Taxi Madness

Gare de l’Est, Paris – we arrived here from Strasbourg but had to go to Gare Montparnasse for the second part of our journey.

It was bittersweet leaving Strasbourg yesterday morning, and our little apartment there – we had had a wonderful stay and loved every minute of our time there. But, our bags were packed, we were up early for coffee and one last kugelhopf for breakfast, and were out the door by 8:00 in time to catch our train to Paris. I was very nervous about having to change stations in Paris as I figured if anything could go wrong it would be during this portion of the trip. It also didn’t help that my head cold was, if anything, worse than it had been the day before, and I also slipped on the last step leaving the apartment building and pulled a muscle in the back of my right leg.

We were booked first class for the entire trip, and the seats on our first train were oh-so-comfortable except for one little thing: They faced backwards, and I cannot ride backwards on anything (something to do with my middle ear and balance). I lasted all of five minutes in my seat before heading to the dining car next door, where I found a seat facing forward at a small table and nursed two cafe au lait all the way through the one and a half hour journey to Paris. The train had originally come from Frankfurt, so while I ordered my drinks in French (or at least tried to), the waiter spoke nothing but German to me!

We had an hour between the arrival of our first train at Gare de l’Est to get to the second at Gare Montparnasse. We had intended to ride the Paris Metro between the two stations, but the night before we left Strasbourg Brett discovered that there was work being done on the Metro line that ran between the two stations and decided we should instead take a taxi from one to the other. That was fine with me as I was not relishing moving our bags up and down stairs and off and on the Metro. We headed to the taxi stand when we arrived in Paris, but immediately a man came rushing up to us and said in English, “There’s a big taxi strike today, and most of Paris is closed for a 20 km race! Come with me, I will get you a car” We thought this was strange as we had already seen a few taxis arriving and departing but he insisted that those taxis were only taking people to the airport. We started to walk with him over to an area where a few private cars with drivers were parked, but when he said the ride would take 40 minutes and would cost 85€ we said “nope” and headed back to the taxi stand feeling a bit foolish and angry at ourselves for listening to him.

In the meantime a bit of drama had erupted at the taxi stand. A well-dressed elderly man and an equally well-dressed older woman were about to come to blows over who was going to get the next taxi. They were yelling at each other, calling each other names and the woman had her purse raised and was about to strike the man. He had actually been in line ahead of her, but for some reason she had felt entitled to the cab and was not going to let it go. However, before things really got out of hand two more taxis appeared, so the man got into the first one, the woman the one behind (both of them still steaming), and we climbed in the third, a VW mini van with loads of room for our suitcases. Our driver was a lovely woman who spoke English and who drove us past the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Pantheon and other sites on our way to Gare Montparnasse. We were at our destination in less than 20 minutes (not 40!) even though estimates had said it would take at least 30) for just 20€! She apologized for the ride taking longer than usual because the 20km race had made a shorter route impossible.

Thankfully the comfy seats on the train to Bordeaux faced forward! My cold was getting the better of me at this point though and I fell asleep for much of the ride. The TGV trains in France are pretty amazing, and travel at rates of up to 195 mph. The speed can make it hard to watch things out the window, but the ride is smooth and you’re at your destination before you know it.

It was warm enough in Bordeaux to eat outside yesterday afternoon, before the rain started.

We were very hungry when we arrived at Bordeaux at 2:00 in the afternoon, so Brett and I walked across the street for lunch at an outdoor cafe before heading to our apartment. We shared a delicious but inexpensive Margherita pizza and each had a glass of wine, and then walked back over to the taxi stand at the station to grab a ride to our lodgings. There was another American couple ahead of us in line, but when a little blue taxi pulled up they looked at it and said we could have it; they would take the bigger car behind it (they were large people and had four big suitcases). Our taxi driver, an elderly man, helped Brett load our suitcases into the trunk, we hopped in and were off.

Or so we thought. I had shown the driver our address and he had nodded that he understood, but it became apparent in a matter of minutes that he had absolutely no idea where he was or where he was going. Every time the taxi would stop he would pull out some old maps and try to find the address. I showed him the GPS map on my phone and he acted like he understood, but still kept pulling out the maps and we could see he was looking at parts of town nowhere near our destination, and he was sometimes looking at the map sideways or upside down. We became a bit scared, a) because we could not communicate with the driver; b) because we had no idea where we would end up; and c) because we thought the guy would run the meter up to 40 or 50€ or even more and then demand payment. We could have asked him to stop and let us off, but he had our luggage in the trunk and we had absolutely no idea where we were in the city or how we would find another taxi – we were trapped.

The front of our apartment building – our unit isn’t available because . . .

. . . it’s in the attic of a building around the corner (those two teeny tiny windows are ours).

Thankfully our host called me to let me know he was waiting for us at the apartment (we were a half hour late at that point). I gave the phone to the driver, who had a long conversation with our host, and he finally got the car turned around and apparently headed in the right direction. We seemed to go in circles for a while, but eventually our host, who had been standing out on the street near the apartment, somehow recognized the taxi and stopped it! We got our bags, paid the driver (after our host argued down the price) and went to the apartment. Our host was shaking his head the whole way, telling us how bizarre the driver was, how strange he was – both old and not quite right in the head. We told him we had never felt physically threatened, but we knew something wasn’t right, and felt lucky to finally be where we were supposed to be. Our host agreed we were lucky, and urged us to use Uber next time, that it has a very good reputation in the city.

