Le Marche de Noel
Living abroad is an exhilarating adventure. Since moving to Switzerland, I have had the opportunity to learn a new language, experience a new culture, taste and cook new recipes, and of course make new friends. However, as wonderfully exciting as all of it has been, the holiday season always presents a challenge. The reality of being so far away from all of our friends and family in the States hits me. Invariably, the pre-holiday blues set in as I am reminded of those moments I won’t get to share with those back home.
The first year my husband and I moved abroad, I couldn’t bring myself to decorate our home for the holidays. No wreaths, no tree, not even Christmas lights. I just couldn’t get in the mood and didn’t want to be reminded of the memories my husband and I weren’t making with our own loved ones. I’d spent holidays thousands of miles apart from my family before when I was in grad school, but those times I knew when I’d be back home and the situation was very temporary. Although we quickly became rather accustomed to our lives here in that first year, by far the hardest aspect of the expat life remains being separated from family. Thankfully, not everything about the holidays is so gloomy.
To cure our holiday funk, we took advantage of one of those rare sunny days in Switzerland nestled between all of the rain and snow of the impending winter. We decided to tour around the Marché de Noël in Montreux, a small resort city at the foot of the Swiss Alps perched on the edge of Lake Geneva. It’s known for its hotels, spas, casinos, springtime jazz festival, and direct trains into the mountains for skiing and panoramic vistas. Come holiday season, the city also becomes host to one of the best Christmas markets in Suisse-Romande (the French speaking region of Switzerland).
Upon entering the market, we were greeted with stands upon stands of confections: nougat in all flavors and colors, caramels, taffy, almond brittle, chocolates, and candies I’d never even seen before. We sampled several treats, but my favorites were definitely the caramels. Rum raisin? I cannot get enough! They were pliable and chewy, yet lingered on the tongue the way only caramels can. And even better? My gluten free husband enjoyed every single bit of it. The mere sight of the endless stands of candy instantly transformed him into a five year old full of excitement and wonder. But then, who wouldn’t find their own inner child when presented with such a wonderland of sweets, one that would turn Willy Wonka himself green with envy?
We passed the rows of stands selling artisan crafts – wood carvings, handmade glass ornaments, paintings, so much stunning artwork in one place. For lunch, the aromas of raclette and rösti were tempting, but it was grilled saussice de veau (veal sausage) with mustard that we decided to enjoy.
We found a bench out on one of the docks, taking in on one side the view of the massive crowd and festivities of the marché,and on the other the serenity of Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond.
We strolled along the lakeside, our vain attempt to burn off the delicious calories we had just indulged in, and let the sunbeams glistening over the mountains onto the nearby Château de Chillon bring us into a zen-like state of peace.
Through the Christmas market I found my holiday spirit in tasty food, new traditions, friendly people, and as always, the incredible Swiss landscape.
Tips for traveling gluten-free in a foreign country:
- Learning a few pertinent words in the local language (such as gluten,bread, flour, wheat, oats, barley, and rye) can be incredibly helpful in communicating to wait staff your restrictions, as well as helping you read labels of any products you buy.
- See if there is a local celiac society located in your destination. Ask them for restaurant recommendations, etc. If in Europe, check out the Association of European Celiac Societies for links and contact info for celiac societies in Europe: http://www.aoecs.org
- Bring along some easy to pack snacks in case you find yourself in a bind somewhere, such as on a long train ride with few gluten-free options.
- Do a little research ahead of time and see if any of the local specialties at your destination are naturally gluten-free. Knowing what you are able to enjoy will help take some of the stress out of finding food to eat, though it is still good practice to ask about gluten when you’re ordering.
- Before arriving, look up grocery stores nearby where you’re staying so you have options to pick up some food in case your hotel breakfast isn’t so gluten-free friendly.
Written by Jenn Oliver author of the blog www.jenncuisine.com