Jane and Hal's Trip to France
March 22 - April 1, 2007
Celebrating 40 Wonderful Years Together

Thursday, March 22, 2007: The trip started off on a false note - we got in a taxi and the South Asian driver refused to go to JFK. We quickly got another taxi and headed off to the airport. This South Asian driver was a much more pleasant driver although his driving was as bad as his accent. American Airlines flight 64 took off on time and as I write this we are in two different rows stretching out on a mercifully not too full flight.

Friday, March 23 2007: The flight was a bit delayed coming into Zurich as there was a huge snowstorm. We safely landed about 35 minutes late in the midst of this snowstorm. Very little visibility. We rented a our car at the Avis counter. A manual shift Opel Astra. Nice car. Roomy for passengers - a bit less so for luggage now that Hal has his large suitcase.

We decided not to head into downtown Zurich as the snowstorm provided very little visibility and so we just looked for the highway to get to Strasbourg. The driving was very very slow - like 25 kph - so we nestled in for a very long drive (~ie 7 hrs). Of course we were in the midst of both a snowstorm and Zurich rush hour. After about 30 minutes the road opened up and Jane was able to drive us at highway speed - well maybe a bit slower. Then it completely cleared up. Just a little historic dusting and some light rain. We stopped in Basel Switzerland to look for someplace to eat - but after driving around for 10 minutes decided to head to Mulhouse in France for some cafe au lait and croissants. Of course we ended up on the wrong highway and ended up in Germany. Basel is between Germany, France and of course Switzerland. After going through German immigration (basically a cop telling us we were in the wrong lane and looking at our passports) we headed toward Mulhouse in France. Of course we had to cross the border into France but the French didn't seem to stop anyone and we just blew past immigration without slowing down. Much like the Germans have been doing for centuries.

cafe in mulhouse We drove around town and ended up at this lovely upscale cafe and candy shop. We had our cafe au lait avec croissants and then purchased some chocolate covered orange peel - a favorite of both of ours. Our usual fantastic breakfast while in France. The cafe au lait everywhere is just not seen in America. We then headed for Strasbourg.
By the time we finished our cafe the rain was just a series of fleeting very light rain and we were cruising at European highway speeds (140kph ~ 90mph). Of course the Mercedes and BMW's would fly by us. highway
french towns The road between Mulhouse and Strasbourg (A35) runs through very typical French countryside. We could see little towns with their ever present church steeples.
We continue on to Strasbourg. We had explicit directions from via-Michelin But after the 2nd or 3rd sharp turn in the space of a 50 feet we lost our way. And we spent the next hour driving around Strasbourg looking for our hotel. We asked people and they gave us directions. We ended up in some parking lot and one of the attendants told us for 10 Euros he would take us there. Negotiated him down to 5 Euros. After 10 minutes of sending us down a few one way streets in the wrong direction he got us close but no cigar. I gave him 6 Euros for the effort. Finally I got out of the car and walked to find the hotel. We were about 100 yards from it. I then asked the concierge for directions to get there from where we were parked. The problem is the hotel is in the Petite France section of town - the oldest part - and the town is filled with mostly pedestrian malls and so driving to the hotel is a nightmare. Now mind you we are 2 blocks from the hotel on foot. After the 3rd or 4th turn she showed me on the map, I demanded - well asked nicely - if someone could take me. So the bell hop came with me to the car and got in and directed us to the hotel. It took about 10 minutes and involved at least a couple of kilometers of driving. But we finally got there. Whew.
hotel petite france The hotel Le Regent Petite France is an old ice house that looks ancient from the outside but is ultra-modern inside. Once there, the location is unbeatable. The pedestrian walkways are everywhere. Strasbourg is a beautiful city with and excellent light rail system. We decided not to go near our car while in Strasbourg. We checked in and had a lovely room, beautifully furnished including a big screen tv and large bathtub. We collapsed for about 20 minutes then headed out for some lunch.
petite france romm 1
petire france room 2
We walked to what looked to be the center of town. We found a very busy cafe - quite smoke filled. They hadn't got the word yet in Strasbourg that smoking was verbotin. Jane had a huge salami sandwich and Hal had a wonderful croque monsieur - both washed down with the requisite local beer.  
maison chacroute After lunch we went back to the hotel and collapsed. We got up around 7pm and showered (Jane) and bathed (Hal) and around 8:30pm headed out for dinner. The most we could muster was a block or two of walking. Fortunately right around the hotel is one of the great Alsatian restaurants - La Maison de La Choucroute. We went in and had a fantastic dinner. They stated us off with a little tiny cup of celery and asparagus soup. Wonderful. Then Hal had the onion tart - which was more like an onion quiche without the egg. Very very good. Just looked different than expected. Then Jane had a veal and mushroom dish and Hal had the Choucroute. Fantastic. Hal had the "menu" and a smaller Choucroute portion - but he still left half of it. Great hot dogs, krout, sausages, ham and bacon. All washed down with a local alsatian wine and Badoit. For desert Hal had this sort of vanilla ice cream sitting on a piece of cake enveloped in this green lemon stuff and sitting on a brandied raison sauce. Tasted much better than it sounds.

