Alsace (France): better than Paris



I just returned from my weekend in Europe (Thursday through Monday), a zig-zag through various countries with a focus on one many town: Strasbourg, France.  Located in the beautiful and comfortable Alsace region, it’s a destination that I recommend for travelers looking for unique spots that still can cater to the tourist goals.

Getting there

Strasbourg-Entzheim Airport (SXB) is readily accessible from the States as their tiny airport has connecting flights from Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Madrid, as well as flights from other regions like Morocco, Prague, Tunisia and various smaller cities in France itself.  The Strasbourg airport isn’t congested at all (when I arrived, there were about 25 people there), and the customs entry for Americans is handled at your first point of entry into Europe (for me that was Brussels, Belgium).  Your luggage is waiting as you disembark your tiny airplane, and the customs people just waved me through.  If you appear to be Moroccan or African, expect to have your luggage parsed through by security, but lighter skin folks coming from the States will have zero issues.

Airfare to SXB airport from Chicago runs between $700 and $900, depending on the time of the year you go on and what days you’re traveling on.  I took a 3 stop flight in each direction, but there are 2 stop flights available for about the same amount of money.  I flew U.S. Airways and KLM, but Air France and American both offer connections to the final destination for similar amounts of money.  On every flight I was on, exit row seating and business class were available for an at-the-gate upgrade.

Taxis are plentiful as you exit the terminal, although you can also hop on the region’s excellent train system for far less.  A taxi to Strasbourg itself is a 20 minute hop for about 30€-40€, whereas the train is about 7€.  Since Strasbourg is a tiny village (I walked it in about 1.5 hours), you can get around town really easily on foot or by their excellent tram system that criss-crosses the village all day long until the late hours of the night.  A few euro a day will cover your tram tickets, purchasable using euro coins at every tram station I saw.

Tourism

Because Strasbourg is located on the eastern border of Germany, and a 15 minute walk to Kehl, Germany, it’s a central tourist hub for the region, with a wide variety of high end stores you’d see in any large city.  I visit Paris a few times a year, and I’d put the shopping in Strasbourg as actually better, because everything is so close.  Like most of Europe, expect the stores (and most restaurants) to be closed on Sundays, and even some on Mondays.

The weekend I visited coincided with a city-wide vacation week, so many of the locals were gone, leaving the town flooded with German tourists.  I did hear English-speakers here and there, but I’d put “us” at fewer than 1% of those visiting the town.  Expect that most restaurants and stores to cater to French and German speakers — I found very few English speakers except at the absolute most touristy neighborhood in the village (the Carré d’Or district), where the world famous Strasbourg Cathedral is located.

That cathedral, officially Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.  Built originally in 1015 AD, it was actually the tallest building of any kind in the world from 1647 to 1874.  It’s incredibly ornate, and can be seen from almost every angle in town.  Worth a visit, just to be inspired and awed by the men who came before us and built a building standing 1000 years later.

The entire village is surrounded by rivers, an “island” design.  They offer a ferryboat with a glass roof that departs every 30 minutes for a 1 hour, 10 minute ride around the village, with headphones that show off the history of various districts in the language of your choice.  At 15 euros, it’s a steal, and offered some great historical information (Gutenberg invented his press in Strasbourg).  Highly recommended.

The Food

Restaurants are a-plenty, as are hotels (and hotel-restaurants, which serve double-duty).  The food is fresh, very local, and relatively inexpensive compared to Parisian cuisine.  With the large Moroccan population, fast and flavorful (and cheap) gyros and other Moroccan fair is available as late as 2am, but if haute cuisine is your thing, there are at least 5 high end restaurants to cater to your desire to stuff your mug with 12 or more courses.

I checked out a great top cuisine joint, Au Crocodile, which offered a menu du jour with 5 and 10 courses.  The total for one comes to about US$160 with a glass of wine, for the 5 course menu.  An excellent range of small bite plates that was actually way more food than I could handle, but comparable to any of the world renowned Chicago, New York or Los Angeles restaurants I frequent on my travels.

My own hotel-restaurant, Au Cerf d’Or, the Golden Elk, has a quaint indoor/outdoor bar and grill available for inexpensive but exceptionally prepared and served food for lunch and early dinner.

Hotels

It seemed that every district within the village has a plethora of hotels to choose from, including inexpensive 2-star hotels up to the fanciest 5-star arrangements.  The hotel I stayed at (Au Cerf d’Or) is a small hotel of about 20-24 rooms, and included access to an indoor pool, a Jacuzzi tub and a sauna for 85€ for a double bed with private bath/shower.

