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Thursday morning Jacques and I caught the TGV (Train à grande vitesse, or “Train of high speed”) to Strasbourg, in Alsace. The trip was an easy 2 hours 20 minutes, as against four hours before TGV service began, in 2007. We traveled first class, naturally, which was very comfy.  [Here’s a video clip looking out the window:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc_IqzdJ-j4]

TGV First Class

TGV First Class

We stayed in a nice older hotel next to the Cathedral, which has the highest steeple in France. It’s a mountain of stone that astounds each time you see it.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

Naturally we had to climb up to get the view from (near) the top.

Rooftops of Strasbourg

Rooftops of Strasbourg

There are many beautiful features inside the cathedral, but my favorite was the organ.

Organ, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

Organ, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

The oldest part of the city, called Grand Ile (Big Island), is encircled by two canals, and its most charming area, criscrossed by even smaller canals, is called La Petite France. The architecture reflects strong German influence, and in fact Alsace has shifted back and forth several times between France and Germany.

Jacques on a Bridge over the Canal L'Ill, Strasbourg

Jacques in Le Petit Venise, Colmar

We spent two days exploring Strasbourg, then took a day trip to nearby Colmar, in Haut-Rhin. Its cathedral is more squared-off, like Notre Dame in Paris, but has glazed roof tiles which are typical of the region.

Colmar Cathedral

Colmar Cathedral

The most charming area of Colmar is called Le Petit Venise, and is a lot like La Petite France in Strasbourg. Naturally both Strasbourg and Colmar have been “discovered,” so we sometimes had to contend with throngs of (other) tourists.

Petit Venise, Colmar

Petit Venise, Colmar

House of the Pilgrim, Colmar
House of the Pilgrim, Colmar

It was possible, however, to find times and places that were wonderfully tranquil, so the occasional mobs didn’t color the visit too strongly.

Lamps on Canal, Strasbourg

Lamps on Canal L’Il, Strasbourg

The cuisine of Alsace resembles that of Germany — lots of red meat, cream and butter — but I was generally able to find fish or other relatively healthy fare. The last evening we chose Thai — not typical but much easier on my digestion.

Many more photos are up on Google photos: The full set of Colmar photos is at https://photos.app.goo.gl/vh0IuFLgLLP3BBQI3 and the full set of Strasbourg photos is at https://photos.app.goo.gl/SL6fye4iFYqYDuNV2

Jacques and I almost always converse in French, so this trip was an immersive language experience for me. I learned a lot but also got a clearer understanding of how much I still have to learn! I promised Jacques to at least visit L’Alliance Française when I get back to Boston, and perhaps to enroll in one of their conversational courses.

We both enjoyed the change of scene, but by Sunday morning we were ready to get back to the energy and style of Paris. Jacques suggests that next year (or the next time I visit) we take a similar trip to La Rochelle (on the Atlantic coast between Nantes and Bordeaux).

Sunday afternoon Rafael arrived for a single night, after seeing his father off to Boston. After dinner at Le Loup Blanc (which closed in 2014) and a good night’s sleep he left on Monday morning to catch his own flight back home.

Update:  You might also enjoy the post about my second visit to Strasbourg: Strasbourg with Zhizhong

Mot du jour: truc.  I kept overhearing this word but I couldn’t figure it out from context. Per Google it means: “thing, trick, stuff, gimmick, knack, device, ploy, dodge, thingy, thingummy, gag, contraption, wheeze, thingumajig, thingumabob.” How useful!  [Ryan adds: “The best translation of “truc” is probably just “thing” or “thingamajig/whatchamacallit,” incidentally. It is very informal though, so much so that its use by a foreigner will in my experience almost always elicit a slight giggle, even in cases where it is actually the mot juste.”]