A Student Abroad

Living and Traveling Around Europe.

Foggy Autumn Mornings

At least in my mind, Fog has a wonderfully Gothic character about it. It evokes images of Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and the eerie streets of old Barcelona. It isn’t sinister, simply mysterious… perfect fodder for the writers mind. Growing up in a big city in the desert, the closest we usually came to fog were those old London Gold commercials. So it came as a wonderful surprise  here to discover that if you manage to wake up before the sun, bundle up real tight, and venture out into the darkness… you will be completely enveloped by it.

This particular morning the cold is biting. Even with a sweater and a jacket on it still manages to perpetrate deep down into you. The streets are silent and through the mist the city reveals itself slowly, in pieces. The remains of last nights excesses are still littered here and there; an old pizza box, an abandoned scarf , a two euro bottle of Pinot. You force yourself to take your time, moving slowly up Boulevard de la Victoire towards Pont Royal. The fog is so thick that it’s difficult to even tell where you are heading, street signs and building facades all blending into one.  The light of the street lamps give off a melancholy glow, leading you with unrelenting increments up to the river.  Looking left, you can just see the boats anchored to the quay, rocking gently, empty. Beyond, the lights from the Church of Saint-Paul burn through the haze, illuminating each of its beautiful towers.

Crossing the bridge you enter old town. Here, still in the confusing mist of the pre-dawn it becomes effortlessly easy to imagine you’ve entered a different time. The half- timbered roofs and cobble stone streets guide you through small twisting alleys and secluded city squares. Hopefully, you will allow yourself to get lost, turned around, losing yourself for a few minutes to the city. That is, after all, the whole point, to release yourself from the clamor and the demands of reality. To reach into the magic that can only be found when let go enough to tap into it… here in the last strands of the night, when all interference is gone and the world is asleep.

When you finally find your way to the cathedral, you notice how it could easily be mistaken, in the gloom, for Dracula’s Castle. Rising out of the mist, it stands illuminated against the moon, obligingly completing the Gothic illusion you’ve built over the past hour.  Commandeer a chair from one of the deserted cafe’s and take a seat. Enjoy the moment until the sun emerges, finally, to burn it all away.


October 17, 2010 Posted by | Strasbourg | , , , | 2 Comments

Healthy and Happy in France for 15 euros a week.

If you are anything like myself, a traveler on a serious budget, keeping yourself fed during your time abroad is a constant challenge.  While we would all love to spend breakfast, lunch and dinner exploring every exquisite French restaurant around, the current exchange rate and your waist line will probably team up to thwart you.  Therefore, for the sake of your health and your wallet, knowing your way around the local supermarche is a must.

So, for your convenience I have assembled some essential tips to keep in mind when planning your trip to the store… as well as a sample of what you can get for 15 euros or less.

Forget your favorite brands. Unless it’s Coca Cola you are unlikely to find any of the familiar brands you are use to back home. Most products will be either regionally produced or a subsidiary brand of the supermarkets’ parent company.  The good thing is that this gives your a fabulous chance to branch out and explore how the the rest of the world survives without Frito’s and Mountain Dew.

The tax is included in the displayed sales price. This is one of my favorite things about shopping in Europe. Instead of trying to estimate, usually incorrectly, the sales tax to be added on to each item you buy, Europeans have come up with a novel concept… have the price on the sticker be the same price at the register!

Local food is cheaper. Unlike in the states, where we pay for the privilege of  enjoying the fruits of local labor, in Europe you will notice a noticeable drop in prices for items not imported from outside the region. As you might expect then, wine, cheese and baguettes can be had for a pittance. Take advantage.

Invest in a reusable grocery bag. There is a 30 to 60 cent charge for each plastic bag at checkout. For a few euros you can purchase a colorful tote that, regardless of the environmental benefits, will also save you tons over the long run.

Don’t dally in line. When it comes to getting in and out of the checkout line… the french like to do it quickly. Have your money out and ready when you get to the register and bag your items as they are being scanned. Failure to do so will result in a whole years worth of evil glances and muttered insults.

Cash is King. While your American credit and debit cards will usually be accepted at most major supermarkets… using them is likely to be more trouble than their worth. Cashiers hate processing them because it slows the line down and will tell you so… vigorously. Also, many banks love to tack on extra fees and processing charges that can murder your budget. Be smart… carry cash.

As promised here is a sample list of what can be bought for about15 euros.

8 Pack of fruit flavored yogurt- 1.89 euro

Baguette- 0.69 euro

Slab of Goat Cheese- 1.48 euro

Generic  version of Nutella- 1.90 euro.

