Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paris Day 6 - Strasbourg

Despite the constant late nights, we hauled ourselves out of bed before sunrise on Saturday, bundled up, and headed to the Paris Est train station. There was a little hassle over our tickets, but once we figured out where the SNCF office we sorted it out quickly (making me extremely grateful for the eightieth time on this trip that Jason's so proficient with the language). We even had time for a cup of hot chocolate and a pain au chocolate each before boarding the TGV to take us to Strasbourg.

I wanted to stay awake and enjoy the sights of the ride. I really did. Back when I started teaching, I figured out quickly that sometimes the children pushed so many buttons all at once that I had two choices - either go really loud and yell or go really quiet and wait. So I used to go to my happy place: I'd shut my eyes and retreat far enough away mentally that I could wait for them to regulate themselves. They were always pretty quick to quiet down when I did that (I don't think they were used to seeing their teachers stand ((or, on one particularly impatient occasion, lay down on the floor)) perfectly still with their eyes closed), and it solved the problem more quickly and neatly than yelling did. The point of my telling you this is to say that when I would go to my happy place, I would always go to the long car rides we took to Paris back when we lived in Landstuhl. I can easily slip back to the memory of the sound of rain on the glass, the smell of the countryside, the quiet murmur of my parents talking in the front seats, the rough texture of the upholstery and the cool smoothness of the window. I especially loved watching the green, green hills and the small white and brown villages passing by. It's one of my most sensuous memories, and I love it.

So I did want to watch the countryside pass by on this ride (albeit much more quickly than we drove back then), but the past few days weeks months and the gentle rocking of the train overpowered me, and I slept the entire way there.  Fortunately, Jason stayed awake for most of the journey and documented it for his train-obsessed nieces and nephew. Please to enjoy.

We arrived in Strasbourg just before 11:00, walked out of the train station,

Strasbourg Train Station

and immediately came upon brown market stalls. Most importantly, one of said stalls had a large sign proclaiming "Crepes!"

Crepe Stand!

Okay, it didn't have an exclamation mark. I, however, read it with the exclamation mark, since there had been a serious lack of crepes on our trip so far. We pounced, Jason ordered a beignet (which is not at all the same as the ones made by Memere and is therefore far inferior) while I got a crepe with Nutella and banana. Eventually. It was the first day of the market and the girl making them didn't quite have the knack yet, so it took her a few tries.

Crepe Take 2

She eventually got one to work, and I thrust my phone at Jason to take a picture of me enjoying the crepe (while wearing my tourist-beret, of course!):

Yum!  Crepes!

"What's with your eyes?" Jason asked, looking at the result on my iPhone.

"I'm rolling them in delight," I explained.

"I'm taking another picture," he said. "Just look normal this time."

Other Yum Crepe Picture

"Better?" I asked.

He sighed. "It'll do."

With that and with me licking my Nutella-coated fingers, we set off through the town.

Apparently, I've been to Strasbourg before, but to nine-year-old me, cute German towns all just blended together. I thoroughly enjoyed it this time, though. It's rife with small alleyways and winding streets:

Jason in Strasbourg

lots of buildings in that Germanic style I love:

Germanic House

fun details like this trompe d'oeil:

Fake Cat

stores that were fully in the Christmas spirit already:

Hansel and Gretel's House

and, best of all, signs like this one:


There wasn't just one market though. Every plaza in town was full of those brown wooden stalls. We planned to shop, but decided to see the town first. And to eat. It had been minutes since my crepe and his beignet after all.

Alas, some of the prettiest food wasn't so practical for us tourists:

Beautiful Meat

But we quickly found a brat stand

Brat Stand

and got some lunch:

Brats and Sauerkraut

Do you see the size of that bucket of sauerkraut? We did our best, but barely made a dent in it.

The stand we got that meal from was sponsored by this deli:

Deli with Wooden Pigs

which had all of these cute wooden pigs embedded in their Christmas decorations.

Thirsty, we went hunting for hot cider but only found stand after stand of hot wine. Finally, we saw a sign advertising hot orange juice with honey. So strange we had to try it!

AJW and Juice

Hot Orange Juice with Honey

I liked it, although it did get too sweet for me about halfway through.

