Strasbourg, France

Our Alsace wine route drive ended when we arrived in Strasbourg at 3pm. We handed over the keys to our minivan-sized car and began our journey across the city to our hotel, located a few steps from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Peter’s brother was scheduled to meet us in Strasbourg; however, due to a delayed flight out of San Francisco (where he was not able to meet his connection) and a canceled Paris to Strasbourg train, he called it quits and went straight to London after landing in Paris – a day late and without luggage as it had been lost in transit.

If something could go wrong on this trip to France, it did.

Security checks were still in place at the entrance points to Strasbourg’s old town, where we were required to open our bags and unzip our jackets. We got settled into our hotel room and then explored the Christmas Market.

As with the Christmas Market in Colmar, there were clusters of stalls throughout the old town. The first cluster of stalls that we visited was in Gutenberg Square. The stalls in this square were mainly Middle Eastern food and mulled wine stalls. Since this cluster had an obvious theme, I assumed all other clusters also had themes, but as it turned out, this was the only cluster with a theme, and my dreams of a pizza cluster were broken into million pieces.

Protip: The Christmas Market had opening hours until 10pm, but the reality is that the stalls closed at 8pm.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Gutenberg Square and then went to a wine bar called Black & Wine. We stayed at Black & Wine probably longer than what was culturally appropriate, but we were having a good time while simultaneously avoiding walking back to the hotel in the pouring rain. We liked Black & Wine so much that we returned two nights later.

Saturday morning came with the news that our Strasbourg to Basel train had been canceled due to French train strikes. Not a day went by on this holiday that we were not dealing with canceled trains and/or re-booking travel. One minute the situation was hilarious, and the next, it was aggravating.

Given it was now Saturday and we were scheduled to depart Strasbourg on Monday, our days and options for how we would get back to London were winding down quickly.

We had two options:

  • Book another Strasbourg to Paris train that would arrive in time for us to make our Eurostar connection to London.
  • Take the FlixBus to Basel and fly back to London using the return tickets we had previously purchased.

Option 2 was still out because FlixBus could not be trusted to run on time, so we started researching trains from Strasbourg to Paris for Sunday night and Monday morning.

We decided to book the first train out of Strasbourg on Monday because trains were still being canceled left and right. Our logic was that if our train was canceled, we’d [hopefully] have two later departing train options at our disposal that would get us to Paris with enough time to get through immigration and make our Eurostar connection to London.

The downside to booking the first train was that we would have a long and boring six-hour layover in Paris.

Our updated Canceled Train Tracker looked like this:

Total journeys10
Total canceled journeys
SNCF canceled journeys (x4)
Canceled journeys by association* (x2)
% journeys canceled**60%

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

**Includes all canceled journeys.

Alternate travel plans once again in place, we ventured out to Cafe Bretelles in the Petite France quarter for breakfast.

Protip: Things are a little confusing at Cafe Bretelles… Is it a “seat yourself” or table service type of place? Well, it is a little bit of both. It works like this: (1) seat yourself (grab a menu near the counter), (2) order at the counter downstairs, (3) take the table number assigned to you after you place your order, (4) wait for your drinks and food to be delivered to your table.

After breakfast, we explored the Petite France quarter, and given the number of tourists in the vicinity, it seemed to be the most popular quarter in Strasbourg.

Fun fact: The name of the quarter, Petite France, is not because this area is especially “Frenchy” (e.g., French architecture, food, etc.). It is named Petite France after the “hospice of the syphilitic,” which once existed in this quarter in the late fifteenth century. The hospice was a place to cure people with syphilis. It was called Franzosenkrankheit, translated as “French disease.”

Also, back in the middle ages, the Petite Quarter was where tanners, millers (a person who owns/works in a mill), and fishermen lived. Today the quarter serves as the historic city center of Strasbourg and a hotspot for selfies.

I spent Saturday with my fingers crossed, hoping that our train to Paris on Monday would not be canceled. SNCF (French National Railway Company) had publicly announced that all train cancelations would be announced by 5pm the day before departure. So if we made it to 5:01pm on Sunday, we’d be set.

After our time in Petite France, we went on a 70-minute boat tour on the river through a company called Batorama.

