It rains in Seattle, but it rains charmingly so in France. What is dreary at home is delightful on the road, especially seated at a cafe situated on an anonymous alley in Strasbourg. Under the canvas umbrellas, unphased by the pitter-patter, the locals sip their pints of Pilsner and converse in softly-animated French. So it is on a rainy Tuesday afternoon; a good time for a smoke and a beer and companionship. My wife sips a double espresso while I enjoy a half-litre of something local, mildly fruity, with well-behaved hops.
The corner in front of the cafe is barely wide enough for a small car to fit through, yet somehow the fast bicycles on the slick pavement avoid colliding with each other and the slew of pedestrians sharing the same space. The interplay between the speeding cyclists as they whiz around the corner provides a bit of a spectator sport, something to watch during the pauses in conversation.
The restaurant across the street, Tziki, provided us with a break from the heavier food of this region. Greek and Meditereanean food is their speciality and we ended up dining there twice, both times leaving sated, but not stuffed. Our first meal in Strasbourg was a reminder that a menu in English is as much a warning as a convenience. My Octoberfest beer was welcome after being in the air for 10 hours seated just in front of a woman experiencing a particularly bad bout of stomach flu (yes, really), but my schnitzel was so tough and rubbery that it should have come stamped with the Goodyear logo.
The highlights of Strasbourg can be seen in about a day or two. There's a cathedral -- there's always a cathedral -- and a few museums. There's endless canyonous side-streets to explore, dotted with cafes featuring tarte' flambees. Everywhere is the sound of French. Parlez vous Englese is more often met by an apologetic "no" than an affirmation. For a traveler with limited French, this challenge is part of the fun. The to and fro between myself and the ticket seller at the SNCF counter as I tried to buy two train tickets to Colmar could have been a panicky source of frustration, but with a few words of English from her and a few words of French from me, it all came together just fine.
Of Colmar, its highlights can be explored during a long afternoon. Petit Venice is, well, petit. The cafe menus are all in French, and you're more likely to encounter a Frenchman who can speak German than one bilingual in English. One experience I will always treasure was an affordable meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Aux Trois Poissons, located in Petit Venice, welcomed us without reservations, without fancy dressed and without a lot of French. The lunch of salmon atop a cloud of luscious, creamy risotto; seared Arctic char; and seafood soup that sang of the distant ocean, along with three ample glasses of local Rose', came to only 75 euros. For the food, service and experience, it was the best 75 euros I spent in the Alsace.
I liked Strasbourg and Comar well enough: they weren't without charm. I'm sure the Christmas Markets are wonderful, but I felt I'd pretty much "gotten" both places after two days. Would I go out of my way to revisit either? Probably not. I wanted to visit the Rue du Vin and the villages along it, but save taking a tour or renting a car, I didn't see how that was possible.
A couple of notes:
Bringing an ATM card without a chip because two years ago, you didn't need a chip to use an ATM card.
NOT bringing the little plastic card from the Orange sim chip with me. Without the number on the card, you can't access the internet from your phone. Voice, yes; internet, no.
10 hours sitting in AF's economy seating will test your tuchus to the utmost. I'm sure this is the kinda thing we do to terrorists when we want to know where they've hidden the bomb.
-- Mike Beebe