40 days in Europe: Days 12-22

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This is a continuation of 40 days in Europe: Days 1-11, a blog post about the adventures of Heidi and me on our travels through Europe from October 1 to November 9, 2012. (Want to start from the beginning?)

Cannstatter Volksfest 2012Friday, October 12: Strasbourg/Baden-Baden/Stuttgart – Day 12

  • Car In the morning, we checked out of our hotel and walked down to the Strasbourg train station to rent a car from Hertz. They gave us a silver Ford Fiesta. I was a little bummed to get a Ford as our rental car in France. I thought driving a Peugeot or a Citroën would be fun. I really like the way little Peugeot 107 hatchbacks look, particularly from the front. They always seem so happy
  • We got a GPS with our vehicle, which immediately seemed like a third entity in the car with us. TomTom GPS, which has an American woman’s voice, tells us where to go and scolds us when we decide to navigate differently. She’s our bossy robot pet
  • Using our GPS, we navigated our way to Baden-Baden and wandered through the town for a couple of hours, including near the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath
  • I ate a sweet German bread boy with raisins for his eyes and buttons (typically known as a Weckmann, I guess)
  • We found a grocery store in Baden-Baden that had a crazy variety of fruit from the Amazon/Andes, including granadillas and dragonfruit. We got confused and thought we were in Peru. The store also had several varieties of figs
  • We drove by Karlsruhe, which Washington, D.C. was supposedly based on, on the way to Stuttgart
  • On the autobahn, it became clear that our Ford Fiesta was woefully underpowered. At speeds above 90 MPH, the engine sounded like it might explode. The car would surely have redlined (hit 6000 RPMs) at speeds not much above 110 MPH. I didn’t dare push the little rental car that far
  • We saw Fernsehturm Stuttgart, which is Stuttgart’s version of the Space Needle – or rather, the 711-foot TV tower that inspired the Space Needle – as we drove into town
  • We checked into our hotel room (on the third floor, which broke our streak of staying on first and fourth floors), parked our car in the garage under the hotel and took the U1 train from Vaihingen Bf to Mercedesstr. to reach Cannstatter Wasen in Bad Cannstatt
  • We reached the 167th Cannstatter Volksfest/Stuttgart Beer Festival at nightfall. At the enormous (and I can’t emphasize enormous enough) carnival, we shared a bratwurst and a chocolate-covered banana on a stick and some pizza
  • Hotel Room 393 at arcona MO.HOTEL ($107), Stuttgart, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany postcardSaturday, October 13: Stuttgart/Black Forest castles – Day 13

  • Car Second day with the rental car
  • We shared a granadilla and other fruit, with tea, for breakfast in our fancy Stuttgart hotel, which is the same breakfast we often ate while in Peru (except for everything in our Stuttgart room being nice insctead of shitty). We also bought a bag of food from denn’s Biomarkt in Stuttgart for snacking during the rest of our road trip
  • Lichtenstein Castle, Lichtenstein, Germany
  • Hohenzollern Castle, Burg Hohenzollern, Germany
  • Night driving on the autobahn (169 KPH = 105 MPH)
  • After checking in to our hotel, we had a pretty terrible dinner at the restaurant in Hotel Schwanstein in Schwangau, Bavaria, Germany
  • Heidi was too tired to go out again, but I drove to Neuschwanstein Castle (“Disneyland Castle”) and Hohenschwangau Castle to take night photos in Schwangau, Germany. Since it was dark, I may have ignored some road signs as I drove the silver Fiesta all the way up to the massive doors of Neuschwanstein Castle.  I parked by the gold and red entrance; I’m pretty sure this isn’t allowed. There were bats flying around Neuschwanstein, which was tragically under major construction. After driving back down from the castles, I found a field full of cows with bells around their necks combining to make the area sound like a giant windchime. I can’t wait to see the Alps in the daylight
  • Hotel Room 23 at Hotel Schwanstein ($96), Schwangau, Bavaria, Germany

