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Discussed in this Episode
- A quick stop in Beauvais [04:48]
- Staying in Amiens [08:11]
- Visiting the Amiens Christmas Market on a Sunday [10:27]
- Macarons d'Amiens [11:24]
- They don't sell a lot of Christmas ornaments at French Christmas Markets [12:57]
- A stop at the Medieval town of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme [14:53]
- The WW1 military cemetery at Etaples [15:03]
- The festive Christmas Market of Arras [15:51]
- Belgian and Flemish architecture in Arras [17:11]
- Looking for local handmade items [18:04]
- Mulled wine and regional foods [20:44]
- Saint Leu district in Amiens [22:18]
- Light show at the Amiens Cathedral [22:46]
- The Christmas Market at Lille [26:09]
- The Lochnagar Mine Memorial [26:36]
- The Christmas Market in Bruges Belgium [29:21]
- The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges [30:34]
- A night in Ghent [32:33]
- The Ghent Alterpiece in Ghent [33:05]
- Enjoying Belgian Waffles [35:49]
- The Reims Christmas Market [38:58]
- The Reims Cathedral and light show [40:46]
- What was your favorite Christmas Market of all these towns? [43:48]
- Comparing Christmas Markets in Europe [45:31]
Annie Sargent 0:00
This is Join Us in France Episode 263. Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is a podcast where you’ll hear pragmatic advice for your next trip to France. On today’s episode as Christmas 2019 is just a few days away, I talked to Amanda Brinkerhoff about her visit to Christmas markets of Northern France and Belgium. She definitely has her favorites and she explains why Christmas markets are not all created equal and some things about them a little bit of putting to tell you the truth. So stay tuned, we’ll help you choose the best.
Annie Sargent 0:39
If you’re interested in this episode, I recommend you also check out Join Us in france.com then click on the interest menu item and then Christmas in France at the very bottom. Show Notes for this episode are on Join Us in france.com forward slash 263 that’s The number is 263.
Annie Sargent 1:34
Bonjour Amanda and welcome to Join Us in France.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 1:38
Annie Sargent 1:39
How nice to talk to you about your very recent visit to Christmas markets of Northern France and Belgium.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 1:48
Yes, it was just a just over a week ago.
Annie Sargent 1:51
Yeah, very, very recent. So we’re talking in December 2019 for people who are going to be listening to this a long time from now. Which happens with podcasts. So what was the what was the gist of your trip? Was there a specific purpose to this or you just wanted to go see Christmas markets?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 2:11
We did want to go see the Christmas markets. We love this time of year in Europe. And but we also love France and we hadn’t really explored the northern part of the country. So you wanted to combine the two?
Annie Sargent 2:21
Yeah. Cool. And so you had been to France before?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 2:25
Yes. I’ve been several times, mainly in Paris, but also a little bit to the south and western parts of the country.
Annie Sargent 2:32
Oh, very good. So do you speak the language?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 2:36
Very little bit. People are very kind.
Annie Sargent 2:42
Did you feel that was a problem? Not having much language?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 2:45
No, not at all. You know, when I would speak the very little bit I could people would, you know, just smile or giggle and, you know, that helped me out. So…
Annie Sargent 2:55
Amanda Brinkerhoff 2:55
Annie Sargent 2:56
Annie Sargent 2:57
All right. So what did you do on this wonderful trip. And how long was your trip, by the way?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 3:01
So our trip was about a week. So we arrived on a Sunday and flew back out on a Sunday. So we spent the entire week in either France or a couple days up in Belgium. Hmm. So we started out with Amiens and spent a few days there. And before we moved into Lille, and then up into Belgium, in Ghent for a few days, and then we finished our trip in Reims.
Annie Sargent 3:26
Oh, very nice. Okay, so you flew in and out of Charles de Gaulle airport, CDG.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 3:32
Annie Sargent 3:32
Amanda Brinkerhoff 3:33
Annie Sargent 3:34
Excellent. All right. And then you drove.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 3:37
We did. I’ve driven in France before and we wanted the flexibility to be able to go where we wanted or spend as much time as we wanted in a given place. I was we decided that driving was going to be the best option. That ended up being a good idea because the transportation strike happened while we were there.
Annie Sargent 3:53
Oh, yeah. Was it a big problem at the airport or not so much?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 4:00
Yes, it was just mainly for the passport control leaving back leaving the country. The lines were like two and a half to three hours long people to get through. So plan!.
Annie Sargent 4:14
Yeah, that just that is awful. I’m sorry.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 4:20
We we actually got through pretty quick because my stepfather I was with my parents and he had a little bit of a leg injury and was using a cane and so they kind of pulled us out of line to let us through.
Annie Sargent 4:31
Oh, I’m sorry about the cane. But that’s, that’s good. Sometimes it’s handy dandy. Wonderful. Okay, so you went to so you arrived at CDG you picked up a car at the airport, and then you drove to Amiens.
A quick stop in Beauvais
Amanda Brinkerhoff 4:48
Correct on our way to Amiens and we decided to we really love French Gothic cathedrals. So along the way, we decided to make a little stop even though it’s only an hour and a half drive felt like we wanted to get out and walk around stretch our legs a little bit after we’d been on a plane all night.
Annie Sargent 5:05
Amanda Brinkerhoff 5:05
Um, so we stopped in Beauvais on our way. And we were a little surprised because being a Sunday we thought around the cathedral it would be a little busy. It was very quiet. Not many people in Beauvais it’s a smaller town.
Annie Sargent 5:20
Amanda Brinkerhoff 5:20
But it was very quiet. And it almost looks like the cathedral was closed up and not open. So we walked around the cathedral, saw the outside, saw a little bit of the town, and then decided to get back in the car and head out. We wish we had kind of tried the front door because apparently it was open. So, always try the door!
