Strasbourg, France- July 3-30, 2014.
Heidi and I have traveled to Europe many times but we always seem to move, move, move-we just never relax in one place. So, in November 2013, we got the crazy idea to rent an apartment in a single city in Europe, centrally located and interesting, where we would just hang out. For a month! And since we are kinda hyper, maybe we would do a few side trips, visit her relatives in Germany, weekend in Paris, etc. Well, that’s exactly what happened and more!
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Two days prior to our trip I threw out my back and our marine buoy at work lost its anchor. It seems our long trips to Europe always have a negative prelude, but if that’s as bad as it was going to be, so be it.
We left Seattle on July 2, 2014 around 2 pm under beautiful skies. Note the clouds over the southern Olympic Mountains. Leaving the northwest in July is always a double edged sword. Missing the beautiful weather, long days, beach time, barbecues and spending time with family and friends are the sacrifices for traveling in July. But it’s also the best time in Europe, so…off we go. Thanks to Ben Budka for the ride to the airport. It definitely helped a lot considering my back situation.
Sunrise over Greenland. It felt like 7:30 pm, but it was time for us to adjust to 4:30 am. We had the joy of a high school band class on this beautiful Condor airplane. Yep. Teenagers. Up all night. It was actually hilarious. We slept for a couple or 3 hours. It wasn’t bad.
We arrived in Frankfurt at 9 am central European time. It felt like 1 am, so we were a bit exhausted. After collecting our luggage, we ended up being 5 minutes late for a direct train so we had to wait for hour. It wasn’t bad- breakfast/coffee, etc. Hauling around the bike bag was a bit more of a pain than I had anticipated, especially with a really sore back. We bought ICE tickets to Strasbourg via Karlsruhe and Offenburg. We arrived in Strasbourg, France at 1 pm and were at our flat by 1:30. Again, the weather was beautiful and the city was HOT after a month of very little rain and temperatures over 30 C almost every day
The recently added TGV train station was modern and beautiful and had apparently really increased Strasbourg’s status due to the new quick access to Paris (2.5 hours).
This photo was taken walking across the canal and into Petite France, where we stayed. The host of our VRBO apartment was late by 45 minutes and the street we were staying on smelled like stinky cheese garbage on this hot day. We weren’t super happy, but once she arrived we were pleased with our apartment.
After putting our luggage away, unpacking our clothes, taking a nap and watching the tour, we walked down the Gran Rue and did a 30 minute tourist jaunt.
Yep. Heidi will come here in the near future. I’m pretty sure of that.
Heidi walking up the Grand Rue towards the sunset. Our apartment was 1/2 a block from where this photo was taken.
As the sun set on our first night back in Europe, we grabbed a great seat at an outdoor restaurant called La Corde á Linge. Heidi’s salad was super and my mushroom spätzle was perfect with a nice cold beer. We stayed up until 11:30 pm. What a great start to our trip!
July 4th seemed like any other day in France. No fireworks, no special picnics, nobody running around with flags. We would have to wait 10 days for that- Bastille Day. So, today Heidi woke up at 6:30, which was weird. I woke up at 8:00 and walked down the Grand Rue to La Part Thé for chocolate croissants and two cappuccinos for Heidi. That was to become a standard morning for us.
My back was really killing me, so I stretched a lot and we walked down the street to Le Odyssée Bar where we grabbed some sandwiches and took them back to the flat. After that, we took in some more of the city and took some photographs. This bridge is called the Ponts Couverts and was apparently built in 1686 over the river Ill. It was militarily significant and is still really beautiful today.
We felt a couple of rain drops, so we headed back to our apartment to watch the tour and take a nap. It was at this point that we experienced the wrath of Strasbourg’s rain showers. It was insane and nothing we are used to in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. It was pretty crazy- definitely a gully washer.
We knew the World Cup was on and France was playing Germany, so we walked around town until we finally found a bar that was showing the game on TV. The outside temperature was not exactly warm and it wasn’t dry, but we were able to get a table almost out of the rain.
These guys didn’t mind the rain and were watching from the street. Needless to say they were disappointed when Germany crushed France. We had a good time.
After the soccer game, we walked to the grocery store and bought a few breakfast items and some snacks. Dinner ended up being a very interesting experience. We were dragged into a placed called Restaurant S’stuebel by the owner. He was an hilarious, fat french man who spoke decent english and loved to entertain his guests. He chanted USA, USA, USA while he was seating us and the rest of the restaurant thought it was quite entertaining. The food ended up being really good and the owner continued to be a comedian. He kept calling his cook a “white slave” which sounds horrible, but in the moment and after beer and wine it seemed pretty funny. He also made a lot of pooping sounds and complained about the press and politics. We stayed up pretty late again. It’s crazy we’ve only been in Europe for a day and a half.
On July 5 we woke up at 4:30 am. Seriously That’s crazy. Jet lag going east is supposed to make you sleep in late. Well, it didn’t for us. We ate breakfast at 5:30, in our apartment. It consisted of a fresh baguette, jam, cheese, etc. It was really great. We showered, got dressed and walked around Strasbourg to the cathedral and through the German sector across the river. I took a few photos.
We caught a mid day train to Colmar. Although it was cloudy with occasional rain, we LOVED the city. The short walk from the train station to the old town was not inspiring, but once we reached the canals we were pretty blown away. We grabbed a beer at an indoor farmer’s market and then had lunch. The lunch was pretty ridiculous. Heidi had a cheese rosti and I had a bunch of meat and potatoes and gravy. Perfect food for a cool, rainy day.
