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Trip Report France in December? Are We Nuts?

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Or maybe a better name for this trip would be, Got Sauerkraut? Or, Could There Possibly Be More Rain? Or, Who Knew We Would Find a Riesling Wine We Really Like? Or, Finally Mastering the Paris Bus System!

No matter what we call it, it was fun! Yes, another dynamic duo mother/daughter trip. This time we travel to Strasbourg and Paris, France. Why these two cities and why in December?

Well mostly because mom's paternal side of the family was from the Alsace region and we thought it would be nice to explore that area of France. Also since Strasbourg is well known for its Christmas Market we thought it would be fun to go during that time of year. And, while we were going to France, why not add a week in Paris into the mix? Voila! Another great trip was planned!

As the norm with mom and me, food was an integral part of this adventure and we did not want for good food or wine during our 17 day adventure.

Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 aka: Departure Day

We arrived at the Savannah airport two hours before our flight was scheduled to depart. Even though I was able to check-in and print boarding passes at the Delta website the night before, the gate agent issued new boarding passes to us. Prior to leaving on this trip we decided to check our bags instead of doing our usual carry-on only, and it was nice to walk through the airport with minimal bags. The bag drop-off and check-in at Savannah went smoothly and No One except us was at security, unbelievable! I think the best time to fly out of Savannah must be Thursday mornings around 10am. The Savannah to Atlanta flight on Delta was smooth & we arrived few minutes early.

We had a long, five hour, layover in Atlanta before boarding our Air France flight to Paris. We had lunch at One Flew South in Terminal E, which was terrific. We’d been there before and knew we would enjoy our meal there. After lunch we were fortunate to be able to spend the next 2 hours in the Delta lounge in Terminal E. I was surprised at how crowded it was and happy that we were able to grab 2 of the last few seats in the lounge. Just minutes later others were circling the lounge scoping out possible empty seats.

On previous Air France flights we experienced the frenzy that can be their boarding process. I’m happy to say this time boarding was better than we expected. We settled into our seats and were very satisfied with the Air France Premier Voyager “cabin”.

In March 2011 when we purchased the tickets I was able to find a fare for the Premier Voyager seats that were $200 more than the regular economy seats, and we were willing to splurge. I think this was a pure stroke of luck because after purchasing the tickets I never saw that same price again, it was always more expensive, I know, I shouldn’t check airfares after purchasing, but curiosity was getting the better of me! I have to say the Air France Premier Voyager seats are considerably roomier than regular economy. The cabin has a 2-4-2 configuration instead of the 3-5-3 configuration in the economy cabin and although by no means was it like flying in business or first class, it was a whole lot better than cramming ourselves into the economy seats. There were amenity kits with socks, comb, ear plugs, and toothbrush at each seat, which was a nice touch. The food was ok and fortunately since the service started up front where we were seated, the meal was still warm when the flight attendant put it in front of us.

I do believe the pilot really wanted to get to Paris, because the flying time between Atlanta and CDG was 7 hours, in my experience that’s pretty fast, we must have had a great tail-wind! We did manage to sleep for about 2 hours. And the best part of the Premier Voyager seats (IMHO) were the foot rests, I loved that (yes, I can be impressed by the small things!) and I now believe all plane seats should have foot rests.

Friday, Dec. 2, 2011 aka: Arrival Day

Our flight from Atlanta arrived at CDG early. After what seemed like an hour of taxiing to the gate area we deplaned and got onto a shuttle bus to the terminal. We cleared passport control and stopped for a coffee in Terminal 2E before taking the shuttle bus to terminal 2G for our connecting flight to Strasbourg, yes we had another long, four hours this time, lay over. But I most always opt for a long connection time at CDG over a short one. As we traversed CDG we couldn’t help but notice the gray, cloudy skies in the morning, would this be an indication of the weather that was in store for us? You betcha!