Tyrol, Austria postcardSunday, October 14: Bavaria/Austria/Black Forest – Day 14

  • In the morning, we walked to Wallfahrtskirche St. Coloman, an isolated 17th-century church on the outskirts of Schwangau, as part of the surreal procession for the annual religious festival known as Colomansfest. The spectacle included 300 horses and carriages in procession and a visiting Catholic bishop. We just happened to be in town on the right Sunday morning and just happened to walk outside at the right time, after eating a really nice breakfast at the hotel’s complimentary buffet
  • Car Third day with the rental car
  • Visited Neuschwanstein Castle (“Disneyland Castle”) and Hohenschwangau Castle in Schwangau, Germany
  • Füssen, Germany
  • Vils, Austria, where we found one of the most spectacular views of the trip so far
  • There are a lot of human-made wildlife bridges across major highways in Germany; it’s nice to see the effort
  • Friedrichshafen, Germany, which is a really nice town
  • Found ourselves in a traffic jam, in the rainy dark of the Black Forest, only six miles from our destination, where four lanes merged into a single lane, due to hillside construction. It took us almost an hour to move two miles, and then five minutes to finish our route to the hotel
  • Hotel Room 33 at Hotel Sonne ($102), Kirchzarten, Germany

Monday, October 15: Black Forest/Rural Alsace/Strasbourg – Day 15

  • Ate breakfast at the complimentary full breakfast buffet in Hotel Sonne in Kirchzarten
  • Car Last day with the rental car
  • Freiburg Minster, Freiburg, Germany
  • St. Stephan Church, Breisach am Rhein, Germany
  • Colmar, France
  • Had crepes for lunch at La Creperie du Fournil in Colmar
  • Kintzheim, France
  • La Volerie des Aigles/Château de Kintzheim, France
  • Visited Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Orschwiller, France. While driving to Stasbourg, I saw a cool-looking castle in the distance and, having no idea what it was called or how to get there, happened to turn down the right series of hilly roads to eventually find both Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg and La Volerie des Aigles
  • Returned the rental car to Hertz in Strasbourg; according to the odometer, we drove 985 miles across three countries in four days
  • Bought groceries at the little general store near our hotel, and cooked pasta with marinara for dinner, with corn and artichoke hearts, just like old times (also known as “four days ago”)
  • Hotel Room 2304 (third floor) at Victoria Garden Suites ($64), Strasbourg, France

Zénith de Strasbourg, FranceTuesday, October 16: Strasbourg – Day 16

  • Visited L’Aubette, but we didn’t get to see the De Stijl/Mondrian geometric aesthetic of the cinema-dance hall and bar because that area is closed Sunday-Tuesday
  • Place du Temple Neuf
  • Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, the highest still-standing structure built entirely in the Middle Ages
  • La Petite France, Strasbourg
  • Radiohead concert at the Zénith de Strasbourg, with Caribou opening at 8 PM. We took tram A to and from the Zénith and the Strasbourg train station. I really enjoyed seeing Radiohead live again; it had been quite a few years. Interestingly, our Radiohead concert tickets acted as an anchor for this entire trip; I bought the tickets the minute they went on sale in March 2012, far before we even had decided which countries in Europe we were going to visit. We ended up designing the trip around being in Strasbourg on the night of Oct. 16
  • Hotel Room 2304 (third floor) at Victoria Garden Suites ($64), Strasbourg, France

Wednesday, October 17: Strasbourg/Paris – Day 17

  • Train Departed Strasbourg at 10:46 AM on TGV 2356 train and arrived in Paris at 1:05 PM
  • Took metro lines 4 and 12 from Gare de l’Est to the Jules Joffrin station near our hotel in Montmartre
  • Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre (Sacré-Cœur)
  • Montmartre Cemetery
  • The side of Monmartre we’re staying in feels like a regular, trashy big city, but on the opposite side of the Basilica is where the fictional character known as Amélie lived, we’re pretty sure. We found a few of her spots
  • Picked up more fresh fruit from a market, as well as dinner from two different places: Heidi chose Greek food and I ate my 150th baguette sandwich
  • Hotel Room 7 (second floor) at Jardins de Paris Montmartre ($159), Montmartre, Paris, France