We walked around in a food daze for the next hour or so and then caught a train back to Strasbourg. Heidi needed a nap and I needed a ride, so I jumped on my bike and headed south out of town.
This trail goes for maybe 50 miles, but I just did a quick 20 miler. There are trails like this all around the city and they are great. Strava Link
As soon as I left the city I passed farm land and a lot of WWI and WWII bunkers like this. Pretty crazy.
I made it back to watch the finish of the TdF stage and we ate dinner at the crepe restaurant next door to our apartment. It was okay.
The next morning, July 6, we got up and walked to an area near the cathedral. We had kouglehoopf (which is a speciality in Alsace). It was just okay. Fortunately we had woken up early, so we were wandering around the cathedral and found out that the rooftop area of the cathedral had free access on Sundays. Sweet!
Here’s Heidi climbing to the top:
Here’s a panoramic photo of Strasbourg looking east:
After enjoying the sun on the roof of the cathedral, we walked down the hundreds of stairs and along the river. We enjoyed free access to the History of Strasbourg Museum, which I thought was awesome and Heidi thought was pretty boring. We shared a pizza and a salad for lunch and walked all over town. The weather was gorgeous and we were forced to get some gelato- fancy gelato in the shape of a flower. It was good. We went back to the apartment and I watched the TdF stage while Heidi napped. Yep, you see the trend. I think we were getting pretty settled in to life in France and we had only been there three days! There was another huge thunder storm (incredible and awesome) and we Skyped with my parents. We were still exhaused and went to bed, no dinner. For some reason we weren’t hungry.
On July 7 we got up relatively early (for a vacation) and hit our favorite coffee shop down the street. Heidi had a raspberry cream puff (pictured) and two cappuccinos. I had my chocolate au pain. We attempted to buy tickets to Normandy but the line was long at the train station and we basically gave up. Plus, the weather wasn’t looking good so we decided to stay put.
For lunch, we walked 10 feet from our front door and ate at Bistro Margot. It was incredible. Heidi had lox and I had a HAMBURGER. Yep, and it had a big old egg on it. So good!
After lunch the clouds started to clear a bit and I did a 24 mile ride east past the Esplanade, north of the Orangerie, past Robertsau and through the Robertsau Forest to La Wantzenau. From there, I headed back south (where this photo was taken), through farm fields and back into the city. I passed the European Parliament and back along the Canal du Rhone to La Petite France. It was an excellent ride. The weather was perfect and although there were absolutely zero hills, most of the route also had zero traffic.
Heidi did some shopping and I made it back just in time to watch the last few minutes of the TdF. Perfect. Following that, we had ice cream near the cathedral, bought some local cheese at the cheese monger (yummy and stinky) and went to bed early.
July 8 started off relatively normal with Heidi waking up super early, followed by coffee and pastries. Heidi talked to her aunt Siglinda and we arranged to drive to Germany and visit them. We had lunch with my cousin-once-removed Ryleigh and her friend Lucie (who lives in Strasbourg). Due to the cool, rainy day, we had lunch inside at the first place we had eaten,La Corde á Linge . It sounded like the girls were planning on having an incredible summer, including a week in the south of France.
We walked to the mall, came back to the apartment and watched the tour. Oddly enough, we didn’t have dinner and instead just hung out at the apartment and went to bed early. We woke up around 11 pm and watched Germany dominate Brazil in the World Cup.
July 9. Again woke up early (this is getting old) but this time we Facetimed with Mark and Gina and then Nicole. That was pretty fun. We were waking up and they were getting ready for bed. We had breakfast in the apartment (yoghurt, bread, cheese, etc) and then we got ready, grabbed a taxi to Kehl, Germany and picked up a rental car. Kehl is just across the Rhein from Strasbourg, so the trip is about 10 minutes with no traffic. The taxi dropped us off at the train station because I didn’t know exactly where the Europcar office was. That was a mistake. We had to walk about a mile in the pouring rain. That wasn’t cool. Heidi got splashed by a rude driver. But our car was great. It was an Audi A1 diesel. It had all the options, including Navigation.
And the best thing about the car is that it was diesel. It got over 50 mpg.
…And I wasn’t driving slowly.
We stopped in Baden Baden for lunch. Although it is a town that now caters to old, rich people, we had a great time. Our parking garage was apparently heated by the hot geothermal waters famous for this region and our car instantly fogged up- on the outside! It was crazy driving in cool rainy weather and parking in a sauna that was probably 90 degrees F. I had gypsy schnitzel for lunch. That’s what they called it. After lunch we drove (quite fast, I might add) to Heidi’s aunt and uncle’s house in Nieder-Roden. It was really great to see them. Christoph and the girls showed up and we had a nice dinner.
That night we stayed in the hotel next door, which was good. We had breakfast and lunch with the Hohmanns and then drove for Strasbourg. We were pretty exhausted after an hour of driving, so we stopped by Heidelberg. What a beautiful town. We reserved a room using wifi (and then walked into the hotel right next door). It was an okay hotel. Then we walked up to the castle. It was pretty neat. The weather had improved and our walk was quite pleasant.
That night we had a great dinner in a small pub in the center of town. Heidi had flammekuchen and I had a salad. It was great. The next morning we had breakfast and drove back to Kehl to drop off the car, followed by a short train ride to Strasbourg.
