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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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