Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
One last breakfast buffet at the Beaune Mercure and it was time to pack up. We were already looking forward to a hearty dinner of Alsatian food, but that would be hours and hours away, so I, at least, enjoyed the spread.
For the first time on our trip we had to drive in the rain. This was so noticeable that Marianne even snapped a picture of the windshield wiper, while I dealt with driving in the stuff.
It wasn't too bad, though, and I managed our four or five hour drive to our last stop just fine.
Marianne took over to enter the city of Strasbourg. Our practice is that she handles new-city driving, while I do my best at navigating. Normally, I am competent, and she is calm enough to handle the unknown. Strasbourg was different. Getting from our last charging spot, we missed at least one turn back to the freeway, forcing re-routes in rainy traffic.
But the worst was when we approached the hotel itself. The Best Western is in the center of town, near the train station. The streets are filled with walkers, bikers, taxis, buses, trams, and construction - not to mention other cars and trucks. My navigation failed on several occasions, including confirming the GPS instruction to drive into a construction site. Wrong. Marianne earned extra points this day.
The Best Western where we had reservations is in a vintage building, not auto-friendly, but it fits in the old neighborhood. Staff told us we needed to stop in front, unpack the car, and wait for someone to escort us to our reserved, underground, parking spot. We complied.
I took over driving and followed the hotel person fifty feet down the street and turned into a garage ramp that appeared no more than an inch or so wider than each side of the Tesla - with the mirrors folded in. Down below, the spaces were equally tight, even though the woman from the hotel assured me I was assigned "one of the larger spaces". We will not move the car until we leave in a week!
The room itself was ... compact, even though we had picked the "executive suite" option. After the space we'd had in the Excideuil haunted house and elsewhere, it was a challenge to put everything away enough to still be able to move around. This reminded us of tiny Paris hotel rooms. Through it all, I was regretting our decision to select this place AND stay here an entire week. The only redeeming quality so far had been the friendliness of the hotel staff - not what we might expect in Paris, for example.
After settling in, it was time for dinner. For an Alsatian meal, the staff had recommended Le Schnockeloch, but they would not open for an hour, so we had time for a short stroll in the neighborhood. That walk picked up our spirits. Marianne said "I think I like this place" as we wandered in the big city streets, surrounded by old buildings, crowds, hustle, and bustle. We took a few pictures, even in the gray drizzle, but I can tell we will run out of film trying to capture everything during our week.
The exercise made us extra hungry and it was time for our Le Schnockeloch dinner. ("Le Schnockeloch" means "the mosquito", originally very prevalent in these wet lowlands.) Marianne had been looking forward to an Alsatian dish called "Baeckeoffe", a hearty meat and potatoes stew, slow-baked in a closed crockery pot. I opted for "flamkuechen", a thin-crusted distant relative of pizza and also a specialty of the Alsace region. Just to make sure that we had no extra room, we topped the meal off with apple strudel. Everything was perfect.
At this point, we faced a week with no plan other than leaving the car in its vault. However, Strasbourg is a big city, both ancient and modern, so we had faith we would discover plenty to see and do.
Our first Friday goal was to walk ten minutes over to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. We passed through a farmer's market on the way and would have bought good food, but that was not practical at the beginning of a long day of walking.
The multi-level art museum had five major exhibit areas, almost all in huge white spaces. We spent a couple hours there, enjoying it all, snapping far more pictures than can ever be used. I'm sure the right way to do this is one area per visit, so maybe we will return to have more time with our favorites. Why not? We're here for a week! For now, here's a few examples of the open spaces - and one delicate bronze.
Walking through the part of the center called "Petite France", we found ourselves surrounded by the picturesque. (A French word, made for this place.) I'm never sure how much to record, but here's a trio of shots to give a flavor:
Our next goal was lunch and we found a small Italian place that looked perfect. It wasn't. 'nuff said.
Trying to squeeze in the big attractions on our first day, we left lunch to join the crowds at Notre Dame Cathedral. We did not join the "free tour", although it might not have been a bad idea since the church itself was absolutely overwhelming. (This front picture suffers like all pictures of tall buildings. It is absolutely impossible to convey how large the spires are and how small we seem, standing below.) You MUST see it in person.
Inside, the space was as large as any European cathedral I can remember, and we have visited many of them. The stained glass was particularly impressive as were all the intricate interior details. An architecture student could spend days taking it all in. Or a sculptor. Or a stone mason. Or a photographer.
Uniquely impressive was the massive mechanical clock. The mechanism tracked not just the hours of the day, but also the phases of the sun and moon, the seasons, religious holy-days, and the moment in the Zodiac. Here is where painters, model-makers, jewelers, and mechanical engineers should spend their time. (And maintenance folks, since I can not imagine how one keeps such complex machines running for hundreds of years.)
Since lunch was marginal, we sought out snacks, and found them everywhere. We bought more than we could eat. Or should eat, anyway.
