WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS – Rich Paschall

A Return to France, by Rich Paschall

When you have been to Paris, you will likely hope that you can return someday. It is just a little sprinkle of magic that the city puts upon tourists and part-timers. There are no cities in America with old neighborhoods that somehow retain their special ambiance like the ones in the City of Lights.  I had been to Paris before. Recently we returned again.

Now for a little moment of truth. Since my ultimate destination was Strasbourg, I would have been tempted to go via Frankfurt as I had done the year before. However, my young friends wished to go to Paris. One had been there with me before. For the other, it was a new adventure. How could I say no?

Return to Paris

When traveling there are a number of sites you can use to book your airline tickets. It is wise to shop around. The old rules about when to buy just do not apply anymore. Airlines are using sophisticated algorithms to price tickets.  Prices are not changing every Tuesday as the old advice believed. Now they can change daily, even more often in some cases.

We were going to use low-cost passes for the trip, but with two weeks to go, I decided it was too risky. I purchased round trip tickets for a direct flight from Chicago to Paris.  I used Skybooker.com. I also had a comparable offer from ASAP Tickets. Airlines are willing to discount if they feel they can not sell 80 percent of the seats. Empty seats are lost revenue. The plane is going anyway so they want to get what they can. Our flight had a few empty seats.

When we arrived at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris we took the train from the airport station to Gare du Nord in the city. The train does leave from the airport, but trust me. It is a LONG walk to the train once you get your luggage.

Gare du Nord

For the convenience of our brief stop in Paris, we took a hotel near the train station. This meant we could walk to the hotel once we arrived. If you plan it well, you can also be near another major station, Gare de l’Est. This is important for the next part of the adventure.

If your stay in Paris is brief, where would you go? My friends felt there was only one stop for a night in Paris. We headed to a nearby Metro station and took the train to the Eifel Tower. We found a nearby plaza and the view that many picture takers had located before. You have certainly seen such pictures, but it is a much grander site when you take it in with your own eyes.

Eifel Tower

We were present for one of the sparkling light displays that you can see at night. That was something they did not have the first time I was in Paris. In fact, many things had changed. Now the streets are filled with sidewalk vendors trying to sell a variety of trinkets. Most of them have miniature (and cheap) Eifel Towers. Some even light up. They must be selling well for so many vendors to be lining the streets on a rather cool evening.

The other surprise was the plaza where the Tower is located. When I was there about 15 years earlier, the plaza was open. Now it is closed off by what I would take to be bulletproof glass. There are limited entrances where you will go through metal detectors to go in. I guess that is a sign of the times.

We Also Have Strasbourg

After a night in Paris, it was a short walk to Gare de l’Est for a trip to Strasbourg. I purchased and printed our Rail Europe tickets before we left Chicago. The nonstop train is popular and we did not want to get shut out. If you avoid going in the height of Rush Hour, you can get your tickets for a few euros less.

Gare de Strasbourg

In front of the train station is the tram stop. From there you can go just about anywhere in the city. Our next stop was actually the suburb of Illkirch right alongside the city to the southwest.  In Illkirch we made our first ever arrangements at an Airbnb. Our host met us at the train station so we would not get lost on a very short trip to the apartment. The large apartment had two nice bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a modern kitchen and a large living room. Apartment City in Strasbourg would have been more expensive for a small place and for a hotel… Well, let’s just say this was the best choice. We bought provisions at the nearby supermarket and hosted our own wine and cheese party. My friend from Selestat, France joined use for a mini-vacation in the city.

If the Eiffel Tower is the must-see stop in Paris, the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg is the place in Alsace. We took the tram back to the closest stop at Place Kleber and wandered over to the magnificent Cathedral.

Place Kleber

When you have reached the plaza, you just have to look up and around to find the cathedral. Then you head off in that direction. If you look behind me to the left, you may spot the statue of French Revolutionary war hero Jean-Baptiste Kléber. Few may realize that he is actually buried below the statue. Well not all of him, his heart is in an urn in a chapel in Paris.  Seriously.

We also visited the neighborhood known as Petite France. Here you will find buildings preserved from the 16th and 17th centuries. Previously it was a neighborhood filled with tanners and millers and other trades of the era. Now it is home to restaurants, shops, and well-restored homes. This historic area of the city has been designated a World Heritage Site.