The weather was becoming nice again and we did laundry while wandering around the Grand Rue in the sunshine. Heidi had been eyeing a restaurant that was a block away from our apartment, so we decided to try it out. It had come highly recommended and was called Winstub S’Kaechele. The weather was bordering on rain, but we made it through dry, just like the wine. We started with an excellent white, some pate, foie gras and onion soup. You don’t need to call it “French” onion soup here. LOL. BTW, the soup was just okay. But Heidi’s gratin was excellent, as was my pork knuckle.
That night we went to bed early. I believe the wine made Heidi a bit tired.
On July 12 we work up to gray skies and walked to the cathedral area for excellent crepes. Walked back to the apartment and attempted to rent a car for that day, but was too late for online reservations. I RAN for a taxi and barely got to the car rental place in Kehl before the noon closing. I rented the exact car we had used to drive to Nieder-Roden. I parked 2 blocks from our apartment and went out for lunch at the deli, which was one block from our apt. The deli worker warned us that it would start raining, but we figured we’d be fine since the tables were under umbrellas. We were wrong. It was a massive downpour, just like the others we had experienced here and nowhere else. Luckily we had just finished lunch. But the one block walk back to our apt soaked us to the skin! The lightning and thunder made it that much more exciting. We loved the rain, even during our vacation.
The rain stopped and the roads dried quickly, so I jumped on my bike and attempted to get a nice ride in. I rode on a trail to the southwest corner of town and started heading west toward the Vosges mountains. I didn’t make it far.
Another massive downpour began. I waited under a small bridge where about a half dozen other cyclists, runners and walkers joined me. I don’t think they figured out I didn’t speak French, because I just laughed at everything they said and they laughed back. It was a funny situation and an insane rain storm. I rode back about a mile and hid under a larger bridge with about 25 others, but my impatience overtook and I left after 15 minutes. They all knew better. By the time I got home I was as wet as if I had stood in the shower for 15 minutes with my cycling clothes on. It was crazy. And I wasn’t cold at all. Being from the pacific northwest, I’m definitely not accustomed to warm, heavy rain showers. It was awesome, except I was a bit worried my phone was fried, but it wasn’t.
Look closely at this photo. This rain kept up for an hour! The streets had inches of rain accumulation.
That night we ate at an Italian restaurant called Le Torricelli. It was pretty good. We watched the loser bracket World Cup game and went to bed. Another good day.
On July 13, we work up and ate croissants and chocolate pain for breakfast. Typical. But then we jumped in our little Audi A1 rental car and drove up to Saarland in Germany to meet Heidi’s cousin Siegfried and his family for lunch in Orsholz. We ate at the Weinpost, which was excellent. After lunch we went to to their home and took a walk through the Varadeser Park to an overlook above the Saar River valley. The kids had a great time riding their bikes.
After our walk, we drove to our hotel, Hotel Sonnenhof, and rested for an hour. We’d stayed here before and it is a great hotel! Siegfried came by with Karl and we did a driving tour of the Mosel River including Luxembourg, France, Germany and the area called Schengen. This is where the massively important treaty was signed for open travel within the European Union. We ate a light dinner at Sigfried’s house and started watching the World Cup final. Karl was pretty excited to see Germany win. When the game was finally over at 1 am, the church bells in the small town of Orsholz were ringing and people were celebrating in a big way. It was really great. Maybe one of the best moments of the trip.
We were exhausted when we woke up at 9 am for breakfast. Siegfried met us and we had a very nice conversation. It was really great to see him and the rest of his family. We left at 10:00 and drove back to Strasbourg. Due to the weather, I had missed the Tour de France stages in the Alsace. So, today was the last stage and I figured “what the hell” and stuffed my bike in the A1 and headed toward the town of Munster. My bike barely fit with the back seats folded down and both wheels off, but I managed. I was able to park a couple miles east of town and rode into town. But soon the Gendarmes were calling me off the road and I had to walk on the sidewalk for a few miles through town. Below is a crappy photo of the sprint line.
Here’s a photo of the town of Munster- yep that’s where the cheese comes from. Note the clouds in the background.
I managed to make it to the bottom of the first climb of the day. I took some cool video of the peloton rolling through, mostly together. Here’s an example of how steep the climb was. It was definitely steeper than this photo makes it look and it was long- like 9.3 kilometers long.
About 5 minutes after I took this photo the peloton came ripping through and 5 minutes after that another epic rain storm started. It rained so hard that the last two miles riding back to the car occurred in over 2 inches of water. Literally. Cars could not drive. I was creating a wake.
I drove back through on and off downpours using back roads towards Strasbourg. The gorgeous little towns and vineyards made the drive unforgettable. I really wish Heidi had gone with me. She was back in Strasbourg shopping and enjoying the fact that the weather had gotten much better!
We did laundry and enjoyed a beer down the street in Petite France. Not bad!
We walked back to the area near the cathedral and looked for an authentic Alsacian restaurant.
The food was excellent, but we failed our French language lesson for the day. We were feeling pretty confident about reading menus, but accidentally ordered Heidi some roast beef. It was hilarious. I ate most of it, along with my meal. After dinner we enjoyed some Bastille Day celebrations and fireworks. Then went to bed, exhausted.