I thought that was the end of the day, but I got an email from our car-rental company saying we needed to "exchange" our car rather than keep the same one for the next three weeks. I responded to say this was news to me. Thinking about how to make my case that I really did not want a different car, especially involving trips up and down our narrow driveway, I found a company office a ten minute walk away, over at the train station. We walked over, explained the situation, and the agent discovered that the problem had gone away, probably due to my whinning email. Whew!
This distraction did give us a chance to see the bustling Strasbourg train station, with it's glass bubble erected over the old facade. I don't know that we could ever reduce our luggage enough to travel this way again, but maybe.
As we walked away from the station, a glance back made us consider it had been a good day, walking without much planning. And that was our plan for Saturday too.
"No plan" worked ... worked well enough. Our only specific destination was the Historical Museum of the City of Strasbourg. Founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago, Strasbourg has a fascinating history, one that had it repeatedly move between independence and domination by neighboring Germany and France. The museum does a good job of explaining all that history, but I'm afraid we could only absorb so much. I guess we need history museums of cities with less history.
Again, most of our day was spent walking. The cameras filled with street scenes and we even managed a little shopping: The Apple store for me and an old-time department store for Marianne.
For lunch, we grabbed simple baguette sandwiches and sat at a crowded-sidewalk table, watching the crowds get on and off the street cars. Off to the side were several police vans. We had also seen roving patrols of regular army, armed and intimidating. When part of the street car crowd turned into Palestinian protesters, we quickly moved to a quieter neighborhood. The US State Department had just issued a warning to European travelers to "be careful" in light of the Middle East difficulties. I have never understood exactly what these warnings mean, but at least we should avoid agitated young men waving flags.
After a rest back at the hotel, we tried our hands at sunset pictures - and more walking.
The view from atop the old bridge/dam was spectacular.
Here are just a few of the dozens of pictures we took.
Sunday started with an after-breakfast walk along the river that surrounds the old part of town. We walked counter-clockwise to add some variety. Nice Fall colors. Since it was Sunday, we stopped by St. Pierre le Jeune church and listened to Mass for a few minutes. Not much helpful religious guidance because it was all in French.
Farther along, we found the Tomi Ungerer gallery. Ungerer was an Alsatian artist who published over 140 books, from children's stories to sharp adult political criticism. The gallery displayed a range of his works and was well-attended on this quiet morning.
We were walking through a very nice part of Strasbourg, much more deluxe than the Little France neighborhood on the opposite corner of the old town. We could imagine this as "the embassy district", but are not sure if that was true.
The fanciest building was Le Lycee des Pontonniers, originally an 1870s girl's school and still a school today. Maybe Marianne needs to get a job? (As long as it comes with housing in this neighborhood.)
From here, we wandered back into the more touristy parts of old town for our Italian lunch. I found it pretty ordinary, although Marianne was more favorably impressed. That was not the only thing we disagreed on this afternoon and I wonder if our long trip is just too wearing on us. Maybe.
Our evening was social - Zoom social. First we chatted with Jen, Brian, and Geoff about their week and ours. It's fun to stay in touch, even if there is not much happening.
After that, we moved on to "Cousins Zoom" with Marietta (Seattle), Tim (Lisbon), Tom and Kathleen (Barcelona). This once-a-month call had more news to report.
While on their trip to Portugal and Spain, Kathleen had managed to catch a bad case of Covid, so their group tour plans were being re-arranged. She seemed to be on the path to recovery so, if Tom avoids the plague, may be able to resume tourism.
Meanwhile, Tim reported on all positive happenings in his ex-pat life in Lisbon while Marietta kept us connected to America. We appreciate them all.
We started Monday with rain outside and an ill traveler (me) inside. I woke up with a dizziness that I have had once or twice before, but without any diagnosis. It goes away in a day or two, just a reminder of aging I'm afraid. While I rested, Marianne worked down in the hotel lounge, a great old space with tables and nice lighting and plenty of electric outlets. We enjoyed the Best Western Monopole Metropole and tried to make use of all it offered. We had our doubts on Day 1, what with the parking and all, but once we got over that hurdle, we settled into our Strasbourg home. Long stays allow that.
For lunch, we returned to the Schnockeloch Alsacien restaurant for more local fare. The sauerkraut dish I ordered had enough meat baked with it to feed an army. And potatoes. I don't think I ate half. (What does the restaurant do with all the leftovers?) Long stays also identify favorite restaurants and this odd-sounding one will be ours here in Alsace.
Despite the drizzle, we needed a walk after our meal, so we went over to light a church candle or two for folks back home. Among the many churches in the old town, we found the Catholic "St Pierre le Vieux", St Peter the Elder. There is a Protestant church, with the same name, attached to the side of their Catholic cousin.
I read that this was an ancient spot for Christian worship here in Strasbourg, probably dating back to 4th Century Rome. A succession of buildings and denominations have been here and much of the current church had to be rebuilt after World War II. All that seems ancient inside may not be. (I regret we did not also visit the Protestant half, but my reading was only after our visiting.)