Annie Sargent 5:39
Yeah, open especially the front door like
Amanda Brinkerhoff 5:44
Annie Sargent 5:45
Yeah, yeah. rookie mistake. Yeah, it’s true that cathedrals are very large and sometimes Well, actually, all the time. You don’t really know which way to enter. Some churches will want you to enter through the The big portico in the front and others don’t discourage that they wanted to go in through the sides. You never know. It’s kind of up to the church to decide what they want to know. So you do have to walk all the way around.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 6:13
You do. And Beauvais is the largest of the bridge dark Gothic cathedrals are the tallest it claims.
Annie Sargent 6:20
Amanda Brinkerhoff 6:20
So there apparently is a little bit of competition with Amiens, who claims to be the largest or tallest, because it’s complete and Beauvais was not so
Annie Sargent 6:29
Haha, yeah, you have it. Take that Beauvais! Yeah, so a little town. You said, you mentioned in your show notes I mean in your guest notes that most restaurants were closed.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 6:43
Yeah, there we did. We did end up seeing one restaurant that looks to be open. But the others right there by the cathedral work close.
Annie Sargent 6:50
Right. This is something that’s so important for people to understand is that on a Sunday in a minor French town, people are home, they don’t go out like they will. I mean, they, if they are church attending people, they’ll go to church, but then they’ll go home for Sunday lunch. A lot of French people go running on Sunday mornings, they go riding their bikes, whatever, but they are not out and about the town. So these towns, the minor towns are going to in the winter, they’re going to seem a little bit dead.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 7:26
Right. So, and then Monday is also, you know, with as we get into the next day a little bit, we’ll find that, you know, again, a lot of things are closed, because being a Monday tends to happen a lot, especially in the smaller towns. So those two days, we really just kind of took a little bit of a relaxed day and, you know, just kind of spent our time wandering exteriors and you know, through the town looking at the architecture and things like that,
Annie Sargent 7:52
So how many of you were there on this trip?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 7:55
There were just three of us meet myself and then my parents and so on. was you know, they’re a little bit older. So it was, you know, yeah, do tend to slow down a little bit anyway. Yeah. And so it was really nice and relaxed and not rush to see everything. So that was nice.
Staying in Amiens
Annie Sargent 8:11
And then I assume you continued on to Amiens?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 8:14
We did continue on to Amiens. Another tip I will tell you is weekends, during towns with large Christmas markets are very crowded, and parking can be a challenge.
Annie Sargent 8:27
That’s why Beauvais was empty because everybody was in Amiens!
Amanda Brinkerhoff 8:31
That’s right. Big. It was, I think somewhere between an hour to 45 minutes, I think between the two and it’s, it was a very different atmosphere in Amiens and it was very crowded, lots of cars. It took us probably over an hour to end up finding parking. But eventually we did find some parking and that was near to the hotel that we stayed in.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 8:53
Another thing is a lot of the hotels don’t have parking because they’re in small buildings in the old town. So We did ahead of the trip, I went into Google Maps, and for all of the town who are going to be staying in or visiting, I googled parking in those areas, and pin the parking locations near the things we wanted to see. Oh, so that we knew exactly where we were going to go. And we could just put that into the GPS, and just drive straight to the parking structure. So that was really helpful.
Annie Sargent 9:22
Yeah, very nice. So which you brought your own? Like, was it a standalone GPS? Or was this a GPS with your phone?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 9:29
I used my phone.
Annie Sargent 9:30
Okay. So you got data?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 9:33
I did. Okay. I usually will pay for data while I’m there. But I’m the only one usually whoever’s with me doesn’t and at least one of us will have GPS. Yeah.
Annie Sargent 9:46
Yeah. And people sometimes say, Oh, it’s best if everybody in the family has data, but that’s not quite true because even if you split up, sending a text message is very cheap, and it will work even if You don’t have data. At least I mean, I haven’t tested it with every phone I’ve ever come across. But all the ones I’ve seen, it will at least send a text message. And then you know, and it’s cheap. So that’s a way to communicate even if you don’t have data.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 10:15
Annie Sargent 10:15
Because it’s not like at&t or Verizon or whatever doesn’t work in France, it will work but it will roam so it will cost you an arm and a leg, other than for text messages.
Visiting the Amiens Christmas Market on a Sunday
Amanda Brinkerhoff 10:27
Correct. So, so that’s what we tend to use or the free Wi Fi in our hotels or the restaurant. So a lot of times we can pick up on that free Wi Fi to send messages if we need to. Right.
Annie Sargent 10:39
So So this so you saw the Amiens Christmas market on a Sunday, which is very busy. Yes. It’s the day of the week when go
Amanda Brinkerhoff 10:49
It is. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the market that day because it was we were a little tired, and it was very busy. And so we we did go The market wander around a little bit, got some dinner from the market. But we actually ended up exploring the market a couple days later when it wasn’t quite as crowded, right well so
Annie Sargent 11:12
Right. So what sorts of items I mean obviously food you just mentioned that you had your dinner there What sorts of items did you find at the Christmas market in Amiens?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 11:24
So in Amiens I think we, we shopped, we found things like being our first time in that part of the country. We didn’t quite know what the weather would be. We knew it would be a little bit cold. And we brought our coats but we ended up buying scarves and hats. Yeah, market because it was colder and windier than we had thought it was going to be so we ended up doing that.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 11:46
And then also just we found some local specialties, Macarons d’Amiens, which is I guess a cookie that’s made just there in the city. And so we found that in the market as well as It’s almost like a coconut macaroon that you would see here in the US. Yeah, but it’s made with Apple instead. Oh, so quite tasty.
