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Christmas Markets 2022: Basel, Colmar, Ribeauville, Kaysersberg, and Strasbourg

Christmas Markets 2022: Basel, Colmar, Ribeauville, Kaysersberg, and Strasbourg

Old Jan 6th, 2023, 03:35 PM
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Christmas Markets 2022: Basel, Colmar, Ribeauville, Kaysersberg, and Strasbourg

Christmas Markets 2022: Basel, Colmar, Ribeauville, Kaysersberg, and Strasbourg



Background: I began planning this trip in late January. We had such a wonderful time in Vienna in 2019 in December, we thought we’d experience France during the Christmas Market season. My spouse, Linda (GOAT traveling companion), and I have made multiple trips to Europe but only two during December. We love the European Christmas: the festive decorations on store fronts with greenery and lights, the creche scenes in the cathedrals and churches, the couples, families, and colleagues that gather at the markets for the crafts, food/drink, and entertainment, and just flat-out experiencing another culture. We had plenty of miles saved from the pandemic non-travel period and so we were able to cash those in for United’s Premium Economy class on the outgoing and the same class for me returning with Business class for Linda. This would be the first time we traveled Premium Economy so we were eager to check that class out. What I didn’t know when I booked those tickets in late January was that we would travel that class to London in August on an impromptu trip. Premium Economy gave you a little more leg room than Economy Plus and had more of a recline. The class on the plane was three rows of a 2-4-2 configuration just behind United’s Polaris Business class. There were a few other perks but the extra space was most important to us as well as the side-by-side seats.

Our seats on the outgoing London leg we were in the last row of the PE cabin while the outgoing December trip our seats would in the second row. In comparing locations, we felt the second-row seats gave us a bit more breathing room while the seats on the last row felt a little more cramped. Downside of the second row was that the folks in the 4-seater first/bulkhead row had their TV screens in front of them instead of on the back of the seat so I, being on the aisle sea, had a direct view of one of the bright screens which made it hard to sleep. Not that I sleep much on the plane. Would I fly Premium Economy again for a transatlantic flight? No, because I promised Linda that if we ever flew to Europe again, we’d both fly Business 😊 Seriously though, was the PE worth the extra $500 roundtrip instead of regular economy? I’d have to say, yes. Economy Plus was $400 more roundtrip than Economy so for an extra $100 roundtrip it would be worth it for the extra leg room, slightly more recline, and the two-seat row configuration.

Routing: I wanted to spend time in France and the Alsace. What I discovered was that United flew to Basel which was a 43-minute train ride from Colmar, one of the cities we did want to see. I also discovered the museum in Basel housed some Holbeins so based on that, we decided flying in to Basel was a good idea. I did more research on Basel and realized that there was plenty for us to see and do. Based on our flights with miles, Basel worked out. We were originally supposed to fly SFO- LHR-Frankfurt-Basel, but when United sent me a note about a time change, I saw this as an opportunity to suggest the SFO/Frankfurt/Basel route which to my delight, was accepted by United and processed. This is not the first time when a United schedule change has allowed us to get a more direct flight…one that would have originally cost more during my initial booking. I do my homework before calling United so I suggest the routes I’d prefer. So far it has always worked out. \

(One Xmas we were scheduled to fly from SFO to Houston to Charlotte, NC and then we were going to drive to Asheville for a few days. Our flight was cancelled out of Houston once we arrived and, on my request, United scheduled us from Houston to Charlotte and then flew us directly to Asheville where our luggage was waiting for us! )

I knew we’d need train tickets from Basel to Colmar and then from Colmar to Strasbourg and then from Strasbourg to CDG. The city-to-city ones have a specific price so buying earlier did not make a difference. But the Strasbourg to CDG (several trains a day) did benefit from buying early. I scoped out the prices and found the advance fare, then I checked everyday until that advance fare showed up for my December date on October 6th. First class was only about 10 euros more that 2nd class so I booked that train, thinking we might have more room to stretch and less luggage pieces to content with on the train’s luggage racks. We bought our Basel to Colmar tickets the day before directly from the train station’s office and walked the length of the train station after to check out the “French” section of the tracks where we would board the next day. The French section was a ghost town and I correctly inferred that it was a strike day so I hurriedly checked on-line to see if the strike would extend into the following day. No! Whew!



Hotel Bookings
I usually check with trip advisor first to see what the top-rated hotels look like, where they are located, and how they price out. I usually read the reviews of my top contenders and I look for hotels that serve breakfast…one less meal to hassle with in the outside world as well. I cross reference my favorites with booking.com and then with Rick Steves. Linda and I are now at a place where true “budget” accommodations are off the table. Location, comfort, space, security, cleanliness and yes, ambiance, are top priorities along with scrambled eggs served at breakfast 😉. Since our transportation was all train-based, I looked for hotels located within walking distance of the train station. Because I have booked so many times with booking.com, I have achieved a certain status that offers me some better rates. The Basel hotel and the Colmar hotel both had better rates for our stay than booking.com. Same with our London hotel experience, booking.com had a better bed and breakfast rate at Club Quarters Trafalgar Square than the Club Quarters website. The Strasbourg hotel gave us a rate for our two nights before their calendar opened so booking.com didn’t have any rates available for that hotel.



