May 22, 2012: Neuf-Brisach and the Alsace

ХудожникLuciana got us up at six thirty this morning.  Who needs an alarm clock when you have a Luciana?  So Dominica got right up and jumped in to the shower and Luciana hung out with me.  This is a bit earlier than we had meant to get up this morning but it works out well giving us lots of time to do what we need to do.

We were able to be a little leisurely this morning as we had an hour and a half even before the front desk would open.  We were down for breakfast right at eight.  We brought all of the luggage down, ate breakfast letting the girls skip eating breakfast and instead just play with the toys that the hotel provides for them as this would be their last chance to do so and checked out of the hotel.  We are definitely sad to be leaving Boppard and the Hotel Hunrucker Hof – they have just been awesome.

We took the path towards the train station that ran by the Roman ruins in town as I only saw them by accident on the first night not knowing what they were and only seeing them in the pitch darkness while I was out searching for food.  Dominica had gone to see them in the daylight while I was working the other day so the pictures that we posted on Flickr were all from her.  I only got a minute to see them today but at least I got a chance to check them out.  I am certain that we will be bringing the girls back to Boppard when they are older.  This is a great town.  And you never know, our stay here might have convinced Dominica that this is the place to be.  Neither of us feels that we could go wrong in Boppard.

It was a warm and decently long walk to the baunhof (train station) but we got there without incident, found the platform and pretty soon the train was there whisking us easily off to Mainz in Hessia.  Mainz is one of my ancestral cities.  My mother’s father’s family claims heritage back to Mainz (long, long ago.)  This is the first time, ever, that I have been in Europe and actually passed through a place that I know that my relatives did.  I have probably crossed paths with thousands of them thousands of times but I never know for sure when or where.  We didn’t get to see Mainz, though, just wait at the platform.  While there we grabbed coffee and a little pizza for Dominica and I to split and a pizza pretzel (brezel) for Liesl who loves pretzels.

Our train going from Mainz to Freiburg was delayed ten minutes which worried us as we have little time then to make our next connection in Freiburg.  We should not have worried, SBB is very much on top of these things.  And it was SBB (Swiss National Railways) who took over for us for the next part of our journey (the trip to Freiburg continues on to Basel and Zurich.)  The SBB train was even nicer than the DB trains.  SBB had huge first class cars set aside for us and no “levels” to climb up and down.  They have very wide aisles so we can actually move through them with the luggage and strollers and they had an all our restaurant car!

We did partake of the restaurant car.  I was dying of thirst so got a vitamin fruit juice thing and Dominica and I split a cheese plate of assorted very high end Swiss cheeses which were amazing.  The cheese plate was totally the right choice.  I got it knowing that I needed additional protein.  Eating in first class at the restaurant on SBB is not cheap, so be warned.  But it is really nice.  Just a bowl of soup is around $35.

The journey on SBB was great.  Quiet and we had almost an entire first class cabin to ourselves so the girls were free to walk all over the place, spread out to other chairs, make noise, etc.  That was perfect for this, the longest leg of our trip today lasting nearly two hours.  It was incredible easy and comfortable.

In Freiburg we transfered to a small, local train carrier.  That train was totally crowded, standing room only and not much room for that.  That trip was pretty short, though.

We arrived in Brisach, Germany and from there caught the local bus to take us over the border to the French town of Neuf-Brisach in the Alsace.  The bus ride was only about thirteen minutes and very easy to do.  That is good since we will be needing to take the same bus tomorrow when we go to Colmar to do our morning sight seeing.

We got dropped off by the bus right in the middle of Neuf-Brisach on the main square and in front of the tourist information office.  So we popped in there and picked up a map of town – not that you need one in a town this small but it is handy for finding all of the UNESCO heritage locations.  There are thirty one things to see of historic importance, according to the map, in this town.  Pretty impressive for one of the smallest towns that I have ever seen.

We had some serious time to kill since we arrived in town around one in the afternoon and the hotel doesn’t open for check ins until four thirty.  At least three hours to kill.  Ouch.  That is tough with the little ones.