My hotel’s reception desk was staffed by 4 different people, only 1 which spoke English, and not that well at that, but the service was great, and I will try them again on my next visit.

I did not get the opportunity to visit any other hotels, but from what I can see, they’re plentiful.  Since the village is so small, location isn’t as important as budget.  Don’t expect huge rooms, even at the upper end of the price spectrum.

The Women

I’ll repeat it forever: European women are hot, French women are hotter, but the Alsacian women were stunning.  I counted less than one hand of fat women.  Few wore make-up or had their hair done (definition of low drama, low maintenance), but they dressed well.  I saw plenty of skirts and dresses, even with the low 55 degree temperatures.  Even the older broads were dressed feminine and had great bodies, still.

The only fat people I saw in town were among the German tourists, and not that many at that.  The fattest women I saw were the handful of American tourists.

Unfortunately, the French aren’t so excited about Americans, so if you’re not a gangster, spy or superhero, I don’t know if Alsace is the place for a random hook-up.  Those with good game will likely do well in the late night bars (open until 4am), but be aware that the drinking age in Alsace is WAY lower than in the States, including at the bars.  Strasbourg is home to one large University composed of 4 different schools, and it attracts foreign students in a large ratio to local French students.  There is no lack of young, attractive and fun women in this town.

Craigslist Alsace is empty, but OKCupid has a relatively high number of decent looking, if not gorgeous, women on there.  If you’re looking for some short term companionship, hitting up the online dating world before foreign travel isn’t a bad idea.  I have a few guy friends who have had great success with short trips using dating sites in foreign countries.  Start out a few months before you go, build a list of interested candidates, and have fun.  Women go on vacation often times for random, anonymous and disconnected sex, but understand that you won’t be able to demonstrate high value in foreign countries that you’re visiting, so you’re at a disadvantage there.

The People in General

Whenever I stopped to look at a map of town (which are located everywhere), I always had a local stop by and ask me if I needed help.  This happened 100% of the time, even at 4am.  You won’t get lost in Alsace — and the people offering assistance are incredibly friendly.  Alsace: 1, Paris: 0.

Since you’re there for tourist purposes only, getting by without a grasp of French is possible.  If you at least learn the numbers, payment is easy.  If not, whip out your pocket full of 1 and 2 euro coins and they’ll help you.  Tipping is truly optional (and many items include taxes and tip already), as it is in most European countries.

Weather

As I visited in late October, I was lucky to hit a weekend of sun and zero wind.  Temperatures were in the mid-60s, no rain, foggy mornings.  Supposedly the spring and early fall is the best time of the year to visit.

Crime

None.  And I mean absolutely zero.  A woman in a short mini-skirt at 3am on a Friday would feel safe walking to her hotel alone.  There was a stabbing on a distant train that connects to Alsace a month before I arrived, and they literally shut down the rail line for 3 days as it was so rare.

Since Strasbourg now has one of 3 Eurozone headquarters, there are plenty of foreign traveling politicians at hand.  Espionage in the city is extremely high, with an information drop handler informing me that 50-100 agents of foreign intelligence operate within the city as waiters, hotel receptionists, taxi cab drivers and other neutral service provider.  Strasbourg is one of a small handful of towns in the world well known as an agent-swap town, where two competitive countries can hand over captured intelligence agents in swap for their own.

If you’re affiliated with various dark organizations, you’ll likely already have the connections necessary to find compatriots.  I noticed no significant local gang activity other than limited, and tasteful, graffiti art in acceptable locations.

Guns

Firearms are illegal to carry in France unless you have an autorisation d’importation de matériels de guerre – armes et munitions.  They’re not easy to get.  If you’re coming to hunt, you can bring two hunting rifles but must declare them in advance and again at customs.  There is no permit needed for a hunting rifle, but do remember to declare them.

Considering the absolute lack of crime, I did not feel naked without my Beretta.

Black market firearms are likely available at the usual spots, if you feel a need for protection.  The police are not in evidence (I saw 2 police cars the entire 3 day trip), but getting caught with a firearm carries heavy penalties, and the hours of operation of the U.S. Embassy are limited, so expect to be locked up until Tuesday morning if you’re busted during the weekend.