Annie Sargent 12:08
That sounds good.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 12:10
We brought some of those home for treats for you know, co workers and stuff. And they all quite enjoyed it.
Annie Sargent 12:15
And they and they keep well?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 12:17
They did they were like, individually wrapped. And they did keep they did keep pretty
Annie Sargent 12:22
well cool and do so do they put them in pretty boxes like they do with the macarons?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 12:28
It was it was just in like a cellophane wrapper with a bow.
Annie Sargent 12:33
Oh, I see. They’re not super fragile.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 12:34
No, not at all. Okay,
Annie Sargent 12:36
cool. I don’t think I’ve ever had those. Sounds good.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 12:39
Yeah, so that was pretty much what we found. Amiens is not an overly large Christmas market. It’s an a quite spread out. A lot of food. And then just your standard, you know, scarves, hats, leather goods. Yeah.
They don’t sell a lot of Christmas ornaments at French Christmas Markets
Annie Sargent 12:57
Christmas ornaments maybe?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 12:58
A few Christmas ornaments. Not a lot of Christmas ornaments.
Annie Sargent 13:02
Yeah. See French people. Okay, so I do a style of Christmas tree where I mix ornaments. So whenever I go somewhere and I like an ornament, I will buy it. And so my tree ends up looking like all sorts of colors and shapes and sizes. But most French people don’t do that they want like, they want this year they want the purple Christmas tree or they want the red Christmas tree or whatever. And so they buy ornaments of that color.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 13:32
Annie Sargent 13:33
Right. And so it’s so they don’t tend to buy they don’t tend to collect Christmas ornaments the way Americans do.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 13:41
Yeah, it’s definitely a difference of what we saw in the markets in France versus what we were used to and say Germany or Austria. But, you know, you could tell there’s a difference in what they’re used to the markets are I think are a little bit newer in France. Kind of a still growing and expanding. into having the same types of things that we see in the other markets.
Annie Sargent 14:03
Yeah, yeah. Okay. All right. So we’ll come back to the Christmas market in Amiens because you explored it some more on the third day, but on the second day, you went and explored places that have to do with World War One, I’m assuming.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 14:21
Yes. So we took a drive out towards the coast, our intent was to try and get to Callais and Dunkirk we didn’t quite make it because the days are shorter and we don’t want to be driving in the dark. And but we we stopped first in St. Valery-sur-Somme which is a medieval town right there as the Somme empties out into the sea, the bay there, a cute medieval little town. More touristy, I’m going to guess in the summer months when it’s warmer and it’s out there on the coast.
Annie Sargent 14:52
A stop at the Medieval town of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
Amanda Brinkerhoff 14:53
Closed up this time of year but we did enjoy just walking around and looking at the medieval town and walking along. The boardwalk of the river.
Annie Sargent 15:01
The WW1 military cemetery at Etaples
Amanda Brinkerhoff 15:03
And then we headed up the coast heading towards Calais. As I said, didn’t make it but we came across a world war one military cemetery. Oh, I’m at, I’m probably gonna butcher this but at Etaples?
Annie Sargent 15:19
You did not butcher this! Etaples very well, very good.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 15:24
And it’s a pretty large military cemetery. It has over 11,000 graves, so quite moving reminded me a lot of the ones military cemeteries in Normandy, but just you know, very somber, you know, to kind of drive past and kind of see this huge field with just those headstones and some beautiful memorials there.
Annie Sargent 15:47
Yeah. And it looks like it’s mostly British soldiers.
The festive Christmas Market of Arras
Amanda Brinkerhoff 15:51
It was it’s a British Commonwealth cemetery. And so after we stopped there and wondered that a little bit of it was It’s getting a little bit later in the day because we’ve been driving some of the smaller roads that go through the small towns. So it was a little bit slower driving and we decided we wanted to start heading back to Amiens because we knew there was a stop along the way we wanted to make for a Christmas market in Arras which ended up being a small town. But the Christmas market was very festive.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 16:25
We really enjoyed Arras. It was probably one of the highlights of our trip. It’s probably about 50 or 60 booths in the market. A little bit of mix of food as well as you know the standard things of you know, the hats scarves, but we found a few different things there. I believe it was in Arras I bought a little stuffed kitten that had been hand stitched. For my for my niece as a Christmas present. And then they just had some beautiful light displays in town as well, kind of like little scenes with Santa Claus and reindeers. So it was a lot of fun to just wander around and experience getting the Christmas spirit there in Arras.
Belgian and Flemish architecture in Arras
Annie Sargent 17:11
That’s cool. Yeah, Arras has a great reputation as a very pretty town.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 17:17
Yeah, it’s a different architecture than what, you know, you’re used to seeing in other parts of France because you’re starting to head north more into that, you know, Belgian and Flemish architecture. So it’s really pretty.
Annie Sargent 17:29
Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s cool. And 50 booths is quite a bit actually. I mean, you know, Toulouse is a much bigger city and I don’t think we have 50 booths at our Christmas Market. So, yeah, but in the south of France, we don’t have that, like in the southwest. We don’t really have the tradition of Christmas markets. We have even less than they do. In Arras, obviously.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 17:54
Yeah. And it was one that we had read and it had been highly recommended in some of the research. I done ahead of the trip, so it didn’t disappoint. We quite enjoyed that one.
Looking for local handmade items
Annie Sargent 18:04
That’s cool. Oh, and you mentioned that it didn’t have a lot of mass market items.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 18:10
No, it was a lot more it seemed like it was a lot more local handmade items rather than the mass market. So I think that’s, that’s one of the differences when we’re looking at the markets and what we really enjoy is finding more unique items that are local or handmade.
