Christmas in November

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I want to reminisce about my jaunts in and near Strasbourg, France, taken in conjunction with the ASTA congress this year.

I am justifying doing so now on the grounds that the entire area (Alsace) is noted for its Christmas markets.

During ASTA, in early November, we had a preview in Strasbourg at a minimarket laid out for delegates. At the outdoor, wood-framed stalls, we could shop for holiday crafts and decorations.

That was the planned preview, but we saw other indicators of the Alsacian penchant for decorating -- and not just for Christmas.

My out-of-town destinations were Colmar (birthplace of Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty), and, on another day, the tinier Barr and Obernai, each accessible in 40 minutes or less by rail from Strasbourg.

I found English-speaking ticket sellers in Strasbourg and Colmar. The first seller reminded me to punch my ticket, before boarding, at the orange machines travelers must pass en route to the platforms.

Each machine makes a distinct cut on the edge of the ticket, and I worried what would happen (a fine, maybe?) when the conductor discovered I had missed this routine on running for the train at Barr.

Maybe a fine is called for, but after I dived into franglais to say I had not seen the machine (I hadn't), the conductor shrugged his shoulders.

These small towns have tourist offices, and I visited the Obernai office to get a map, arriving just in time. It closed for the weekday lunch hour.

I walked as much as possible in a short time. I can't recall when I have seen so many half-timbered houses and certainly none as brightly colored. They came in shouting yellows, bright blues, even hot pink. By comparison, those in England and Normandy look mighty subdued.

Also, some Christmas decorations were in place, lining or crossing over village streets. I visited indoor shops beautiful with vast arrays of holiday goods on display. So I was surprised, in November, to find a Colmar house with windows still decked out with Halloween figures.

In Strasbourg, holiday lights also were in place, ready to be turned on. Even without the Christmas excuse, side streets near the cathedral were so brightly lighted, I got night photos.

What did I get? Halloween again. One is a shadowy witch on a broomstick "flying" across a spotlight.

And my favorite shot? It shows a huge rag doll Santa climbing onto a roof. What the photo could not show is the window display below -- Halloween candles.

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