Our flight to Strasbourg was on Air France operated BritAir, which we had flown before on a trip to Bilbao, so we were familiar with the shuttle process to Terminal 2G and the layout of this small terminal, which is very straight forward. We took the shuttle from Terminal 2E (about 2 miles), disembark, walk into Terminal 2G, go through security check point (no one else at this one either at this time) and make our way upstairs to the waiting area. When our flight was called we walked down the long ramped hallway and boarded the plane outside on the tarmac. Boarding was smooth and the aircraft was a very small one, but since the flight was less than an hour it wasn’t a big deal, except for the fact that we were just about running on empty in the sleep category and my eyelids were so heavy I don’t even remember taking off. But I do remember looking out the window to see the beautiful country-side around Strasbourg and when we flew right over the old town area and could see the cathedral; my travel adrenaline started pumping again!

We deplaned and made our way to baggage claim. Our hearts sank when the conveyor belt stopped running and our bags weren’t there. Then, out of the corner of my eye I spied an adjacent glass door linking to another baggage claim area where a conveyor belt was still running and I could see our bags there. Since we had not gone through customs at CDG our bags were placed in a separate area at Strasbourg and we had to pick them up there and go through customs.

The customs experience was extremely quick, but at first I was concerned because I witnessed another passenger having to hoist her gigantic suitcase up onto a platform where it would then go through an x-ray machine. I got in the other customs lane without the x-ray machine. I handed the customs official my passport, he muttered something to me, I muttered back “holiday” and he snapped my passport closed and waved me on. Mom was behind me and about to hand the gentleman her passport when I gestured toward her and said to the official, “mama”…he didn’t even look at her passport, and just waved her through. Then a second customs official came over to the first and looked at us and said, “Canadian”? We said no, American, and this was the first of many encounters when we were assumed to be Canadians. Looking back, it may be because many Americans don’t visit Strasbourg in early December, ashame really, because it can be quite magical, but more about that later.

Once we were situated with our bags we walked right outside the door and smack-dab in front of us is a taxi line. I thought, perfect! The first taxi in line was a smallish/mini SUV and the driver could not have been more pleasant, and let me tell you, the vehicle was gleaming clean both inside and out. His English was very limited but fortunately I had printed the address of our rental apartment on a 3x5 index card and handed it him, it worked like a charm! The driver’s name was Yvan and he too asked if we were Canadian. We weren’t in Strasbourg 30 minutes and the first 2 people we encounter assume we’re not American. To be fair, we also got a lot of are you German and are you English, but we thought it interesting Canadian came out first. By the Way, if you need a taxi in Strasbourg…contact Taxi Yvan at 06 81 87 61 33, he’s very nice, friendly and just remember, he doesn’t speak English.

It was about a 25 minute ride from the Strasbourg airport into the center of the city and we arrived at our rental apartment at about 3:30pm. The taxi fare was about &euro:25. We could have taken the train at the airport to the main station in Strasbourg and then the tram to a stop near the rental apartment, but honestly, after a long travel day, it was just easier to jump in a taxi and with raindrops starting to fall, we didn’t want to “muck about” with trains and trams.

We rented a two bedroom apartment in a fantastic location on rue des Serruriers, which was just down the street from Place Gutenberg and a block from a tram stop. It was a perfect location for us. I found the listing on the VRBO website. Here is the link to the apartment:

We really liked this apartment, not only because it was spacious (for 2 people, IMHO 4 people would fit nicely too, but it would be more “snug”), it was clean, comfortable, had everything you could possibly want in a rental apartment, great bathroom and once the windows were closed it was quiet, quiet, quiet. The owner is/was a dream to work with. She answered my initial inquiry immediately, and all my subsequent emails were replied to in less than 24 hours. This is the type of rental owner I love working with. The payment process was incredibly easy and the keys were mailed to me prior to our departure so no waiting at the apartment front door on the street for someone to bring the keys (this has happen to us in Italy). Would we rent this place again, in a heartbeat!

