Sunday, May 15, 2011


Ever since Mike received his tourist passport, he's been chomping at the bit to get out of the country. France was at the top of his list. After doing some research, I found out that Strasbourg would be a fun day trip. For one reason or another, we get a little caught in the trap of procrastination during the weekend. We say we are going to go somewhere, but we end up sleeping in on the weekend, slowly sipping our coffee and goofing off, until it's around 12:00 in the afternoon and we have nothing packed and planned. This Friday was different though. I got our picnic packed, complete with a Chardonnay for the grown-ups, juice for the kids, salami, cheese, veggies and creamy yogurt dip and fruit salad. I also went on the computer and wrote down the addresses and read the commentary from previous tourists to get an idea of what to expect. I was very proud of myself. It's very rare that I plan this well.

We were armed with our international GPS that guided us to the French border. Unlike the Mexican border, this border was fairly uneventful, with an EU sign for Frankreich on the German side and an EU sign for France on the French side. It was about another hour drive before we reached Strasbourg. All in all, it was about a 2-hour drive. The autobahn is dotted every 20 kilometers or so with stops for a picnic, garbage, and toilets. Upon entering France, we had to pay tolls. Total cost was inexpensive; about 20 Euro total for the whole day trip (including tolls, parking and snacks; though not including gas). One thing I was unaware of with the Euro is that each country has its own coins. Although they can be spent anywhere within the European Union, each EU coin has representatives of it's own country... if that makes any sense. So, a French one Euro would have a French leader or famous person on it.

Believe it or not, Asia is not the only country with "hole in the ground" public bathrooms. I was unlucky enough to discover that one! Like the States, there are gas stations that also have small cafes and convenient markets with snacks and drinks. I was excited to see my Vittel water that I hadn't seen since Japan (It may be here and I didn't spot it). Unlike the States, there are not as many fast food joints. I'm curious if it's because the government limits this, or because the people just don't want it. Either way, I think the only golden arches we saw were right at the border. (and, no we didn't stop there!!! YEESH)

We found Parc de l'Orangerie fairly easily. Parking was "OK"; we parked on the street but were worried that we would get towed. We didn't quite understand the signs but it looked like a good place to park, and we followed the lead of other cars. I think we drove by the EU Parliament building and, on the way to the park, we drove through a neighborhood of very nice old homes, many with gold plaques (indications of an Ambassador residing there) and surrounded by large gates and cameras. I couldn't help but think of the children's book series "Madaline" and how she lived next door to the Spanish Ambassador and his family. This neighborhood was just too similar, lined with trees and large homes.

The park was the perfect spot for a picnic. With all the planning I did, it was inevitable for me to forget something. I forgot the blanket. Fortunately, the grass was dry so we planted ourselves down and had our picnic by the pond. Apparently, this time of year the storks come to town to nest. Joshua and I had just read the fairytale of The Marsh Kings Daughter and it was very appropriate to see all these storks walking and flying around. I think this is a tourist hot spot for that as well because just about everywhere were nicknacks of storks being sold. At the park there were vendors selling pretzels, waffles, ice cream and other treats as well as restaurants where one could sit outside and enjoy the park view while dining. I was happy we stopped at the park first. After a long drive, it was nice to see the kids able to run around. There is a playground there and also a ride where the kids can drive cars. Many of the locals brought their children there to ride their bikes or scooters. It's as stroller friendly as Europe can be.... meaning that there were wide open pathways but some stairs. The public bathroom is very well kept and there is a changing table on the ladies' side (Mike ran up to change Sam only to find out there was no changing table in the men's side. The cleaning lady was there and told him that he could go on the women's side). There are several places in town to rent a bicycle. If we didn't have small children, we would have definitely done it this way. I was a little envious of the young couples biking together through town, I must admit.

We didn't stay very long - just long enough for us to eat, feed the ducks, and walk the loop of the park. The clouds were looming and we wanted to be able to get to the Cathedral before the sky opened up and dumped on us. Parking downtown was difficult. The streets were small and skinny. We decided just to pay for parking in the garage. That was packed as well, but we were able to find a spot. The Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg was quite phenomenal. I'm not sure how tall it actually is but it seems to be at least 13 stories high. With Mike's wide lens, it was still difficult to get the full tower. Inside there was a flurry of mostly French and German tourists. If there were Americans, they were busy making themselves unnoticeable. We, on the other hand, are hard to miss. With a 7 year old yapping away and a 2 year old climbing and yelling in unmistakable English, we can be a walking target at times. There was modern style instrumental music and dance happening in the middle of the Cathedral which gave it more of a spiritual feeling. There were vendors inside the Cathedral selling tourist items (which seemed odd to me... selling things inside a Church.). The other popular thing to see within the Cathedral is the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock. There are many rumors and stories surrounding this clock but for how old it is, it's truly amazing. We didn't see the clock in motion but, here is a youtube video: . Our DIY tour was short and we made our way out the doors. The raindrops started to fall and I had not planned for rain. The whole family was in short sleeves, so we decided to cut our trip short and skip La Petite France. I know for sure we will return. It is just too close and too beautiful to only see once.

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