Petite France

As I have explained before, the reason for travel is to enjoy adventures with friends. It is also to visit with friends. In this case, it was both. For the tenth year in a row, I visited my friend in France. We have been on many adventures together here, in France and other countries. We always believe there will be another adventure soon.

French feast

In case you missed the reference at the beginning:

See also: “A France Vacation,” Sunday Night Blog, rjptalk.wordpress.com, March 8, 2020.
The Grand Est Region“, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, October 20,2019.
Alsace Adventure,” SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, January 6, 2019.
April Love or April Fool?” SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, April 7, 2019.

ALSACE ADVENTURE – Rich Paschall

Strasbourg and Beyond, by Rich Paschall

For many years now Strasbourg has been a favorite vacation stop.  It is not just because of the wonderful historic sites and amazing food and wine, but also because of the friends who live in the region.  I am sure you will agree that any chance to visit one of your best friends is a good enough reason to head out on a new adventure.

In the northeast corner of France, right across the Rhine River from Germany, lies Strasbourg.  It is the largest city in the Grand Est (East). The metropolitan region is home to almost a half-million residents.  It is an important city in the European Union as the location of several EU institutions, including the European Parliament.

Strasbourg, France

Despite the many visits to Strasbourg, I never really walked through the area known as “Petite France,” where they maintain the architecture of the Middle Ages.  Known for the many white and black timber buildings, it is a lovely throwback to an era long past.  Of course, we have seen many buildings like this throughout the city and the region.

In 1988 the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This includes the famous cathedral, sitting on a foundation over a thousand years old.

Street of “Petite France”

Every visit to Strasbourg must include a stop at the grand Cathedral.  Built on the foundation of a previous structure, the current church was built between 1176 and 1439.  If you see the size and intricate detail of the building and then consider there was no modern building equipment, you will understand why it took centuries to complete.

The street leading up to the cathedral might be a bit “touristy” for some, but I must confess that we stopped in the shops and purchased some souvenirs along the way.  I can never return home without the required refrigerator magnet, and my friend picked up several items to remember the occasion.  We also stopped near the end of the street near the cathedral for lunch at an outdoor cafe.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Literally in the shadow of the Cathedral is the Palais Rohan.  Built in the 1730s as the resident of the princes of the House of Rohan, French royalty who served as bishop and cardinal of the cathedral, it has been a museum in modern times.  It was seized during the French Revolution and sold to the municipality where it served for a while as the town hall.  Some of the original furniture and artwork were sold off or destroyed.

The site had been a bishop’s resident since 1262.  The courtyard and the area between the palace and the cathedral have been the scene of archeological digs throughout modern times, including some of our visits.  There they have found artifacts from ancient Roman times.

Palais Rohan

One of the joys of centering your trip in Strasbourg is being able to head off to regional sites of interest.  Whether you are going to other towns or villages by train from Gare de Strasbourg-Ville, by tour bus or have a friend to drive, you will find much to see.

Mosbach winery

With my friend as driver, we always head to a wine producer for a taste of the local vintage.  It might seem a bit odd on a Sunday morning, but we found Mosbach willing to open the shop and hand out samples.  Alsace is famous for its white wines and my French guide selected a bottle for each of us.

There are many places to stop along the famous “wine road.”  The region is filled with vineyards that climb up the side of the hills, and wine producers ready to welcome you.

From here we went to the popular Mont Ste. Odile, or Hohenburg Abbey, where Saint Odile (c. 660 to 720) served as abbess.  Legend has it she was cured of blindness as a child.  This is why she is known as the patron saint of the blind.  She is also considered the patron of Alsace.

From atop this hill, Odile is said to look out over Alsace as protector of the region.  When one enters the abbey, its church, and its chapels, one wonders how they built this many centuries ago.  The modern-day road is narrow and winding and the hill has a dense forest.  One is left to wonder how they were able to get all the materials used in the building to the top of the hill.  The view is worth the trip.

Alsace region from Mont Sainte Odile Abbey

Someday in the future, I hope I can make this trip again.  There is a great value to the discoveries that travel will bring into your life.  When you have a chance, hit the road for new adventures. They are not only educational but rejuvenating in ways that are hard to explain.  As Rick Steves (PBS travel shows) will tell you, “Keep on traveling.”

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