Sept. 11: Arrived last night and managed to find my way to my hotel near Paris airport. It was a low-budget deal, more like a youth hostel, but it had a good bed and a good restaurant—all I needed after flying all night and a 6-hour time change. Slept the sleep of the dead and got up at 6 a.m. to head back to the train station at the airport. Managed to use my limited French to find the right train and buy a pain au chocolate (croissant filled with chocolate cream) for breakfast. Discovered that it costs 70 cents to use the bathroom at the train station, too. Totally worth it. The train station at Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) is so huge, clean and efficient. Makes our U.S. train stations seem like the Dark Ages. If we had train stations and trains like this one, I’d probably never fly again.
I was seated next to a very bright and personable British woman in her 40s who turned out to be the manager of all the interpreters at the European Parliament (which has its HQ in Strasbourg). Learned so much from her about the EU. She was very careful not to mention the American president, but when I heard how appalled she was within the British Brexit vote and the xenophobia of it all, I figured I could ask her about how Europeans view what’s happening in the U.S. One word: “Appalling.” But then she followed up with similar feelings about the nationalist movement happening in Britain. Hard to imagine how it all makes the world better and promotes peace, she said, noting that Germany is the country she hopes will lead us out of this. Ironic that Germany learned the lessons from fascism and the Allies forgot them. Giggling, we shared our love of the unbelievably cute and wonderful Trudeau and the ever-polite and progressive Canadians. She is married to a Belgian and lives in Brussels with their 3 kids, now adults. I learned a lot from her about raising bilingual children. I've always wondered if kids realized they were speaking two different languages. She said her children, upon meeting new people, would ask if they spoke Mommy or Daddy. At first, they thought that all women spoke one language and all men spoke another. (It IS sort of like that, isn’t it?) The 3.5 hour trip flew by with such interesting company. I kept asking her if she minded answering all my questions and explained that I can be almost obnoxiously curious. But she seemed to be really enjoying knowing that Americans were even interested in Europeans.
Arrived in Strasbourg and walked about 10 minutes to my Airbnb, which is the apartment of 2 students living over a restaurant right in the heart of historic Strasbourg. They are very sweet. Between their limited English and my limited French, we are getting by just fine. They are on holiday from school but are picking grapes in a nearby vineyard to earn money for the next term. With a few recommendations for restaurants, I went off to get lunch and headed to my first tour—a 2-hour guided Segway tour of Strasbourg!
Unbelievable fun! It only took a few minutes to get used to “driving” the Segway. Although we looked a little dorky in our helmets, I could see that we were the envy of all the other tourists fatigued from walking. We went zooming (15 mph) all over Strasbourg and I got a great feel for the layout of all the landmarks so I could go back and check them out tomorrow. It was fun waving to little kids as we flew by and we (4 of us) put on a show of weaving in and out of rows of trees on the long promenades. I felt like a teenager. Most fun I’ve had in a long time. I’m going to be on the lookout for Segway tours in other cities in the future.
Capped off my first day in this ancient city with dinner at a restaurant along the canal, where I tried the much recommended Alsatian specialty of choucroute (sauerkraut), which is made with wine. Leave it to the French to add wine to a German food to make it better. It bordered on the awesome, as did the duck and the creme caramel. After dinner, I walked all over the island (Old Strasbiurg is an island where the Rhine and Rhône Rivers meet), almost retracing the Segway route. It’s unusually warm here for Sept., and the streets are totally crime-free. The Strasbourg cathedral, the number one attraction, was just beautiful, all lit up after dark.