Annie Sargent 18:26
Yeah, I wish Christmas markets were more like an Etsy kind of marketplace. You know where you can find but the thing is, they say they rent those spaces because most of these places will put together little, I don’t want to call them huts, they’re not huts, but little cottages, maybe you call them? And they rent them to each vendor, and it ends up costing thousands of euros to rent one of those and if you’re just selling something, you know This one item on Etsy I guess you can’t afford 5000 bucks for you know right for the rental so yeah it’s it’s too bad.
Annie Sargent 19:09
I hope that they find a way to include more of these handmade Crafty Things because the first few years we had a Christmas market in Toulouse it was all these you know these little cars you boys were crazy about those they were little télécommandé they were guided like cars that you can make them you could hit them against walls and come apart and then you put them back together and Baba. But it was stuff made in China. You know, it was all
Amanda Brinkerhoff 19:40
Yes. So yeah. And that’s what you know, we do tend to see, I think the bigger cities you tend to see that a lot more the mass market stuff. Yeah, they can afford to pay the money for those booths. Were in. I think the smaller towns like Arras, probably are more local people doing it and so maybe explore the smaller town markets and look for those instead.
Annie Sargent 20:02
That’s a good point. That’s a good point. Because, like, one year it was like, it seemed to me like at least five or six were selling these. You know, this fidget spinner thing is that we’re popular a year two ago.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 20:19
Annie Sargent 20:20
We really didn’t need that many people selling that.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 20:25
There. There always seems to be the you know, toy of the year. Yeah. You know, everybody is selling in their booth. Yeah,
Annie Sargent 20:32
yeah. And of course, everybody sells the mulled wine. That’s one thing I noticed in Toulouse this year is like, they sell scarves and mulled wine.
Mulled wine and regional foods
Amanda Brinkerhoff 20:44
Yeah, we’re not big wine drinkers. And I’m not really a fan of the mulled wine. Particularly, yeah, but we tend to like there’s usually a non alcoholic version that’s more like an apple cider. And what we ended up finding in Amiens that we really enjoyed was pair it was like more like a pear cider or pear juice. Nice. That was hot. That was our favorite drink. I think we found on the entire trip. That’s cool. Other than the Hot Chocolate,
Annie Sargent 21:14
chocolate, the the and they sell all the food stuff. So I’m assuming that they have regional food stuff up there. Because in the south, they certainly sell Regional Food things.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 21:25
They do. There is a lot of written more regional food. So you do start to see a lot of the same stuff as well. And I think some of the big things we saw this year across the various markets was the raclette sandwiches. So the hot cheese that scraped onto the bread. Yeah, that was a popular one.
Annie Sargent 21:45
Amanda Brinkerhoff 21:45
And cheese and breads always a favorite for me. And then there’s also a mix of whether it’s like a mix of like, meat and onion and cheese sandwiches, things like that. So yeah. You know, a little bit different than what we’ve seen in other countries like Germany where it’s always sausages. It tend to be more cheese and kind of hand focused as all the markets we thought in France.
Annie Sargent 22:11
Cool. All right. So you the next day you spend the day in Amiens again.
Saint-Leu district in Amiens
Amanda Brinkerhoff 22:18
We did. So that’s the day we really explored Amiens a little bit more. And so we wandered through. There’s a district that they call the Saint Leu district. That’s kind of where their canals are. And it used to be the mills and homes of the weavers and dyers of the city. And so they’ve now renovated that whole area and they’re very colorful, colorful houses, and lots of canals and bridges. So a fun area to just wander around.
Light show at the Amiens Cathedral
Amanda Brinkerhoff 22:46
There’s a little bit of street art over there that you can come across. So just a fun area to explore for the day. And then one of our main focuses in Amiens was to visit the cathedral. So we did this It that earlier in the day, before it got too crowded and wandered around the cathedral. It’s beautiful. As I said, it’s one of the tallest. So you just walk in and you’re just really impressed with the size.
Annie Sargent 23:15
Amanda Brinkerhoff 23:16
Of how, you know, big that they were able to build these cathedrals. And so, yeah, we do have tours.
Annie Sargent 23:24
Amanda Brinkerhoff 23:26
They have tours of the towers that you can go up and the Treasury, but they’re at set time so it wasn’t when we happen to be there, but that’s something that you can explore as well.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 23:38
And then at night, they have a light show. So during the Christmas market time in December, they do a light and sound show on the facade of the cathedral. And so, at seven o’clock each night during the Christmas market, you can go in front of the cathedral and watch that and it’s absolutely beautiful how they time the lights to the different music. Um, you know, across the cathedral area you know at one point it looked like little balls were kind of filling up the cathedral and then you know they kind of spilled across was just beautiful.
Annie Sargent 24:11
Very nice. Sounds good I wish they did that that in Toulouse, not yet.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 24:18
but that’s pretty much what all we did and then wandering through the Christmas market there in Amiens like I said it’s kind of spread out and a lot of mass market stuff there in Amiens but we still enjoyed the festive spirit of everybody wandering around and you know, being all bundled up drinking their hot drinks. So,
Annie Sargent 24:36
yeah. And so you in Amiens you stayed at a Chambre d’Hôte, or was it a hotel?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 24:43
we It was a Chambre d’Hôte. It was a house where they converted a part of their rooms into hotel rooms, probably about only five or six rooms and the place. And then but then they had free breakfast in the morning. So it looks really nice. We ended up having like A little two bedroom suite for us. So we had our own bathroom and two bedrooms. So each could have had our own space. So cool. That worked out really nice. A little bit of a language barrier. That was probably the one time where we had a little bit of a language barrier just because our hosts didn’t speak quite as much English. So we did have to break out the Google Translate once or twice.