Saturday, March 24: We didn't get up until nearly 10 am. Jane showered and we got dressed and headed down to the hotel breakfast room. Jane wasn't feeling well and limited herself to some tea. Hal pigged out on cereal, eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, fruit salad and a croissant just to finish things off. All washed down with fresh grapefruit juice and cafe-au-lait.


jane over canal

After breakfast we headed to the Cathedral. There seem to be churches on every corner so we were never quite sure we passed the Cathedral on our earlier drive around the city. But on foot it was a short delightful walk from the hotel. The weather was drizzly but quite pleasant otherwise.


We spent about 15 minutes inside the Cathedral before we were ushered out. Seems they close it for an hour at that time.

Note the brown windows - replicas of those bombed during WW II. Considering Strasbourg's location it isn't surprising. Germany probably took about 30 minutes into WW II to overrun it. So little need to bomb the place - unlike other parts of France.

We stopped by the tourist office on the square with the Cathedral and they said the last bateau would leave in a few minutes. So we hurried over to the nearby dock, purchased tickets - a bargain at 7.50 Euros. We really enjoyed the bateau ride. Strasbourg is a city with omnipresent waterways - not unlike Amsterdam or Venice. So the bateau ride could really hit the hot spots. The following photos show much of the city as seen through the water.

Jane striking up a conversation with a teacher from Greece - who brought a class here in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the European Union.

Typical houses along the river.

Out hotel The Regent Petite France - a view from the canal.


The old and the new side by side.
If you look carefully at the following two photographs you can see how the bateau is lifted up in the canal locks to raise the boat to the higher river level. The boat is lifted nearly 2 meters (over 6 feet)!

Saint Paul's church.

Arte is a European Union TV station that broadcasts in the major European languages.
The following photographs are of the European Union Parliament enclave. The European Union (EU) has three headquarters - Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg. The Administrative (Executive) branch is in Brussels, the EU Court is in Luxembourg. The EU Parliament and Court of Human Rights are in Strasbourg. The EU was formed in 1957 and is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.

The Court of Human Rights. Will they bring up GW Bush for Human Rights violations??? Only time will tell, but he sure deserves it for the disaster that is Iraq.

We both really enjoyed the bateau ride. And Jane didn't even get seasick!

After the bateau ride we once again visited the Cathedral. .


The first time through we didn't get to see the clock - which in and of it self is worth a visit as can be seen from these photos

The main alter of the Cathedral can be dimly seen in this photo.
We the started back to the hotel. The streets in this part of the city are just lovely. Filled with young people and wonderful shops.

There are two light rail lines that cross the city. They seem to run every few minutes.

Of course the afternoon wouldn't be complete without something for Eliza. So we bought her the cutest little outfit - jacket, shirt, pants, and even socks.
Jane was unsure of what she would want to eat so we headed to the food hall at Galleries Lafayette and got her a yogurt to try out her stomach as well as a bagel pretzel. We also bought a sandwich for Hal (at the Paul's boulangerie inside of the department store) as well as some diet coke and Perrier. We went back to our room to eat and then took a nap and added to this blog. That night Jane was feeling quite ill and not able to eat anything so Hal was forced to eat alone. He had dinner in the Hotel restaurant and it was fantastic. Starting off with a Compari and soda followed by some Alsatian riesling and a large bottle of Badoit. The food began with a fantastic tiny cup of potato soup which was as light as can be imagined and incredibly tasty. Then an "entree" of seared fois gras including some wonderful fried crispy things - like etherial potato chips. The fois gras was not heavy at all but light and airy. Spectacular. That was followed by a main "plat" of pan seared scallops on a bed of crisp bean sprouts with sweet potato puree. Loved it. The desert was a sampling of 4 "pastries" plus ice cream on a bed of whipped cream. The "pastries" were like little souffles; an intense but light chocolate one, an apple one, a berry one and a coconut one. Accompanied by a great cup of espresso.
Sunday, March 25, 2007: Complete meltdown. Baby Eliza aka Typhoid Mary we think put Jane in terrible shape. We went out in the morning for something to eat. Jane could barely get down some tea. Hal had a cafe-au-lait and then he had got ill as well. From Eliza to Jane to Hal. Spent the rest of the day in bed. Decided to spend another day in Strasbourg as neither of us could fathom driving anywhere.  
  Impressions of Stasbourg: Hal liked it a lot more than Jane. It is a cross between Amsterdam and Paris but on a very much smaller scale. Very pleasant place to spend a few days. Lots of sights and lovely pedestrian thoroughfares.

Monday, March 26, 2007: Happy Anniversary!!! After a horrible night for both of us we did feel a bit better by morning. We had some breakfast in the hotel - a small breakfast but we were able to get down some nourishment. Off to Etoge we go. After spending another 20 minutes trying to get out of Strasbourg we were able to make our way to the A4. As is true of all of the "Peage" we were able to move along at a good clip (~140 kph, ~88mph). We stopped for gas along the way and got to Chateau d'Etoge around 3pm. Neither of us were still feeling great so we laid low for the rest of the day. For dinner Jane had fish with fennel, and Hal was still not really eating so he had the most fantistic Ravioli (ox tail ragout), It was an "entree" size portion and the most he could get down was one of the four ravioli. Then some fantastic mango sherbert which we split. Jane had a glass of the house champagne, hal did ok with just some Badoit. Not the greatest celebratory meal. But it was all served elegantly and the service was typical French - attentive, but not overly friendly. Just right. Too bad neither of us was up to par.



Stay tuned - more to come on Jane and Hal's excellent adventure into the wilds of deepest France.