France for a day

Trip Start Mar 29, 2006
Trip End Feb 28, 2007

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

THURSDAY, 21st September
Today was our French expedition...Strasbourg being our destination. First stop was Triberg in the middle of the Black Forest a little to the south of where Anne and I had driven on our way down to Moos. There was a waterfall we had to see. With L as navigator we took a north west route, some of which was on autobahn and others on smaller but busy roads until we reached the highlands. I drove up the main street until we saw a sign pointing to the falls and parked nearby in an overgrown parking zone that was empty, yet we still had to put money in the 'automat'. It was quite cool so we donned our 'spray jackets' as L called them and walked into the reserve after paying an entry fee of just 2 Euros. The path was very steep and followed the waterway up the hillside through the trees. After a 60 metre climb we reached a wooden bridge over the rushing waters and further up there was yet another bridge which we decided to aim for.
The falls were not a waterfall in the conventional sense. Way up above us somewhere the river started its downward run, cascaded several hundred metres to where we were and continued past us under the bridge to the town below where it leveled out a little under the main street. There was a lot of energy there some of which was captured by a turbine somewhere. We stopped at that second bridge although we could have gone higher. It was not a very wide river (8 metres maybe) but there was a lot of water and it fell a great distance over several hundred metres. It was one of the best I have seen...not the biggest...but there was a lot of white water falling down that hillside. More of a rapids than a waterfall I suppose.
There were squirrels running around the forest according to signs everywhere and for which Anne bought peanuts. But we saw not one. [Anne ate the peanuts later!] The reserve was very well maintained and actually had safety fences along the very steep pathway. No steps, strangely, just an incline which was to pose a big problem to the coach party that arrived as we were leaving. There was not a face that looked under 70, many of whom were aided by walking sticks or their partner. No way would they get up that slope. 
We rested in a café on the main street and had the best mug of black coffee and a slab each of Black Forest cake. It was an enormous restaurant as I discovered when I went for a leak. I wandered down the back to some cavernous dining areas which then led out to a terraced dining room and up above me was a balcony or mezzanine dining area encircling all that I had just seen with what I can only describe as Black Forest décor and trimmings on the walls and tables. 
We took the back road out of Triberg which climbed up and up and up until we were able to look back over the town in the valley. We headed north west along a quieter road which meandered through the most beautiful valley. We were following a fast flowing river with low hills on both sides. All was so green...lush green pastures with the occasional grazing cow and flower bedecked farmhouse. Now and then a village or collection of houses around a timber mill. Apart from farming the main industry seemed to be logging. We passed a lot of logs stacked at the roadside waiting to be transported to one of these timber yards. I would have thought that in the Black Forest cutting down trees would have been banned by now.
The houses, be they in the country or the town, were enormous. It was difficult to tell whether they were family homes or apartments. They followed a pattern. A large square construction with many windows and a windowed, steep, tiled roof. The four sides were always rendered in white or pastel coloured cement over large, thick brick walls. [Not bricks as we know them but of a breeze block size, very plain and interlockable.] There was very little imagination in their design but they made up for that with the decoration outside. Usually from window boxes and flowers although I don't know what they will look like in winter. At the moment the homes were a splash of colour...mostly red. There were always a multitude of windows on each side and it was hard to tell if one window represents one room or many. There would be at least three levels above ground and frequently one below which we noticed under the framework of some new homes we saw under construction in Moos.
The road was quiet and narrow with very little traffic. It was a beautiful drive but it became a long drag from there on to Strasbourg when we hit the main road at Bad Peterstal. I was glad to cross the Rhine eventually over an enormous bridge (with no customs check) but not happy to enter that city's traffic. Six lane highways racing into or around Strasbourg and it was more by luck than design (and some excellent navigating I had better add) that  we found ourselves in the middle of town in an underground car the Place Gutenburg.
[Although I have some reservations about the road signage in Germany and France I cannot complain about the city directions. Every town or city we entered had directions to Centrum or Zentrum or Centereville which would lead the tourist to, literally, the centre of town as they judge it to be anyway. One then only needs look for a P or, even better a P with a ^ on (which means undercover parking) and there will always be somewhere to park. They are really not that expensive for the traveller like us. 3 or 4 Euros would allow us to park in most cities for two or three hours and often there would be a maximum of say 10 Euros for the day. The car park was full when we arrived but the system is that you wait at the auto ticket machine until someone leaves the parking station whereupon a ticket is issued to you and the boom gate goes up. One in , one out]