FYI: Trip Prep Ideas

I always type up our hotel and flight arrival/departure information on a one-page handout for immediate family. I also list the prices I am paying for the hotels so right before we pay, I can remind myself of what the bill should be. I also pack a 9x12 envelope to store receipts and other papers/stubs/business cards.

I review the tripadvisor forums for each city we visit to see if there is any interesting information I can tuck away. I also read the reviews of the hotel/restaurant/site on trip advisor to glean information as well.

I still pack the hair dryer I bought on my second trip to Paris from the BHV store across from the Hotel de Ville in 2006. It comes in handy when faced with a weak dryer or a dryer that doesn’t stretch very far from the wall. That dryer has gone on so many trips to Europe with me. If you have a lot of European travel ahead of you and drying your hair is important due to thickness or style, a European hair dryer is a good investment.

I always carry some euros, or in the case of Basel, carried some Swiss francs. When we come home from our travels I usually bring home some euros or pounds for the NEXT time. In the case of Basel, I ordered $100 worth of Swiss Francs from my bank. I used some of the cash on Christmas Market purchases and the rest we just applied to our hotel bill. I don’t count on airport ATM’s and I feel better having some local currency in my pocket.

I bought two pairs of inexpensive slippers from a Ross store so on the plane we had something comfortable and cuddly on our feet for the flights.

We used air tags…to track each other in case of separation: Linda’s tag was in my cross-body bag and mine was in her backpack so we could track each other if need be.

I plan out our day-to-day agenda subject to change just so I don’t forget something and I can string nearby sights together in advance. I had written to Basel, Colmar, and Strasbourg tourist offices months ago and all three sent me great city maps and good literature for planning.

We put the $10 a day Xfinity Mobile plan on Linda’s phone; my phone stayed in airplane mode the entire time even when I had internet access at the hotel…that worked out well.

We just renewed our Global Entry (includes TSA precheck) for another five years for $100. Our United Explorer Mileage Plus credit cards reimbursed us for the charges, showing up as a credit days after the fee was charged to each card. Definitely saves us time coming back into SFO. Visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for more information/application.

Rick Steves’s books are my travel bible with so much practical information, and I usually rip out the relevant pages. I do cross-reference with Frommer’s and Fodor’s and these forums, making notes on 3x5 cards, each city a different color.



Basel

Arrival was easy. Followed the signs out of the airport to the bus…bus #50 drove up (free for folks who had hotel reservations in Basel) as we walked out, hopped on and wasn’t asked to pay or show reservation though I had made a photocopy of my reservation for a handy reference if asked. Three or four stops later (13-minutes) we exited the bus at the train station. Looked straight ahead and saw the sign for Hotel Gaia (tripadvisor rated #1 for Basel) Warmly welcomed by Sherilyn and given the specifics of our hotel. The room was ready when we arrived (472CHF for two nights w/ breakfast through booking.com). Room was perfect, enough room to stretch out in, great bathroom with good amenities, closet to hang jackets, desk, chair, mini-fridge, shoehorn, robes. We were given the Basel pass that would give us free transport on the trams and discounts at museums among other things. We thought we’d try to nap for two hours but ending up going out and walking to the Christmas market. The tram hub near the train station had many feeder lines, and we used trams several times over our stay to go out to specific locations and come back. On that first day we walked past the Tourist Information Office and asked what tram would take us back to the train station (there were two). That info would come in handy for the next day as well. The fun highlight of the main Christmas market near the Tourist Office was the fondue stand. A hollowed out long roll, like a sealed-side-and-bottom hot dog roll, was filled with cheese and created a take-out meal. Fun for a few bites but then became quite messy but extremely tasty. Lots of folks out and about but wasn’t too crowded.

