Swapping Homes Anybody?


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Across the Border: Strasbourg

... Except there is no real border anymore when you cross over from Germany into France, only a sign saying: “ You now entered France!"  and that the speed limit is 120 km/h on motorways and 90 km/h on national roads. Strasbourg is merely 50 minutes away from where we were staying in Baden- Baden and well worth a visit. In fact, Alsace is one of my favorite destinations for quick day visits. The best time to avoid huge crowds that are almost always present, is when summer school holidays are over in September. Truth be told that the month of October is indeed the best for gourmet travelers because the first fresh wines are available, all types of venison and mushrooms.

The whole region is well renowned and loved for its quaint, picturesque and medieval towns, dotted with timber framed houses which all seem to have an abundance of window boxes with flowers spilling out. Whether you drive to Riquewihr, Kaysersberg (birthplace of Albert Schweitzer), Obernai or Colmar ─ you are always in for a treat. The year before, our choice was Colmar, my all-time favorite, smaller than Strasbourg but with equally big crowds of tourists vying for sightseeing spots and restaurant tables.
Since my hubby had not seen the capital of the Alsace region and the seat of the European Parliament as well as the European Court of Human Rights. The city’s population has almost doubled in the last decade, with the greater urban area now comprising just under 1 million inhabitants.
The adjacent area to the northwest covers the magnificent natural park and mountain region of the “Vosges”, an ideal location for hikers, bikers and nature lovers. You will find fewer tourists there. I spent a whole week during my college years on a very isolated but romantic “gite”, i.e. a cottage.
We had tried to find home swapping partners on the French site, in vain. We almost made a deal, i.e. signed the exchange contract, when the French found out that it’s likely to be very hot in Florida in the month of August. Indeed. Though there are many picturesque towns of a similar nature on the German side of the border, the French has a more exotic feel to me, being German. And the food in the restaurants is different, even the baguettes are better…although a bit more expensive. Strasbourg, by the way, is very expensive territory with a normal iceream sundae I enjoy in Germany on a regular basis costing here almost twice as much.

With this being our last excursion of this year’s European stay, we enjoyed every minute in spite of the crowds, and we took plenty of photos. The weather was only glorious. We wished we could have stayed along the banks of the river Rhine which runs almost all the length of the border between the two countries. We brought home some regional delicacies like “foie gras” and wine. We skipped the pottery that is typical for this region, colorful stoneware, but just too heavy  to bring back on a plane. Hubby and I, both agreed that Colmar had a more intimate feel to it. But now we had “done” the entire Alsace.
All there was left to do after this excursion was pack up or numerous gigantic bags and clean the house we had spent 3 happy weeks in for our departure back to the US.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Touring the Black Forest

                                                  (View from our bedroom window over the mountains)

Our last two weeks of our trip had approached. Although we stay for 6-8 weeks at a time on our trips, my hubby hardly gets any vacation time: 2 weeks. In contrast to European employers- and in particular German ones- corporate America doesn’t allow for 4 weeks paid holidays. The good news is that it doesn’t matter to my better half or his company where he sits with his laptop and phone connection. He just has to adjust to American work times…that is not always easy but often results in even longer work hours. One week of his precious vacation time was basically spent traveling from north to south seeing relatives. Now he was ready to use up his second week for real relaxation!

We enjoyed the surrounding by making trips into the Black Forest. Many names come to mind, Freiburg, Tűbingen, both old University towns with a lot of character and medieval town centers that we both enjoy visiting.

We had picked one town in particular, Bad Herrenalb, because I have a dear friend there whom I once met on a flight to Atlanta. It’s yet another spa town, not of such upscale renown as Baden-Baden; definitely more for seniors, quiet and picturesque. All these towns have exquisite restaurants and a big number of beer gardens if you like that kind of thing.

Since the temperature were well above 30 degrees Celsius, the altitude of Bad Herrenalb made it very pleasant. Hiking up hills in shady green unspoilt forests and even drives thru winding country lanes up and down the hills, taking in a castle or two is what we loved most. 
I was delighted because my friend had kept me a big portion of white asparagus in the freezer. The season was officially over since 21 June. It must not be cut after that date anymore. But she had bought and peeled it for me as a surprise. That’s what friends are for! (I already mentioned the difference to green asparagus in Season 1 and my penchant for the white one). That with Parma ham and maybe a sauce Hollandaise and fresh potatoes and I’m in heaven!

That weekend we were in Bad Herrenalb, they had their traditional summer fest/ town fest. In the southern regions, summer fests and later on in the summer wine fests abound. Any excuse celebrating and drinking their local wines. Wine fests even crown their own Queen of Wine for the Year! Normally a rather quiet town, festivities lasted till well after midnight.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Last Stop: Baden-Baden

Our next stop: Baden- Baden. Eventually we arrived at our final destination and second exchange partner near Baden-Baden. There is always some excitement when you reach your new exchange destination. You have a certain picture in your head from the description of the owners on that website and pictures that you have seen. One has to be prepared that once expectations aren’t always met. In this case we got lucky again. The townhouse was a lovely abode with a small garden in the back and the balcony on the first floor. This time our abode is a little smaller, a duplex as we say in Ireland, but sufficient for our needs. The location nestled against a hillside and its views over the beginnings of the Black Forest were priceless. It being a lovely summer day, we opened all doors and windows to air the place and feel the fresh mountain the breeze rush through it. Most German private homes have no AC. Fresh mountain air cleared the house at night even on the hottest days when the barometer nearly reached 40 degrees Celsius.
There were no unpleasnat surprises, no missing light bulbs like in France last year or broken sinks. Neither did we have to feeed unannounced pets like fish or guinea pigs! 

One downside, however, needs mentioning and that was a bad Internet connection due to the surrounding hills.

Baden- Baden is a world renowned spa resort and also famous for its high-end casino. 

The German word Baden means  to bathe.  In the last century, the elite of European countries came here for the "cure". This mostly consisted of drinking certain water from mineral wells that are still being  made available to ailing people who want to improve their health -- for a few Euro now. Then it was most glitzy. Even the Roman used that already during Roman times. From here, it’s easy to get to the French border into Alsace, France.

The Kurgarten (spa garden) at the Kurhaus annually hosts Baden-Baden Summer Nights, an outdoor event featuring live classical music concerts. I was looking forward to spending time in the Fabergé Museum. Maybe a trip to the Therme (Thermalbad), hot mineral waters you can swim in; good for arthritis but  a bit much on a hot summer’s day.