Annie Sargent 25:21
Okay. That’s all right. Yes, you managed to figure out what was wrong.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 25:26
We did. I think we were talking about some of the areas we had been exploring. Yeah, the day before. And as we were trying to explain where we had been or what we were looking for. There was a little bit of a language barrier. So yeah,
Annie Sargent 25:42
So you also recommend a pizza place that I’ll put in the show notes and you went shopping or you went shopping for chocolate at a place called Jean Trogneux.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 25:53
Right, and that’s where we found some of the macarons d’Amiens cookies, and so they have them there at that time. shop and there’s a couple of shops in town from that company. And it happens to be the family of the French First Lady. So
The Christmas Market at Lille
Annie Sargent 26:09
Oh, yes. Yes, yes. Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron are from Amiens. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Celebrity macarons! Alright, so the next day you moved on to Lille.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 26:25
Yes. So Lille we had heard a lot of good things about the Christmas market. It’s a larger town. And so we decided to head there and spend one night as we were heading into Belgium.
The Lochnagar Mine Memorial
Amanda Brinkerhoff 26:36
Along the way, we did take a little bit of a detour to explore some more of the World War One memorials and cemeteries. We came across one called Lochtrignor, or Lochnagar, and it was a mine and it had been an area where they had been there had been a lot of trenches during World War One. And we didn’t realize this. This was something We learned apparently they used to tunnel under the trenches, and then they would put explosives to blow up the opposition’s trenches. And this is a crater that had been created by one of those explosions with a little Memorial there and talking about the history of, of how that all happened. So that was an interesting find that we found on our way to Lille.
Annie Sargent 27:20
Yeah, that that’s sobering that they would do that to one another.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 27:25
Yeah, it was. And then in Lille, we, again, pretty much in will we focused on the Christmas market, we found a hotel that was right on the Grande Place where the big Ferris wheel is, so Lille has one of the really large Ferris wheels as part of its Christmas market. And then they have the selection of booths and you know, pretty much the standard things, some mainly the same things. We had seen in Amiens on the previous day. So yeah, not a lot of unique there in Lille, but again, really enjoying the architecture more of the city. just wandering around the old town and looking at some of that French Flemish architecture.
Annie Sargent 28:05
Cool right so this one so I’ll put your hotel recommendation you also recommend a restaurant you said caters to tourists, but it’s good food that’s always good to know. And oh, and you went shopping at a pâtisserie
Amanda Brinkerhoff 28:24
Yes, a lot of our shopping was focused on chocolates and desserts because we quite enjoy those. And we did find a patisserie that had really delicious a religious I don’t know how to say this right a religious
Annie Sargent 28:41
Une religieuse. Religieuse, yes, it’s it’s a it’s a standard French pâtisserie. Yeah, desert.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 28:51
Yeah, choux pastry with the most amazing salted caramel pastry cream inside.
Annie Sargent 28:57
Amanda Brinkerhoff 28:58
Nice afternoon snack. Yeah,
Annie Sargent 29:01
so if you could only see one Christmas market between Lille and Arras or Amiens, which one would you go to?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 29:09
I would say Arras. I think it was the one we we enjoyed the most, a small town so not as crowded as the other two. And like I said, a lot more of handmade local items it appeared so
The Christmas Market in Bruges Belgium
Annie Sargent 29:21
Very good to know. Okay. And then you moved on to Belgium.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 29:26
We did. We spent two days in Belgium. On our way in we drove to Bruges, which is a cute medieval town. So a lot of the architecture is, you know, towers and turrets and very much looks like my little castle town. Yeah, that we really enjoyed walking through. They have a lot of shopping streets. A lot of chocolate shops in town, also known for its lace making. So there’s a lot of lace shops as well.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 29:55
We wandered through their they had they had to Christmas markets and Bruges. Small one with only maybe 20 or so little booths huts, and then a larger one, we actually enjoyed the little smaller one a lot more. I think again, because it had that smaller feel and seemed to be more unique items versus the larger mass market.
Annie Sargent 30:16
Amanda Brinkerhoff 30:17
Items in the larger section
Annie Sargent 30:18
Right, you gave me the name of both like, I might not say them right. Simon Stevinplein? Anyway, I will put in the show notes cause I not sure how to say that. But the one you enjoyed most was the smaller one, the Simon one.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges
Amanda Brinkerhoff 30:34
We did. And then we really just wondered have enjoyed wandering around town. And one of the things that we visited there was the Basilica of the holy blood, which is just a small chapel that was part of the palace. there in that town. It reminded me a lot of Sainte Chappelle in Paris, where it’s just kind of that smaller, more intimate chapel and it’s known for its relic which is supposedly a piece of cloth with the blood of Jesus on it. And during certain parts of the day, you can go up to the altar and actually touch the vial that has this piece of cloth in it. And so we happen to be there as that was happening that day.
Annie Sargent 31:16
Did you get healed?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 31:18
You know, we didn’t actually touch it, because we were like, We didn’t know what was really going on. And then we kind of realized afterwards, you know, as they were taking it away, that’s what that was!
Annie Sargent 31:29
Yeah, you’re more likely to get sick if you touch something that dozens of other people have touched.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 31:35
Annie Sargent 31:35
Yeah. Anyway, that’s modern science.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 31:41
So, we really enjoyed Bruges. It does cater to tourists. So you know, very clean, I would say that’s probably of all the towns we visited, where we heard the most English speaking happening.