On Tuesday, July 15, there was a huge break in the weather (finally), so we kept the rental car and decided to drive to the Alps. This trip used weather forecasting in a big way. We stuck around the city while it was crappy and headed off to cool places when the weather forecast looked good. After sleeping in late and grabbing breakfast down the street, yep Chocolate au pain and two cappuccinos, we drove through western Switzerland to get to Annecy. Switzerland is my favorite place in the world and it was pretty obvious why- perfect roads surrounded by vineyards, mountains and beautiful villages. We also zipped through Bern and Geneva and very much enjoyed their skylines.
We arrived in a massive traffic jam in Annecy, but once we found our hotel and parked we fell in love with this gorgeous town. Annecy faces the alps over the top of an incredibly beautiful lake with the same name. Heidi and I walked a dozen or more miles along the shores that afternoon in the sun. The canals, the posh hotels and views across the lake make us promise we would come back for more than one night.
This is L’imperial Palace. We thought seriously about staying here. Okay, maybe we didn’t. But we wish we could have! The view up the lake towards the Alps was unbeatable. I’m sure the accommodations weren’t too bad, either.
After our many mile walk, which included stopping for ice cream, we decided to get Raclette for dinner. Our source told us that Le Fréti was the best in town. The waiter was hilarious and super friendly, as were all of our French hosts.
Raclette is essentially a huge block of cheese, melted by a portable electric element. It melts the cheese and you pour it all over your veggies and bread. It’s like fondue but without the wine base. It was definitely our most interesting meal and to me is France’s version of comfort food. Not exactly healthy, but definitely great!
I forgot to mention that I got a haircut in Strasbourg. It was hilarious because the stylist spoke as much English as I spoke French. Basically zero. But she did a great job, of course, and Heidi was happy.
That night we stayed at Auberge du Lyonnaise. It was in an incredible location, had free parking (which was really surprising) and the room was okay. But the €8 breakfast was terrible. I recommend the hotel, but skip the breakfast and go to a cafe.
We had pre-arranged our hotel so the first thing we did in town was park the car and jump onto the Gondola that was to take us way up the mountains. Here is the Gondola base- totally reminded me of Whistler, B.C.
I was surprised to see Heidi as excited as she was. I never expected that Chamonix would be her favorite part of this trip, but she said it rivaled Paris. Here we are piled into the Gondola. Within about 5 minutes, the woman next to us was screaming and bawling because she was so scared. I kept quiet.
We spent about two hours hanging out on this deck, in the sunshine and brisk alpine air- at 12,600 feet. It was difficult to breathe after coming up the mountain so fast. Just walking up a set of stairs caused a bit of panting.
We decided to do the cheesy tourist thing and “As dans le vida”, or step into the void. We were approximately 3,000 feet above the rocks and ice below. The funny slippers were to keep the glass under our feet from being scratched. See the other nerds below from a different vantage point.
It took two long gondola rides to get to the top of the Aguille du Midi, so we decided to ride the top one down, then walk down the second half. We stopped at this cafe at the gondola base and grabbed some drinks and candy bars and started walking. We should have had a few drinks and ridden the gondola the rest of the way down, but we don’t typically skip out on a challenge.
We came across this hut but still had a long way to go before we reached the valley floor, so we kept going.
At one point I while I was taking pictures, Heidi decided to pick up the pace. It took forever to catch her! But she finally bonked near the bottom. The Snickers bar saved the trip! Here’s the Strava Link, missing the first section.
When we got back to our room, we savored the view of Mont Blanc out of our window. The Hotel L’Oustalet was excellent. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to stay in Chamonix, or anywhere, actually. It was really, really great.
But, we had to grab one more view looking north from our hotel room’s deck. Then we were off for spaghetti and pizza for dinner at a great place called La Boccalatte. We ate outside, like we did almost every other meal in Europe this summer. It was the best!
The next morning, July 17, we walked through the pedestrian zone in Chamonix and grabbed breakfast. I had crepes with ice cream while Heidi had the standard- two cappuccinos.
Heidi and I traversed the Brévent Flégère Le Sources trail. Here is the Strava Link if you are interested. It took a bit for my GPS to figure out where we were, so we actually walked a bit further than it shows.
This is the view looking straight down from the gondola at the summit of Le Brévent. The gondola stopped BEFORE the building at the top. It hangs just off the deck and you have to step out onto the deck. It’s quite scary. The crazy thing is that there were people climbing the cliffs below us. Wow. AND, there were dozens of people paragliding all around us, making me feel even more like a wimp.
At the top of the structure there was a beautiful granite map pointing to all of the peaks we could see. I stared at it for an hour. The weather was warm with very little wind, so we were comfortable sitting and breathing in the fresh air after our hike.
We rode the Chamonix Planpraz gondola back into town. The weather was hot and we were exhausted, so we went for a swim in the pool and laid in the sun. It was a perfect ending for the perfect day, except we still had to eat. So we went back to La Boccalatte and had dinner and some great beer. Then we walked through the village and went to bed, exhausted but super happy.