It may have been Centreville but we really had no idea where we were. It was like coming out of Kings car park in Sussex street. You knew the town was somewhere close but which way to turn and we had no map. We walked this way and that until we found a seat in the Rue 22nd November, easily remembered for it was Anne's birthday...and some other significant event! Believe it or not in spite of all our motoring it was only lunchtime and we had some prepared bread and salad which we proceeded to eat in the middle of Strasbourg. We had bread rolls, meat, tomatoes and cucumber. No cheese, I complained. My own fault, apparently, for not having input at the food preparing time. I was still in bed at the time.
I popped into a travel agent across the street to find a map. They had none but she did give me directions to the Cathedral which, now that I looked skywards, we could see over there. We walked in that direction keeping the steeple in view until...lo there it was, the magnificent Strasbourg cathedral. Well worth the effort of driving there.
The Oeuvre de Notre Dame cathedral seemed have been inspired by Gaudi...or the other way around...because it had all manner of strange 'things' sticking out or attached to the steeple and the main entrance was covered with strange figures. We were once again overawed by the interior although not by the clock which we had come all this way to see. It didn't do hardly anything on the hour. In fact when three o'clock came around it struck two (!) and only one figure moved around. Must have something to do with GMT and daylight saving?? It is not a particularly nice looking timepiece either. We saw better ones in the cuckoo clock shop...a tad smaller maybe but far more attractive. Apparently you had to be in the cathedral at 12.30 to see the full effect.
Wonderful stained glass windows are the cathedral's main feature with a huge sunflower window over the main entrance. It always disappoints me that stained glass windows are designed to be seen from the inside. From the outside you have no idea looking upwards that the windows have any colour or design at all. The nave was immense. You could gather thousands and thousands in there and more if they stood on each others shoulders! Why did they make them so high? Such a waster of space. Still, nothing changes. It's all to do with competition. Even today new commercial buildings in big cities strive to be the tallest in the world.
We found a Mr Choo Choo and booked a ride for 3.30 pm, ¾ hour away. I went for a stroll on own and found the river. The ride was more like a tram than a train and it was bloody hot inside. There was a clear PVC roof and fixed doors and it was hot and uncomfortable but we saw some of the town that we would not have seen on foot plus a commentary, albeit brief. It stopped for 20 minutes at a covered bridge over the river over which we walked with the driver. It gave us a good view of the river and the buildings of Petit France which is the old town on an island midstream.
We had intended to move on to find the night's accommodation but in one of my more lucid moments and over a Maccas sundae I suggested that we stay the night in Strasbourg. So, with a hotel map in hand, we walked in the direction of the group of hotels on the north side of the river passing the main transport intersection where the very efficient trolley buses were whisking thousands of Strasbourgian commuters to their homes. It was rush hour in Alsace. The Ibis Hotel was not hard to find. We negotiated rooms with the receptionist and went for a look see before we set off  to collect the car. It was not too expensive, the rooms were air conditioned, they overlooked a roof top garden and there was parking beneath. I think we will stay here a week!
We went outside to sus out the entrance to the car park. All we had to do now was find the car and then find the hotel. The first was easy, a ten minute walk, but finding our way to the hotel was not easy. The town was all one way traffic and bus only lanes. 45 minutes later we found the entrance to the underground Ibis car park. 
We settled ourselves into our rooms and put our feet up for an hour. At the appointed time we roused L and went to look for a meal. All we could think of was the Cathedral courtyard although there were plenty of other eateries around. There were a couple of very expensive restaurants in old buildings on one corner of the cathedral square [they had tablecloths and candles. I figure that is a sure sign that you will be paying extra for that privilege and be presented with food that is horizontally challenged...stacked vertically to make it impossible to slice up.]  and only one still open on the square itself. So we plonked ourselves at a table and gave our order to a cheerful French waiter.  It was a warm autumn evening and we were sitting under the tower of and opposite the entrance to one of the greatest cathedrals in Europe. It was now all lit up in the dusk of the evening. It was magical as we sipped our drinks and watched the passers by.
The girls had steaks and salad and I had a plate full of just salad. We also  had dessert, mine being an apple crumble which the cheeky waiter had heated up for me and added  ice cream. Our waiter was also kind enough to take our photo but  threatened to sing to us. It was only 8.30pm but the other tables were already being stacked up. But down a side street I could se it was very busy still.
We walked down towards the river along some wonderfully lit side streets with diners still eating under the lights and the flowers. The restaurants there were cut into the old houses under their timber, gaily painted frameworks. Very little music. It was too quiet. Neither a strumming guitar nor an accordion. It didn't seem right.
On the way back along the now quiet streets there were a few bodies asleep in doorways...something we had not seen since Amsterdam. Trolley bus central had quietened down.
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