Cell phones / SIM cards

WiFi is available freely in most hotels, but is terribly slow.  If you need to stay in touch, consider getting your phone unlocked by your provider and picking up a SIM card from Orange/FR.  Available for 20-30 euros for 3G data, 1 hour of talk time and unlimited texting, it’s a reasonable price to stay connected.  I opted to just use WiFi as possible, but it wasn’t readily available from most locations.

My Overview

This may very well be in my top 5 cities in Europe to not just visit, but to live in and do business in.  I plan on acquiring some small property here and building a network of pals and business contacts in the next 6 months.  I’d even consider raising children here as part of their international education when I finally have them.

Restaurants: 8/10 (better if I spoke fluent French)

Hotels: 8/10 (very clean, easily accessed, small rooms)

Tourism: 9/10 (very friendly people, plenty of things to see)

Women, appearance: 10/10 (hot)

Women, attitude: N/A (although the few who spoke with me showed plenty of interest and were flirtatious enough)

People: 10/10 (very helpful, even with a language barrier)

Shopping: 10/10 (stores from the low priced local stores to the top end fashion centers)

Prices: 5/10 (the US Dollar is weak against the Euro)

Overall: 9/10 (I will return, within 3 months, likely)

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About A.B. Dada

A.B. Dada resides in Chicago, Illinois and manages a multitude of businesses involved across a wide range of industries.

Comments

  1. Mark Slater says:

    That settles it. If I decide to go into espionage, I’d like to be assigned to Strasbourg. Maybe I’ll steal the secret of French cooking, or why their women remain trim, or other truly useful information.

    Great travel review, Dr. Dada. Any place that would make YOU consider starting a family must be pretty nifty, indeed.

    • A.B. Dada says:

      The Alsacians might take offense at merely being called French. These women haven’t been corrupted like so many Parisians have. University town versus urban hub, I think.

      Appreciate the kind comment.

  2. baz says:

    great writeup, thanks man
    i’m hoping to go there for a gig next march, on st. patrick’s day actually, so my irish brogue could come in useful
    the women i know from around that area are more cute than hot, but like you said, fatties (aside from tourists) are rarer than hen’s teeth

    • A.B. Dada says:

      Well, I prefer the “natural Eurotrash look” over the heavy make-up high maintenance gals. I guess defining “hot” is difficult, but give me “looks good in the morning” over “looks good in the evening.”

      Thanks!

  3. Student says:

    I found Strasbourg was a huge tourist trap. More germans and americans than french. I liked the town and it is pretty much as you describe. I didn’t notice many truly gorgeous women though. If you want an unbelievable amount of gorgeous women, see south of france. for the small university town w the mediterranean vibe, peep montpellier. if you like laetitia casta types, go there. thank me later.

  4. Christian says:

    I was looking for a Desktop Wallpaper of Strasbourg when I stumbled on this blog. I grew up in and around Strasbourg for 14 years when life circumstances look me away at age 26 (late 80′s). I have visited again many times since then as I have family and friends in the area. It is indeed a wonderful city and region. I give them the highest marks except for one aspect: the weather can be gloomy. Indeed, sandwiched between the Vosges and Schwartzwald mountain ranges, the area can retain clouds for quite some stretches of time. So, if you want to live there, be prepared for long slogs of dreary, grey weather. But when it shines, boy is it beautiful! And keep in mind, it’s not a rarity that it does shine, it’s just not as much as say in Virginia, USA or the South of France for that matter.
    The ladies are indeed quite liberal. I’m not sure of your assessment that there’s infinite beauty everywhere, but there’s quite a bit, so perhaps that was your experience. Be aware that Alsatians’ friendliness is quite frank, so if you’re looking for the ‘fixed’ smile from waitresses or administrative personnel, you’ll be disappointed. Personally, that’s the way I like my encounters with random folks.
    The city is unique in my view because it mixes large and small town perfectly. It’s quite sizable with all the cultural trimmings yet you can still easily get around the city and the area whether in car, motorcycle, bicycle or metro. I would choose one of the countless (and exciting) villages 10-15km outside of Strasbourg and commute in if needed. Of course, if your income is in the larger 6 figures, then I’d rather have a large and luxurious pad along the Ill river. But even so, there’s ton of great festivals and activities of all sorts in the villages around Strasbourg, so still make sure you have access to a vehicle whenever you need it. That’s the magical formula of the Bas-Rhin area and you should plan on enjoying it all. Germany is walking distance, Switzerland is just a quick trip, and even a big event in Paris is only TGV train ride away. It’s truly in the center of everything.

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