We discovered a collection of stalls heralded as the Swiss village and were winding our way through them towards the Children's Land, when Jason suddenly cried out, "Raclette!"

Under normal circumstances, I would have assumed he had spotted an obscure French literary reference, but he was instead pointing at this strange sight:

Raclette Toasting

"What's raclette?" I asked.

"You haven't had raclette?" he asked, more aghast than he would have been if I hadn't recognized the obscure French literary reference. "We're having raclette," he declared.

I hesitated. I was very full after trying to conquer Mt. Sauerkraut, and a plateful of cheese seemed more than I could handle without more walking first. Jason saw my hesitation and said the magic words he knew would make me give in: "It's served with cornichons...."

I looked at the stand and, yes, there was a giant tub of cornichons. There were also tall blond Swiss men serving up those cornichons. "Okay, raclette!" I said.

(there is a serious issue with the potato-to-cornichon ratio on this plate!)
We took our plates of oozing cheese over to the stand next door where a bar had been built around a fire pit and warmed our hands as we ate the raclette, which was indeed delicious.

Raclette Fire
Very, very full at that point, we walked to and along the river, making many a photographic stop.

Strasbourg Germanic Buildings on River
Strasbourg Building

Lion Pipe

Strasbourg River
Grotesque on corner of cathedral

Skinny House!
(Look! That house is skinnier than the European car in front of it!)

There was a variety of street musicians, too, as well as steadily-growing crowds:

We turned back towards town and went to check out the cathedral. The cathedral really is stunning – you see glimpses of it as you walk through town, but when you walk into the square in front of I suddenly BAM! There is it, and it’s overpowering, forcing you to look heavenward with it’s gothic pointiness.

Strasbourg Cathedral

Aside from the usual innards of a cathedral,

Cathedral Candles 2
Children entranced by the forbidden candles
Strasbourg Cathedral Stained Glass
Pretty windows
Nativity 2
Exotic Nativities
Strasbourg Cathedral
Pretty ceilings
Strasbourg Cathedral
Creepy babies
We also found a Primary Program!

And a very cool clock:

Our blood sugar dipping dangerously close to normal levels, we went back outside to fight the crowds and find food. We found flam:

Swiss Guy Making Flam
(also made by tall blond Swiss men)


Flem Stand

Which we ate while watching ice skaters circling a small rink built nearby. Then we found a stand full of enticing-looking boules de neige:

Boules Neige

and the long-sought cider!

Boule Neige and Cider

(the boules were filled with marshmallow atop a waffle, by the way:)

Boule Neige
By then the sun was setting, the lights were gleaming, and the throngs were pressing. We refreshed our wallets at the ATM and went Christmas shopping at some of the few stalls of more traditional German crafts before a quick dinner of donar kabobs and frites.

Streets of Strasbourg
Streets of Strasbourg

Streets of Strasbourg
We happened upon the tree the moment it was being lit.  We're good like that.

We escaped the crowds to wind our way back to the train station where we had to wait a while on the platform for our delayed train back to Paris. I was glad when it finally arrived, by dismayed to find that our seats were facing backwards. Despite my motion sickness watch, riding on a swaying train backwards is just not a good thing for me. Jason tried to distract me for a time by translating the essay on feminism from his newly-purchased script of L'ecole des femmes, but even the promise of learning how to turn myself from an object to a subject was not enough to keep the nausea and dizziness at bay. I turned to the only defense I had left – sleep – and dozed fitfully the rest of the way home. A few moments to recover on the platform, a metro ride filled with drunk young adults (shouting "How DARE you?  I'm not drunk!  I'm not f****** drunk!" is a dead giveaway that yes, in fact, you are drunk), and a short walk later we were back in our hotel. We cranked up the opera music and sadly packed our suitcases to depart Paris in the morning.

And, as you saw, we made it home with little adventure and slight discomforts. I will add that the Airbus is pretty awesome. Not only does it have a nifty entertainment center in front of each seat:

Airbus Entertainment

but it’s actually quite spacious for an airplane. You can stand up comfortably, and the seats have a little more room than usual.  I'd recommend it, if you have the chance.

And there you have it – our trip to Paris. May it be one of many.

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