I love the kitchen area in the apartment with the old stone wall left visible. It’s extremely well-equipped, and cabinets hide a spacious refrigerator and freezer as well as a washer/dryer.

The open-plan living-dining-kitchen area is very spacious. In fact, the entire apartment is bigger than our house was on Kaua’i!

All’s well that ends well though. Our Bordeaux apartment is spacious and lovely, with absolutely every amenity. It almost feels like we’re living in a mansion compared to our Strasbourg home (which we had grown to love even though it was tiny). It was raining earlier today and as I still don’t feel very well all we did is go to the supermarket and to a boulangerie. We had a simple lunch after we got back, and will have cheese and wine for dinner tonight. Tomorrow, rain or shine, we’ll head out and begin discovering Bordeaux.

A simple first-day lunch from the supermarket and boulangerie: beet, cucumber, and tabouli salads, baguette slices and smoked salmon, and red fruit tarts for dessert.

Farewell to Strasbourg

We will miss Strasbourg’s distinctive architecture – eye candy every day!

We have spent a wonderful three weeks in Strasbourg, but we’ll be up early tomorrow morning for pastries and coffee, and then leaving for the station to catch our train to Paris, where we’ll change stations/trains for the trip to Bordeaux.

Location, location, location – our apartment has been very small (less than 300 square feet), but it’s been very comfortable (including the sofa bed) and a great place for us to stay in Strasbourg.

Although our Strasbourg apartment has been tiny, smaller than many RVs, it’s worked out well for us and Brett and I now know how small a space we could live in if we had to! We divided the chores while we were here so that neither of us had to be in the kitchen at the same time, worked out a schedule for when the sofa bed was either unfolded or had to be put pack up, and figured out who got what space where (I like to curl up on the sofa, Brett prefers being in a chair at the counter). Our apartment in Bordeaux is going to feel like a mansion after living so small here.

One thing we’ve greatly enjoyed in our apartment, besides the terrific location, has been a Nespresso machine, and the ability to make a delicious cup of espresso every afternoon or after dinner. We are not “gadget people” but we’ve decided that once we settle somewhere we are going to get ourselves one of these machines, especially since the Nespresso pods are completely recyclable.

A plate of choucroute, with five different Alsatian sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes.

We spent our last full “free day” (Thursday) in Strasbourg going out for choucroute, perhaps the most famous regional Alsatian dish. The restaurant had several varieties available, but we each ordered a version with five different local sausages (made on site at the restaurant’s downstairs charcuterie) instead of a more traditional one that included various cuts of pork. The sausages were all delicious, and the sauerkraut absolutely perfect, and not as sour as any I’ve eaten previously in my life (I read that French sauerkraut puts the German version to shame and after our meal I agree). We left lunch with full and happy stomachs, and walked over to the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame to see the exhibits of Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture there – the museum had been closed on our last two tries because of a strike, but the third time was apparently a charm.

Twelfth to fifteenth century statues from the cathedral that have been taken down and restored – they’ll eventually go back up.

The spiral staircase at the end of the museum tour – it reminded me of octopus tentacles.

We had noticed a lot of commotion surrounding the Cathedral as we walked past on our way to the museum, and it turned out a detective/mystery series was being filmed on location. It was fascinating to watch the actors and the extras (which included some police, a CID team, and a couple of morgue workers) take their marks and then go through the scene over and over – they did three takes while we were there. We also got to see the murder “victim” back in the catering tent, in full costume – that was amusing. I may end up on French TV – all of us at standing at the police tape were apparently there as normal “gawkers” who would show up if there really was a murder or accident or such. Anyway, I will never be able to watch another episode of any show without thinking of this experience and seeing how it’s done!

Actors, extras and crew move through their scene in front of the cathedral.

We had to go back for the fancy ice cream cones once more!

All has not been fun and roses though – I came down with a massive head cold night before last, with an awful sore throat and a head that felt like a soggy bowling ball. It’s been especially miserable because I cannot remember the last time I was sick – I don’t think I had a cold the entire time we lived in Hawai’i. Brett, bless his heart, let me take the day off yesterday while he took care of the laundry so that we could pack today. I felt well enough to fix dinner last night although my appetite sure was diminished. I’m feeling better today and should be fine for tomorrow’s travel day.

So, it’s on to Bordeaux tomorrow and our last eight days in France. My suitcase is packed, and Brett will be getting his done in a little while. We have completely fallen in love with Strasbourg and will be sad to say good-bye to this wonderful city tomorrow. We’ve enjoyed our respite here, the experiences we’ve had and the things we’ve seen and done, and both of us are so very glad we decided to stay here for as long as we have.

Two Lovely Fall Days in Strasbourg

Four two days the sky was blue and the temperature was spring-like in Strasbourg.

Both Brett and I thought by now we’d be well into sweater weather, but at the beginning of this week temperatures here in Strasbourg were in the mid 70s, and accompanied by beautiful blue skies.