Heidi and I had to return the car by noon in Kehl, Germany the next day, so we got up early and drove over the Forclaz pass. I wasn’t aware that we would be driving over this famous route until we were there. Unfortunately it was as crooked as it was beautiful, so Heidi didn’t feel great, but once we got into Martigny, Switzerland, we zipped onto an autobahn and she was fine. We were on schedule to be 30 minutes early to drop off the car but got stuck in a huge traffic jam (12 kilometers long) about 30 minutes from our destination. We ended up being about an hour late, but Europcar let us off without an extra charge. Whew. We took the train back into Strasbourg for a short rest. It was super hot in Strasbourg, so we did an evening stroll and found a great Indian restaurant with air conditioning. It was really good food and I would definitely recommend Restaurant Indien Maharaja. The waiter spoke excellent english (especially as his 3rd language) and told us that Strasbourg is super boring and he really wanted to get out of there. I guess the grass is always greener. There was a concert happening in Place Kléber (the town square about 2 blocks from our streaming hot apartment) so we wandered over there to watch a hilarious rock band. I love the European metal! It was so hot in our apartment that we barely slept that night. Bummer.
On Saturday, the 19th of July, we got up and had breakfast in our apartment and figured out what we were going to do for the next few days. A storm was coming in tomorrow, so we figured we should get the heck out of town, find a place that was sunny and then go straight from there to Paris to meet Nicole, who was arriving in a couple of days. I noticed the ONLY place with a sunny forecast was northern France, along the English Channel. We’d never been to Brittany or Normandy, so we bought tickets! We had goofed up and accidentally bought a special weekend train travel fare and it just happened to work out exactly right. If we departed tomorrow and stayed for more than a day, we would get 50% off our tickets. So, we bought the tickets, found a first class ticket for Nicole to accompany us back to Paris in a week (it turned out to be cheaper than a 2nd class ticket) and we felt pretty good about things.
We did laundry, made the mistake of eating at “Thai In A Box”, which is a restaurant right under our apartment. It was definitely the worst meal we had this trip. Yuck! I did a fun bike ride in the 95-99 degree F heat. Strava Link. I met a Strasbourg University student named Christoph who rode with me and he turned out to be a great guy. After the ride I watched the tour and then we met up with Christoph for a beer. He gave us a “locals” tour around the city and took the photo below.
Heidi and I went out to Cafe Margot for dinner and I had Cordon Bleu. Heidi had potato pancakes and locks. Yes! Our apartment was stifling hot and by this time I was relatively angry at our landlords for not bringing us a fan, which they had promised two weeks earlier. I still haven’t gotten around to giving them a bad review on VRBO, and I probably never will.
On July 20 we got up early, had coffee and croissants in the train station and took the TGV to Paris St. Lazare station. It was only a couple of hour train ride. The first hour was relatively slow, but we eventually got up to 300 km/hr and the landscape just ripped by!
We had a couple of hours to enjoy Paris but the weather wasn’t great. Broken sun and some rain. We found a great chain restaurant called Pret A Manger that had decent food and free wifi. It was a great break between train rides.
The next train took us to Caen, followed by a short jaunt up to Bayeux.
Beyeux is a gorgeous town with canals and a lot of World War II history. We ended up staying at Hotel Churchill. It was quite nice, although a bit loud. WWII trinkets and historical documents lined the halls and I thought that part of it was great.
Bayeux definitely welcomes tourists from the WWII Allied countries. There were signs everywhere saying “Thank You” and “Welcome Liberators”. It made us feel good in a very weird kind of way. It made me appreciate the Greatest Generation and the sacrifices they made. I thought a lot about what it took to give us the freedom we now enjoy to travel and do the things that many previous generations were unable to do and are still unable to do in many parts of the world.
Our meals were also excellent. Here are before and after photos of my fish. That cream sauce was to die for
That night we slept well at Hotel Churchill. We went to bed early and got up late. The first order of business after chocolate au pain and cappuccino was to check out the British War Cemetery. It was pretty somber on this grey day. I didn’t cry, but was definitely close a lot of the time. This was my favorite inscription. It’s easy to forget that each one of these stones represents a real person that many people loved.
It’s amazing that even small towns in Europe have incredible cathedrals. It just shows the influence the church had for centuries.
We took the train back to Caen and picked up our rental car. When I found out it was going to be an Alpha Romeo I was excited! I’d never driven an Alpha Romeo and had always heard about how great they were. Well, this was a Giulietta and it was terrible, especially compared to the Audi we had rented earlier in the trip. The Giulietta, aside from smelling like cigarettes and being dirty, drove terribly. All the controls were in odd places, the clutch was the worst I’ve used in decades and the overall driving experience was lousy. Score one for Europcar and minus one for Hertz. After picking up the car, we stopped at a small grocery store and grabbed supplies for a picnic. We drove out to the coast and had a picnic lunch at Bernières-sur-Mer, which is a beautiful beach along the Normandy Coast. We ate local Norman cheese, a fresh baguette, cider, cornichon pickles, and other goodies. The weather wasn’t sunny yet, but it was a lot better than in Paris or Strasbourg on this date!
After our picnic we drove to Arromanches-les-Baines. This was the site of an American D-Day landing. Our first stop was at the 360 degree tourist movie theater at the top of the bluff. It was an excellent production that showed about 16 simultaneous films of the lead up to and 100 days after the D-Day invasion. The film took about 20 minutes and was very powerful, without blame, anger or guilt, but with an emphasis on future peace. It was great.
We walked from the theater down to the beach which was coined Gold Beach during the invasion. Today it is a tourist town with remnants of the barges that made up the “temporary” port. The barges were supposed to last a year or two, but they are still rusting there 70 years later.
