Our flight from Zurich to Paris was at around 8:30 am so we left Luzern at around 5:45 am, hoping to reach the airport by around 7am. The drive was supposed to take a shade over 1 hour, so we had given ourselves a pretty large buffer in case things went wrong. As it turned out, they did. We had again used Google Maps to get our directions from the Luzern hotel to the Zurich Airport and had even scoped out our initial departure route on foot the previous day. However, once we got past that, the directions got plenty confusing.
It appears that Europeans have some sort of obsession with roundabouts, something we would find out when we were in France, and thus something I will gripe about then. However, roundabouts caused us our share of problems here, since every turn seemed to be given as a roundabout (at least by Google Maps) and the number of roundabouts didn’t appear to match up. We got lost a couple of times (once climbing up some mountain area) and using my Dad’s BlackBerry EDGE connection helped us relocate a bit. However, we still wasted at least 25-30 minutes going the wrong way and recovering.
Our saviour came in the form of a gas station on the way to Zurich. The directions provided by Google Maps were confusing enough that they told us to go towards Zurich and then take an exit for Luzern (where we had been coming from!) before heading to the airport. Basically, there was a lot of implicit highway switching that only confused us. A line such as “follow the overhead signs to the Zurich Flughafen” would have been better! Luckily, the gas station employee told us to get on the transit highway and then just follow the signs to the airport.
This we did and although Zurich was under heavy construction and there was a bit of traffic, we pulled into the airport’s car rental drop off area at around 7:30am. From there we went ahead and got checked in and by the time we got through security, it was time to board. In that way, it was good that we got lost since we didn’t have to sit around and twiddle our thumbs at the busy Zurich airport! However, we didn’t get an opportunity to do any gift shopping, which we decided to leave for when we were on our way back.
The flight to Paris was uneventful and lasted only about 45 minutes. We then reached the mess that is known as the Charles de Gaulle Airport and quickly whisked ourselves away to the train station. This is when the French really get you. I had done some reading up before of how the Paris public transportation/railway system works. There are three companies with stakes: SNCF (the national rail network), RER (a local rail network that also operates medium- and long-distance trains) and the local metro. To complicate matters further, it appears that you can use tickets interchangeably on 2 of the 3, sometimes. Yup, must have been designed by a Frenchman!
Anyways, we found the TGV counter and bought ourselves a ticket to Strasbourg, which is where we had decided to go to first. We had about an hour to kill before the train got there and then a journey of about 2 hours on the TGV. Traveling on the TGV was a pretty sweet experience as it was a pretty superfast train. After staring at the blurred scenery outside for a few minutes, I picked up the book I had bought in the Mumbai airport, the latest Lee Child book, and settled down. My Dad did get a little impatient and bought some wine and snacks from the kitchen car, but that was the only eventful thing that happened on the train ride.
Once we reached Strasbourg, we had to take the trams to get to our hotel, which was the Holiday Inn. I had looked up the station/trams we would have to take earlier, in Luzern, so we didn’t have any trouble finding our way. The tram system in Strasbourg was pretty efficient and we got to our hotel in about 15 minutes and checked in. We had taken an Executive Room, which basically meant we had free internet, as well as several little gifts throughout the day in the form of complimentary bottles of water, chocolates and whatnot. The receptionist was kind enough to provide some tourism information to my father while my Mom and I lazed in our room, so we got an idea of what to see and do in Strasbourg, apart from that which we had already researched.
After freshening up, we headed back to the city center using the trams by way of a trio ticket, which was a lot cheaper and allowed us to travel unlimited for a period of 24 hours (not like anyone checked tickets, anyway). Once we reached the main central station—Homme de Fer—we set out in search for the Cathedrale Notre Dame, with our map in hand. We were able to find it at around 7.30pm, which was unfortunately about an hour after it closed, so we had to make do with taking photos of it from the outside. It was a pretty spectacular structure, and we also noted that there was going to be light show there starting at 10pm. We thus quickly made plans to come back there after dinner.
Next, we headed to the river, which featured a “cruise” that would take us around the canals of Strasbourg and provide us a view from the boats of the many buildings that people came to see there. We booked our tickets for the 8pm boat, which was an open-air boat, and then hunted around for dinner. We had a faux start with dinner since we sat down at a place near the river only to realize that there would be no way that we would be able to complete the meal without missing our boat cruise. So we quickly abandoned that idea and my parents settled for a crêpe each while I decided to go ahead and wait for dinner.
Once we got on the boat, we had great photo opportunities. The Strasbourg canal system is pretty good at showing one all the places around, and it is also interestingly designed. They have “lock-gates” all over the place where there is an area for the boat, and the water level is adjusted such that the boat goes up or down about 2 meters. It’s hard to describe and unfortunately I didn’t take any photos so you’re just going to have to ask me to describe it to you in person if you are really interested! Along the way, we also saw a bridge that simply rotated away to allow for the boat to pass. The main sightseeing from the boat, though, was the Petite France area. I don’t know what the point of this area was, or why it was named as such. My Mom says it is because the buildings/architecture is in the “French style” but I wonder why you need such a region in France itself! I suppose it is because Strasbourg had its share of inhabitants from different countries (such as Germany) over the years.
After the boat ride, we made it just in time for the light show at the Cathedrale Notre Dame and thus decided to eat dinner there itself. Unfortunately, my camera produced an epic fail at capturing the light show, so you will have to make do with these poor photographs. The light show basically involved playing classical music accompanied by lights that highlighted different features of the Cathedrale’s carvings. Each of my parents took turns getting photos and videos of the show, so maybe I can enhance this blog with one of those sometime in the future (probably not!).
With the light show done and it finally becoming dark instead of twilight-y we decided to head back to the hotel. We took the same tram route and hit a minor speedbump with our connecting train, since it stopped two stops ahead of the one we needed to go to because of maintenance. Luckily, Strasbourg had metro buses arranged that followed the same route as the tram and thus we were able to get back to our hotel without too much issue. Once we got back there, I did some more reading on my book and then we crashed, tired from all the different modes of transportation we had used that day!