Category Archives: Fegersheim

Les miscellanées

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Those of you regular followers of saratreetravels may have noticed a few inconsistencies in these archives, and it’s high time that those were addressed. Yes, we were in Rome and Venice, in Vienna and Paris, and yes, those places were as beautiful and unique as everyone knows them to be. And that is precisely the reason they have not appeared here: these are places that belong to all of humanity and have already been well-documented elsewhere.

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Why bring this up now? Because the flipside of this coin is that sometimes a bizarre and incredible experience occurs off the beaten track and MUST be documented, despite not fitting into any logical itinerary. Renting a car and having multiple schedule-free days seems to invite these experiences, so here goes:

Carcassonne

If you batted even a slight eyelash of recognition at this name, odds are you are a board game fan of the Settlers of Catan variety. In Carcassonne, players strategically build towers, walls, and roads in order to edge their opponents out of valuable territories. The bottom of the game box offers a short description of the real Carcassonne, a walled city in France built over the course of many centuries, but most players are more concerned with keeping the cat off their neatly arranged rows of tiles.

When we saw that our route was going to take us within one exit of this difficult-to-pronounce city, we thought it was at least worth a stop. We followed the signs through a fairly modern and non-board-game-inspiring city, turned a corner, and suddenly saw exactly what we were looking for.

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The impossible abundance of castles in Europe can leave a visitor befuddled, particularly when they are used so casually as landmarks (“oh, you’re looking for a kebab stand? There’s one just left of that castle over there.”). Yet Carcassonne may well be the most awe-inspiring one we’ve seen yet, with the almost-eerie lack of tourists being an added bonus. We spent the brief time we had clambering up its turrets and through its endless rings of walls. We highly recommend it for your next road trip through the south of France (or at least your next board game night!)

2. La montagne des singes

As we sipped our welcome-wine with our fantastic Airbnb hosts in Alsace, they started informing us of the many interesting sights in the area. Concentrating hard to keep up with the rapid French (I’m okay in a sprint, but the endurance marathons kill me!), I vaguely understood that there was a mountain not too far away that caused Sara to make a rather surprised and bemused face. Once I pinpointed the mystery word in question, I nudged Sara and asked, “Quel est ‘singes’?”, to which she quickly muttered, “Monkey!” and continued the conversation.

So, somewhere in France close to the German border there is a mountain of monkeys. And that was after translation!

Upon actually visiting this mountain, however, we can confirm that there is indeed a mountain filled with an endangered species of Moroccan monkey. No cages, just a big park where the monkeys can safely swing from trees and enjoy the popcorn that is given freely to visitors at the entry gate.

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Human parents really need to perfect this one-handed babysitting technique:
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This adorable puckered-lip face, I later learned, is how monkeys signal that they are about to attack. The big fangs-bared face, meanwhile, is how they show affection. Obviously my lack of French was not the only translation issue.
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3. From Here to Now to You

Maybe it’s not off the beaten track (downtown Paris is pretty sufficiently beaten), but it certainly doesn’t happen every day. As Sara previously mentioned, buying Jack Johnson tickets in Paris was actually the first concrete travel plan we made, way back in February. The man is not only rhythmic genius and guitar god, but his inspiring words of love, for his family and for the world as a whole, make his music addictive on a much deeper level as well.

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Merci beaucoup, Jacques, for an amazing evening! And merci, Europe, for all the unexpected finds!

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The right place at the right time

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Throughout our travels, Sara and I have often thought about how great it would be to arrive in a new city just as some big significant event is beginning, to witness the locals celebrating something they are legitimately passionate about. Alas, this has never happened (save for an incident involving prom queens hurling watermelons at crowds and shirtless men with tridents) …until now.

As plans with our incredible Swiss cousins took shape, we realized that we were taking a very serendipitous detour. Instead of heading south to the French Riviera (where hostels and train tickets had already been scooped up by throngs of tourists), we were very nicely positioned to rent a car and hit not one but THREE events of extreme national importance.

We bid a fond farewell to Andreas, Simone, and their boys at the Basel airport, since we’d have to pick the car up in France in order to avoid border-crossing fees. Fortunately we didn’t actually have to fly anywhere:

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Our faithful steed
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After enjoying a glass of local Alsacian wine with our lovely airbnb hosts, we headed to our first stop: Germany. No particular destination, just anywhere with a screen, some Deutsch brew, and some patriotic football fans. In the town of Kehl, just across the Rhine, we found exactly what we were looking for:

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The crowd thinned a bit after halftime, when the torrential downpour started growing increasingly cold. Fortunately it left only the most hardcore fans (and us, but I suppose that makes us hardcore).

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It was pretty tearing to see the country we were IN (and had grown to love) going up against the country we’d long adopted as our second home. Ultimately I’m glad Germany won, not only because the chorus of horns honking echoed behind us the whole way back into France, but let’s face it, the winning goal was REALLY impressive.

Our second stop was an hour drive south, to the small city of Mulhouse (pronounced muh-LOOZ), where stage 10 of the Tour de France was departing. Despite the banner-waving crowds and adorable tweens running around with notepads hoping for autographs, we were able to get right up to the makeshift fence as the cyclists took their place at the starting line.

The starting line. Full disclosure, the in-town starting lines are purely for show…the cyclists will bike a few kilometres out of town, where they will legitimately start the race with a little less pomp and ceremony. If you’ve ever wondered how the race works (when most of the images we see on TV involve cyclists packed together like sardines, unable to pass each other), check it out here, it’s pretty much the most complicated thing on earth!
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Locals appreciating the scene from the comfort of their own balconies.
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The yellow jersey, the race’s most prestigious symbol, worn here by the current first place contestant, Tony Gallopin (alas, he would be forced to give it up at the end of the day!)
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The day happened to be the 14th of July, known throughout the world as Bastille Day, but in France simply as fête national. We were told that Strasbourg had some of the best fireworks around, but some less-than-accurate directions steered us the wrong way. As we finally found the right exit off the freeway, however, the sky exploded in front of us. A convenient construction barrier on the side of the exit ramp provided the perfect place to watch the celebration.

Strasbourg’s fireworks display, celebrating the victory of reason over monarchical insanity.
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The closed exit ramp was a pain to most, but it afforded an excellent view for us!
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In sum, Glückwünsch, Deutschland; bonne voyage, cyclistes; and heureuse Fête Nationale, France. Thanks for a ridiculously eventful 48 hours!