This is one of the guns that had not been destroyed. You can see the incredibly thick, reinforced concrete that protected the massive cannon. Back inside the bunker were tiny rooms that housed the soldiers and were used to store ammunition. The other two bunkers like this were destroyed, with twisted steel and broken concrete still showing the power of the American battleships that hit them from miles away.
The weather had become perfect, as our forecast had predicted, and we drove through the Norman countryside on our way to Brittany. It’s amazing, but if you look at a map, we had driven ourselves way up a peninsula into an area without any large freeways. Because of that and our reliance on our Garmin GPS app, we ended up taking the LONGEST WAY EVER to get to Dinan, Brittany. We drove for about an hour on the smallest roads you can imagine. It was incredibly beautiful driving on single lane paved roads though the farmlands in Normandy. I really wish I would have had some days to ride my bike on those roads. The only problem with our detour is that we didn’t get as much time to explore Dinan as we had hoped. We arrived just before dark.
We were looking for a recommended restaurant, but it was completely full. We took our chances with Creperie Art’ Bilig next door. It was the best decision we had made all day. My scallops with bacon in a cream sauce was incredible, as was Heidi’s champion crepe.
Of course we had to have ice cream and peach crepes for dessert. We got to bed really late, even considering we didn’t have wifi. I think this was the only one of two nights all vacation that we didn’t have wifi. We survived!
The next morning, July 22 (Dad’s birthday), we got up really early (6:30 ouch- this is supposed to be a vacation) because of our impending rental car return at noon in Caen. We drove to Mont St. Michel and were the first on the bus. This silly 2 way bus whisked us from the parking lot, over the causeway and right up to the gates of the island.Here’s a photo of the weird bus.
We walked up the ancient streets and found a small cafe for breakfast. We didn’t care that the prices were ridiculous. It was super cute, had a neat view and we were at Mont St. Michel with no crowds!!! After breakfast we wandered the low elevation areas of the island and were amazed at the extent of the mud flats that would soon be flooded with tide water. Apparently the tides come in at very high speed.
Le Cousenon River has filled in the mud flats around the entrance to the island due to the construction of the causeway. They are working on replacing the causeway with a pier, which should allow the tides to help remove the sediments and make the area more similar to what it was centuries ago.
The Abbey finally opened at 9:00 and we walked through one of those interesting churches we’ve seen in Europe. Monks have been living here since the sixth century, probably driven out to the island for safety and solitude. Over the centuries they built an incredibly beautiful and stark masterpiece.
This was about 3 floors down from the top. Apparently they were worried about the massive amount of weight above, based on the pillars they used for construction. These pillars are much thicker than they look- probably 8 feet in diameter.
We were back in the car by 10 am and driving like crazy to get our car back to Caen and to catch the train to Paris, which left at 12:05. Of course we had to stop at a tiny town’s market to pick up some local cider for Nicole, who was arriving in Paris TODAY!
I managed to take the wrong exit in Caen, had to drive around for 15 minutes to find diesel for the car and then JUST made it in time to drop the car off and run across the street to catch our train to Paris. It was SO close. Once on the train, we met a really nice young Australian couple who had quit their jobs and were traveling around Europe. We also and a nice discussion with a Canadian B.C. Native.
We arrived in Paris and immediately went back to Pret A Manger for lunch, then hopped the Metro to Saint Paul and met the manager of the flat that Nicole had rented. We expected Nicole to show up any time, so we went out to a cafe near the Saint Paul Metro station, grabbed an outdoor seat and a beer and waited. Within 20 minutes I saw her smiling head come poking above ground. We were all super, super excited. A trip back to the apartment to drop off her luggage was followed by an outdoor dinner in the Marais.
After dinner we walked to the Seine and past the Hotel de Ville, Louvre and back to the Marais via Rue de Rivoli.
We decided not to go up due to a HUGE line, so we relaxed in the Champ de Mars.
Then it was back to the Marais, where we were forced to stop at Mövenpick for more ice cream. We chilled out in the apartment for an hour or so and then headed downstairs to our favorite falafel shop for dinner. It was right after dinner that we experienced some craziness. We were walking out of the restaurant when the large crowd of tourists and locals on Rue des Rosiers started running and yelling. The guys running the falafel shop threw up a board over their window and locked the door behind us as we went out. Heidi and Nicole saw one of the guys grab a gun. We followed a group of people toward the Rue de Rivoli but only made it half a block before some locals shoved us into a different restaurant and locked the door behind us. I saw a group of young, large jewish men heading up the street and it seemed like they were going to confront whatever problems were on the way. After waiting in the restaurant for about 10 minutes they let everyone out and calmness had ensued. We had been aware of some protests happening in the suburbs of Paris due to the Israeli conflict with Palestine, and it had apparently spread. One of the locals told us that a group of protesters had headed towards this neighborhood because it was Jewish. Luckily the police had stopped the group before they were able to cause damage or hurt anyone. The whole situation was pretty scary, but we were fine. I guess that’s just part of traveling- being ready for any insanity that may occur.
We walked around the neighborhood that evening, checked out Place des Vosges and Bastille, had a crepe and went to bed at 11:30. Nicole didn’t even take a nap. She was tough! Zero jet lag.
The next morning, July 24, we slept in until 9:00 and grabbed breakfast at a Jewish bakery right down the street. We walked to the Seine, found a ticket shop and bought tickets for a nighttime bus tour that evening. Then we went to the Musee d’ Orsay and enjoyed a few hours of impressionism. It was great, like always.