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We had put off visiting museums thinking we’d save that for a rainy day, but there haven’t been any rainy days, and with time growing short before our departure this weekend we decided on Monday to walk up to the Musée Alsace, just up the street. The museum, located in a what turned out to be an actual vintage Alsatian home, gave an fascinating overview of traditional life in the region. The artifacts were interesting (and beautifully displayed) and included exhibits about clothing, furniture, work, daily life and religion. Our favorite exhibits included the many examples of tiled or ceramic wood stoves that were used to heat Alsatian homes back in the day, as well as traditional furniture, pottery and clothing. We especially enjoyed the exhibit of carved flour spouts from old mills in the area, with their expressive faces.

The best cafe au lait; the best pastries

Afterwards, we stopped for a pastry and coffee at our favorite boulangerie before heading back into the Petite France neighborhood to check out a walkway out over the river we had missed before. The walkway turned out to be alongside a lock used to raise boats over a drop in the river; the swiftly running waterfalls on the other side of the river had formerly been used to operate mills. We were fortunate enough to be there in time to watch a tour boat enter the lock, be raised up and then head out, all in a little over five minutes. We were also able to watch an old swing bridge we had crossed previously in operation – it had to be moved so the tour boat could continue through.

The sun sets over the Alsace – this was the view from our Airbnb host’s yard, looking out over the countryside.

That evening we had the great pleasure of having dinner with our Airbnb host and her family, who live in the countryside outside of Strasbourg. She prepared a very French meal of mashed potatoes, duck confit, and shallots cooked in wine and cassis. We drank Alsace sparkling wine before dinner, and some red wine with, and after the main course we tried five different cheeses including a chèvre with figs, a brie stuffed with truffles, some roquefort and two other delicious options. Finally, we were served a slice of tart – mine was Mirabelle plum, and Brett’s was blueberry. The family spoke excellent English so the conversation flowed all evening, and we left with our hearts and stomachs full and happy.

Artisanal ice cream cones – all natural flavors presented in a lovely flower.

Yesterday Brett and I decided to ride the tram over the Rhine River into Germany, but after checking the map we discovered that nothing we wanted to visit there was walkable from the station. We debated just going over and getting on the next train back so we could say we’d been in Germany, but finally decided to skip that outing and head over to see the Cathédrale again, visit a nearby museum of Medieval and Renaissance art and artifacts, and stop for ice cream on the way at a shop our host had recommended.

We spent a long while yeserday examining all the carvings on the Cathedral, both the front and sides. There are dogs, donkeys, pigs and other creatures up there as well as saints and gargoyles.

The Kammerzell House in the cathedral square dates from the 15th century and has the most richly decorated half-timber panels in the city. The facade features 65 bottle-bottomed windows.

Temple Neuf

There was a wonderful family musical group from Latin America performing in front of the cathedral, so we listened to them while we ate our ice cream, spent some time examining the carvings on the cathedral, and then walked over to the museum, which turned out to be closed because of a strike. Undeterred, we headed back the other way in order to wander through some of the narrow streets around the cathedral and make our way over to look at Temple Neuf, a Lutheran church built between 1874 and 1877, on the site of an old Dominican convent. The church was closed though and we were not able to go inside.

A portion of the long, snaking painting we discovered in an alleyway depicting different masks from around the world.

The demonstration band and singers – the music was loud but fun and peppy.

The contingent from the French Communist Party. Many groups and parties were represented in the demonstration, and everyone behaved themselves and seemed to be having a good time. They were marching over the tram tracks though so probably the only people unhappy with the situation were commuters.

At one point we headed down an alley to get back out to the main street and happily discovered a lovely work of street art on a wall in the alley. When we got to the main street we found ourselves up against a large demonstration in progress, with lots of marchers along with some fun, peppy music. We had seen notices at the tram station on Monday about a strike, but had assumed it was a rail strike, not the temporary shut down of service while the demonstration passed through. We realized that if we had gone to Germany we most likely would have been stuck there for a couple of hours until the trams were running again, so were glad we had decided not to go.

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On both days as we walked down the narrow streets we discovered shops selling traditional Alsatian specialities. We bought some delicious local gingerbread the first day as well as some Alsatian butter cookies and macarons, but just ogled the expensive artisan nougat (it cost around $36/pound) and some other bakery treats we saw. Yesterday we stopped in a wonderful fromangerie just to look over all the varieties (there are more types of cheese in France that there are days of the year), and ended up buying some more of the chèvre with fig, and a piece of lovely, soft cheese made from cow’s milk. We wanted to buy a LOT more but we restrained ourselves – it all looked (and smelled) so good. We also checked out the location of the charcuterie where we will be going for lunch tomorrow, to enjoy choucroute, a traditional Alsatian pork and cabbage dish.

We walked home on Monday by the old entrance to the public hospital (Civil Hôpital), which sits at the end of our street.

The old staff entrance at the Civil Hôpital.

We have just three more days remaining in Strasbourg, a city we have come to love. One of those will be taken up with laundry and packing, and tomorrow we’ll go out for choucroute and hopefully get in to see the museum that was closed on Tuesday. Today’s weather was overcast and cool, and the warmer weather that had been forecast did not appear so we stayed inside and rested, caught up on our reading, and enjoyed the delicious cheese we bought yesterday. It’s supposed to be raining when we get to Bordeaux on Sunday but we’ll deal with that when we get there.

P.S. I found our beeswax wraps today! They were smashed into the bottom of my backpack under a couple of things I hadn’t yet needed to unpack. So, so happy we did not leave them somewhere.