The following day, our only full day in Basel, we did a lot. First we enjoyed an extensive breakfast buffet at the hotel in its wooded, belle epoque-style banquet room. Based on my sister’s suggestion who had visited Basel in 2019 on a Christmas Market Rhine cruise, we went straight to the river’s edge and visited the 5-star Grand Hotel des Trois Rois (AKA: The Three Kings). According to Frommers, the hotel was first mentioned in 1681 and has hosted many a celebrity/world leader…Napolean! Queen Victoria! Charles Dickens!. The bellman wasn’t going to let us in at first as the lobby was closed to non-guests before 11AM, but he let us in for a quick look around. I love historic hotels, and this did not disappoint. The view of the Rhine, the holiday decorations on tables and hanging from the atrium, wow! We exited and walked along the river to the Basler Papiermuhle (Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing, and Printing). This was one impressive display! There were three stories to tell the story from papyrus to animal skins to illuminated manuscripts to Gutenberg to printing presses to the computer. I actually made a watermarked piece of paper from a tub of pulp. It was great for history buffs and had enough interactive exhibits for children. We were famished afterwards and ate at the Paper Museum’s restaurant. I had beef stew over pasta and thought, OK, that’s the Basel way of saying meat sauce. But, no, indeed it was a delicious beef stew (generous on the beef chunks) over spaghetti with a side salad with French dressing. Not the sweet reddish dressing of Best Foods, but a tart, creamy almost Caesar salad dressing with a hint of horseradish. It was so good. Linda had some pumpkin soup, pommes frites, and a Coke Zero (40.50 CHF) Would recommend! We meandered up the hill through the historical core and ended up at the Basler Munster. We love a good cathedral but this was dark and non-descript. We headed over to the Kunstmuseum to see some of the Holbein (who lived in Basel) paintings and stumbled on a wonderful 1505 DaVinci painting of John the Baptist that was highlighted on a travel video we watched after returning home! Nothing was cluttering the area of that painting so it was easy to view and contemplate. In other areas of the museum, we did see Holbeins and one in particular was mesmerizing in its rawness and simplicity, “The Dead Christ in the Tomb.” Overall it was a well laid out museum, and though we could have visited many more galleries we felt we had seen what we wanted to see. It was a wonderful full day.

The next morning we took the tram to the main square, the Marktplatz to explore the Rathaus (guildhall) and admire the architecture and later walked across the street to a shopping (independent shops) street and ventured in to a few of the stores before going back to the hotel to catch our early afternoon train. As mentioned earlier, we had purchased our train tickets the day before and saw the French section of train tracks where we would board, so it was effortless boarding (15.80 euros each). Just make sure you validate your ticket before boarding at the little machine near the tracks.

Colmar

We arrived at Colmar and walked to our hotel, Colmar Hotel, a very short block and a half from the train station on the same side of the street. There was a sign at the front desk saying that check in would be open a few hours hence. Fortunately, when we called the number on the sign, a clerk came forward and locked our bags in a closet until check-in hours began (520 Euros for three nights w/ breakfast). She gave us a map and an overview so we pushed outside into the cold and walked back towards the train station and beyond. We walked a good 20-25 minutes until we arrived at the Tourist Office (I’m a map and pamphlet person) where we obtained a current Christmas Market map. The first market was around the corner, and it was disappointing. Definitely more flea market than Christmas market. We walked further and spotted the tell-tale chalets. Here the market was more interesting though lots of food and drink stalls, much like Basel. It was in Colmar that we began to conclude these markets unlike the markets in Vienna were more about food and drink than they were about artists and their wares. We began to walk through the key streets of the city and saw several landmark buildings. The festive decorations, the medieval/Renaissance structures, and the Christmas lights made Colmar a bit magical. We didn’t really have any agenda in Colmar that day other than walking the streets. We did not visit the Musee d’Unterlinden or the Musee Bartholdi so I can’t comment on them. When we were bussed out of Colmar another day we did see a replica of our Statue of Liberty, a tribute to native born Frederic Bartholdi.

We walked back to the hotel and checked in to our room. We were told that our room had been upgraded since we were staying for three nights. The room was small and compact but not claustrophobic. I peeked into another room across the hall and THAT room was way small. Bathroom was functional, big towels, and great water pressure. Our room was on the third floor facing the street but noise was not an issue. The breakfast the following morning was not as extensive as the Basel hotel and the eggs and sausages were in a serving dish rendering the items tepid at best. Linda was very disappointed with breakfast.

Our first full day we walked back to the historic core after doing a load of laundry at the laundromat located behind the train station. I realized that the hotel, though close to the train station, was a bit far from the historic core and walking in the freezing cold, made it seem longer. I did look at hotels closer to center but none of them really appealed to me. Oh well. We explored more streets, became more lost, and ended up on the same streets again and again. I’m usually navigationally adept but in Colmar I had difficulties. Bought a pair of glass frames (French designed/French made=Traction) at Optique Michel at #1 Rue des Boulangers. As a side note, once we returned to the hotel and I reviewed my frame purchase, I realized the wrong case color was in the bag with the frames missing. A quick call to the store…they were waiting for us to call in as they caught the mistake after we left…and the sweet owner, Aude, had an employee, Elise, drop the glasses off at our hotel on her way home from work. Great service!