My Victorinox luggage had a broken wheel, so I found a Victorinox store and they gave me a new wheel for free. I was stoked!!!! We celebrated by having lunch at Galerie Vivienne, followed by some shopping.
We jumped on a Metro and headed up to Montmartre to check out the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. The weather was beautiful, the neighborhood was amazing and we were feeling great.
The weather was actually quite hot, so Heidi pulled out her Evian mineral water and sprayed us down.
We stopped by the apartment to drop off the loads of shopping goods that the girls had acquired and grabbed an outside table at a Marais Italian restaurant.
We then rushed to the Hotel de Ville to grab our evening bus tour.
It was a complete cluster getting on the bus, but I figured out exactly where to stand and we were about 5th on the bus after a small group literally pushed us out of the way. Guess which continent those tourists were from?
The tour ended up being pretty lame. The audio didn’t work until the last 15 minutes of the tour, but the sites were pretty cool at night.
After the tour we walked down to the “beach” at the Seine. Every summer the Parisians bring in hundreds of tons of sand and pour it out near the river, place beach chairs all around and bring in food trucks. We were fortunate enough to watch a small band playing with dozens of young people dancing like it was summertime in Paris. We grabbed a crepe and a beer and enjoyed the tour boats going by on the river. We got to bed by midnight and the girls blabbed incessantly for hours. I guess they were having a good time.
The next morning we got up and took the metro to our standard Pret A Manger but this time grabbed breakfast. Heidi and Nic were looking for Laudrée, a macron cookie store. Well, we found it and it was super cute. They loved it! The next stop was the most important- Galleries Lafayette. It was a ridiculously impressive shopping store. They had all the high-end clothing and accessories that the girls could imagine.
And for me there was an incredible rooftop deck to hang out on and have a Coke. It was actually really nice. Heidi and Nic bought handbags and shoes. Unfortunately it was time to head back to Strasbourg. We took the Metro back to our apartment, packed and headed out to Paris-Est Gare where we bought sandwiches and some snacks for the 2 1/2 hour train ride.
Once we arrived in Strasbourg, we did laundry, had a drink, quickly showed Nic the main parts of the old town and then went to dinner at La Cambuse. Heidi had heard about this place from her dad about 10 years ago and remembered it. We made reservations one of the first days we arrived in Strasbourg (over three weeks ago!) and were very excited to try it out. It was the best!
We started with amuse bouche.
The appetizer was tuna carpaccio. We also had some dumplings.
I got curried whitefish in a banana leaf. The clear winner, to me!
After this amazing meal, the best of the trip by far, we toured Petite France in the dark, walked around the cathedral and went to Terre Vin for a wine night cap.
The next morning we slept in and when I woke up I realized I had to hurry like crazy to Kehl to pick up our rental car. This was familiar. Today was a bit different, though, because there was a huge old town market happening in Strasbourg. Hundreds of people had set up booths on the streets around our apartment and it was almost IMPOSSIBLE to get around. I did make it to the train station, bought a ticket and arrived in Kehl with time to spare. The drive back was uneventful, but parking was almost impossible. I had to park about a half mile from our apartment. We met the landlord to exchange keys and deposit and we were off- luggage and bike in the car. The car was a Opel Insignia wagon- large but providing excellent gas mileage due to the diesel. I was actually really impressed by this car. Maybe not as nice of a design as the Audi, but it had all the fancy features and it fit all three of us, our gear and the bike. Impressive!
Our first stop on the road trip was Riquewihr. This old town amongst the vineyards was described to us by our apartment host as “The most beautiful village in Alsace.” It was beautiful, even considering the cloudy, near-rainy day.
I had wanted to try a Backoffe the entire time we were in the area and finally got my chance. Honestly, it wasn’t that great.
On our way to Colmar, we spotted a ruined castle up on the hill and decided to go check it out. It just happened to be a super cute little town called Kayersberg. Obviously heavily influenced by the Germans, this town was really neat.
That afternoon we drove all the way into Switzerland and back into the beautiful town of Konstanz, Germany. It was just getting dark and pouring rain. Nicole had taken a little nap, but the countryside was so beautiful she had powered through, again. It just happened that we were in Konstanz on a very popular weekend and there were almost NO rooms available. We found a single room for Nicole in the first hotel we walked in to (Hotel Augustiner Tor) and the concierge was able to find Heidi and I a room at a fancy 4 star hotel (Hotel Halm). That was it. The rest of the city was booked up. Nicole’s place was modern and shiny while ours was old world but very fancy. We ran through the rain and into a great traditional German restaurant that had been recommended by a local called Tolle Knolle. We were all very excited to have a day of driving over with, room secured and some great beer and hot German food in our bellies. We went to bed early and slept in late. The next morning it was still pouring rain, so we slept in some more. We got up at 10:00. We had coffee and a small breakfast and walked around the waterfront and some of the old town (where we were staying). We would have liked to stay longer, but the rain put a damper on exploring so we hopped back in the Opel wagon and took off.
We drove straight through to Schwangau, Germany. We really wanted Nicole to see Neuschwanstein. We got into a huge traffic jam about 15 minutes from the castle, but made it through with a minimal amount of cursing. We walked up to the ticket office, in the rain, and found out that we were going to have to wait a LONG time to get a castle tour, so we booked a tour of Hohenschwangau, which is the castle you can see just to the left of the photo below. It was a great tour that provided a lot of insight into the lives of the royal German family in the mid to late 1800s. The rain had subsided and it was nice just hanging out before the tour. See Neuschwanstein in the background.