Brett and I have absolutely nothing against Viking Cruises, and in the past have thought about taking one, but seeing this Viking group of 50-60 Americans getting ready to move en masse to the next site made us glad we are traveling on our own.

The Big Adventure Has Officially Been Extended

The Occasional Nomads are going to England!

A month or so before we left Hawai’i, Airbnb sent us a coupon after we cancelled our Tokyo stay at their suggestion because of changes in Japanese home-sharing rules. The value of the coupon was worth the full price for our entire stay in Tokyo even though at the time we had only paid one third of the amount as a deposit. In other words, we were given an Airbnb coupon worth over $7100 – yes, that’s how much it costs to live in Tokyo for three months in a small apartment near our son’s place – to make up for the inconvenience of having to arrange another rental situation (we will actually be staying in the same apartment, but renting directly from the owner who has been checked out by our son and daughter-in-law).

How to best use that coupon became a hot topic of discussion for Brett and me. There were several rules attached to its use, most importantly that it could only be used for one Airbnb stay versus being broken up and used for several different bookings. It had an expiration date. Also, any amount that was not used could not be redeemed later – any balance remaining after applying the coupon would disappear. In order to use it to maximum effect we were basically going to have to stay for a short time in the most luxurious place ever (so not our style) or do an extended stay somewhere.

Brett and I talked about all the places we wanted to see and weren’t visiting on the Big Adventure, and where we would most like to spend an extended period of time. In the end we decided we wanted to visit England. That decision was the easy part but where to spend a long period of time in England was a bit more difficult as there’s lots we’d like to see in different parts of the country. We drew up a list of different areas, ranked them, and in the end decided on the Cotswolds District in the west. We could do walks and hikes there, the area is close to Oxford and Bath and not that far from Cornwall, and it’s close enough that we could get over to London for a few days, and to Wales as well.

YaYu stepped in at that point and asked if we would let her find the perfect Airbnb for our stay. We gave her some parameters beyond the price and dates we were interested in: the house had to have a washing machine (and hopefully a dryer) and WiFi, and we would also like to have a dishwasher and a fireplace if possible. In a short while she had compiled a list of six lovely homes that fit all our criteria. One of those went immediately to the top of the list, a converted part of an old vicarage in a small village outside Moreton-in-Marsh, in the upper part of the Cotswolds. The house had everything we wanted and then some, the location was great, the house was loaded with character, and the owner and home got great reviews.We knew last summer it was too early to even inquire about a reservation, but this past weekend I contacted the owner and was able to book the house for a three-month stay beginning in September of 2019, following our summer stay in Portland. The full price was covered by our coupon, with only a small amount left over (and lost). All we will have to do is buy our plane tickets – thank you Airbnb!

One funny thing though that I have to add: In the interim I had found another lovely house in the area and it looked like our coupon would cover three months there. However, when I plugged in our dates, the monthly price first appeared at over $66,000 dollars, and when I checked again the next day a month’s stay had climbed to $189,000!!! Not sure what was going on with that, but we certainly were not interested in buying the house, lovely as it was.

Life On the Road So Far

Under the apple tree with my best friend and travel partner.

We’ve been traveling now for over a month, not a lot of time in the overall time we’ll be traveling, but enough to have learned a few things already, and figured out what we’re doing right and where we can make changes. Although we’re seeing and experiencing a lot, we also spend time on the usual everyday stuff we did before we started on our travels.

  • Brett and I make a good travel team. We got along well before setting off, and that’s continued thankfully. There’s always something to plan, something to talk about, something to dream about. The only time we seem to snip at each other is when we’re tired and have arrived at a new place and have to figure out where we’re going. Brett is “utility guy” (carrying heavy bags and keeping track of our spending), but also does the driving when necessary and takes care of other heavy chores. I still “manage the household,” making sure we have enough food and enough variety; that our living quarters stay tidy; that the laundry gets done, and all those other sorts of banal but important tasks that still take time. I also plan our activities for the day, or decide whether we’ll take a day off. Brett is a very “in the moment” person while I’m always thinking two steps ahead about what we’ll need and when we’ll need it, but with our strengths pooled everything has been going smoothly so far.

    Laundry is one of the more mundane parts of travel. We go to the laundromat here in Strasbourg once a week – it costs around $15 for two loads, but takes just a little over an hour.

  • We’ve still only found a couple of things we wish we had brought along with us and didn’t. Ziploc bags are at top of the list, but we’re hanging in there so far with what we have. We did score two big plastic carry bags at one grocery store which have turned out to be perfect for hauling laundry to and from the laundromat here in Strasbourg. We also never thought to bring wash cloths, but had to go out and find some because a few of the homes where we’ve stayed do not have them for some reason. We headed to a Macy’s-like department store in central Strasbourg and found just what we wanted on their sale table!

    It’s been great being able to hang up our clothes for a while versus digging them out of a suitcase each day.

