May 24, 2012: Bartenheim in the Southern Alsace

This morning was a very successful travel morning. We got up and out the door as planned. We caught the same 9:06 bus to Colmar that we used yesterday so we knew exactly what to do and even knew our bus driver this morning. We did not wait until the absolute last second to run out the door of our hotel so we were able to walk leisurely to the bus stop and while the girls waited I made a stop at the Cannelle patisserie and then hit the downtown boulangerie for our pain (bread) for the morning. Liesl has decided that she adores French bread and for the past two days that is all that she will eat so this morning I got her her own baguette.

The boulangerie in town has been closed whenever we happened to be walking by and the sign has been gone for what looks like decades so when I noticed smoke coming from its chimney this morning and then saw that there was someone inside and the door was opened I was really surprised. We had wondered where people got their bread in this town. It was worth a stop as the bread was excellent and oh so cheap.

On the bus ride to the Gare de Colmar (one stop past the Theater District where we stopped yesterday) we met a fellow American traveler from Tennessee who was on his way to the Unterlinden. We talked the whole way from Neuf-Brisach to Colmar. Liesl gave him one of our Kidding Around Europe stickers and he gave us his business card so that we could email him to get his blog information as he is recording his trips as well.

On a train a few days ago Luciana was walking around and I overheard someone make a comment about how cute she was and I picked up a southern accent so I stopped and asked if they were American and it turned out not only that they were American but that they were Texan and not only that they were Texan but that they were from Denton – the same county as us! Small world.

One of the things that I love about traveling in Europe is how much that every rail or bus journey is a place where people meet – everyone talks to each other here. This is even more amazing when you think about the fact that no two people speak the same language. Everyone just makes do and figures out how to communicate.

That is one of the big secrets of European communication – don’t be afraid, just do your best and everyone else tries too. I think that Americans often think that Europeans all understand each other but they don’t at all. Here in the Alsace, for example, French is almost universally understood but a small majority prefer to speak in Alsatian, a heavily varied dialect of German (for example, Guten Tag in German is Gueta Tag in Alsatian with a different pronunciation of Tag as well – tog versus tag.) But of people speak “normal” German as well. Here and there people speak English. But you never know what someone will speak until you start talking to them. It is really amazing.

While riding the buses in the Alsace I’ve noticed that the people on the bus while often speaking French to us speak to each other almost exclusively in some dialect of German. German definitely seems to remain the vernacular of choice from what I have observed although in town French certainly appears to be more common. At the restaurant at the hotel, though, German was almost exclusively in use by the patrons. When locals speak in English, which is rare, the accent seems to be a blend of German and French.

The Gare de Colmar is not very big and getting to our TER Alsace train was easy. We took the local run from Colmar to Mulhouse where we got off and transferred to the TER Alsace Mulhouse to Bale (Basel) line which took us to the very small town of Bartenheim where we are staying for the next two nights.

Bartenheim is certainly not a tourist town. It has no attractions at all and is a very small Alsatian town sitting just north of the Alsace’s southernmost airport. The town is so far off of the “beaten path” (technically it lies right along a very beaten path but is a stop that no one makes) that when we prepared to disembark from the train at Bartenheim the train conductor actually stopped us and asked us where we intended to go because as clearly not locals going to Bartenheim was pretty surprising.

Getting out at the Gare de Bartenheim reinforces that this is not intended, in any way, to be a tourist stop. The gare (trainstation) is nearly a full kilometer outside of the village and there are not even signs pointing you towards or away from town! You are dropped off at what is essential a country stop and left to fend for yourself.

The walk into Bartenheim proper was brutal with our luggage and carrying Luciana and pushing Liesl in the stroller. The entire walk is exposed to the sun and it was twenty degrees Celsius and quite humid as we walked into town. We were really looking forward to cleaning up in the hotel room by the time that we got to the center of town.

Our hotel, the Lion Rouge, is, as far as I can tell, the only hotel in Bartenheim and is located right on the central square, the Plaza of the Republic. There is a fountain in the middle of town but it was all torn up for repairs when we arrived. The walk from the gare to the square did serve as a nice introduction to town and it was clear from our walk that while Bartenheim might be unknown to tourists it is definitely a happy, affluent town.

I can’t believe it but our hotel here in Bartenheim is excellent. So far Dominica is batting a thousand on our hotels. We have not had a bad one yet and there have been some pretty crazy long shots in there like the last one and this one. Our room here has two regular adult beds so that Dominica and I can sleep separately. They provided a pack and play for Luciana and a large crib for Liesl. Even though it is meant for younger kids, Liesl thinks that it is cool as it is like a wooden cage but it is pressed up against Dominica’s bed so Liesl can easily climb in and out of it. Our bathroom here is quite nice and spacious and en suite. So far, every hotel that we have used we would recommend to others. I am so impressed with the prices and quality in Europe.

It was still on the early side when we settled into the hotel only around eleven. We are generally pretty tired and want some time to relax so today is a “no plans” day. When we booked this day originally we thought that we would ambitiously be heading straight into Switzerland for the day. Oh how foolish we were. We need a bit of a down day and Bartenheim is a perfect place to just stop and sit and do nothing as a pause in our vacation. Plus I have a ton of work that has to be completed by tomorrow night. So Bartenheim is our stop that allows me to do that.