Annie Sargent 31:54
Amanda Brinkerhoff 31:54
And all of the other towns are not really well known for American or English tourists as much I don’t think so. Right. We’ve, we felt a lot of the times like we were the only Americans around.
Annie Sargent 32:06
Right. Right so there was this Bruges movie years ago. I don’t I don’t know why people liked it so much, but I think it’s sent. It gave a lot of people the idea that they needed to go visit Bruges, which is a nice place I’ve been to this is a nice place. Yeah,
Amanda Brinkerhoff 32:25
We we enjoyed it. Definitely someplace. I’ll go back again someday when I have a little bit more time to wander around.
A night in Ghent
Annie Sargent 32:31
So did you sleep in Bruges?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 32:33
We didn’t. That was just a stop on our way to Belgium. Okay. We actually after we left Bruges, we drove into Ghent to check into our hotel. And then the next day we explored Ghent, very similar to Bruges, but maybe not as it’s not as touristy though so very similar architecture and style. Just, you know, not yet. It’s trying to become Bruges, but not quite there yet. So the redheaded stepchild or something so
The Ghent Alterpiece in Ghent
Amanda Brinkerhoff 33:05
But it has a lot of famous sites and so we wandered those the next day. So it’s got its big Cathedral, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which is the home of the Ghent altarpiece, which is one of the famous European artworks. Yes. Well known because it was stolen, I think a couple of different times. And one of them being during World War Two. It was one of the paintings that was hidden in the salt mines, by the Nazis and, you know, part of the movie the Monuments Men, were they, some of the Americans, you know, save these artworks from the Germans. This was one of those art pieces so,
Annie Sargent 33:42
So how’s it displayed?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 33:45
It has its own separate room, in the cathedral. And they’re actually working on a permanent exhibition, I think separate outside of the cathedral that’s supposed to open next year in 2020. But they’ve kind of got it right now in its own separate area. You have to pay extra fee. There’s no fee to get into the cathedral. But there is a fee to go into see the altar piece.
Annie Sargent 34:05
Amanda Brinkerhoff 34:06
And I think it was about four euros per person. But it comes with a free audio guide that gives you some historical information and context of each of the panels of the altarpiece and kind of walks you through the whole thing. So that was really nice. We enjoyed that. It was probably maybe about a half hour long to get through the audio guide. And they’ve got it set up and it certain parts of the day, they’ll actually close because it’s got side panels that close. And then there’s paintings that would be on that front closed pieces as well. So every now and then during the day, they’ll close it so you can see that the front as well. Yeah,
Annie Sargent 34:43
Yeah. Yeah, I would love to see that I’ve been to Ghent but I didn’t. I didn’t go in and I think you need to
Amanda Brinkerhoff 34:53
yeah, it was it was I love you know, seeing some of those famous pieces of art. And so that was definitely A highlight for me.
Annie Sargent 35:01
Yeah. And can you take pictures?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 35:04
No, you can’t take pictures of the of the painting itself. So we went to the bookshop right there in the cathedral after and bought postcards. Yeah. Yeah. And then one of the other big things that we saw in Ghent was the castle of the Counts. It’s called Gravensteen, which was the home of the counts of Flanders or one of the homes of them. And so there’s a, it’s a fortified medieval fortress. And it still has its moat and ramparts and you can take tours of that as well.
Annie Sargent 35:36
Nice. And that was worth seeing, in your opinion?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 35:40
It was, it’s, you know, very much exactly what you would think a medieval fortress should look like. Yeah, cool.
Enjoying Belgian Waffles
Amanda Brinkerhoff 35:49
And then, and then the rest of the day we spent in the Christmas market, so a fairly large Christmas market there and Ghent but not being as big of a touristy city. It ended up one we really enjoyed, again, some things that we hadn’t seen in other markets, more handmade items. And then the other thing we really enjoyed there was stopping at the different chocolate booths and buying and trying and tasting the different chocolates.
Annie Sargent 36:16
You were in Belgium after all!
Amanda Brinkerhoff 36:19
We were! So best place to buy it. You know, we found some handmade ornaments there in that market. little bells that you know, ceramic bells had been painted, things like that. So those were some of the things that we bought there in Ghent
Annie Sargent 36:35
So you wrote that you tried both kinds of Belgian waffles to decide which was your favorite. So which one was your favorite?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 36:44
And I preferred the Liège.
Annie Sargent 36:46
Amanda Brinkerhoff 36:48
Liège it’s it’s more like a bread dough that they cook into a waffle. Okay, but has more sugar content in it, so probably why I enjoy it more But just nice and soft and chewy and then they had melted chocolate that they had poured on it. So I’m kind of a double
Annie Sargent 37:09
I think that’s the only kind I know. What’s the other kind?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 37:12
There’s also a, I think it’s a Brussels waffle. And it’s kind of a crispier waffle rather than the chewier.
Annie Sargent 37:22
Oh, I see what you mean now. Okay. Okay. Yes, I know what you mean. Now it is crispier thinner and crispier. Yes,
Amanda Brinkerhoff 37:29
Yes. Yes. So, so try both but my preference is the Liège.
Annie Sargent 37:35
Yes. Liège has like these chunks of sugar inside, crystallize.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 37:39
Annie Sargent 37:39
Crystal. Crystal. I can’t say it! Bits of sugar inside. It’s delicious.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 37:46
Yeah. So that was pretty much our trip in Belgium. Definitely recommend it. It’s beautiful. And some place I’ll go back to and we did have a couple of Mills there that we really enjoyed and One that I’ll really, that I really enjoyed was called passion. It was a lunch cafe where we had a really good tomato soup and cheese croquettes. And so, almost like having grilled cheese and tomato soup like we would back home. And it was a rainy day. So it was just like the perfect meal.