Pasta: Large bag- 0.89 euro

Can of tomato sauce- 2.49 euro

A large slice of Gouda- 2 euro

Canned Mixed Vegetables- 1.14 euro

Bag of Potato Chips- 1.15euro

Grape Jelly- 1.56 euro

Total – 15. 19 euros.

FYI- Keep in mind current currency exchange rates.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | Strasbourg | , , , | 1 Comment

Place Gutenberg

Though he was born in the German city of Mainz in 1399, Johannes Gutenberg made his most important contributions to the literary world as a resident of Strasbourg.

In 1411, an uprising in Mainz forced the Gutenberg family to flee their hometown to the west. Not much is known about Gutenberg for the next 15 years except that he may have studied at the University of Erfurt. The next time he resurfaces is in a letter that places him in Strasbourg. It was here, in the suburb of St. Arbogast that Gutenberg is believed to have researched and perfected some of his most important innovations. The movable type, oil based ink and the first printing press were all conceived presumably while Gutenberg lived in a house just off the city center.

Today, in old town Strasbourg, Place Gutenberg is one of the most visited areas of the city. Located just west of the Notre Dame Cathedral and right along the A/D Tram lines the square is usually at the center of the action on any given day. There is a thrice weekly book fair that brings dozens of dealers selling everything from first edition antiques to cheap paper backs.

The square is also a huge draw for families because of its huge old fashioned carousel, and the famous Christmas Market that is held here, beginning in November.

If you’re in the city visiting and have access to a computer, I would recommend going to http://www.otstrasbour.fr to see what festivals and fairs may be happening during your stay.

October 10, 2010 Posted by | Strasbourg | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Petite France Quarter

In the south-western most part of Strasbourg, just past the Vauban Dam, the River Ile splits off into five tributaries. These tributaries snake and wander through the city, fracturing it into several small slices. The largest of these slices, La Grande Ile (The Main Island), made an ideal spot for tanners and fisherman to set up shop and became known as La Petite France (Little France).

Today, Petite France is a gem of preserved Medieval architecture and great place to spend an afternoon.  Fine restaurants and charming hotels are everywhere. The streets are all cobblestone and many of them are closed off to cars. On the roofs of the half- timbered houses you can frequently see storks nesting and old wagon wheels. Many of the city’s famous river tours depart from this area of town.

Shopping in Petite France is plentiful but not as upscale as in the center of the city.  For lunch or dinner I highly recommend these fantastic restaurants-

Maison des Tanneurs– A old tannery that was converted into a restaurant in the early 1900’s. The fare is a French/German mix and all of it very very good. If your feeling adventurous try the escargot with butter garlic sauce or for a classic German meal, the Sauerkraut and Schnitzel.  Service can be a little lacking due to the high volume of customers.

La Cloche a Fromage– I loved this beautiful restaurant not far from the center of Petite France. They specialize in Cheese and have over 200 different varieties that you can try. Stop in for the fondue or the raclettes, which will blow your mind. This place is a bit pricey but completely worth it.

October 9, 2010 Posted by | Strasbourg | , , | Leave a comment

The Cathedral

So I realize that it has been quite awhile since my first post and I hope you will forgive my lack of a reliable internet source. However, now that I am well taken care of in that arena I hope to be posting quite regularly.

Yesterday, I was able to tour the Cathedral of our Lady of Strasbourg. Completed in 1439, it was for over 400 years the tallest structure in Europe and considered by many to be one of the finest example of Romanesque architecture.

Despite the fact that I had heard of its insane beauty before i arrived, I was certainly not prepared for just how overwhelming its presence truly is. It towers over you as you turn the corner of Place Gutenberg  and the first thing you notice is unbelievable level of ornate  detail on the outer facade.  The interior is no less stunning….thousands of candles guide your way past displays of 14 century Christian relics and the stain glass windows highlight the beauty the massive chamber.

What truly fascinated me was the astronomical clock. Standing over 18m high and over 300 years old it is a astounding piece of art, capable of telling solar time, equinoxes, the sign of the zodiac and the phases of the planets. At 12:30 figurines of the 12 apostles emerge from the clock and make their journey around the clock face past Christ. An angel, meanwhile turns over an hourglass.

If you come on a weekday you are also allowed to climb all the way to the top of the tower and are treated to breathtaking view of the surrounding city.

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September 24, 2010 Posted by | Strasbourg | , , , | 1 Comment


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