Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Les Lumieres de Noel - Montbeliard

OK - so when people around here heard we were new and going to be around for the holidays, they said we needed to go to either Montbeliard or Colmar before Noel.
As we had the car, we decided to hit Montbeliard this Sunday. It was a fun trip - but not what I had expected. (Which is, by now, what you think I would expect)
They bill it as 'the lights of Christmas' and I guess I was expecting something well, American, like those light shows where there are scenes of Christmas made out of lights and trees coated in lights etc... Or those blocks where the neighbors try to outdo themselves with the best holiday displays.

What we got was basically an amazingly cool, giant, outdoor mall. The ancient narrow streets of the town did have beautiful lights arching over them and wooden stalls selling everything you can think of lined the streets. Lots of food, wine and handcrafted stuff. We went with Olivier's family which was fun. We fought our way through the crowds to see some of the things for sale. Fun for me to see was the stalls selling canadian stuff - especially genuine pancakes with maple syrup. We still eat these every Sunday morning here in Besancon.... a tradition we have kept from home.

There were lots of interesting sights, including this neat moving electronic display over the stall selling 'tetes' (that is heads) of chocolate. We actually bought some of these chocolate heads when we saw them back in Besancon - Andre' thought they were filled with waffle like cookies coated in chocolate - I thought they were filled with chocolate cream (I mean they say they are chocolate heads) but they are actually just marshmellow cream with a waffle bottom. Yummy but unexpected (no wonder they were so cheap!).

A common sight is of giant cast iron vats of food like the one Callie is posing in front of - it will be filled with a mixture of bacon, peeled potatoe slices and creamy french cheese - to die for. And it is gluten free - a bonus for our family. Poor Griffin is surrounded by bready creations such as crepes, pastries and waffles that he can't consume all the time. It probably helps me spend less on treats for them though.... Of course, we let the kids ride on the carousel they had set up - this car that Griffin is riding in had a NY license plate - and another one's was AZ. America is everywhere - even on French carousels.

Tired of the crowds (and done with our holiday shopping from last week) we decided to leave the beaten path and check out some of the town. We saw Chateau Henrietta, named after the countess that had it built in the 1700's from the outside and then walked over to this Italian made creche. We loved the amazing bonsai like tree next to the creche. We also saw an art exhibit and then went on the age old quest you all know for any family adventure - finding a potty.

We were lucky the potty quest led to the library and in the building there was an amazing world of miniature doll houses that had been made over a period of 10 years by the same artist. They were incredible but the pictures didn't really come out. Also, there was a big steep escalator - that we rode several times - better than a carousel anyday and free (although I think Oliviers family thought this particular activity a little odd). We have always loved escalators - and I always remember loving them as a kid. I particularly recall one time, when I was a teen, racing up the down escalator in a mall against my mother. We were laughing and laughing. I recall she was winning and I pulled her down by her back so I could step over her to secure my victory. She was so mad! When I was little she wouldn't play games with me because I would cheat. Guess I never grew out of that....
Anyhow, the two families split up and we went back to the crowds to wait to see Pere Noel (Santa Claus). It was very different than the US experience. Firstly, it was a typical French line. In the US people wait on line in what I consider a fairly civilized manner. Usually there is a rope guide for longer lines and you basically know who you are behind. Cutting is extremely rare and frowned upon. In France the 'line' for Pere Noel spread out in kind of a triangular mass, people in the back never really move foward as new people come in from the side and just sort of slide in there. You have to assert yourself or you will get nowhere. At first this was disconcerting, but now I am used to it. Besides, there were lots of little kids in this line so people were being gentle. There weren't that many people, so the wait was short and Santa left his American bodygaurds behind. We got to go right up to Santa who was super friendly - the wonderful Santa that has the smile that just makes you and kids feel safe and loved. You could take your own pictures and the whole thing was free. All the kids were scared at first but then they all ended up on his lap. He also gave them chocolate.... yum!
Zander came in while I was blogging this - he wants to say this about the day: There was ponies with little kids on them and there were these big strong horses that were pulling a big wagon for families - 2 euros per person - if our family went it would be 10 euros. We saw Santa, I mean Pere Noel, and he gave us some French chocolate. And there were all these electricity Santas playing a band together in the room with him, but they weren't real. He was scary to me, but then I gave him a hug." He also mentions about life in general: "I like in kindergerten you get to draw in your journal - I miss drawing in my journal. I liked it when it wasn't always raining so much."
Back to me: We saw more booths and an Italian street band. It was cool to hear another language being sung. We told the kids we were going to go to Italy in just a few weeks- just blows your mind doesn't it? Then we wasted about 45 minutes attempting to follow signs for other sights in Montbeliard. We think their 'citadelle' must have been bombed out of existence b/c we followed signs for it and ended up in a residential area. Asked a local where it was and he said - "C'est ice" i.e. it's here.... It is? Where???? We looked it up on wikipedia
Yep - still clueless. Was this ever a fortress? Doesn't look like one to me. Is it possible that citadelle just means the building that is highest around your town - it was on top of the hill.... Why this name? Hmmm.... .
Love to all - Rebecca

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