When we first started tossing around the idea of a trip to Europe, I immediately began to search for pictures of places I might like to visit. An image of Strasbourg became my desktop wallpaper. It's right on the border of Germany, which made it all the more intriguing to us. Schnitzel and escargot anyone? Ha! Not quite... but close. We arrived on Bastille Day, so the town was pretty vacant, which was actually quite refreshing after being in bustling Paris. We were still in the midst of a heat wave, so we wandered the empty streets at a leisurely pace, stopping to dip our feet in the canal, sip a cool beer, or indulge in some gelato. The German-influenced architecture was fascinating. Later, we really lucked out by completely missing a torrential downpour and by finding an amazing restaurant where we could sit and listen to live music and watch the Bastille Day fireworks while we ate dinner. Parfait!
Here's a tip if you ever plan, like us, to just stop by Colmar for the afternoon en route to your next destination: there is no baggage check at the station. After hauling our bags what felt like miles, we ended up stashing ours at the museum (thank you ever so much, Unterlinden Museum). I like to say that Colmar was when I reached my peak: I was so exhausted at this point, I don't think I appreciated this city for what it was. However, I did enjoy the museum, the still-prevalent German architecture, and our lovely "gondola" ride through Petite Venise (Little Venice). The river views were absolutely stunning.
Moving into the Burgundy region of France, we arrived in Dijon. Obviously famous for its moutarde, but also well-known as the home of the finest French cuisine, so we were more than happy to indulge with a market-fresh picnic in the park and our first taste of escargot and boeuf bourguignon. Four thumbs up. This province was home to the Dukes of Burgundy and Dijon was a place of tremendous wealth and power, which was obvious in the exquisite architecture spattered all throughout the city and the amazing collection of art in the Musee des Beaux Arts (probably our favourite museum on the trip, besides Le Louvre). I was also thrilled to discover our hotel was on a quiet street, our room looking out on trees rather than concrete, which meant that I could look forward to two much-needed full nights' sleep. Bliss.
I think this is the part of France that I was most excited about, as this is where we would get up close and personal with French wine. I love wine and French wine is supposed to be the best in the world, but I've never had very good luck picking out bottles of it for myself, so I was really hoping to learn more about it, or at least consume a lot in my pursuit. Ha! There is an amazing paved bike route that winds through the vineyards and little towns from Beaune all the way to Santenay. Forget the wine, that was enough for me. Biking through those vines, I could've died a happy woman. But of course we did manage to try some wine along the way, from a variety of sources: a small winery, a very large winery, a couple wine distributors, and a restaurant, and, in broken-french, learn a little more about what makes good French wine. Mmm. We may have been a little wobbly on the way home, but we were rosy cheeked, satisfied and beyond happy.
Lyon and Nice, France
Lyon is another city that we decided to only stop by for the day. However, just our luck, there was also no baggage check at this train station. (Actually, they have baggage check, it was just closed on Sundays! Imagine!) Once we found a place to stash our bags again (thank you so so much kind receptionist at Hotel Ibis), we tried our best to see what we could in a limited amount of time and energy. The old town, the view from Notre Dame, and the textile museum (where I got to fawn over Marie Antoinette wall coverings) were worth the stop.
The overnight train to Nice was an adventure. There were no sleeping cabins, so people were strewn all over the train (some in very odd sleeping positions, I must say). So we hadn't slept too much by the time we arrived in Nice and then had to figure out how to get from Nice to Italy, which, we discovered on arrival, was much more complicated than we had thought. Once we decided to give up on our previous plans and go with something a little simpler, we were able to enjoy a little beach time and socializing back at the hostel. It was wonderful how the beaches were right downtown and it looked as if there were lots of interesting day-excursions that I would have enjoyed if we had more time there. I think we need to flag Nice as a place to hit again.
Au revoir France. Je vous manquerai.
Next, the grand finale... ITALY and MALTA!
As always, many more pictures can be found in my Picasa gallery.