We made reservations that morning for a restaurant that showed up several times in my research. The website said to call the morning for a reservation later in the day. So we made a 2:30 reservation at Le Petit Schlossberg on the corner of rue de L’Ange (this restaurant was open all afternoon, a bit of a rarity I was discovering). Had an attractive and cozy but airless lower level (basement) obviously for guests who had made reservations, but we asked to be relocated upstairs to the main level dining where there were windows and fresh air circulating when someone opened the door. The meal was fantastic!! The waiter was a bit taciturn but responded in English to our questions. We shared one three course Alsace meal…salad or soup, the entrée which was chicken w/ vegetables, and a Baked Alaska type of dessert. We also ordered the house-made foie gras, an order of pommes frites, a Coke Zero, and a glass of wine (65.80 Euros). Highly recommend. By the time we left the restaurant the lights were coming on, but the cold was getting to us so we walked back to the hotel.

About the cold…we are California girls through and through and aren’t used to freezing temperatures. We were layered up well…thermal turtleneck, then a sweater, then our Eddie Bauer Stormdown 800 jackets with cowl, gloves, and hat/ear muffs. Still the frigid cold, especially the night air, was intense. But thankfully, no rain to the point of having to put on hoods or take out umbrellas!

Ribeauville and Kaysersberg
The second full day in Colmar was an adventure OUTSIDE of Colmar. I had read about the nearby Alsace villages and how they had Christmas markets as well. Colmar ran a bus on weekends in December from the train station to several of the villages every 30 minutes. When we were at the tourist office, we picked up the bus schedule. We decided to go on the Colmar/Ribeauville/Riquewihr/Kaysersberg route, going to the furthest village first and then working our way back to Colmar.

The first bus left at 9:45 so we walked over at 9:15. The bus was there and there were two lines, one by the bus, and another by a green shack ticket booth. We bought an all-day shuttle ticket (Navettes de Noel) for 10 euros each. I didn’t know if the bus was full and maybe we’d have to catch another one based on the line by the bus. The ticket taker at the entrance of the bus confirmed that this was the bus I wanted. He saw our tickets and let us on to get two of the few seats remaining. I’m glad I asked otherwise we would have been waiting in line for another bus.

It was a dreary, cold morning as the bus drove to Ribeauville….I had read that Ribeauville hosted a medieval-themed Christmas market. Rick Steves describes Ribeauville as “less visited by Americans, is well situated for hiking and biking.” The bus let us off in a coach parking lot with a restroom facility on the edge of the lot. We just followed the crowd as we basically rounded a corner and saw the main thoroughfare the Grand Rue. So much to see as we strolled up the street besides the stalls! The town was so picturesque with old buildings similar to Colmar. The decorations! The lights! Two boars spinning on a roasting spit! Three camels with colorful, decorative halters posing for pictures! A pen with sweet sheep and lambs! An evocative castle on the hill (two other castle ruins must have been obscured by clouds and fog)! We had a great time viewing the booths, popping in to the shops, and enjoying the medieval ambiance.

We headed back to the bus and saw a line of about thirty people waiting for our bus, the #2, to take us to the 2nd of three villages, Riquewihr. We waited for about 15 minutes before a bus pulled up, let some folks get off, and then our line started filing on. Just before we were to board, the attendant stopped us saying the bus was full. We weren’t the only disappointed folks in line as it was COLD and beginning to snow. I figured something like this might happen…that the bus would be full. Someone from the line went to speak to the attendant to complain about what a lot of us witnessed… that several people came out of nowhere and cut the line and boarded the bus…I could tell by the speaker’s frustrations and the gesticulations. The attendant seemed to take the charge seriously and maybe to pacify the unhappy line, allowed the rest of us to board and stand in the bus to the next town.

About 10 minutes we later we arrived at Riquewihr, but we didn’t get off the bus. As it was afternoon and getting colder, we thought we’d go on to Kaysersberg, the last village on the circuit of three and closest to Colmar. It was a short walk from the drop off point to the main artery. Again, the village was enchanting with the festive decorations, excited crowds, old interesting buildings. We were hungry and without having any reservations, I thought we’d be out of luck. I saw a visually-appealing restaurant Restaurant du Chateau and bobbed in. Yes, we could be seated if we were willing to wait ten minutes. Oh, yes! The restaurant was warm, inviting, and had an upbeat staff. Again we ordered the fixed price three course meal along with six escargots. Linda began with the soup…a potato soup and I began with a salad which was julienned ham and leaks...both delicious. We both had the chicken breast w/ vegetables in a pinot noir reduction sauce. Oh my! And the crème de la crème was the Crème brulee. Never have I had such a wonderful, sweet crispy topping with the creamiest crème. It was one of the best meals we ever had. With two glasses of wine and a diet coke, the bill was 90 euros.