Protip: Book your tour via the website because the queue for the ticket kiosk can be hours long!

I can’t say that the recorded audio was all that captivating but seeing a city from the water is always an interesting perspective. The biggest surprise on the boat tour was the number of homeless people living under the bridges and along the river banks.

Our boat journey started and ended at the pier near Palais Rohan, a few steps from our hotel, Hotel Rohan. Everything makes sense now. Also, I mentioned in a previous blog how the location of accommodation can affect a trip almost as much as the weather.

Not only was our hotel centrally located, but because the old town becomes a ghost town at 8pm, it was also quiet. It will be a miracle to get this lucky with accommodation again.

Our journey took us through the locks in Petite France, the district of Neustadt (new city), and finally through the European quarter, where the European Parliament building is located.

In 1949, Strasbourg was selected to serve as the headquarters of the Council of Europe. The European Parliament shares power over the EU budget and some legislative tasks. The building is an impressive curved glass building situated on the river. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of this building due to the glare on the boat’s windows.

On our way back to Palais Rohan, we cruised by St. Paul’s Church of Strasbourg, built between 1892 and 1897. It has 19 entrances!

Thirsty from being sedentary on the boat, we went to a wine bar named Un Cantalou (reservations recommended). I liked this wine bar as much as Black & White but for different reasons. Black & White had a more “chill” vibe, whereas Un Cantalou had more of a restaurant vibe. I remember thinking that they needed to dim the lights at Un Cantalou.

On the flip side, our experience at Un Cantalou was more personal than at Black & White.

The owner of Un Cantalou happened to be our server. He was super knowledgeable and funny. Based on our trips to Bordeaux and Strasbourg, I am starting to think that the fine people of France – who want nothing more than for their trains to be operational – are not as serious as they portray.

The hours passed by quickly at the wine bar, and it was suddenly dinner time, so we strolled back over to Petite France and ate baeckeoffe at Le Baeckeoffe d’Alsace.

What the hell is baeckeoffe, you ask?

Baeckeoffe means “baker’s oven,” a stew of meat (sheep, beef, pork), potatoes, onions, carrots, and other stew-type ingredients. My first impression of the restaurant was not great. It was rammed with people and felt very impersonal (plus it smelled like stinky feet).

We ordered the wiener schnitzel because I had wanted schnitzel for days, and Peter ordered the baeckeoffe and we ended up with enough food for six people. Learn from our mistake. Stick to the baeckeoffe (delicious) and beer and avoid the schnitzel and wine.

With Sunday came cold weather and pouring rain. We hung out in our hotel room for the majority of the day. As soon as the clock turned 5:01pm, we congratulated each other on the success of not having our Strasbourg to Paris train canceled, but the travel planning was not yet over for us.

Often when we are on holiday, we spend a day researching and booking the next holiday. It is a cycle that does not end. Our next holiday will not be in France, I can say that with certainty!

We still had our easyJet return flight to research and needed to determine if we could get a refund, etc. The Ts&Cs for easyJet state that their flights are non-refundable, but they allow re-booking for a small fee. We scanned easyJet destinations and decided on Crete, Greece. I love Greece and am excited for May when we eventually go to Greece.

On Monday, we walked to the train station and successfully boarded our train for Paris but embarrassingly sat in the wrong carriage and were kindly kicked out of the seats by a friendly French couple who did not speak English.

There is a universal language for the scenario when you find someone in your assigned seat. It’s the nonchalant glance at the ticket, then the seat number, and then the look of death at the person sitting in your assigned seat, all while towering over the poor passenger while simultaneously blocking aisle traffic.

We smiled and moved one carriage forward, and two hours later, we arrived in Paris at Gare de l’Est. I’d never been so happy to be in Paris as I was that morning. I even took a photo of it!

The walk from Gare l’Est to Gare du Nord is about five minutes, and we had hours to kill, so we walked slowly and arrived at Gare du Nord seven minutes later.

Upon arriving at Gare du Nord, we went to the Eurostar customer service office (located on the upper deck). We asked if there was availability on an earlier departing train and bingo! She swapped our tickets (no fee), and we departed Paris for London about 45 minutes later.

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