Saturday, August 8, 2015

Traveling Alsace

Thirty years ago my strongest memories of traveling Germany by train are of castles, gardens, herb chicken, and my mom polishing off the last of our German chocolate in Italy. Since then, I've changed and so has Germany.

This time around my family, husband and two children, toured Alsace in a rental car with the main objective being to visit trenches from the Great War and an old friend. We visited Ettlingen, Stuttgart, Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Trier, Darmstadt, and Frankfurt. We also toured the Maginot Line at Ouvrage Schoenenbourg and the trenches from the Great War in the Vosges Mountains. Walking to the train station in Frankfurt, Arabic dominated the conversations around me. The city is now about half native born Germans. Still big mugs of beer and sauerkraut are ever present on menus, but the dining options have expanded to include Arabic, Lebanese, Turkish, Pho, and Japanese restaurants. The smokers also seem to have multiplied.

Alsace is a region that depending upon the era was framed as German, French, Independent, or some variations of that as borders and sides seemed to have flipped with regularity. The countryside is beautiful, green, and rolling and consists of vineyards, hayfields, and cornfields. Traveling by car with a GPS in this area means negotiating different cultural systems, but no border controls.

A specific approach to life can be hard to absorb when bouncing daily between countries, but the cultures do vary. In Germany, most things are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. In France, things open from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm and then again from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm, but you won't be able to dine until at least 7:00 pm. This is important to remember if you have jet lag, like to eat lunch, or trek somewhere to take in the sites. We were forced to eat cheese biscuits for lunch in one small French town. Eat dessert at the restaurant you dine at in France as the ice-cream shops close when the restaurants open. In France, road signs appear to be randomly placed, sometimes intensely and then when you are sure you are lost, maybe, maybe, they will throw you a bone. You learn to stay the course or follow the cyclists.

I travel with a general agenda, no guide book, and go for local recommendations which over the years has worked well, same for this trip. A German friend recommended the app to find hotels which I did set up before departing.  We stayed two nights in most of the hotels we booked and found all of them to be helpful and accommodating to a family of Americans. However, my international cellular plan through Verizon proved worthless. The ATM was our currency friend as we learned that credit cards are not as widely appreciated in Europe as in America- at one hotel, we had an extra trip to the ATM so we could pay the bill in cash. We walked between seven and ten miles a day through trenches, cities, and museums. Despite my reluctance to leave home, I was so very glad I did.

"Passports need to be out of your pockets and in your hands," bellows the blue suited man barking at passengers just off of a nine hour flight from Germany. I'm carrying the contents of my daughter's stomach in a small white bag. My daughter leans into me. My son throws everything on the floor and is suddenly taken with the idea of moving his body. My husband fumbles to scan our passports in a do it yourself kiosk we are forced to use. Welcome to America my mind screams.

Highlights of places we visited:

Darmstadt, Germany
Hessiches Landemuseum Darmstadt

Ettlingen, Germany
Fav hotel: Erbprinz Spa Hotel

Frankfurt, Germany
Historisches Museum Frankfurt
Deutsches Film Museum

Mulhouse, France
Coolest Museum tickets (fabric pieces): Musee de l'Impression sur Etoffes
Hardest hotel to find: Kyriad Hotel

River Boat Tour
Palais Rohan
Musee Historique
Appart'Hotel Odalys Green Marsh

Stuttgart, Germany
Hotel Domino
Porsche Museum

Roman Ruins- Porta Nigra, Stadtmuseum
Where all the Chinese are: Karl Marx Haus
Hotel Am Ufer

Archimedes Screw in a park in Ettlingen, Germany

Castle in Germany

Maginot Line at Ouvrage Schoenenbourg in France

Some of the rarer old buildings in Stuttgart, Germany

Porta Negra, Roman Gate, Trier, Germany

Bubble maker in front of the cathedral in Trier, Germany

History Museum in Darmstadt, Germany 

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