For our second crack at seeking out wineries that produce wine we enjoy, we traveled to Colmar and Strasbourg, France in mid December 2019. Our travel was heavily impacted by the French train strikes and we were forced to seek alternative travel for both our outbound and inbound journeys.

If you are considering taking the FlixBus from Basel to Strasbourg or anywhere for that matter, do not do it.

If you have no choice but to take the FlixBus as part of your travel like we did after our train from Paris to Strasbourg was canceled, then prepare yourself for what will undoubtedly be one of the worst travel experiences of your life. And don’t just take it from me – take a few moments to read the FlixBus reviews from other travelers around the world. They all have the same negative tone; it is one of those times when internet reviews are spot on.

Our FlixBus experience began when I received an email from SNCF (French National Railway Company) letting us know that our train from Paris to Strasbourg had been canceled due to the strike. The train cancelation was no surprise to us. We had previously been affected by the strike in Bordeaux and we had been following the French strikes (which began on December 5th, 2019) and knew that upwards of 50 percent of trains were being canceled per day.

It may have been true that up to 50 percent of trains were canceled, however, we experienced a much higher cancelation percentage during our two holidays in France.

As a starting point, the Canceled Train Tracker below includes our train journeys to/from Bordeaux and to Strasbourg. Updated trackers will be posted as the story progresses.

Description#
Total journeys6
Total canceled journeys
SNCF canceled journeys (x2)
Canceled journeys by association* (x2)
4
% journeys canceled**67%

*Eurostar train journeys that were not canceled by SNCF but could not be completed due to an SNCF canceled journey.

**Includes all canceled journeys.

Unlike the short cancelation notice we experienced in Bordeaux (about 36 hours), SNCF provided us with five days’ notice of the cancelation of our Paris to Strasbourg train.

We considered canceling our trip to Strasbourg but decided to proceed because we wanted to experience the largest Christmas Market in Europe.

All of the Paris to Strasbourg trains for the date of our outbound travel were either canceled or fully booked, so we would not be able to take a train to Strasbourg. The only other option was to fly so we booked flights from Gatwick to Basel.

You may be wondering why we did not fly direct to the Strasbourg airport. Two reasons:

  • There were no direct flights to Strasbourg airport from any of the London airports.
  • Flights with a connection had a travel time of around 11 hours (too much!).

In retrospect, we absolutely should have flown directly to Strasbourg airport. Lesson learned.

The most efficient alternative travel we could find was to fly to Basel airport (which is actually located in France, not Switzerland) and then take a “three-hour bus” from Basel to Strasbourg through a company called FlixBus.

The next decision we had to make was if we should book one-way or return tickets for the flight and the bus. We decided to book return tickets.

Original outbound itinerary

The total travel time with our original outbound journey was 9 hours beginning at 8:20am and ending at 5:15pm, just in time for wine happy hour.

ActualDescription
8:20amDepart flat (via walking)
9:24amDepart London St Pancras station
12:50pmArrive Paris Gare du Nord station
1:54pmDepart Paris Gare de l’Est station
3:51pmArrive Strasbourg-Ville station
4:15pmDepart Strasbourg (via car rental)
5:15pmArrive Colmar

Alternative outbound itinerary

The total travel time with our alternative outbound itinerary was 15.5 hours beginning at 4:55am and ending at 8:25pm. OUCH.

PlannedActualDescription
5:05am4:55amDepart flat (via Uber)
5:15am5:02amArrive Farringdon station
5:24am5:24amDepart Farringdon station
6:04am6:07amArrive Gatwick airport
Ride tram to airport terminal
8:10am8:10amDepart Gatwick airport
10:50am10:50amArrive Basel airport
Ride bus to Basel SBB station
Walk to FlixBus stop
1:00pm2:40pmDepart Basel
FlixBus was an hour late and it took 40 minutes to board 21 people!
3:50pm6:50pmArrive Strasbourg
We arrived 3 hours after our scheduled arrival time!
Walk to Strasbourg-Ville station (~20 minutes)
4:25pm7:25pmDepart Strasbourg (via car rental)
5:25pm8:25pmArrive Colmar

FlixBus review

The FlixBus “bus stop” in Basel is located behind the SBB train station. To get to the bus stop from the main entrance of the train station, take the escalator up to the mezzanine level where the shops are located. Once on the mezzanine level, walk the length of the mezzanine to the other side of the train station and proceed down the ramp on the right. At the bottom of the ramp, turn right and you’ll see a single bus stop bench and a tiny green FlixBus sign off in the distance near the motorcycle parking and train tracks.

Protip: There is a free public toilet under the train station ramp that you walked down to exit the train station.

The positives:

  • The weather was beautiful.
  • The bus was new and clean.
  • The driver got us to our destination, eventually.

The negatives:

Note: Peter and I were seated in the first row of seats on the passenger side of the bus so we had a clear view of the driver and road.