We started by hanging out at a cafe on the main town square.  The food was good but it was hard to order since no one speaks English.  Here everyone speaks French and German but English is pretty rare.  Even though the town is an UNESCO Heritage Site I don’t get the impression that many tourists, especially those from very far afield, come through town.  I have yet to meet anyone who has even heard of it – including people that I would consider to be pretty much local to it.

Our first impression of town is that there are cars absolutely everywhere and they are hideous.  The town square, which dominates the village, has been converted into a parking lot.  The fountain there is disables or broken and all around the square is parking.  In fact, the entire town is parking.  There are cars everywhere.  The traffic is really intense and yet no one lives here.  This is a great example of a European town that has thrown away its inherent advantage in the name of “progress.”  It is so sad to see the amazing potential of this town and no wonder it is not a thriving tourist attraction – the place is ugly, noisy and lifeless because every inch of it is covered in parked cars.  No one is in the square like they should be.  No one is walking around.  People pull up to the cafe in a car, run in and drive away.  This town is perfectly designed to be full of pedestrians but instead is all cars and no people.

We sat in the cafe for a while.  Luciana was anxious to walk – which is awful here as there is nowhere in town that isn’t meant for car traffic.  The sidewalks are horrible and in some places don’t even exist and the square is a parking lot.  So we walked as best as we could away from the cars but it was less than ideal.

From there we went to the market on the square to get some supplies then hit another patisserie to see what they had and stocked up on goodies there too.  Then we went back to the hotel just to be sure that no one returned early – they didn’t.  Then we walked around town, and by that I truly mean that we walked around it, until it was time to return at four thirty and get checked in.

The hotel was open when we returned and we got checked straight in as easy as could be.  The hotel, on the outside, is this old, run down structure that looks ancient and in disrepair like everything else in town.  I am sure that no business here can do anything to modify the buildings because of the historical status.  On the inside, however, is a really nice, completely modern hotel.  We did not expect this at all.

The hotel room is awesome. We actually have three beds in this room with a semi-dividing wall so that Dominica and I have a double bed on one side and there are two single beds on the other side.  This is good as Liesl really appreciated having her own space and sleeps far better when she does.  We had a pack and play brought up for Luciana as well.  She only is happy when she has one and the moment that it arrives she gets so excited and tries to climb into it.

I got set up right away and got to work.    It seems that we are always in a complete panic to get somewhere so that I can start working.  What a pain that is.  We cannot wait for Saturday when that is all over and we can really just relax.

This hotel room is really good for me to be working. The Internet access is excellent and there are two different desks from which I can work.

We are really thrilled with this hotel room.  We had a feeling that this was going to be a real case of “making do” with a hotel in this odd little town but this is quite the opposite.  This entire trip we have really been blessed with excellent hotels that have really been making it so much better than it might have been.  All four hotels that we have used thus far we would recommend and would use again.

After I worked for a while and we got all settled into the hotel we went down to the restaurant in the hotel basement for our first Alsatian dinner.  Dominica got rosti and I got tarte flambée also known as flammkuchen or Alsatian pizza.  We also got an onion tart to split.  It was all really good.  Liesl is loving French baguettes and that is all that she wanted for dinner.  Dominica and I split a half litre of local dry Alsatian Riesling.

After dinner we came back up to the room and Luciana decided to crawl into her pack and play (it has a baby entrance at floor level that is really cool) and put herself to bed.  Liesl ate her first ever Kinder Surprise which we found for her at the grocery store today and she was really excited about that and then within a few minutes was in bed herself.  The moment that the girls were down Dominica went to bed too and was probably asleep by nine thirty!

I had to stay up and work, of course, but did decide to go to bed on the early side tonight.  Even thought everything went smoothly today it was still an exhausting day.  Tomorrow we are here in Neuf-Brisach again but will be spending the morning in Colmar.  The day after tomorrow we have to move again but are not moving far at all and will still be in France, just closer to Basel.

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