Thursday, October 18: Paris – Day 18

Mont Saint-Michel, France postcardFriday, October 19: Mont Saint-Michel/Paris – Day 19

  • Dragged ourselves out of bed at 5-something in the morning to get ready and take three subway lines (12, 4, 14) to the Louvre to catch our double-decker tour bus that departed at 7:15 AM
  • Bus Cityrama day tour to Mont Saint-Michel, the rocky tidal island and commune in Normandy, France. The bus tour began at 7:15 AM and lasted until 9 PM due to the driving distance to and from Paris
  • Drove down Madison Avenue, I mean the Champs-Élysées, in our huge bus in the early morning, before passing the Arc de Triomphe on the huge rotary that surrounds it
  • Stopped in the small Normandy village of Beuvron-en-Auge
  • Ate lunch with our tour group at Le Relais Saint-Michel Restaurant: whipped egg/crepe thing with salad, grilled salmon, rice, vegetables, bread and apple pie with strawberry jam. It was a surprisingly good meal
  • It was cloudy and drizzling and Mont St. Michel was shrouded in fog for the beginning of the day, but the fog lifted as the afternoon progressed. The sky remained overcast
  • Our tour of the abbey was pretty cramped because the entire country of Japan happened to be visiting the Mont while we were there
  • Like all of Europe, Mont St. Michel was under major construction. They are in year two of their three-year plan to remove deposited silt from around the Mont, build a causeway and bridge and return Mont St. Michel to its previous island form
  • Heidi assessment of our journey to Mont St. Michel: “I’m glad that we took this trip to Tillamook.” Except for the Mont, the area did look quite similar to the Oregon Coast around Tillamook
  • After returning to Paris, we took night photos of the illuminated Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, and the Musée du Louvre and its pyramids
  • Rode metro lines 7, 4 and 12 back to our hotel. Incidentally, the Paris metro seems very lax about its turnstiles. People skip through or over the entrances so regularly that payment for riding the metro almost seems optional. As does peeing in the subway, and I think a lot of people exercise that option. Almost no matter where you are in the Paris metro tunnels, it reeks of urine. Worse than Brussels, Amsterdam, New York, Boston and Chicago for sure, which are some subway systems I’ve experienced in the past two years. Also, while there may be some gorgeous entrances to some of the metro stations, inside the subway system itself is nothing but huge ads plastered across every square foot of every wall. Almost none of the underground stations have unique art like most subway systems, just more of the same huge ads (and standard white subway tiles). So far, Paris wins for ugliest and dirtiest subway experience. And since I love touching public surfaces in subways, having to manually open subway car doors on several metro lines that haven’t been upgraded to be automatic is my favorite
  • Hotel Room 7 (second floor) at Jardins de Paris Montmartre ($159), Montmartre, Paris, France

Saturday, October 20: Paris – Day 20

  • Ate the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, and then lounged in our room until we had to check out. (We are switching hotels for the next two nights to get a different experience, nearer to what we call “Amélie’s Montmartre,” and also because our first hotel is too expensive on Saturday nights)
  • It has been rainy and humid for most of our time in Paris so far. The weather (among other features of Paris) is taking a toll on our morale. Heidi’s mostly serious assessment of Paris: “It’s all the worst things about everything in one place.”
  • We visited Les Puces, the Saint-Ouen Flea Market (located just north of Paris) before checking into our new hotel. Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen is the largest flea market in the world, which is pretty neat. There are so many weird, old artifacts to explore. But surrounding Les Puces are desperate trinket-peddlers shoving plastic trash into your hands as you walk, in the rain. Because it is still raining. And so you try to push through them and not make eye contact, while bumping umbrellas with other people also trying to avoid harassment from street vendors. Paris continues to be gross. The nonstop cigarette smoke of crowded European cities is wearing on both of us. Aside from Amsterdam, Paris is the first city on this trip where being in our hotel room often seems preferable to seeing the sights
  • We didn’t leave Montmartre after checking into our new hotel. Since today was the midpoint of our trip, and it was raining, we deemed it a rest day. However, at 7:30 PM, we witnessed a long candlelight procession with singing that passed beneath our fifth-floor hotel window, probably on the way to Sacré-Cœur. This felt like a magical surprise
  • Hotel Room 508 at Hotel Roma Sacre Coeur ($145), Montmartre, Paris, France