  • The Basel “bus stop” is uninviting (garbage flying around, only one bench, etc.).
  • The FlixBus was one hour late.
  • The bus driver took 40-45 minutes to board 21 passengers, leading to a further delayed departure.
  • The bus driver only spoke Italian.
  • The bus driver was distracted 60% of the time with texting, checking handwritten driving directions, checking GPS, checking the FlixBus app, etc.
  • The bus driver consistently drove down the middle of two lanes, blocked cross traffic, and swerved into lanes and shoulders.
  • The bus driver took a smoke break with passengers at every stop, leading to further delays.

During the first 20 minutes of our journey, we drove through the following countries:

  • France
  • Switzerland
  • France (again)
  • Switzerland (again)
  • Germany
  • France (again)

How do I know we drove through the above list of countries? Because I got a phone alert each time we entered a new country!

Welcome to France!

Welcome to Switzerland!

As mentioned previously, the Basel airport (“Europort”) is located in France but is on the border of France, Germany, and Switzerland. Within the airport, there are actually two exits: France/German and Switzerland. It’s weird. Anyway, due to its location near the borders, it is easy to drive through all three countries but it takes real skill to drive through the same countries multiple times! If the driver had followed his GPS, the driving in circles situation could have been avoided.

Welcome to France!

We “visited” the Basel airport three times that day.

  • When we landed from London.
  • When the bus driver attempted to get to the bus stop via his handwritten directions.
  • When the bus driver successfully got to the bus stop via his GPS.

By the time we arrived at the airport bus stop, the bus was running two hours late and we were literally back to where we started – at the Basel airport! As I watched the bus driver chain-smoke with the new passengers, I wondered why the internet recommended that we board the FlixBus at the Basel train station versus at the Basel airport but whatever – it’s an adventure after all, am I right?

My mood at this point could best be described as “agitated but still patient”.

Welcome to Switzerland!

Welcome to Germany!

Welcome to France!

What I did not realize with our bus journey was that there were many stops along the way. I foolishly thought the bus was direct from Basel to Strasbourg.

Several hours later, the bus arrived in Colmar. Colmar was the stop before Strasbourg.

Colmar was also our final destination of the day, however, we could not get off of the bus in Colmar because we booked a rental car in Strasbourg so that we could drive the famous Alsace (pronounced “all-sauce”) and visit the villages of Riquewihr and Kaysersberg (located near Colmar).

In short, we had to sit on that fucking bus all the way to Strasbourg only to drive back to Colmar. Adding salt to the wound, the bus rolled into Colmar around the same time that we should have been arriving in Colmar via car had the bus been running on time!

My mood at this point could best be described as “pissed off and needing to pee”. My patience with the driver texting and swerving across lanes and other drivers constantly honking at the bus had dwindled to nothing.

About one mile from the bus stop in Strasbourg, an alert came on the driver’s dashboard. It was written in Italian so I translated it and it basically said, “You have been driving for 4.5 hours and so you can’t drive anymore.”

Yep, the bus has a limiter on the number of hours that the bus can be in motion. In ordinary situations, this is a great safety measure.

When the alert came on, the bus driver stopped in the middle of the road. I’m sure all of the passengers in the back of the bus were wondering what was going on. The bus was blocking traffic and other drivers were angrily honking at the bus. The bus driver did not know what to do with this alert, partially because I think it was his first day on the job.

The driver turned the bus off. He tried to make a call, I assume to FlixBus headquarters, but could not get through. He threw his head in his hands. I threw my head in my hands. He turned the bus back on. The alert stayed on the screen. I shook my head in disbelief. Peter got on Google Maps to see how far we were from the bus station as we contemplated accepting defeat and alighting the bus right then and there.

After about 10 minutes of being parked in the middle of the street, the driver decided to drive the bus at idle speed all the way to the bus stop. The best way I can describe what that felt like is sitting in a car that is out of gas and hoping there is enough velocity to glide it into the petrol station. Cars were honking at the bus non-stop and had I not been so agitated, I would have thought it was comical.

When we finally reached the bus stop, we grabbed our bags from the bus storage compartment and I hit my head on the storage door and I broke down in tears. It was all too much for me on top of the jetlag I was dealing with from a recent trip to the US.

Peter was going to book an Uber and I said that I needed fresh air and needed to walk, even though it was going to take longer. At that point, we had been traveling for 14 hours and we still had about two hours to go with me in the driver’s seat, literally.

We began our walkabout and as soon as we got to the bridge into Strasbourg old town (this is one of the many islands that make up Strasbourg), we were presented with security checks controlled by the police.

The area in the circle is Strasbourg old town.

We were required to open our bags and unzip our jackets so that they could check for something, of which we were not sure. Later that night we found out that almost exactly one year ago on December 11, 2018, there was a terrorist attack in Strasbourg old town (just a few feet from our Strasbourg hotel). A man attacked Christmas Market-goers. Five people were killed and 11 were wounded. Awful.

The remainder of our travel for that day was smooth sailing with the exception of our giant minivan-sized rental car and some light traffic just outside of Strasbourg.

I was relieved to have arrived in Colmar (again!) and we wasted no time dropping our shit off at the hotel and heading out for dinner and WINE.

Next, the cute medieval village of Colmar.

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