While mom took a nap, I ventured out because I wanted to find (1) the tourist office to get a map, (2) an ATM and (3) a Monoprix to stock up on a few essential items like, juice, water, and tissues, yes, I had been battling a very nasty cold prior to leaving home and I was still in the process of “getting over it”, so a box of tissues were a must.

In my meanderings I came across a local bar called Le Saxo at 8, rue des Freres. It’s by no means a swanky place, but it’s definitely the kind of place we like to find and then make it “our own” for the short time that we call Strasbourg “home”, in our case, 6 nights. And the €3.50 glasses of Riesling wine were especially nice! Yes, we finally found a Riesling we like…Wolfberger, 2009, it was delicious! Here is a link to a French website that lists Le Saxo:

My last stop before going back to the apartment was the Monoprix and prior to departing on this trip, I scanned Google Maps several times, zooming in and out to get a feel for where things were located in Strasbourg and I had seen a Monoprix that wasn’t far from our apartment, turns out it was even closer than I thought. After stocking up on maps (tourist office) and money (ATM) and finding Le Saxo I was a bit turned around but heading in the direction I thought the Monoprix would be in. I was partly correct, I over-shot the store by a bit, but I got to see more of the Christmas market stalls and I had the loveliest encounter with a local woman.

When I realized I was turned around I moved over to the edge of the sidewalk, out of the way in order to take out my map. Even before I had the map halfway unfolded an older woman stopped and spoke to me in French. I did manage to catch on quickly and knew she was asking me if I needed help finding something. All I could manage in my VERY limited French, was “I don’t speak French…Monoprix?” She smiled and shook her head in the positive and pointed me down the street and towards the left. When I caught up to her again at the next crosswalk, she walked with me a little and pointed down a side street motioning for me to go there and then straight and turn. It’s amazing what can be communicated through pantomime! I was tickled that she went out of her way originally to stop and help me when she saw me with my map, but even more so, when she continued to help me. This is one of my most lasting impressions of the people of Strasbourg. Everyone we connected with, whether shopkeepers, restaurant servers, or ticketsellers at museums, all were warm and very accommodating, even with our less than stellar attempt at speaking French! Even one of the bartenders at Le Saxo went to his computer and got on Google Translate so he could look up the word for summer…but more on that later!

Now, having purchased what I needed at Monoprix I made it back to the apartment in less than 10 minutes. I rested for a bit and then both mom and I made ourselves more presentable and headed out for drinks at Le Saxo. We started with 2 Kir Royales, because, well, why not? We’re on vacation! After a couple hours we were ready for our 8:30 dinner reservation at Tire Bouchon. I had found this place during a pre-trip internet search and booked the reservation via their website, which is here:

I was a bit apprehensive with this restaurant because I had seen mixed reviews on Chow Hound about it, and after a bit of a rough start, they couldn’t find my reservation, they sat us immediately and we had a terrific meal. I had a starter of Alsacean snails and mom had the onion tart. The tart was delicious, the snail, meh…I think I will need to give them another try somewhere else, but they were garlicky! For our main dishes I had perch with sauerkraut, I know, fish with sauerkraut, I had a tough time getting my head around that, but wow! It was absolutely delicious and in subsequent similar dishes, the one I had at Tire Bouchon still stands out. Mom had a huge multi-pork platter with sauerkraut. I can’t even remember all the different kinds of tasty pork products in the dish, but they were all delicious and the sauerkraut, I’m sure people think we are nuts, but the sauerkraut is not like the kind in the cans we have here at home, it is fresh and fantastic! We had a half liter of house Riesling with dinner and as an aperitif we were served a hot white mulled wine, it really hit the spot. With 2 coffees to finish off the meal the total bill came to €77.

After dinner we took a walk around the Cathedral area to gawk at all the Christmas decorations. Even at the end of our time in Strasbourg, the decorations never got old to look at. It was like walking through a fairy tale!

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