  • Clothes-wise it seems so far like we brought just the right amount and mix of things to wear. Only one pair of shoes I brought along haven’t worked out – they fit and look good, but are not comfortable for walking around which is critical. I’m not sure right now whether I’ll hold on to them or not. One issue we’re having with clothes though is the frequently changing weather – it’s been swinging, sometimes wildly, between warm and cold. It was chilly in Switzerland, but in the upper 70s when we got back to Strasbourg, and is forecast to be in the 80s when we go to Bordeaux! It can drive us crazy at times trying to figure out what can be unpacked and what should stay in our suitcases.
  • We’ve found we’re good at adapting to our frequently changing situations, and can make do with whatever exists or doesn’t where we’re staying. Some houses have lots of cookware, appliances, and other amenities while others not so much, but we’ve been able to make it work for us wherever we are. The only thing we hope for whenever we check in somewhere is a comfortable, firm bed with clean sheets and so far we’ve gotten that in every home.
  • We’ve found we like doing things and figuring out things on our own more than we like taking tours. We sometimes take the free walking tours available to learn about the history of a place and get ourselves oriented, but otherwise we like figuring out transportation and such and then setting out together, armed only with a map. We like learning about the history of a place, and I especially like checking out the architecture from old to new while Brett is interested more in mechanical and technical things (mills, machinery, etc.) and plants. We also enjoy dropping into stores, even ones that we have back in the States (like H&M, Uniqlo, etc.) to check them out and see what’s the same and what’s different, what prices are like and so forth, but we rarely if ever buy anything (boulangeries are the exception to that rule!).

    Cookies! These are sablés sucre from a boulangerie – a delicious and affordable treat!

  • Our favorite treat on the road has turned out to be not chocolate but cookies! We had some good ones in Buenos Aires and Montevideo (coconut butter cookies to die for), but the ones we’ve found in French supermarkets have been fantastic, and affordable too. Many of the supermarket cookies here are the kind you’d have to go to a bakery to buy in the U.S.  Although all have been tasty, our favorites right now are lemon sablés (shortbread), florentines, and petite buerre. We like to carry the petite buerre for travel between destinations because they’re somewhat like a slightly sweet cracker. Actually, none of the cookies is overly sweet which may be why we like them so much. I have to thank the Great British Baking Show for introducing me to so many of the cookie varieties that are available here.
  • Knock on wood, but we have both stayed in good health so far. No colds, no upset stomachs, nothing that has stopped us from getting up and out each day. My back still gives me problems from time to time as does the bursitis in my right hip, and there’s no rhyme or reason to when or why it flares up when it does. For the most part though it’s thankfully been manageable.
  • I tried to follow the news in the U.S. for a while but finally gave up – I’m happier not knowing what’s going on for now. The girls and our son have been great about staying in touch thanks to Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, etc. as have friends (and readers!). Our T-Mobile plan lets us text for free, and we also get free data (although it’s incredibly slow), but we have to pay for phone calls so those don’t happen (we can video message via Messenger though). Wifi here has its ups and downs, mostly ups thankfully but we have had problems in a couple of places keeping a connection which can be frustrating.

So far it’s all been good – nothing has been too challenging. We’re enjoying our life on the road, and especially our extended stay in Strasbourg right now. Still, we’re starting to look forward to being in Bordeaux in another a week. The only part both of us is dreading is having to repack our suitcases later this week as well as having to move them around once again – it’s been so nice being able to be “unpacked” for a while. But, that’s our life these days, and we do what we gotta do!

Our Switzerland Getaway

Getting ready to cross the historic Chapel Bridge over the Reuss River in Lucerne.

It was very cloudy both days we visited Lucerne so it’s hard to tell the difference between the snowy mountains and the gray-white sky, but those are the Swiss Alps off in the distance – they are magnificent!

We’ve had an amazing two days in Switzerland!

Our Airbnb is located in the Swiss countryside. This farmhouse is behind the one we’ve stayed at.

We had an easy drive from Strasbourg down to the village of Sempach, just outside of Lucerne, on Monday. It was overcast, and rained part of the way, but the highway was good and there was only a slight amount of traffic as we drove through Basel. The only glitches along the way were that we weren’t directed to get off the highway to purchase our Swiss highway vignette, which is a requirement even for a rental car in order to drive on any Swiss highway. Also, we were expecting to pay tolls for driving on the French portion of the highway but never were stopped. We’re guessing we’ll have to pay those when we exit the highway in Strasbourg tomorrow. Otherwise, everything went as planned and the whole trip took a little over two hours, start to finish. Oh yes – our GPS also directed us to the wrong house! We got that straightened out, but it was a bit embarrassing.

The farmhouse where we’re staying was originally built in 1735. There is one bedroom on the first floor as well as a huge living room and kitchen, eight bedrooms on the second floor and two on the third floor. The range and oven are still wood-fired.

Our Airbnb experience here has been well beyond anything we imagined and has made our trip very special. We are staying in a traditional Swiss farmhouse where we have a spacious room on the top floor along with a private bathroom. The original house was built in 1735 (!), and our hosts have owned the house since 1945 and have raised ten children here. Surrounded by other farms, our hosts keep draft horses, chickens and rabbits (HUGE black rabbits that terrified me), and have loads of fruit trees (cherries, plums, pears and several varieties of apples as well as grapes and berries) on the property. We can look out over the beautiful surrounding farmland from our bedroom windows.

Brett and I made braided bread one evening with our host, Madlen, and enjoyed it for breakfast the next morning!

This church in Sempach was built in the 12th century and is still being used. The interior was fascinating, but too dim to photograph.

