Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our (Non) Christmas Market Day in France

Josh's parents arrived in Barcelona in time to celebrate the holidays with us.  It's a visit we've been very much looking forward to, especially the kids.  While the holidays here have been great in the last 2 years, there is something to be said about having extended family with you to join in the celebrations.  It's one of the things we've missed about being home.

With Paul and Roisin here, we decided that we would not take a vacation during the kids' Christmas break but instead do some day trips.  The first of those trips was to France in search of Christmas markets.  Since it was just a day trip we were limited to those in the south of France, basically within a 3 hour driving distance of Barcelona.

After doing a little bit of research we decided upon 2 places, Argeles-sur-mer and Carcassonne.  One, a quaint village and the other more of a tourist attraction.  One of our favorite towns just over the French border is Collioure, a picturesque village filled with artisans and artists as well as bordering the Med which only enhances its beauty.  Matisse said "In France there is no sky as blue as the one in Collioure".  I had hoped there would be a Christmas market there as I imagined it would be the quinticential French market.  Unfortunately it looked like there was no market in Collioure but the neighboring town Argeles-sur-mer did have one.

I searched for photos online to see if this would be the market to take Josh's parents to.  Nada.  So we figured worst case we would add on Carcassonne which appeared to be only a 45 min drive from Argeles-sur-mer.

We got to Argeles-sur-mer in just under 2 1/2 hours.  Not so bad.  With the holidays fast approaching there was really no traffic to contend with.  And while it wasn't quite as quaint as Collioure, I definitely could see some similarities with brightly colored homes of turquoise, reds, purples and oranges - I know those don't sound like they would work, but they do.  We were about 45 minutes early for the opening of the market and so took the time to walk around the town and become familiar.  It didn't have the small winding streets of Collioure but was pretty nonetheless.

When we had arrived I had set the GPS for the square the market was being held and in which we parked.  So right upon arrival I was a little suspicious that the small tent in the parking lot was in fact, our Christmas market.  But since we had to wait the 45 minutes to confirm those inklings, we figured the worst case would be that we would be in and out in a matter of minutes and head on to Carcassonne.
Liam in front of a calabaza (pumpkin) - my name for him... 

Argeles-sur-mer town center

More of Argeles-sur-mer

After blue lollipops

Pretty house number - the image is actually of Collioure

Church in Argeles-sur-mer

Cool mural

Aidan didn't like the statue's face

Dancing in the streets

Left:  Cool mural... right:  Liam getting a ride from Papa

My boys

In fact, we were right, this was the market.  And it was an utter fail on our end.  Nothing Christmassy about it.  Well with the exception of one vendor at the very end that was selling chocolate covered flavored marshmallows like those we purchased at the Strasbourg market last year in the Alsace region. And so, I bought some more (several of which a week later are still sitting on my counter in Barcelona).  Ah well.  Ok, so it was a slight waste of time but I'm glad that Paul and Roisin got to see a little bit of charming France before moving on to touristy France.

The Christmas "market" in Argeles-sur-mer

And my predicted 45 mins (from just looking at the map, not actually googling the directions) from Argeles-sur-mer to Carcassone was actually double that time.  Apparently I didn't do a great job in the planning department.  The Christmas markets here looked pretty cool from their town website only it didn't specify where the markets were being held - in the Cité or somewhere in the actual town.  So we decided to go the Cité which is the old walled city and see where that took us - at a minimum Josh, the kids and his parents would get a chance to see a medieval walled city.

Now as we walk through the walled city which is a bit on the touristy side I'm reminded of something my best friend, Michelle, said to me when we visited Carcassonne 2 1/2 years ago - yes, the touristy part certainly takes away from the authenticity however, looking back hundreds if not thousands of years (the city was initially founded in BC times) there were still vendors in these sites, so while they aren't artisans making swords or horseshoes or suits of armor, they are still artisans selling their wears, even if those goods are of the touristy sort.

And it turned out that once we were in the walled city that you could see in the distance where the Christmas markets were, on the other side of town.  How could I know this?  Oh by the giant ferris wheel - it would have been a pretty cool market I'm sure just based on the fact that there was a ferris wheel.  But since the drive took longer than anticipated our first goal was lunch.  Josh did a quick Trip Advisor search and came up with a place a matter of meters from the Cité.  However, when we mapped it, it had us going along the grass just outside the walls which wasn't actually a street.

Searching for the restaurant

Outside the Cité

With much complaining from Aidan that his feet were getting wet and muddy, we abandoned Trip Advisor and decided to go into the Cité and eat there despite the fact that it is most definitely a tourist trap.  With 2PM rapidly approaching we were hitting the hungry grumpy point of no return for all involved, especially the kids.  But as always, when in a group it's hard to make a decision.

We finally agreed upon a small cafe in a square that was filled with tourists.  It should have been a sign.  Nothing good will come of this.  And nothing good did come of it.  Not only was the service beyond terrible, so was the food.  And yes, I know European service is different than US service but there is a difference between giving you your space to enjoy your meal and being downright negligent.  They were the latter.  And they screwed up our meal which took forever for very simple fare.  Regardless, we should have known better and no one is to fault but ourselves - in the end, at least we ate something.

By the time we finished our "meal" it was 3:30.  Despite the fact that we weren't in a rush to get back to Barcelona neither Josh and I were thrilled with the idea of another 3 hour drive late into the night.  So instead of heading to the markets (which we didn't have an actual address for, just a ferris wheel that you could see from an elevated location) we would continue to explore the walled city for a while and then head back to Barcelona.

Part of the outer wall

Liam and Papa heading up to the walled city

Heading to the drawbridge

Aidan all excited to go inside

Playing games while waiting for lunch

Inside the Cité

Cathedral inside the Cité

He's too cute for words

Cool walkway

View from over one of the walls

Mom what's down there??

View of the lower (non walled) part of the city

Family photo

I think everyone liked Carcassonne - it's a very cool thing to see a place like this that has been restored so authentically and to know that people still live within its walls.  And while it is touristy, it is also beautiful.  I think we were all a little sad to miss out on the Christmas markets but in the end, we got a little piece of history instead.


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