We explored Kaysersberg after lunch and then headed back to the bus pick up location (same as the drop off). By then it was late afternoon, getting dark, and snowing. We saw the #2 bus pull out as we were walking up and my heart sank. Yikes! It was clear to me that when we joined the line that some folks didn’t get on that departing bus. The attendants couldn’t say when the next bus was coming…no phones out or walkie talkies. The organization of the shuttles felt pretty basic. We waited and waited, getting colder and colder...couldn't contact Lyft because we had no cell phone connection. When another bus drove up, not ours, we decided to get on it. It would not go directly to Colmar, but back to the two previous villages AND THEN to Colmar. Ugg. Traffic was heavy among the villages and it took us about an hour to get back to the Colmar train station.

Strasbourg

The following morning, we caught a morning train to Strasbourg having purchased our tickets the day prior from the station agent (14.10 euros each). I had vague directions to our Strasbourg hotel…near the right transept of the cathedral. At the Strasbourg train station we took the escalator down one flight, purchased a round-trip tram ticket, and went down one more floor. The hotel said to take Tram A or D and within a few minutes, tram A arrived. It was maybe a five-minute ride to our stop. We dragged our luggage over the cobblestones toward the cathedral’s spires, rounded the crowded bend to the side of the church, and scanned for the hotel facade. I usually look at outside photos (on-line) of the hotels we book so I have some sense of familiarity.

We went into the cozy lobby where the clerk placed our bags in the kitchen area for safekeeping and told us to come back in the mid-afternoon (442.99Euros for two nights including breakfast via email inquiry). We were thrilled to be in the presence of the cathedral! It was fascinating watching the sun and clouds cast shine and shade on her over the course of the day. The rose window featured wheat (symbol of the Alsace) with such rich golden and orange hues…photos do not do it justice. Make sure to see the astronomical clock and Angel Pillar tucked in the south transept. Because we arrived on a Sunday and the lines were long to get in to the cathedral, we waited until the next day when the line was non-exist. The nativity/creche scene in the cathedral was set up on long tables and began with Annunciation and had all the key scenes leading up to Jesus’s birth. We had never seen one so long, elaborate, and lovely.

Hotel Suisse had a fantastic location! I booked months before their calendar for December opened as the hotel responded to my email inquiry in February (199 euros per night including breakfast for two). The first morning I woke up to the cathedral bells chiming seven. The corner room with a view of the cathedral was located on the third floor. The room was compact, comfortable bed, modern bathroom, closet with hangers and shelves, and despite being in a creaky old building and near the cathedral, was quiet and peaceful at night. No fridge or safe. The breakfast was served in the adjacent coffee shop with the usual European offerings: breads, cold meats and cheeses, yogurts, fruits, and cereals. A boiling pot of water with various egg holders of different colors was on the bar countertop. You could place the egg in a holder, take a mini, sand timer, and wait for either a hard-boiled or soft-boiled egg. Coffee or hot chocolate was served at the table along with freshly squeezed orange juice. The coffee shop was open in the evenings for guests…handy when we needed a glass of ice for our in-room Coca Cola Light. On two instances when we were in the lobby, we saw several armed police officers. I asked about them at the desk and the gal said the officers often stop in for a coffee, warm up a bit, and to use the handy toilet facilities up the stairs. I definitely would stay there again. All three hotels we stayed in had walk-in showers so no climbing over tubs! Great for a klutz like me.

We had two afternoon meals of note. Both were at Indian restaurants within easy walking distance from the cathedral. We enjoyed vegetable samosas, vegetable briyani, chicken tikka masala, and garlic naan at both. It is our standard meal…I know…not very adventurous. The first restaurant Cinnamon was on 15 Rue de la Division Leclerc, just beyond where we hopped off the tram from the train station. It was an elegant restaurant with excellent service and good food w/ accompanying chutneys (54.10 Euros for the food and two Coke Zeroes). The other was Tamil located at #2 place Saint Thomas (53 Euros for same meal/drinks as Cinnamon). I had written down Tamil in my notes. When we went to the Christmas Market near the Saint Thomas church. I swiveled my head to the left and there it was. Attentive Emerick was a delightful waiter. Tamil was smaller, a bit more casual than Cinnamon but equally as tasty.