Annie Sargent 38:18
Yeah, there’s beers. Yeah, you list several things that would be interesting to people who are going to be visiting Belgium. Ghent because you list your favorite restaurants and places to try things. So that’s cool.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 38:33
Yeah. And the hotel that we found there was absolutely amazing. It was a beautiful, beautifully restored 18th century townhouse. And then the host, you know, would cook us breakfast every morning. So the hotel there I would, I would definitely recommend it was called Ghent rooms and suites.
Annie Sargent 38:51
Very good. And I’ll put a link in the show notes as well because I want to make it easy for everybody.Very good.
The Reims Christmas Market
Annie Sargent 38:58
And our last day. Our last day. So our longest drive that we had was that last day we were spending which we drove from Ghent to Reims and spent the day there. It was a Saturday and Reims is a more popular town. A lot of day trippers from Paris. I think it was probably part of it. Right? It was very crowded. So we actually had booked a hotel that was right in the market square right there in front of the cathedral. So a little bit of challenge getting to our hotel, being able to drop off our luggage. So something to be aware of if you’re staying in that area. Yeah.
Annie Sargent 39:39
Because because they restrict traffic in front of the hotel.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 39:42
They did they did restrict the traffic, it was completely shut down because it was part of the Christmas market itself.
Annie Sargent 39:49
Oh, well, yeah.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 39:50
Yeah. So yeah, so we had to find a nearby location to you know, park the car for a few minutes. Get our luggage, you know, You carry it through the Christmas market. And they go back to the car and go find her permanent parking. But it all worked out in the end.
Annie Sargent 40:07
Yeah, was the hotel nice other than that?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 40:10
It was a beautiful hotel. It being right there. It’s, it was the only hotel we stayed out that was part of the hotel chain. It’s a part of the Marriott brands. But it’s part of their more boutique style hotels. And then we had an actual one of the rooms we had actually face the cathedral, which ended up being something that we enjoyed later that evening, being able to sit out on the balcony, and being able to watch the market below, rather than being down in the market with all the people.
Annie Sargent 40:43
Right, right. So you can see it from your hotel. That’s always nice.
The Reims Cathedral and light show
Annie Sargent 40:46
Yeah, but we did go out and explore the market for a little bit and then we went into the cathedral. So that was one of our main reasons for visiting Reims was to visit the cathedral there. It’s the place where 33 of the French kings I believe were crowned right. I’m not as much decoration in the front portion of the cathedral is what maybe you’re used to seeing and some of the others. But as you get into the chapels in the back of the cathedral, there’s some beautiful stained glass back in that area. They have a one of the chapels has a beautiful Marc Chagall stained glass window. And then they have a lot more modern stained glass, because a lot of their stained glass was destroyed during the war.
Annie Sargent 41:28
Lot of that cathedral was destroyed during the war. Yes.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 41:31
Yeah. Yeah. But it’s but it is an absolutely beautiful building. There was a Christmas concert going on while we were there. So there was some music inside the cathedral. And it was it was busy. But if you went to the towards the back, most people were sitting and watching the concert. We wandered around the whole the whole building and backing through the chapels and the rear. So we were out of all of the busy crowded area but still got to listen to the music. So little tip there.
Annie Sargent 42:01
Nice! Nice. So they did. Did they charge to get the concert? Okay.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 42:08
No, they didn’t charge. I think it was just more local, you know, maybe local choirs that kind of thing, that were singing.
Annie Sargent 42:15
Yeah, yeah. So in France entrance to the cathedral is always free because the cathedral building is owned by as the city. But sometimes when there’s an event going on, you have to pay to get into that event.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 42:29
Yeah. And then we did wander through some of the market you know, that’s where we ate dinner that night rather than trying to find a restaurant. And then we did find a beautiful booth that had hand blown and hand painted glass ornaments. So that was one of our souvenirs that we brought home with us.
Annie Sargent 42:47
Did he make it home in one piece?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 42:49
Mine did my mom’s did not sadly. So pack you know, make sure you put you know bubble wrap or like wrap your scarf something around that
Annie Sargent 43:00
Yeah, and maybe bring a kind of a hard box if you know you’re buying glass ornaments, maybe bring a hard box and then pack the box really well and hopefully, you know, Oh, that’s too bad.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 43:13
Annie Sargent 43:15
Sorry. Go ahead.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 43:17
That night they actually have light and sound show on the facade of the facade Cathedral as well, similar to what Amiens had. And so we were able to actually sit on our terrace at our hotel and enjoy it and enjoy it and drink a glass of champagne.
Annie Sargent 43:31
Very nice! Yeah, you didn’t go see the champagne houses?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 43:37
We didn’t because we had were only there for the one day. And so but we did stop at one of the shops right there in the main square and bought a bottle and took it up to our hotel room.
What was your favorite Christmas Market of all these towns?
Annie Sargent 43:48
That’s great. So of all these Christmas markets, would you still say the one in Arras was the one that you enjoyed the most?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 43:56
I would say it was a combination of Arras and probably Ghent. Those are probably the two that we enjoyed the most tool.
Annie Sargent 44:03
Very good to know. All right, and then you had a few general hints and suggestions. Let’s go through those quickly.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 44:10
Okay, so the first one was our decision to drive was a good one because of the strike. We did run into a couple in Belgium that were heading back into France. And they were had been planning to take the train and their train had been canceled. Yeah. So they were taking a bus. So we were like, Oh, we don’t have to worry about any of this because we have our own car!
Annie Sargent 44:29
Right. Right. Yeah. And, and during this particular strike, truckers threaten to block roads, but it ended up being very few roads and only for an hour too. So yeah, people freaked out over this, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. You know?