We took a quick trip out to the children’s park right off of the square. It is tiny but has a rubberized mat, a bouncy car and a small slide and is fenced and gated. Liesl saw it on the way to the hotel and wanted to go play. It is well shaded so a perfect spot to just sit and see village life. Right next to the park is a little shack that is a sandwich and coffee shop. Just pick enough for someone to go in, order a sandwich and take it to go. So we got a cheese (fromage) sandwich, a tuna (thon) sandwich and some pastries and went to the park.

We are our “picnic” lunch which was very nice, especially the tunafish salad sandwich, and watched the girls play. Luciana mostly just walked around the rubber mat being perfect for her. She did make several attempts to climb up the stairs to the slide so I had to keep rescuing her. She is doing very well at that and made it all of the way up on her own once too! She got to come down the slide (with my help) too which is her first slide ever. Liesl mostly busied herself playing a pretend game of going to the grocery store in the bouncy car and pretending to store things in its trunk. It is so cute watching her amazing imaginative play.

While we were sitting there Dominica sent me out on a walk to discover what was around, especially looking for a market. So I walked around a bit and discovered very little. It was a nice enough walk, though, and I got to see a good portion of this small town. I was amazed to find that behind nearly all of the houses in town were ancient half-timber barns being used as massive storage sheds. These must all be four hundred years old (I confirmed that many of the houses were from around the first years after 1600.) Even in this little, “modern” feeling town it turns out that a large percentage of the houses are two to five hundred years old. That is crazy. In America this would be the biggest tourist attraction ever. Here, it is just a town no one knows.

We returned to the hotel from the park when it was time for me to work. When my lunch break rolled around Dominica sent me down to the lobby to ask how to find a market. There is no one who really speaks English here but we make do. They know way more English than we know French, that’s for sure.

It turns out that the only grocery store is outside of town, past the train station, about a kilometer away. So I set off of a decent walk.

One of my favourite things to do in a foreign country is to go to the grocery stores and markets. It is a cheap way to experience every day life. Everything is different in a foreign grocery store (even Montreal is wildly different than New York and they are next door cities to one another) and being in a foreign grocery store in a different language really makes it a fun challenge.

I picked up snacks, fruit, diapers, baby formula and other essential supplies. Two kilometers round trip. I am starting to know my way around town now.

This evening was dedicated to work and homework. That is all that I did. I made good progress, I think, on my homework and believe that I have around half of it down with tomorrow night completely dedicated to getting the other half wrapped up. Once that is done I do believe that my class at RIT will be completed with nothing more needed from me whatsoever. Originally the professor had scheduled a presentation session for tonight (read: three to five in the morning for me) but that was cancelled and moved to Sunday night (same deal, early Monday morning) but so few people were able to make it work that both have been cancelled and they are not being rescheduled. So my class will be over and done with.

Tomorrow is also my final evening of work for the office. The market closes early tomorrow so I am hopeful that work will wrap up on the early side for a Friday. Once I am done with my Friday night deployments and any Friday night system maintenance work (none scheduled, but stuff comes up) I have a normal weekend (not officially “on call” but still official available if escalations are needed) followed by Memorial Day Monday (a bank holiday so we are off but, again, I am available for escalations is necessary) followed by my stored up furlough time starting Tuesday morning and going for three full weeks! Ah, the sweet feel of vacation. So, for all intents and purposes, I am totally free and clear of all regular obligations around five in the morning tomorrow night. I can’t wait!

The only thing that I did tonight beyond my class work is one additional walking trip around town seeking out a café to get coffee from for Dominica. I walked probably another one to two kilometers and finding nothing. The only place that appears to be open is the very high end restaurant in our hotel. So, in the end, I went to the front desk and requested a carafe of coffee for Dominica and I and a basket of bread for Liesl as that is all that she wants to eat these days. The restaurant in the hotel, like the one the last two nights, looks great and appears to be the center of gastronomic delight in the local town.

Tomorrow we will be touring Bern. I am so excited. Probably no place, except perhaps Vienna, on our trip is as important to me as Bern. I have always wanted to see Switzerland so badly and Bern especially both because of the city itself and also because it is associated with the ancestral backgrounds on both sides of my family. Bern is very high on Dominica’s bucket list of European destinations as well. So we have to be up decently early tomorrow so that we can get Bern in before needed to be back in time for work.

My work schedule is really odd while doing this European vacation. I don’t need to be signed in to the office until around four thirty in the afternoon. Talk about weird. We put in a full day and then I start working and work until after midnight. It really throws me off.

Tonight, before going to bed, we felt Luciana and she felt pretty warm. We took her temperature and it is elevated but not a fever. Around ninety-nine degrees or ninety-nine and a half. She appears to be a little under the weather but it is hard to tell. We have been pushing her hard with our schedule and so often she has been unable to fall asleep and nap when she should that we are sure that she is quite run down at this point. So this could be anything. We hope that she is just teething.


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