We spent our time in Strasbourg walking around all the Christmas markets, exploring various squares, visiting the Palais de Rohan-the decorative arts section-(basically next to our hotel), buying another pair of glass frames (my favorite French designer, Caroline Abrams) from a shop called Edgard, 14 Rue de Gutenberg with helpful and patient Solenne at the helm. Another employee even brought out a little tray with two coffees and two chocolates while we were trying on frames. Walking around at night with the lights, the crowds, and the decorations was enchanting! There was more to see in terms of museums, but I wanted to take the direct train from Strasbourg to CDG and didn’t want to rely on the last train out in case of a glitch. We caught the 2:01PM and arrived at CDG Terminal 2 at 4:04PM (Senior Premiere Fare about $58 each via Trainline). It was a smooth, easy ride in First Class, and the coach was not full at all. Scenery wasn’t particularly scenic on a drab, overcast day. I know we missed out on several interesting museums. Strasbourg might be a city we re-visit one day. In terms of Christmas Market purchases, we found several nice art pieces from the Strasbourg markets and some Christmas items from the pop-up Kathe Wohlfahrt shop near the cathedral.

Homeward Bound

The TGV terminal is located one floor (or was it two) below the Sheraton hotel in Terminal 2. We took the escalator up and saw the door of the lobby. SO EASY! I had read mixed reviews about this Sheraton…some negatives talked about an unclean room, old furniture, and other room issues. Check-in was smooth and we went up to our room on the fifth floor. The room was big, clean, and the room lights cast a warm, inviting glow. It felt like a Sheraton! All the rooms circled around an atrium of sorts but I can’t say I ever looked to see what was at the bottom of the atrium. The open-ended corridor was quiet and a bit eerie, like we were on some sort of spaceship, but I was thrilled with this 200 euro a night booking (website). We thought we might settle in for a bit and then take the train into Paris for dinner and a walk near Notre Dame, but though we had downloaded boarding passes, we received a United alert that our direct flight for the next morning at 9AM had been cancelled. What??? United said it was due to weather, but when I had looked at the seating chart earlier in the day, I saw that the plane was basically empty and the odds of an upgrade to Business were excellent! Granted there was snow forecast for the next morning, but there did not appear to be a glut of cancellations at CDG.

First we walked through the terminal to the United counters to handle this matter in person but were told as we headed to the United branch of Terminal 2 that no one was there to assist. We then spent two hours on the phone from the hotel bar trying to find a decent flight out (and some of that time was trying to find a United number where a human answered) with both of us on the same plane as we were not on the same reservation. After a 21 euro vodka, an 11 euro bowl of pommes frites, and an 8 euro glass of Pepsi Max, we decided to just go back to the room “Extortion!” one review described this bar’s prices. The flight I thought I was on when I talked to the United rep, Linda’s flight, was a different one where the connecting Chicago flight to SFO would leave before I actually arrived from CDG. Back to calling again. The agent saw the error, corrected it, and I asked to be upgraded to Economy Plus (as a courtesy) as there was no Premium Economy on the ORD to SFO leg. He said that because the other agent had made a mistake, he was willing to upgrade. He put me on an aisle seat of a full row, but after looking at the seating chart, I had him move to an aisle seat on a row with an empty middle seat. Good thing, too, because that middle seat stayed empty on my flight!

The next morning we had the buffet breakfast at the hotel... pricey at 35 euros each, but I figured that might be our only decent meal for the next 15 hours. We had no delays or hold ups as we made our way through the airport. Linda had access to the one Star Alliance lounge that was open…the Air Canada Maple Leaf Club. I, of course, didn’t have access being an economy passenger, but we thought we’d try. At the entrance, we offered to use one of my United Club regular passes to get it. The attendant at first said “no” and then waved us BOTH in. So kind of him.


Because I booked with miles, I was told at the gate I could only upgrade to Business with miles, miles I didn’t have. Different story than London…I had paid for our Premium Economy tickets so since the ticket was a revenue ticket, we were able to upgrade at the boarding gate for 20,000 miles and $500 each so we splurged. Just an FYI at the check-in gate at London, we were quoted $2,000 each to upgrade.

So I settled in to my Premium Economy seat for the CDG/ORD leg. Linda brought me back a delicious chocolate tart from Business class 😊 In Chicago we had to retrieve our luggage and then re-check it in before heading to the correct terminal where we went through security again. Despite having an hour and a half transition time, by the time we arrived at our Chicago departure gate, they had already boarded groups one through four! We made it in to SFO five hours after we should have landed on our original flight, but we felt fortunate that the delay wasn’t worse.

Our interactions with folks were so positive…the restaurant waiters, the artists from the market stalls, the optical gals, the folks at the reception desks of the hotels in particular the amazing crew at Hotel Gaia and the no-nonsense women at Hotel Suisse. We never felt a language barrier that couldn’t be assisted with a phone app. In retrospect, I would have done one less night in Colmar and added that night to Strasbourg. Colmar was a great way to spend the day, but short on interesting activities (like museums) beyond the beautiful historic core. Colmar Hotel was practical and sensible for our train/bus needs, but not practical in exploring Colmar in the cold. I’m already thinking about some German Christmas Markets for 2023 but when Linda read this in my rough draft, she burst out laughing, yeah, right. Too soon to talk about December 2023. The cold really did her in and when the sun doesn’t shine, it feels that much colder. Maybe the sunny skies of Nice this summer or a Dijon/Lyon/Beaune sojourn? Thanks for reading this trip report! Always feels good to share. I get so much good information from these forums myself. Happy New (Travel) Year, Fodorites!
Janeyre is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2023, 07:38 PM
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A nice read, thank you.
I always find myself thinking maybe I should do a Christmas market trip as our Christmas is always so brutally hot, but ….I know I’m kidding myself at cold tolerance.
We think 11C winter days are shockingly cold.