Amanda Brinkerhoff 44:48
Yeah. See any of that?
Annie Sargent 44:50
Yo, yeah, I haven’t seen Yeah, I haven’t seen any of it and I live here so you know it. I mean, if if you happen to be right where it’s happening. It’s really annoying, but it’s not happening in that many places.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 45:04
Yes. And then the next one was a couple the next two actually kind of go together a little bit. One is, the sun does go down really early because it’s winter. So around 4:30 it starts getting dark. So make sure that you take that in consideration when you’re driving around. And if you don’t want to be driving in the dark, yeah, to plan your activities, you know, kind of between, say, the 8am to 4pm time for driving.
Annie Sargent 45:29
Comparing Christmas Markets in Europe
Amanda Brinkerhoff 45:31
And then the other thing is make your drives that you’re planning to do shorter, maybe, you know, stay you know, we we stayed in Amiens and then Lille we could have gone straight into Belgium, but we knew that there were things we were wanting to do on our way to Lille and so we kind of use that as a stopgap before going into Belgium. Yeah, so maybe make your drives an hour to an hour and a half in between places.
Annie Sargent 45:54
That’s very wise.
Amanda Brinkerhoff 45:55
Yeah. And then the next one would be the because the markets do get extremely crowded, especially in the larger cities during the weekends during December, I would say maybe plan other activities on Saturday and Sunday. And then do the markets if you can during the week.
Annie Sargent 46:12
Right. Right. If you can, that’s best. Yeah. Because French people do go out to those Christmas markets. And most of them can only go on Saturday and Sunday, right. And then
Amanda Brinkerhoff 46:22
some of the smaller towns typically only have a single market, if anybody’s used to going into say, Germany or Austria and some of the other countries. Some of those towns have like 5, 6, 7 Christmas markets in their towns. It’s not as popular in France. But the markets are still beautiful, and you still get into the Christmas spirit. But just know that a lot of the towns only have a single market. So you can maybe plan to do more than one in a day or you know, like I said, just pace your your days out so that you have other activities.
Annie Sargent 46:55
Excellent. Well, that was really interesting. Thank you so much, and it’s good to know that all All of those, you know, Arras and Ghent, great stops for the Christmas market. That’s that’s one of Yes. And you wrote very detailed guest notes, which I will put a link to in the show notes. So this is this episode is going to be Episode 263. And it’s going to come out on December 22. And yeah, and so, I hope whoever is going to visit to explore that part of France next. We’ll, we’ll learn lots from your from your observations.
Annie Sargent 47:32
Well, I enjoyed it. Thanks, Danny, thank you very much and Joyeux Noël!
Amanda Brinkerhoff 47:35
I will. Au revoir !
Annie Sargent 47:39
Thank you, Lori McCullum, Gail Kenny, Amy, Carol Vogler and Emily Connor for pledging to support the show on Patreon this week. Patrons enjoys several rewards that you’ll find listed at patreon.com/joinus join us. That’s pa tr e When Ford slash join us no spaces or dashes, I share exclusive content with my patrons including help with your French comprehension stories about France photos and membership into a secret Facebook group. And of course patrons can message me directly through Patreon and these messages always get top priority.
Annie Sargent 48:23
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Annie Sargent 48:42
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Annie Sargent 49:08
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Annie Sargent 49:49
For my personal update this week. Well it’s a few days before Christmas. So it’s been very busy. I’m sure you’ve been very busy too! To update you on my German brothers. mulching machine problem that I mentioned last week, the broken machine has been returned and the return has been credited to my credit card. So all is well, I went and bought another branch mulching machine locally. And that experience went much better. It took three hours, but I mulched all my branches with the new machine. And I also mulched all the leaves with the mower. And so now life is as it should be. I don’t know about you, but I get a little obsessed with projects like that. It would have really bugged me to have my backyard look messy much longer.
Annie Sargent 50:38
And I’ll be producing two episodes in a row, today and tomorrow. So I can take some time off between Christmas and New Year. So there won’t be any thank yous in the next episode, but you know me I really appreciate all of your support. Anyway. It’ll be an interesting episode about planning A trip to France with a large group which is a can be complicated.
Annie Sargent 51:06
And we’re going to Collioure as a family for a few days we’re even taking the dogs Let’s hope for not too much wind as we’re mostly going so we can you know, take some nice walks along the beach and, and scenic places that they have around there and have a nice change of scenery.
Annie Sargent 51:27
I’ll try my hand at bird photography while in Collioure as well because I know they have some interesting birds down there. I found out trying to get photos of birds coming to my backyard feeder that birds are much faster than basketball players. So it’s a challenge to get a sharp bird photo but like anything else, it’s practice, practice, practice, so I’ll do that. And if I get some good ones, I’ll post them on the Facebook group and possibly on Instagram too.
Annie Sargent 51:59
While in Collioure we’ll also take a quick trip into Spain because I have a few favorite Spanish products that I want to buy that I can’t find in France. I love this one particular brand of olives and also a tomato sauce. Most French people go to Spain and they buy cigarettes and booze because the local taxes are lower over there. I might get some booze but no cigarettes. Thank you very much. Anyway, it’ll be fun.
Annie Sargent 52:25
I hope you have fun things planned for your year end celebrations as well.
Annie Sargent 52:32
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Annie Sargent 53:04
Send questions or feedback to Annie@Join Us in france.com Have a great week of trip planning. Happy Holidays to all of you, au revoir!
Annie Sargent 53:14
The Join Us in France Travel Podcast is written and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2019 by addicted to France. It is released under Creative Commons Attribution non commercial no derivatives license