Strasbourg, France

Our Alsace wine route drive came to an end 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 which was located a few steps from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Peter’s brother was scheduled to meet us in Strasbourg but due to a delayed flight out 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 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 scattered 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 that had a theme and my dreams of a pizza cluster were broken into million pieces.

Protip: The Christmas Market has opening hours until 10pm but the reality is that the stalls close 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 whilst 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 minute it was aggravating. Given it was now Saturday and we were scheduled to depart Strasbourg on Monday, our days and options for how we were going to 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, both for Sunday night and Monday morning.

We decided to book the first train out of Strasbourg on Monday because trains were still be canceled left-and-right and our logic was that if our train was canceled, then 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 which at the time 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 centre of Strasbourg and a hotspot for selfies.

I largely spent Saturday with my fingers cross 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 which was 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. I do not think we will ever get this lucky with accommodation again.

Our journey took us through the locks in Petite France, through 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 windows of the boat.

On our way back to Palais Rohan, we cruised by St. Paul’s Church of Strasbourg which was built between 1892 and 1897 and 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” and it is a stew of meat (sheep, beef, pork), potatoes, onions, carrots, and a bunch of other stew-type ingredients. First impressions of the restaurant were not great. It was rammed with people and it felt very impersonal (plus it smelled like stinky feet).

We ordered the wiener schnitzel because I had been wanting schnitzel for days and Peter ordered the baeckeoffe and we ended up with enough food for six people. So, learn from our mistakes and stick to the baeckeoffe (delicious) and to avoid the schnitzel. Also, stick to beer and avoid wine.

With Sunday came cold weather and pouring rain so 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 times 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 figure out if we could get a refund, etc. The Ts&Cs for easyJet state that their flights are non-refundable but they do allow re-booking for a small fee. We scanned easyJet destinations and decided on Crete, Greece. I love Greece and I am so 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 our 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. We’ve all seen it at some point in our lives. It’s the nonchalant glance at the ticket and then the glance at the seat number and then the look of death at the person sitting in your assigned seat, all whilst towering over the poor passenger whilst simultaneously blocking aisle traffic.

We smiled and then 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 really slow and arrive 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) and asked if there was availability for us on an earlier departing train and bingo! She swapped out our tickets (no fee) and we departed Paris for London about 45 minutes later.

Next up, our return to the Austrian Alps.

Will the Skicircus be as magical as Whistler? Will Austrians still think that Peter is lying when he tells them he is NOT Austrian? Will I get fucking hammered at après ski and crash at the bottom of the run in front of a big crowd like I did in St Anton back in December 2013? Will Peter lose his phone like he did in St Anton in December 2012?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I am confident that stories will be written because Austrians are crazy on the slopes. Also, beer. In large very quantities.

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