If there's one thing I miss about not being in Belgium at this time of the year, it's the Christmas festive ambiance you see/hear/feel everywhere (and all that crazy snow last year really helped)! And if there's one thing I love the most, it's the Christmas Markets!!! True, they're not as fabulous as the ones in Germany (or Eastern France), but it's the first place I encountered them, my "first love" as you might say. And so I start this blog series on Christmas Markets in the city where it all started for me, la "Cité Ardente": Liège.
|Bienvenus au Village de Noël de Liège!|
Located on the Place du Marché and the Place Saint Lambert, the Village de Noël - as Liège's Christmas market is called - turns 25 this year! (click on its name for the official website, in French)
|It all looks much prettier at night with the lights, don't you think?|
Although I'm not there to see it, I know several of my friends will be doing it justice by meeting up for a drink and a bite and hanging out there probably every weekend night (and some weeknights!) while it lasts.
Because, although it remains a Christmas market, and you can find some nice things for gifts or decorating (albeit a limited selection compared to Germany),
among locals the Village de Noël is better know as a meeting place to hang out during the holidays and drink wine (hot or normal), pékèt, beer... you name it! And EAT! Winter means cold which means the body craves calories to keep warm, and the wooden chalets here have plenty of delicious things to offer!
An originality of this Christmas Market is that - since it's called a Christmas village - it's got its own post office and mayor's office!
And of course there's a Crèche representing the Nativity. In this case made with figures that puppets, done in a style that's traditional to Liège (they still put on plays for children about Charlemagne's exploits, helped by "Tchantchès" -the guy in blue- but that's a tale for another day!). Here's the 2009 edition (the sign is in Walloon):
A novelty I discovered last year was that Liège finally had its own "vin chaud" (spiced hot wine) mug! I've been collecting the German ones for years and always wished I had one from Liège. Good things come to those who wait! ;o)
In all fairness, I've never really spent much time in the Village de Noël proper, I've always been a much bigger fan of an extension of Liège's Christmas Market that actually started the year I arrived, in 1999, the Patinoire de Noël i.e. the Christmas Ice Skating Rink!
|La Patinoire de Noël - Place Cathédrale à Liège|
They flatten out the dirt in the parterre in front of the cathedral, lay down some kind of rubber tubing and make ice and presto! You've got an open-air ice-skating rink! The first years it was uncovered but they finally put together the bugdet to cover it up and offer some protection from the rain (drizzle more often than not, but makes it dangerously slippery!).
I don't know when they started having these little penguin-helpers for kids, but I think they're a great idea!
I've had so much fun on that rink, although it usually took a bit of arm-twisting to convince my friends to join me on the ice. ;o)
I've also enjoyed introducing several of my friends to the ice for the first time (including the guy in the top photos, a few years before these shots). It's so wonderful to see fear slowly replaced by a growing confidence and then a big grin appear on someone's face!
Of course, if more than 2-3 of us were there together... crazy danger alert for everyone else! :p
But once again, the reason most people hang out there is for the FOOD! There are more little wooden chalets set up all around the rink. Tartiflette anyone?
My favourite? The fondue chalet!!!
One lucky year (my last night in town in 2009) we were surprised to discover it had actually snowed while we were skating and dining! And quite a bit for it to stick like that in downtown Liège!
So what did we do? Try and eat snowflakes? Yes of course!
But even better...
Not that we could actually make decent snowballs with the stuff, but we could clump it together and throw it and even hit our target if not too far away... ;o)
I'll finish off with my favourite photo taken at the Patinoire, it was the Fall my youngest sister spent in Liège living with me while she did her Erasmus programme:
Addendum: I had all this just about ready to go, when I learnt that tragedy has struck Liège! Yesterday some crazy guy (must be to do what he did) threw a couple of grenades at a bus stop next to the Christmas Market and then opened fire on people (story on the BBC here). So far I think it's five dead (including him) and over a hundred injured. None of my friends were hurt, but one of my former students was there and he said it was chaos what with the militarised police and the people yelling and in shock... The idea of the whole event just horrifies me and I feel terrible for all those who were there and the families of the victims. Not a very merry Christmas for them, to say the least. :o(