’d be funny. They would close up shop early.

    • Katrin

      Strabourg is a great city! I have never been to the Christmas market there though.
      But yeah, I agree, it is important to check when the last train goes. I had that experience too. :)

      • ifs ands & butts

        It’s just so dang beautiful! A mini Paris with some German personality. Or something like that 😉

  • Spencer Samaroo

    Looks like a fabulous place to visit. The architecture looks amazing!

  • Alyx Garner (@adodds)

    I really loved Strasbourg, but I’d have to agree – the Christmas market was a little too crowded and touristy. I much preferred the one in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (GO if you haven’t been!!).

    • ifs ands & butts

      Ah I went there last fall but not for the xmas market and I imagine it’s amazing since it’s basically Christmas all year round there!

  • Courtney

    I’ve been to the Strasbourg markets. I loved the city and the decorations really got me in the mood for Christmas.
    On a subsequent trip to Germany I flew in to Hahn and my uncle and dad were driving to pick us up from Heidelberg, he used his Garmin favorites and accidentally pushed Strasbourg instead of Hahn and didn’t realize it until they were downtown Strasbourg. My sister and I got to spend several extra hours at the airport while they realized their mistakes.

    • ifs ands & butts

      Oh gosh – and Frankfurt Hahn is nowhere you want to be stranded hahaha – sounds like a GPS mistake I would make though.

  • Sara Louise

    Bright side – you ended up at Hilton and not some flea bag motel because that would have sucked something fierce.
    Hope you have fun in Amsterdam! :)

    • ifs ands & butts

      No kidding. There was no way I was sleeping on the floor of the train station either, I don’t care how nice Gare de Strasbourg is. And my flight to Amsterdam just got cancelled on the account of 1 inch of snow, very uhappy with KLM right now.

  • Kaity

    I would love to go to Strabourg at some point. It’s in one of the areas of France I have yet to actually visit, and I feel like it would be so interesting because of all the German influence in the area.

    • ifs ands & butts

      It’s out of this world! Except the whole French speaking thing really overwhelms me 😉

      • Kaity

        clearly we just need to team up – I could handle the French things and you could take the German! 😉 sounds like a great plan to me.