We walked in the rain, back to our Strasbourg home, and settled into our workspace. Marianne watched an art lesson and practiced techniques on a small scale. I cleaned up this website with updated indexes and some spell checking and then moved on to time-wasting YouTubes for cars, wars, and such. This basically replicates what we do in Fresno evenings, so I guess we have shifted from travelers to just us.
For our sixth day in Strasbourg, we struggled a bit to find something fun to do. We'd covered the normal subjects in the old part of town, so it was time to learn how to use the trams for a more distant attraction: the parliament building of the European Union. We caught the "B" line in the central tram station, first figuring out how to get a day pass for each of us. Since we were not at rush hour, the tram was not crowded. At the Waken Station, we transferred to the "E" tram, just to avoid a 10-minute walk in the drizzle.
The EU buildings are quite dramatic, although the gray skies may have toned down that drama. Entering the buildings was easy enough although we did need to go through airport-type security. The security folks were friendly enough, but they cautioned us to always follow the blue signs - no deviation.
Inside, we took the obligatory picture in front of the flags of the EU countries. (Don't blow up the picture to see my scowling face. It doesn't really represent my mood. Honest.)
Otherwise, the first floor displays were not generally interesting enough to warrant reportable pictures, at least to me. It might be different for real Europeans who have watched the 71-year history of the EU up close.
I did find an interesting screen showing the working schedule for the parliamentarians. Six of the twelve months are worked here in Strasbourg, while the rest are completed in Brussels. I was going to comment on the inefficiency of such an arrangement, but then thought of our own American Congress that stays in one place and does virtually nothing of late.
Up on the third level of the building we were allowed to look into the huge parliament meeting space (but not take pictures). Imagine a giant fishbowl, large enough for 705 members from 27 countries. And remember there is a similar space in Brussels.
After an hour inside, it was time for a walk back to the tram. Skies were still dark, but the drizzle was gone. We stopped by a small Vietnamese lunch counter because the lunch hour was almost over and we knew there would be little to choose from if we waited until we got back into the commercial center. It turned out to be a good meal; a sandwich for me and a hearty pho soup for Marianne.
In town, we got off the tram a stop or two early so we could have our after-meal constitutional. We'd read that walking after eating was healthy. The problem was that we ran across a Lindt Chocolate store and needed to fill a bag with goodies. I'm not sure this was the sort of walk activity that health experts had in mind.
With a little more walking, we passed a patisserie - or we ALMOST passed. The treats in the window were too good to ignore, so we bought two pieces of Key Lime Pie to take back to the room. Limes. Fruit. Healthy.
Feeling seriously guilty after some room rest, we tried one more walk. We wandered a bit through Petite France and were out long enough to see the setting sun on the tops of old buildings. The end of a not-very-exciting day, but good enough.
Today was a birthday; Marianne would be 70-something.We needed to celebrate. We had breakfast at the buffet, not unusual, but still it's someone else taking care of everything. After that, it was shopping. We found an indoor shopping mall not far from the hotel that looked like it could be anywhere, except there were several bakeries scattered through the three-floor mall. After considerable search, Marianne did find a nice sweater-vest and I got to say it was a birthday present from me.
We walked back to the Best Western, Marianne dawned her new piece and we asked the hotel staff for Moroccan lunch recommendations. I'm not sure why we picked that North African food, but I do know we were tiring of French and even Alsacian dishes. The lady immediately recommended Le Petiit Casa, just a block away. We now know why.
The small place seats about two-dozen, although it was not full when we arrived. The hostess was most welcoming and, in excellent English, gave us a tour of the French-only menu. The dishes were all pretty exotic, so the language guidance helped. When she found out our reason for celebrating, the hostess recommended their specialty (a name I forget) which is prepared in Casablanca for family birthdays. Perfect. I opted for a meat-heavy coucous.
Olive starter and water for the birthday toast.
My three-part order was far too much food, even when washed down with mint tea.
We were surprised with a special birthday dessert, complete with fireworks.
It turned out that the woman next to us was also celebrating her birthday,
so there were fireworks all around.
After that much food, it was time for walking and a little shopping. The shopping turned out unsuccessful, but walking in old Strasbourg was always a treat. We swung by the towering cathedral, but were put off by tourist crowds. When we walked over to the river, we found plenty of them boarding the cruise boat too. Someday, I suppose we will shift to group touring, but for now we are greatful we can go off on our own.
We went back to St. Peter the Elder church to light one more candle, this time for a friend of Marianne's who just lost a daughter after a difficult life of mental health challenges and addiction complications. The reality of losing a child, no matter how old, is just wrong. We are not strong believers in the power of candles, but they can not hurt.
For the rest of our last day in Strasbourg, we chilled back at the hotel. Since our drive up to friends will only be about two hours, we didn't even have to worry about getting packed. There would be plenty of time Thursday morning.
So, what was my overall impression of Strasbourg? We stayed a day or two too long, but otherwise it was wonderful. There was history on every street we walked and the beauty of rivers running past old stone buildings can not be denied. Our hotel was comfortable and the staff most friendly and helpful, something we found among all the folks we dealt with.
Then we were off to the final third of GERT, the Great European Road Trip.
John and Marianne