After that tour, we found that we wouldn’t be able to get tickets to tour Neuschwanstein this day anyway, so we walked up to the castle and Marienbrücke anyway. It was still raining and it picked up even harder as we reached the top.
After Marianbrücke, we walked to the castle gates and then RAN down the hill to avoid the throngs of tourists and to get back into our dry car. So far we had had an okay day. Rain, driving for about 3 hours, more rain, missing out on a tour, etc. We were having a great time, getting along well, but the really good times were about to come!
and through a village that has houses that look like this:…and Nicole suddenly says “What are all those cars parked out in that field?” Heidi looked over and said, “Maybe they are having a festival. Germany has festivals throughout the summer.” Nicole said “We should go check it out.” I said “Definitely.” The village was called Trauchgau and it was gorgeous. It’s in the foothills of the northern Alps, small ski areas rising up the hills from the valleys and was full of women walking around in dirndls and men in lederhosen. Heidi asked some of them what the occasion was, and they invited us to join them. It was a full-on-Oktober-style summer festival happening. We were ecstatic!
After some time enjoying ourselves a lot, we jumped back in our car and drove towards Oberammergau, where we had reserved a room at the Hotel Arnica. But on the way there we drove right by the Wies Kirche, so we stopped by and listened to an orchestra perform in, literally, the most beautiful church I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to a lot of churches. It was magical, with the sun going down, the music and the beauty, not to mention a bit of a buzz from the liters of beer we drank just up the road. After the concert we drove the 20 minutes to Oberammergau. As soon as we unpacked our luggage from the Opel and walked through the front door of the hotel, the rain started pouring down. It was perfect. The Hotel Arnica was my favorite lodging of the entire trip. It was a very typical German rural hotel. Excellent room, a nice bar, delicious breakfast and super friendly people. I would go there again in a heartbeat. Sitting out in the front bar and drinking a beer in this perfect Bavarian spot was the icing on the cake for this trip. The dreary day had become the best day.
On the 28th we got up, had our breakfast and walked around the picturesque village of Oberammergau. We had been here a few times in the past, but not in this weather. It was perfect. We did some shopping, admired the wood carving stores that this town is famous for and eventually drove out towards Linderhof to continue our touristic adventure. Below is a panorama of the outskirts of Oberammergau looking south towards the Alps. Our hotel was just to the right.
One of the most interesting parts of the grounds was the grotto. Ludwig had this built (it’s not a real cave) so he could hang out in the dark and listen to his favorite musician, Richard Wagner. The grotto had the first electricity in Bavaria, powered by a generator. The water could be heated up to 70 degrees F. Pretty crazy.
I’ve always wanted to go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and we were only about 30 minutes away. We decided to head up there, grab some lunch and then be on our way. I had my favorite, sauerbraten, at an outside cafe. The girls had salads and desserts and we all had Radlers. A Radler is a mix of beer and lemonade- delicious.
After the late lunch, we drove like crazy to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Heidi and I had been here number of times before, but it is a great town to show people what villages looked like in the middle ages (excuse the tourism and cars). We had reserved a room at the Hotel Tilman Riemenschneider. It was great because it had indoor parking and the rooms were decent. Not great, but definitely okay. It looked really great from the outside.
Once we arrived, Nicole took a tour from the German Jerry Seinfeld, while Heidi and I had a beer in an outdoor cafe next door to our hotel. It was really, really great. It was slightly raining, but we had a huge tree over the patio and we stayed completely dry. Nicole met us for dinner and was pretty stoked by the tour (which we had taken in the past- we knew it was that good!) Below is a photo of the town hall.
That afternoon we drove the Opel through torrential rainfall (some that was downright dangerous) and beautiful countryside at high speed on the autobahn. We checked into the airport hotel, returned our car and then took a taxi to downtown Frankfurt. By the way, all the driving we did with Nikki in France, Switzerland and Germany was done on ONE tank of diesel. The mileage was incredible. Yay Opel wagon! We did some shopping and I bought some lederhosen. I couldn’t help myself. We had a beer in an outdoor cafe, watched the rain fall and discussed our upcoming depression because of the ending vacation.
Even though we were sad to be leaving, we had a great last dinner. We made our way to a place called Zu den 12 Aposteln, which served us awesome authentic german food in a cellar-type atmosphere. We celebrated our trip and took a taxi back to the airport hotel, where the girls packed and then talked until forever late in the night.
The next day was a standard get up early, check in, wait at the airport and sit on a plane for 10 1/2 hours. We were really lucky to be able to see the southeastern corner of Greenland. It was gorgeous.
Many people hate the jet lag when coming back from Europe, but I love it. You get to go to bed early, get up super early and then quietly contemplate the new-found perspective you gained from being slightly out of your comfort zone for weeks. After re-acclimating to our normal lives, I can reflect on the past 30 days and be thankful that it worked out exactly as we had hoped. Being with Heidi for four weeks was super special. Having Nicole meet us for the last 10 days was great because it re-energized us and was simply really, really fun. Seeing Heidi’s relatives, having my bike available, relying on my parents and aunt to take care of Lulu, and having the resources to do what we wanted are things I’m very thankful for. Now we are just looking forward to the next one!