Alsatian Christmas Markets (and a visit to Basel)

We were so impressed with our trip to Colmar and the surrounding area back in March that we decided to give the region a try with my parents in the winter. And mais oui, quel hiver!

The Theater of Operations

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The Transportation

We rented a car. We would not have done that for just ourselves; we like our little car just fine for us. But with four adults, intercontinental luggage for half of them, and a week’s worth of winter clothing, we opted for something bigger and more comfortable than our little cold, weak, loud station wagon. I rented us something in the Passat class, but we were pleased to see an Audi A6 waiting for us. It felt more difficult to maneuver around parking lots and little European towns, but it was roomy and fancy. And, apparently thirsty for oil. Or at least it thought it was.


We pulled over in the dark about a third of the way to Frankfurt to see what we could learn from the owner’s manual about those warning messages. We considered buying some oil from a gas station and adding it, but in the end decided to press on. In the morning, practically on the FRA airport grounds, I called Buchbinder in Regensburg and they directed me to the EuropCar station at the airport. They saw the same warning and added a liter of oil and declared us good to go. ((Except that it was the day of the test of the nationwide Katastrophenalarm, and the blast doors in the parking gar where EuropCar FRA is closed with klaxons and flashing lights going off, trapping us and everyone behind us, for a few minutes until some brave soul got out of his car and simply pushed the blast door open for that long line of cars.)) An hour later, well on our way to the border with France, the warning lamp came on again and then finally stayed off for the rest of the trip.

The Lodging

We stayed in a little German town not far from the border to France called Rheinhausen (beware, there are dozens of German towns named that). Also beware that there are two restaurants nearby, both named “Schiff.” ((One of them is good. Guess how we know. We discovered that the Google review for one was attached to the location of the other. You want the one actually NOT in Rheinhausen.)) There are some parky, canal-adjacent walking paths around there, so if you get tired of the crowded Christmas market scene, you can go for a (long!) walk. Or maybe you like amusement parks; “Europa Park Rust” is less than 4 km away.

Rheinhausen   Rheinhausen

This town wasn’t our first choice, but we got moving on the lodging hunt a little late and La Mirabelle was all that was left in our price range near the target towns with two rooms available for the duration of stay in the area. But it was a good choice nevertheless: great breakfast selection, very friendly and helpful staff, and free parking on site were all much appreciated. Other perks of the town: its Thai restaurant was pretty good and the large, well-stocked Rewe opens daily ((But not Sundays and holidays of course. It’s still Germany.)) from 7am to 10pm.

The Target Towns


We parked kind of far away from the action, but that didn’t mean it cost less. There were several different markets areas happening here. I snagged some pain d’épice to take home. Warming up with hot chocolate at a café on the river bank was a good idea.



Ribeauvillé and Kaysersberg

Driving across the border near Marckholsheim was very frustrating. There was construction work on the locks over the river causing long lines of cars in both directions. What’s more, the drivable part was reduced to just a few meters of width, and we were in an unfamiliar rental car tank. But once we got close, we started following signs for the Navette parking, and that was a much better deal: cheaper price, easier parking, so much better on my nerves.
Ribeauvillé   Ribeauvillé   Ribeauvillé



This was the town that inspired us to come back for wintry visit. We were hoping for a sit-down lunch at place that would serve us choucroute and maybe some munster cheese over potatoes, but we couldn’t find anything halfway traditional, open and not already marked as COMPLET — so we opted for an Indian restaurant. ((Incidentally, right next door to the Lebanese restaurant Sarah and I enjoyed during our visit in March.)) It was pretty good, but I think we would have been happier with some SAUSAGE and SAUERKRAUT.

Colmar   Colmar   Colmar


Basel was a nice surprise, in more ways than one:

  1. parking was fairly convenient
  2. the city was very walkable, despite streets and hills
  3. the rental car had a CH vignette still valid for 2022 in it!

So we drove down, crossed the border (no one was interested in checking our car), had lunch, cruised some grocery stores and spent our last hour (“Happy Hour”) between 16:00 and 17:00 browsing the Historisches Museum Basel at the Barfüsserkirche on Barfüsserplatz ((The fact that that neighborhood in Basel is nicknamed “Barfy” is a little weird, especially for their eating establishments – “Barfy Pizza”, etc.)) for free.

  Basel   Basel

The next day was a big, long, slow, somewhat scary drive home. But the car behaved, and so did all the drivers in our vicinity. We were tired when we got home and very much appreciated the short walk to our favorite local Indian restaurant.

Take a look at the full set of our pictures from this trip if you like.

Buongiorno Milano!

For all our Italy enthusiasm over the years, it feels weird to admit we’d never been to Milan before November 2022.

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We did a long weekend there, departing Regensburg after work on a Friday for Zurich. Staying in Zurich on the way to Milan made it convenient to reconnect with our pals P. and H. We stayed at a B&B Hotel near the Zurich airport, because it’s not far from their neighborhood. I’m not sure I’d stay at that B&B place again (or any franchise, it’s a hotel chain). It felt like it was mid-level between Easy Hotel and Motel One. It would do a in a pinch, but probably not my first choice going forward. After a lovely lunch and chat with our pals the next day, we pressed on towards Milan, arriving after dark in the rain.

Sarah used to get us a room at Porta Tosa from Saturday night to Tuesday morning. Our host Stefano kindly human-shielded a public parking spot across the street for me on our way in, and we only had to pay for parking on Monday. That was convenient; it worked great with EasyPark. Stefano had the paper logo pre-printed for us to show the meter-checker-person we’d paid that way.


We didn’t have any major points on the itinerary besides the Duomo. Porta Tosa is basically a straight line east from the city center on a bus line and a tram line, so we used that a lot. Stefano provided a very useful map with some recommendations for food and activities in the immediate area, and there were good overlaps between his recommendations and Sarah’s own research. We ate at

…besides some fast-food pizza (OMG with cacio e pepe supplì) al taglio and occasional coffee and pastries while out walking around. It was all wonderful, and not at all as fancy as I’d feared. Cooperativa La Liberazione had kind of a hipster socialist gourmet vibe. There we learned the word stinco – much more delicous than it sounds.

black bean soup with croutons and eggplant parmigiana

stinco, a braised Haxe, accompanied by polenta

Locanda del Menarost squeezed us in without a reservation on Monday night, told us we’d have to eat and give up our table in 45 minutes, but then relented and let us stay when someone else cancelled their reservation. That was wonderful food too – particularly the desserts.

apple cake in the background; a pear braised in red wine in the foreground

We arrived at al Bacco for lunch just as they were opening, and the hostess greeted every single party (except us) with a hug and a smooch initially, and then later chef emerged from the kitchen all smiles and hugs and smooches too. Clearly we’d stumbled upon a local regulars’ joint. It was cool to observe.


Il Duomo

This was the main attraction, mostly by default. We didn’t come to Milan seeking it out. It was thing the thing that’s there year-round. We opted for the expensive visit package, including the elevator ride to the roof, and the views were worth it. Even under cloudy skies.

You can see the entire set of photos from this trip here.