Thursday, December 24, 2009

First Impressions

Susie and I arrived on December 23, in time to see Metz and its citizens finish up preparations for Christmas. The streets in the city center are decorated with lights, the squares have carousels and Christmas market booths, and people are hurrying to buy provisions before all the shops shut down for a couple of days. Today before noon there were long lines at the bakeries, the charcuteries, and the confiseurs. At one upscale patissier-chocolatier, the line stretched around the corner, guided by a velvet rope. The store windows boast elaborate and correspondingly expensive holiday cakes.

The Christmas market, regionally famous and distributed across three squares, consists of colorful booths that sell gifts, trinkets, candy, food, drink, and all sorts of specialty items. As you walk by, vendors offer tastes of products like rustic ham and spice bread.

You can see and smell crepes on the griddle, waffles being sugared. Children walk by with their faces smeared with chocolate. One booth sold items from Quebec, such as beer and maple syrup. Cups of vin chaud--mulled wine--pass across counters to waiting hands.

The streets in the center of town mostly exclude vehicles and are lined with shops and restaurants. The Place de la Republic features a carnival ride in the form of a giant Christmas tree. The place looks thriving, and people, for example waiting in line with you at the baker's, are warm and friendly. When we mentioned that we'd just arrived from the USA, the supermarket grocery checker told us that one of her sisters lived in Florida and another in Montreal.

Decent wines are deliriously inexpensive. We bought a bottle of Gaillac for 2.99 euros and a Fronton for 3.15; at home these would have been $15-18. Restaurants meals cost a lot more than in the US, though. We could save a lot of money by dining at home on a wine diet.

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