For our last day in France (not counting the anticipated early-morning stagger to catch a train we are not one hundred percent sure we have tickets for), we made a more detailed exploration of the central town of Strasbourg. It was Sunday, so most places were closed– restaurants, shops, even the big chain stores. The bakeries, however, were open for business. Apparently, nothing gets between the French and their pastries. Which is understandable, considering the pastries. We were getting pretty attached ourselves.
I believe I have expounded sufficiently only the delightful ancient charming delightfulness of the city at this point, so I’ll spare you the effusing and just summarize: half-timbered buildings, touches of snow, river, islands, bridges, churches, cobblestones, setting up of Christmas decorations, Gutenberg.
Then, when the land-based charms got to be too much for us, we took to a tour boat (also, though the snow had stopped, it was still very cold, and the boat was enclosed) on the river and canals that wrap around the old part of the city. The guided part of the tour came through headphones that plugged in by our seats, and the onboard entertainment from a free-range toddler who bobbled up and down between the seats. We rode through ancient locks that seemed to now exist primarily to raise and lower tourist boats, and out to see the buildings of the European Parliament, possibly the grandest assemblage of pointless bureaucracy the modern world has yet to produce, with appropriately architectural buildings (by which I mean ugly, and probably leaking). It was a fine and interesting tour, and by the time we were done it was time for lunch.
We chose a place not far from the boat dock, with an ornately carved front and a menu of what we were coming to recognize as the regional specialties. As it happened, despite our three days of dedicated eating, there were a number of apparently key dishes neither of us had tried yet, and this seemed like the place to do it.
The interior of the restaurant was low-ceilinged and tightly packed with tables. The woman who greeted us put us at one near the door. The place was nearly empty, so we asked to move to another table across the room. She agreed, but a moment later changed her mind and came over to explain, with much hand-waving, that this table, though further from the door, was actually less protected from the draft, due to the way the curtain hung across the doorway. She had a point, so we agreed and moved back to our original table. Overall, it was a less than thoroughly elegant maneuver, particularly since I hit my head on a light fixture both ways.
This was a culinary exploration, and we had a lot of ground to cover. So I ordered the bacon and onion tart, with foie gras to start* and Cameron had a different kind of onion tart for an appetizer and the choucroute plate. That, along with the wine and beer, seemed like it would probably be enough.
I was expecting, since the foie gras here was listed for about half the price that seemed standard at the other places we had been, that it would be about half the amount. I was wrong. It was a full slab of the stuff, like a small piece of bread, accompanied by toast points and little cubes of Gewurztraminer jelly. Cameron’s appetizer tart was more like a slice of quiche, with lots of onions, while my entree was almost pizza-like: a thin crust the size of a serving platter, covered with creme fraiche and studded with slices of onion and a generous amount of very good bacon. The choucroute (in the smaller size, I might add) was a plate heaped high with sauerkraut, with two potatoes and five kinds of meat crammed around its edges. With what I thought was heroic effort, we were able to get through the great majority of this feast, leaving only about a fifth of my tart, some sauerkraut and most of the blood sausage behind. But the waitress was not impressed. When we said we were done, she looked at our plates with dismay.
“You eat like leetle boys!” she declared.
Of course, since this was France, the fact that our plates were cleared away had nothing to do with anyone bringing us the bill**. For that we had to signal, which I did, since I had the better view of the dining room. This was apparently also incorrect.
“Non,” she instructed me, placing the bill firmly in front of Cameron. “You do not ask for the check. You say, le garcon,” she pointed to Cameron, “Le addition pour le garcon, s’il vous plais.” Then she had me repeat it, just so we were clear.
Foreign travel is very educational.
We had had grand intentions of sight-seeing and museum-visiting for the afternoon, but after that lunch it was clear that anything more intellectually strenuous than getting me a snowglobe for my shelf at work was out of the question. It was also cold, so bitingly cold that I bought a paper cone of roasted chestnuts from a man selling them out of a cart even though I could hardly even bear the thought of food, just to keep my hands warm. (Besides, roasted chestnuts in a paper cone? How could I not?)
In anticipation of not finding much open on a Sunday night, and in keeping with our record of not really making it out in the evenings, we picked up a baguette and some desserts at a bakery that had already become a favorite, to serve as supplies. We already had some cheese and foie we had picked up at a very fancy supermarket (which was located in a fancy department store, for some reason) as our post-wine-adventure dinner the night before. It was a fine plan, marred only by the fact that the only utensil we had been able to acquire from the front desk was a fork, which is not the ideal tool for cutting and spreading.
And really, that was that. I’m leaving out a lot, not the least of which is the entire return journey, with the train ride that we may or may not have legitimately been supposed to be on, but no one threw us off, through the tiny commuter plane out of the Stuttgart airport and the approximately eighteen security checkpoints in Munich, up to the generous onboard alcohol policies of Luftansa, the nervous moments about how much wine we were bringing through customs and staggering, jet-lagged out of our noggins, back to San Mateo. It was a wonderful trip, and I have only two regrets. One is that I didn’t get this blogging done in anything approaching a reasonable amount of time, and the other is that it wasn’t nearly long enough.
I think a year would be about right.
*Yes, I realize I have already eaten foie gras on this trip. The point is, I haven’t eaten all of it.
**Also true in Germany.