We were greeted with coffee and fresh-baked apple cake when we arrived at the farmhouse late Monday afternoon. We have also been provided with a huge farm breakfast every morning: yogurt and cheeses from neighboring farms, meats, homemade breads and jam, fruit from their trees, coffee, juice and so forth – it’s been incredible. On our second evening we made bread with the wife, Madlen, and learned to do a Swiss braid. She has also driven us to the station each morning to catch the train into Lucerne and picked us up in the afternoons. Although it wasn’t included in the price we paid for our room, we were also invited to dine with the family this evening and enjoyed a traditional Swiss meal of raclette (melted cheese) and potatoes. Madlen has also taken us to see the (charming) village of Sempach and tour a local church built in the late 12th century (that is still being used today) and to stop for an amazing, breathtaking view of the Alps. Today she drove us through the beautiful countryside to view the many farms in the area.

The Lion Monument

The old city wall and one of the towers

Lucerne is an incredibly beautiful city, but surprised us somewhat by being a bit smaller than we imagined. We were easily able to walk throughout the city in a few hours yesterday, visiting the Lion Monument (very evocative and moving), walking the length of the old city wall and climbing some of its towers, crossing the Reuss River several times including a couple of trips over and back on the historic Chapel Bridge. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of cheese fondue in the old section of Lucerne, stopped for coffee and cake by the lake in the late afternoon, and shared a small package of fresh roasted chestnuts by the river. We were full enough from all of those that we didn’t need any dinner last night!

The beautifully painted front of the Fritschi Restaurant, in old Lucerne.

Brett and I shared an order of fondue for one (!!) but both of us were stuffed when we finished.

Today we went back to Lucerne and visited the incredible Swiss Transportation Museum. We rode one of the ferries across the lake, a fun experience. Lake Lucerne is very clean and the water very clear. We also got another magnificent view of the Alps during the ride. The Transportation Museum was one of the best museums we have ever visited and was extremely interactive and informative both for adults and children. Our favorite section was Wheeled Vehicles which had everything from cars and buses to bikes and baby strollers. We had a light lunch at the museum and then headed over to the Lindt World of Chocolate Experience, where we climbed on a Disney-esque sort of vehicle and rode around to learn all about Swiss chocolate. We were given enough free Lindor Truffles on the ride and in the shop afterwards to practically cover the cost of one of our tickets (but we also bought some chocolate too).

Crossing Lake Lucerne by ferry.

Brett tries out the original Big Wheel at the Museum. How anyone ever climbed onto one of these bicycles (or got off) remains a mystery – we found it nearly impossible.

My favorite exhibit at the Transportation Museum was this futuristic Swiss baby stroller from 1959.

ALL the Lindor truffles, in flavors we had never seen before, including cappuccino, strawberries & creme, champagne, and others.

If I had to find a downside it’s that Switzerland is expensive. Very expensive. Prices, including for transportation, have frankly shocked us. We have easily spent over $100 each day, but because we spent nothing on the day we drove down and will spend little tomorrow on our drive back our daily average won’t be affected too much. Besides buying a few of the exotic truffle flavors I also bought a Victorinox (makers of Swiss Army knives) vegetable peeler that juliennes. It was just $5US and I expect it to last for years.

Back to Strasbourg we go tomorrow morning – our great challenge will be to locate a gas station near the drop off for the car so we can fill the tank. We’ve had a terrific time in beautiful Switzerland, the best Airbnb experience ever, and we’re so glad we were able to fit this short trip into our schedule.

We Had To Come to France . . .

. . . to finally shop at an Aldi market.

For readers living in the eastern or midwestern United States, or in Europe, Aldi stores are nothing out of the ordinary. But for those of us who live or have lived on the west coast, or in Hawai’i, Aldi products and prices are unknowns, and have taken on almost mythical properties.

A few of our Aldi finds.

I’ve been reading about other bloggers’ Aldi shopping for several years (enviously at times), so while we are here in Europe, Brett and I were determined to check one out and see what all the fuss was about.

We found the nearest Aldi to us was just a 20-minute tram ride away, at the outer western rim of Strasbourg. The ride was pleasant, and we noticed that the closer we got to our destination the more modern the buildings became, along with a definite feeling of being out in the suburbs. We also passed the city’s largest hospital on the way, bigger than any hospital I’ve ever seen anywhere. The mix of passengers on the tram changed as well – the further out the more young families boarded the tram.

The aisles were at least twice as long as a usual supermarket aisle.

Aldi was right across the street from the tram stop. We had no idea what to expect when we walked in, but the store was absolutely massive, at least in comparison to stores we’ve been in recently and even back on Kaua’i. We grabbed a shopping basket and set out to see what was in stock and what things cost, and possibly pick up a bargain or two. I was expecting pallets, or a more warehouse feel to the store, but was pleasantly surprised by the organized shelves with everything in boxes.

Trader Joe’s products could be found throughout the store. They are obviously packaged for the French market even though there are no Trader Joe’s in Europe.

I was also surprised by the number of name-brand products that I saw. I’m guessing most of the products were Aldi brands, but it was hard to sort out which were which. We bought some Ritter-Sport mini chocolate bars (perfect for when we’re on the road) but also saw brands like Nutella and several Trader Joe’s products around the store. The cheese section was positively magnificent, and the varieties available were also individually branded. Some were the same brands we’ve seen in standard markets (but were lower priced at Aldi).