I’ve been to Strasbourg 3 times and really like it.
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Old Jan 6th, 2023, 08:42 PM
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Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading about your trip and the pre-planning. We're Australians so used to a hot and sunny Christmas but when we lived in the UK for a few years, decided on Strasbourg for a week over Christmas. I have never been so cold and never wish to be that cold again! We visited Colmar one day but it was just too cold to enjoy walking around and we dived into a warm cafe where we had hot drinks and cake. Yum.
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Old Jan 7th, 2023, 02:07 AM
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nice write up and interesting view of some of my favorite places in the summer.
I last visited Alsace in the winter over 25 years ago and would have found Colmar a bit dull in the cold. Strasburg and perhaps Nancy/Metz might have been a better visit
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Old Jan 7th, 2023, 05:03 AM
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A very thorough and interesting trip report; I appreciated all the details you gave. You are a planner, maybe even more thorough than I am.

Trip report often make me think about the many different ways Fodorites travel in France.
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Old Jan 7th, 2023, 11:04 AM
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Which place has better christmas markets in respect of
good vibes
More beautiful with decoration and illuminations
less crowded
more stalls things to see and buy except food

Basel, Strassborg or colmar?
which is best and which could skip?

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Old Jan 7th, 2023, 11:30 AM
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This was a fun read! We stayed in charming Requiwehr and explored the other villages and Colmar from there . We also stayed in Strasbourg which we really liked. You’ll have to return and visit Requiwehr.
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Old Jan 9th, 2023, 06:17 PM
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Thank you Adelaidean, KayF, bilboburgler, Coquelicot, and HappyTrvlr for your positive feedback and comments.
bat23-I responded to your question on your thread "Christmas Markets-Colmar or Strassbourg?"
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Old Jan 11th, 2023, 05:58 PM
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Thanks for this thread -- we are going in Nov/Dec 2023. Starting in Milan, then Turin, then Basel, then Strasbourg, then Paris and London. Especially good to hear about the hotels in Strasbourg and Basel.
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Old Jan 12th, 2023, 01:46 AM
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if you are driving into Strasbourg make sure you have parking organised, the centre is very tight
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Old Jan 12th, 2023, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by annw
Thanks for this thread -- we are going in Nov/Dec 2023. Starting in Milan, then Turin, then Basel, then Strasbourg, then Paris and London. Especially good to hear about the hotels in Strasbourg and Basel.
Gaia is a lovely hotel (a popular choice for groups embarking on or ending Rhine river cruises) but the location by the train station is one of Basel's least visually appealing. Unless you're just doing a quick overnight in Basel and heading out early the next morning, I would suggest a few highly rated hotels in much nicer areas. In particular the Hotel Basel and the Hotel Märthof. The Hotel Basel is just a block from Marktplatz and in the scenic and historic Spalenberg area (specifically it's on Münzgasse). Attractive, wonderful staff, and has a very good brasserie. From Marktplatz it's only a five-minute ride to the train station.

The
Märthof is right on Marktplatz, which means it can be a little noisy but is overall an excellent hotel. It's a new hotel and has rapidly become one of the most popular spots in town to meet for a drink or a meal. Has a rooftop terrace for great views of the city.

Of course, if budget is no object, then Les Trois Rois is the obvious choice. Was voted the best urban hotel in Switzerland. Luxurious rooms, many directly overlooking the Rhine. The bar has a fireplace. Beautifully decorated around Christmas and many locals book an afternoon tea there during the holiday season (we had to make our December tea reservation in August!).


Last edited by WeisserTee; Jan 12th, 2023 at 09:29 AM.
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Old Jan 16th, 2023, 05:43 AM
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"Gaia is a lovely hotel (a popular choice for groups embarking on or ending Rhine river cruises) but the location by the train station is one of Basel's least visually appealing. Unless you're just doing a quick overnight in Basel and heading out early the next morning, I would suggest a few highly rated hotels in much nicer areas. In particular the Hotel Basel and the Hotel Märthof. The Hotel Basel is just a block from Marktplatz and in the scenic and historic Spalenberg area (specifically it's on Münzgasse). Attractive, wonderful staff, and has a very good brasserie. From Marktplatz it's only a five-minute ride to the train station.

