Thursday, March 31, 2011

St Etienne

March 31, 2011: After a breakfast of croissants, French coffee, fresh fruit compote and assorted meats and cheeses, we hit the road for St. Etienne. 5 1/2 hours later, after driving through hills of the Alsace wine region, we arrived late afternoon in St. Etienne to visit our friends Jean-Yves and Marie-Christine. These are folks we met when I was teaching French and doing student exchanges. I was last here in 2003 and we had lost touch. The drive, while rainy provided glimpses of spring - flowering cherry trees, budding bushes, and fields prepared for planting interspersed with wooded hills showing their castles, medieval churches and monasteries. Taking the fast route involved driving the autoroute which in France is quite civilized. Most drive the speed limit, roads are in good repair, and the speed limit when not otherwise posted is 130 km (about 80 mph). The French drive on the right unless passing, so navigating is pretty easy. The only surprise is that many trucks (and there are MANY TRUCKS) drive only 80 km making passing a continual need.

Once in St Etienne, we checked out Jean-Yves new house right in the middle of the city (160,000 people, high unemployment, working class city that was where the industrial revolution began and then it got left behind when coal mines closed and manufacturing changed.) We took a walk down to the center of town nd back while waiting for Marie-Christine to get home from work. Jean-Yves retired just 3 months ago and is reveling in his new-found freedom to walk the city.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner of cabillaud (type of cod) en papillote (wrapped in parchment or tinfoil) baked with julienne of vegetables and carrots. We also had the most delicious potatoes which I want to try to make soon. Of course this was preceded by an aperitif called Kir (cassis and white wine) using a cassis made by Marie-Christine from black currants grown in her backyard, then an endive salad. Afterwards there was a cheese plate and blueberry tart. All washed down with a burgundy and a bordeaux. Yumm!

Then to bed for the weary retirees - but not before Dave lost in pool to Jean-Yves (4 games to 2).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Arrived 7:30 AM Wed Mar 30, Frankfurt Germany, having left from Chicago O'Hare at 11:50 on Mar 29. Connecting flight was through Atlanta all on Delta. Everything went totally smoothly. Mike and Browen had taken us to Chicago the evening of Mar 28 where we had dinner at the Big Bowl in Schaumberg. (Yummy oriental).

Picked up our car at a hotel near the Frankfurt Airport. It's brand new (had 15 or fewer KM on it when we started driving) and we "own" it until we turn it in and "sell it back" to Peugeot when we leave in June. It is comfortable, rides well, seats 4 comfortably and 5 for short trips and has a great GPS system. Runs on Diesel (called gazole in France) and gets about 60 mpg. Which is good cuz it cost us $100 to fill up the car today! Gas in Europe is sold by the litre and diesel costs around 1 Euro 59 right now per liter (that's about $2.75 a litre, or $11 a gallon). Oh, yeah, and it's a 6-speed. Vroom!

Trip from Frankfurt to Strasbourg took only about 3 hours and was Autobahn all the way. (Remember that there's no speed limit for most stretches of German Autobahn. But we didn't drive too fast - 130 KM/hr max - or about 80 mph - when the road was empty)

Arrived Comfort Inn hotel in Strasbourg around noon, just in time to eat at the hotel restaurant, Louisianne. The place is classic French local (our hotel is not in a touristy area, but rather a business/residential area) - yellow and red toile curtains on the windows, exposed beamed ceiling, and yummy food. We had the special - ham in mustard sauce served with flat green beans and spaetzle. I had Bordeaux, Dave had a beer. And we shared the tarte du jour - apple tarte with a custardy base and nuts. And double expressos.

We took a nap for an hour, then cleaned up and walked to the tram stop for a ride into "centre ville" (city center). There we wandered in the old part of town, bought some maps, got rained on a bit, visited the huge gothic cathedral, then walked to La Petite France, an even older part of town. Photo of old timbered building is 15th century restaurant, still in operation, located on the cathedral square.

Found a bierstube (winestube) in La Petite France for dinner and had the 3-course menu at 27,50 Euros (not counting drinks). We both had tarte à l'oignon (onion tart - kind of quiche-like, but very oniony, a regional specialty). Dave had fish and I had chicken and both were heavenly. The French can take German foods and make them gastronomic and not just hearty. For dessert, Dave had orange "soup" and I had île flottant (meringue with toasted almonds floated in a vanilla cream sauce. We drank the local Reisling (Alsace Reislings are really dry and we love them.) and ended with coffee again. (Maybe that's why I'm still up typing and it's 11:20 PM!)

Our dinners, chicken in marsala sauce front, fish with choucroute (sauerkraut) in back.

Our desserts: Ile flottant in front, orange soup in back.

My favorite parts of the day: We saw a moving company unloading furniture to a 4th floor apartment using the equipment in the photo below. You've got to be ingenious when it comes to old buildings.

Notice the platform at the top, being off-loaded into the open windows of the 4th floor apartment (French buildings have a rez-du-chaussée or ground floor, and our second floor is their first floor. Confuses the heck out of Americans all the time. )

Two encounters with Strasbourgians stand out.

  1. We couldn't get the ticket kiosk at the tram to accept our credit card, so a French businessman bought us tickets and refused payment for them. What a kind gesture! (Especially as there's no other way to get tram tickets than the kiosk at the stop. Sheesh.)

  2. The second involved a retired banker who was chatting up the lady in the souvenir booth inside St Thomas (Protestant) church in la Petite France. He asked if we would like a personal tour, invited a Canadian couple to join us, and spoke in English so David would understand. He then proceeded to give us a 45 minute tour and history lesson of the highlights and importance of pieces within the church and had to be reminded by the lady that the church closed at 6 PM. He was amusing, full of stories and history. He kept quizzing us on religious history and church architecture. You'll be glad to know that Dave got lots of points cuz he remembers all this stuff. Most entertaining.

Good night. Tomorrow we drive to St. Etienne. Wishing you all were here with me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The retired travellers

Lynn Dosch is a retired educator. Dave Dosch is a retired engineer. We both love to travel. In fact except for brief stops at home for clean laundry, collecting the mail and paying the bills, Dave would prefer to be on the go exploring someplace new or attending his favorite sport.

We recently moved to Madison Wisconsin so Dave could be smack in the middle of all the Badger sports. He is a rabid Badger fan and of course a Packer fan. Lynn is nearer her Appleton family now, making it easier to spend time with her Mom and brothers now.

People think it strange that we "retired" to Madison from Rochester MN. After all, it's cold and snowy there too with long winters. But we have a plan - we travel a lot.

Our next adventure has us traveling to Beziers France where we have rented an apartment for the months of April and May. Lynn has always dreamed of spending annual extended time in France as part of her retirement plans, so this is our trial run. Our friends have asked us to keep them posted on our travel experiences there and thus the genesis of this blog.

We leave March 29, returning June 8. So watch this spot for posts highlighting our adventures.