The final stretch - Strasbourg, France

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June 27th 2012
Published: June 27th 2012
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Friday, 22 June – Strasbourg, France

Apparently Freiburg is the warmest city in Germany, and even after a thunder storm swept through during dinner last night, the temperature didn’t drop below 25 until later in the evening. I forgot to mention that we walked past an Audi dealer and saw a brand new TT Sport on sale for €38,990 (A$50,000). There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

You know you’ve left Germany when the road works stop, which happened at the French border. One thing is for sure – Germans certainly know how to build a road, pity they don’t know how to drive it!

Speaking of cars, since we were in the area we couldn’t miss the Cite de l’Automobile (Schlumf Museum). It’s an amazing collection of 400 classic, luxury and racing cars in one large showroom, some of which are extremely rare or are extinct outside of the museum. There was even a car from 1929 that did a top speed of 225kph – leaves our 2011 pus bucket in the dust! They also had a current Peugeot 201 on a spit, and they would “flip” anyone that was brave enough. I got in the driver’s seat and laughed my head off as they rolled me three times. Dwayne watched on with amusement. When the girl stopped and opened the door I said “Is that it? Can I have more?”. The answer was no.

After two hours of wandering through Schlumpf, we drove to Colmar for lunch. This is another cute-as-a-button-French town. The architecture is medieval with crooked wooden houses, narrow alleys and small canals running through it. In fact, you can even go to the Petit Venois (Little Venice) section and pay for a gondola ride along the canal. Of course, being in France I cannot pass up the opportunity to eat patisserie items, so we ate a pretzel sandwich and a most divine chocolate éclair.

And I had another spiritual experience - I spoke and heard in Tongues today! An Indian guy came into the patisserie I was browsing and asked for directions to the Information Centre. The ladies didn’t speak English so I said “Touristic Informacion” in a French accent. Their eyes light up and she started giving directions to me in French. I then relayed the info to the guy who said thanks and went on his merry way. I guess it could be explained by the fact that I had just come from the centre and knew where the office was, but I’m pretty sure it was a supernatural moment and cannot be explained by our limited human understanding.

Eventually we left Colmar and checked in to our apartment in Strasbourg. We’ve read that it’s called Petit France, although our area should be called Cabramatta. You know you’re in Dodgyville when there’s a security guard at the local 4-aisle grocery store. Our apartment, luckily, is a world away from the front door. It’s modern, quiet, dark and comfortable, albeit small.

Saturday, 23 June – Strasbourg, France

I had wanted to spend the day in Strasbourg but Dwayne wanted to see the Black Forest so we compromised and agreed to a drive and picnic lunch in the morning in Germany, and an afternoon and dinner back in France.

The drive through the Black Forest was relaxing and pretty. The road meandered through pine forests passing lakes and small ski fields along the way. We had bought supplies on Friday for a picnic so we stopped at a place called Gutach and sat at a picnic table under a tree, basking in the warm day and listening to the gurgle of the cool stream beside us. After lunch, we visited the Vogtsbauernhof Black Forest Open Air Museum, which is a collection of traditional houses and farm outbuildings dating from the 1500’s – 1900’s. It’s similar to what we saw in Copenhagen, although much smaller in area. The houses were transported in their entirety (building and furnishings) from all over the Black Forest region and gave insight into how the designs and lifestyles have changed over time. There were 23 buildings consisting of family homes, a saw mill, bakery, brewery, forgery, school and a hemp press, amongst other things. They had paddocks of goats, sheep, cows, chickens and stables with horses in them, as well as fields of different labelled crops. There were people dressed in costume doing traditional duties in the houses or giving presentations outside. One person was cooking in a kitchen, another sewing clothes and yet another making wooden toys in his workshop. Each house had 3 levels and you can climb the wooden ladders to discover the rooms. It feels like you’re walking through a living community. It made us wish we’d had the same time to explore the Copenhagen one. Mind you, this smaller one still took us 2 hours. And we had a slice of traditional black forest cake. It was certainly impressive looking but the taste was average, like any other black forest cake. Nothing to rave about.

Eventually we made our way back and set out on foot to discover Strasbourg. The centre is surrounded by a – you guessed it – canal, making it a little island (Il d’la Cite). There are several bridges that you can cross and once you are over, it transforms into a beautiful petit version of Paris. The street lamps have that classic shape, everything has a wrought iron balcony and typical French doors and windows. It was a wonderful place to get lost in for a couple of hours, but you didn’t need much more than that. We had dinner there and when we ordered water for the table, the waitress didn’t understand us (because some people in France do not speak English either). We gave up asking and placed our order and as she left, the manager came over and asked what we were wanting and then apologised that her English wasn’t very good and promptly bought us a carafe of water. It made us smile, because yet again France gave attentive service. I finished the meal with homemade chocolate mousse.

Again, Dwayne and I are divided but I wouldn’t recommend it as a must see. I think Colmar was prettier to stay in and if you want a dose of Paris, go to Paris.

Sunday, 24 June – Amsterdam

There is an old saying that says “Generals are always preparing to fight the previous war”. Our last sight for Europe was Fort Schoenenbourg, part of the Maginot Line (pronounced Maj-i-no). I’d never heard of Maginot until Dwayne mentioned it. It was a line of bunkers, turrets and underground fortresses along the French borders, set up after WWI to stop the Germans from invading again. The line was from Nice in southern France, right along the Italian, German, Luxembourg and Belgium borders. Schoenenbourg saw the most action of any of the sites in the German invasion of 1940 so we went underground to explore. It was fascinating. We rode the elevator down 30m and were flabbergasted when the doors opened and there was a tunnel extending as far as the eye could see. Several blocks were connected by 3km of tunnel and that’s just the part tourists are allowed to visit. There are kilometres of tunnels that were closed off. We saw dorm rooms, the infirmary with operating room (and all those ancient medical devices), ammunition, kitchens, even the store room with shelves of jars of preserved fruits and vegetables. It had its own generators, water supply, air purifiers, decontamination showers, telecommunications, electricity grid – everything it needed to run as a miniature city. It has been preserved almost exactly as it was before the war, so you walk into rooms and almost expect to see soldiers.

Unfortunately for the French, the second WW was fought quite differently to the first and since trench warfare was not the way it occurred, the defenses only saw action for a month or so before France surrendered.

After 2 hours, we started the dash back to Amsterdam for our flight. No patisserie items for me though, as most businesses in France are shut on Sundays. Luxembourg has the cheapest petrol in Europe, even cheaper than Czech Republic. It was a pretty drive despite the torrential rain, and although we had originally planned to spend a night here, we opted to stay in Strasbourg instead. I’ll definitely come back here though, as part of a Netherlands/Belgium/Luxembourg trip. I think that area needs 3 weeks on its own.

We stopped at Maastricht in the Netherlands for dinner. Luckily for us, the rain stopped at the Dutch border. We unwittingly stumbled into an outdoor Andre Reui concert in the main square. It was rather annoying because all the restaurants and pubs started closing their kitchens or running out of menu items by 6.30pm. Cute city square and so different to French and German architecture.

And that’s how we came to end our trip in Europe - breakfast in France, lunch in Germany, afternoon tea in Luxembourg and dinner in the Netherlands.


25th July 2012

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