Our four packages of cheese cost just 7.82€ ($9.09). Incroyable!

Actually, the selection available throughout the store was quite impressive. The produce section was pretty nice as well, although I have to say the pineapples were pathetic. I didn’t notice anything organic, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Of all the things we saw we could only come up with two things we would not buy there: wine and bread. Their low prices didn’t wow us after what we’ve been able to find at local boulangeries or supermarkets.

The baguettes were very inexpensive, but we had no idea how old they might be.

Besides the Ritter-Sport bars we also bought four different cheeses, some chocolate mousse (delicious!), a small bag of pasta, a bottle of shampoo, and a package of bacon, potato and cheese crepes to have for breakfast one morning. The total cost for everything? Just 16.03€ ($18.61).

We’re definitely going back before we leave Strasbourg. For those of you who regularly shop at Aldi, how does this compare with your experience? Are the prices similar? Does the store layout look similar?

On Track With Our Travel Budget

Every evening Brett writes down in a small journal what we did that day and what we spent that day as well. He brought along a roll of tape, and fastens each receipt received into the journal (he took this idea from the Senior Nomads). Finally, he enters the amount for the day into his travel spreadsheet and averages our daily spending to make sure we’re staying at or under budget.

As the first full month of travel for the two of us comes to an end it’s gratifying to see that we have been able to stay under the budget we gave ourselves of $50/day. We were able to keep our daily average to under $40/day in South America, but Paris (and Normandy somewhat) turned out to be more expensive than we imagined. In both of those places, whether it was admission fees, tips for tour guides, a meal out at a restaurant, filling the gas tank (very expensive here compared to American prices, over $6/gallon), everything cost more. Our Paris expenses also included the (totally worth it) taxi ride from the airport to our apartment in Montmartre, and our trip out to Mont Saint-Michel also turned out to be more expensive than usual (but again, worth it). However, with everything averaged we are still ending up the month under $50/day. Strasbourg is proving to be far more affordable – we’re back to around $40/day. We’ll end this month with a daily spending average of $47.92/day.

Our main savings come from eating “at home” versus going out to eat, although we haven’t denied ourselves that experience.  We don’t consider ourselves to be “on vacation” and just as we did in the past, eating out is an exception and planned in advance. The first thing we do when we arrive at a new location is find a nearby grocery store (and a bakery) and buy provisions for several days. Although I imagined it might be otherwise, I’m just not interested in cooking even though all the kitchens in the homes where we’ve stayed have for the most part had decent cooking equipment. We keep our meals simple but healthy, although sometimes I think we could be eating more vegetables. Breakfast is typically yogurt with granola (or muesli) and fruit, or a pastry with coffee and orange juice. We often skip lunch but then maybe have coffee or another small treat in the afternoon. We enjoy drinking a glass of wine every evening, and usually have cheese, salami, sausage or paté, fruit or vegetables, and maybe nuts along with crackers or sliced baguette. If we feel hungry later in the evening we have a bowl of vegetable soup. We’re currently trying out some ready-made main dishes from the Whole Foods-like store that’s close by. The meals are large enough provide servings for at least two nights, and so far they’ve been delicious (and also full of vegetables!).

Fifty dollars a day might seem like a lot for two people who are eating at home, but that amount goes far beyond providing food – it covers everything we might spend during the day beyond food. Those things have included but are not limited to transportation costs, admission fees, laundry, paid toilets now and again, a sandwich or pastry at a train station, an ice cream cone or a bottle of water on a hot day, or a small treat like a few macarons from a bakery. It all adds up, and quite quickly sometimes. Our daily spending while we were in Paris topped $70/day, so we’re thankful for the lower prices here in Strasbourg.

I can’t imagine trying at this point trying include in our budget the costs of getting from city to city or upcoming lodgings – my hat’s off to the Senior Nomads for managing that for almost five years. I’m grateful that we were able to save and take care of most of those expenses before we set out on this adventure so the rest of our monthly income is available for upcoming or unexpected expenses, such as the balance on our India tour which is coming due next month. Starting out with only two monthly bills (my student loan and our phone bill) and arranging for both to be paid automatically each month has also made life on the road much simpler, and our budget much easier to manage.

This is just one month out of fifteen though, but it’s been good to see how we handled expenses, and learn which things we can get better at, which things we don’t need, and where we can loosen up a bit.

Getting To Know Central Strasbourg: A Photo Essay

We’ve had a wonderful couple of days getting out and exploring the city. We’ve only scratched the surface, but are feeling happier each day that we decided to spend some time here. I’ll let this beautiful city speak for itself (warning: lots of photos!):

An outdoor antique market in one of city squares.

There are bike lanes throughout the city and bike riders everywhere!

The south side of the spectacular Strasbourg Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame), which was completed in 1439.

The cathedral’s west front is decorated with thousands of figures. The single spire is the cathedral’s most defining feature. You can orient yourself to the spire from just about anywhere in the central city.

The intricately carved pulpit dates from 1486.

The elaborate pipe organ hangs high above the sanctuary. It was added in 1878.

The River Ill runs through the central city, and has wide paths on each side for strolling. Several of the bridges are bedecked with flowers.