The
Märthof is right on Marktplatz, which means it can be a little noisy but is overall an excellent hotel. It's a new hotel and has rapidly become one of the most popular spots in town to meet for a drink or a meal. Has a rooftop terrace for great views of the city.

Of course, if budget is no object, then Les Trois Rois is the obvious choice. Was voted the best urban hotel in Switzerland. Luxurious rooms, many directly overlooking the Rhine. The bar has a fireplace. Beautifully decorated around Christmas and many locals book an afternoon tea there during the holiday season (we had to make our December tea reservation in August!)."

Thanks so much for this very helpful information, Weisser Tee. Based on another trip report, we had scheduled Motel One, adjacent to a Christmas market. We'll be there two nights; do you recommend changing?


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Old Jan 16th, 2023, 07:49 AM
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Originally Posted by annw
"

Thanks so much for this very helpful information, Weisser Tee. Based on another trip report, we had scheduled Motel One, adjacent to a Christmas market. We'll be there two nights; do you recommend changing?
We like Motel Ones a lot. We are staying at the Zurich one next month. The Basel one is right on the Christmas market’s doorstep. You are also close to several restaurants and cafes, so yes, it’s a very good choice 🙂
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Old Jan 16th, 2023, 07:59 AM
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For people drifting towards Paris, do not overlook the Christmas markets in Metz or Reims.
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Old Jan 17th, 2023, 08:50 PM
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Originally Posted by kerouac
For people drifting towards Paris, do not overlook the Christmas markets in Metz or Reims.
Thanks, kerouac; we are heading to Paris after Strasbourg so will see what I can do to stop at these.

Thanks again for the info re: Motel One, Weisser T.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2023, 12:40 PM
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Just an update on our quest for compensation for the cancellation and re-booking. We both sent in separate requests to United's Customer Care for mileage credit for Linda (United Polaris vs. United Business class on the ORD to SFO leg) and mileage credit for me (Premium Economy to Economy) on that same leg. Although I ended up in a Economy Plus seat on the flight home THAT was due to an agent making a mistake on the rebooking and the next agent feeling like he'd be kind and give me an upgrade for THAT issue. I wasn't going to be even assigned a EP seat in the first place. We also asked for reimbursement for the breakfast the morning of our flight since we wouldn't be flying out as early as originally planned.

United says to wait between 5 and 30 days for a response. On Day 29, Linda received her response: 10,000 miles and if she provided a receipt, reimbursement for the breakfast. Sent photos of the credit card charge and a note from the hotel confirming the cost of the buffet, along with a photo of the hotel bill so United would see that we stayed at the Sheraton so we ate at the Sheraton. In providing the photos, Linda also suggested that 10,000 miles seemed a bit paltry (phrased it nicer than that) when she sent in the documentation for the breakfast. United responded the next day basically saying the 10,000 was a goodwill gesture but they'd thrown in another 5,000 miles, and a reimbursement check for the breakfast ($70 for the two of us...extravagant, yes, but it was convenient on a rushed morning) would be in the mail. OK with that.

My request has still yet to be addressed. On Day 32 I called United with the United Customer Care # sent out when I sent in my first note
and was told my request in in the queue. I'll update when I get the word from United.

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Old Mar 9th, 2023, 01:23 PM
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Just to put a bow on this report with the resolution of my customer care case... Called United several times to check on the progress of my customer care case once the 30 days had passed and was told that I was in the queue, that my case was being sent to the international division, that I should wait another 5-10 days--different responses each time I called. I was never given over to Customer Care as the United clerk put me on hold and spoke directly to Customer Care him/herself. One United clerk even sent me a $100 electronic voucher toward my next trip for my patience! Finally last week just over 2 1/2 months since my initial claim, I was patched over to Customer Care. The gal there told me that my case was closed because it had been linked to my spouse's closed claim (weird, we had separate claim numbers) and that she would re-open it and issue me the same number of miles my spouse received...15,000. Within minutes the miles were posted. Yay! Saving miles for a future trip!
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Old Mar 10th, 2023, 06:32 AM
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Glad to hear it, Janeyre -- what a pain!
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Old Mar 11th, 2023, 03:03 PM
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Thanks, Janeyre, for the informative and inspirational TR. I love the idea of visiting Christmas markets, but not freezing in the process... still this is a good idea for a future trip. I'm glad you finally were made whole in your claim with the airline; they certainly don't make it easy.
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Old Mar 15th, 2023, 05:14 PM
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Thank you for this terrific account!

It is a dream of mine to see the European Christmas markets (quite different to the blistering heat that I experience at home in Australia that time of year) and have decided 2024 is my year!

I'm tee-ing up the idea of spending time in the Alsace region of France, and then visiting Switerzland, Belgium and the Netherlands so your account was very helpful
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