Pinacothèque de Paris: HiroshigeSunday, October 21: Paris – Day 21

  • Ate breakfast in our hotel room and set out early to sightsee all across Paris, mainly by traversing the city on metro lines 6 and 2. It was finally sunny in Paris
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Stood in line for 45 minutes to ascend the Eiffel Tower and took photos from the observation deck. Near the tower we saw an exhibition of painted, life-size fiberglass bears called United Buddy Bears
  • Spent hours walking around Père Lachaise Cemetery, which includes graves of Oscar Wilde, The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Delacroix, French playwright Molière and many others. Heidi loved this cemetery so much that she died and is now buried there as well
  • Visited Pinacothèque de Paris to see the Hiroshige: L’art du voyage exhibition (we skipped the companion Van Gogh: Rêves de Japon exhibition since we saw a major Van Gogh exhibit in Amsterdam)
  • Acquired random French and Greek foods from delis on our street to eat in our hotel room
  • Heidi’s throat and lungs are bothering her quite a bit, undoubtedly due to “the giant cigarette that is Paris,” so it’s good that we’re leaving tomorrow for the fresh air of the Swiss Alps
  • Things I’ve learned in Europe: children never go to school, almost no adults work and everyone starts smoking at age 14 (and continues to smoke until they die). Things I learned from Paris: cigarettes are vegetables and wine is fruit. Or, more specifically, the French food pyramid consists of: (1) croissants and baguettes, (2) cigarettes and wine, (3) cured/raw meats and visibly moldy cheeses, (4) macarons
  • Hotel Room 508 at Hotel Roma Sacre Coeur ($121), Montmartre, Paris, France

Monday, October 22: Paris/Switzerland – Day 22

  • On this day, the only thing we did in Paris was ride the metro around town and buy food in the Gare de Lyon train station to take with us
  • Train Departed Paris at 11:57 AM on Lyria 9269 train and arrived in Lausanne, Switzerland at 3:44 PM
  • On the TGV/Lyria train ride from Paris, we were surprised that it included a full gourmet meal with dessert, served on ceramic dishware, with multiple beverage services. Trains in Europe sure know how to do travel correctly. The views on the train from France into Switzerland were beautiful
  • Since Switzerland is not part of the EU, we had to start dealing with Swiss francs when we arrived. This was particularly bothersome because we desperately needed to do laundry and the washer and dryer in our hotel only accepted Swiss franc coins in two very specific denominations: 1 franc or 20 centimes. We, of course, had lots of euros but neither of these coin types. So we had to keep buying small random things with euros (which many places do accept) and asking for extra 1 franc coins instead of the 2 and 5 franc coins that are commonly given in Switzerland. Who – except maybe a pirate with a treasure chest – wants to carry around huge, heavy coins worth five dollars each? My pants have been falling down from all the doubloons we’ve been forced to collect here. Paper money, people, please. To complicate our clothes-washing plans further, there was no laundry soap dispenser available in our hotel, so we had to go out and find laundry detergent to purchase from somewhere in the area, which was its own expedition. There ended up being a grocery store that carried it (in a bottle about 40 times the size of what we needed) on the backside of the Lausanne train station. But now all of our clothes are finally clean again. I think we’ll donate our bottle of detergent to the hotel laundry room for future weary, filthy travelers. On the bottle, we’ll write: “Free to use. Libre d’utilisation. Avec amour, Ian et Heidi”
  • Heidi, in our hotel room: “I’m going to shampoo my hair now to get Paris off of it.”
  • Hotel Room 301 at Hôtel Résidence du Boulevard ($139), Lausanne, Switzerland

Continue to 40 days in Europe: Days 23-31 »

Similar posts that may be of interest:
    None Found