Strasbourg’s distinctive architecture fills the central city and lines the river. Fifteenth century buildings are still being used today.

Interesting rooflines are not difficult to find.

Outdoor restaurants can be found throughout the central city. Tarte flambée, a speciality of the Alsace region, are very popular. An extremely thin crust is topped with creme fraiche, thinly sliced onions and bacon, with other toppings added according to taste, then baked in a wood-fire oven.

On the north side of the city is Parc de l’Orangerie, the “lungs of Strasbourg.” The park contains huge, old trees of many varieties, paths for strolling, formal gardens, sculptures, a lake, and even a small zoo.

A formal garden space in the park.

The park area was originally intended to be an orange grove. The residence was dedicated to Empress Josephine in 1804.

There are storks’ nests on each of the residence’s chimneys!

This sculpture sits across from the residence. It is constructed of concrete over natural rock – the name is unknown.

Across the street from the park is the European Parliament, the legislative seat of the European Union. The flags of each member nation fly in front. We were unable to see much of the campus because lots of construction is currently going on – trucks and other equipment blocked almost ever road.

We have so far found the city very easy to navigate, either by walking, tram, or bus, and we’re looking forward to discovering more in the coming weeks!

 

Unpacked in Strasbourg

Our apartment is located in the historic central area of Strasbourg.

After all of the weekend’s rain and wind, we woke up yesterday morning in Normandy to blue skies and fluffy clouds. It was still cold though – coats were a must. We were out the door though and over to Caen on time to turn in our car, and then were on our way to Strasbourg via LeMans. We were truly sad to say good-bye to Normandy and wished we had given ourselves more time there.

The kitchen and dining area in our tiny apartment. There’s a full-size dishwasher though so I’m happy

The train ride was extremely comfortable – we were in first class on one of the high-speed trains, and I fell asleep for most of the ride. After our usual small spell of confusion upon arriving in Strasbourg, we eventually found and bought tram tickets and got going in the right direction to our location. Our host’s son met us and got us settled in the apartment as our host is currently traveling in Croatia. It’s the smallest place we’ve stayed in yet – less than 300 square feet – but efficient, extremely well-equipped, and comfortable. I was a bit concerned because I had not noticed when I reserved the apartment that it was a studio and that we would be sleeping on a sofa bed, but the bed turned out to be the most comfortable yet (and they’ve all been comfortable so far). Before we went to bed we headed down to the mini-mart on the corner and bought some soup and camembert cheese for dinner, and orange juice for this morning’s breakfast. We had carried along crackers and a couple of pain au chocolate from Normandy, and the host had provided coffee, so we were set for dinner and breakfast this morning.

The sofa contains an immensely comfortable mattress. Even though the room is tiny, we found room to tuck away our big suitcases, shoes, etc. so it doesn’t feel cluttered.

Both Brett and I slept soundly, until almost 11:00 this morning though, meaning both of us were w-a-y more tired than we imagined (especially Brett, who is normally an early riser). We have been pushing ourselves the last couple of weeks, with the short stays in Montevideo, Paris and Normandy, the long flight over to Paris, sightseeing almost every day and moving from place to place. We’ve especially been looking forward to our stay in Strasbourg because we’re here for nearly three weeks, enough time to unpack our suitcases and hang up our clothes for a while (the apartment has a large closet with plenty of hangers and shelves for us to put our clothes away). We’ll be able to catch our breath here. Although we’ll of course be out and about, for a these next few weeks there’ll be little to no pressure to go somewhere or see something every day. If we want to take a day off and stay “home” we can do it and not feel guilty.

One of the first things we do after checking into our apartment is put together the gift bag for our host.

Our suitcases have been slowly growing lighter as we move along. We’ve ditched a couple of heavy guidebooks along the way (Buenos Aires and Paris), Brett left behind a pair of jeans and t-shirt in Montevideo that he hated wearing, and we’ve slowly but surely been divesting ourselves of the gifts we brought along from Hawai’i. We haven’t bought anything other than the two travel umbrellas on Mont Saint-Michel, but those get carried in our backpacks. We’ve lost only one thing along the way, the package of beeswax wraps in various sizes. Where those got left, or if they even got packed back on Kaua’i is anyone’s guess, but they’re nowhere to be found. We’ve been nursing a couple of Ziploc bags along the way and holding on to any plastic bags we get at a market, and so far that’s been working for us.

We went out first thing today to find the nearest ATM and buy provisions for the next few days. There are two nice markets nearby: an expensive Whole Foods sort of place, and a regular supermarket with a boulangerie right between the two. We bought a little at each place including some prepared foods from the Whole Foods place that I can heat in the oven: ratatouille, vegetable lasagna and a quiche. I haven’t felt like cooking since we set out on this adventure, so this will make dinner easy for the next few days. There’s a big farmers’ market every Saturday next to the Whole Foods store, so we’ll check that out too.

History is right outside our building’s front door.

We’re looking forward to exploring more of our neighborhood tomorrow and in the coming days – we’re just a couple of minutes’ walk from the cathedral and the main historic center. We have laundry to do though before we can really feel settled in. And, I want to spend this evening finding out more about the charcuterie in the area – both stores we visited had many delicious-looking sausages and other meats, but we have no idea where to start.

I think we’re going to enjoy being unpacked here in Strasbourg!