Sunday, July 29, 2012

Eight hours in Strasbourg

Yesterday my husband and I brought a poodle to France. This was by far the most glamorous use of 37 euros - the cost of round-trip for two from Heidelberg to Strasbourg, assuming you're not in a hurry. But the trains themselves - picture a 6 local train, but international - are a cultural experience. On one 40-minute leg of the journey, a boy in late peach-fuzz stage downed three beers in quick succession, at around 10am. A musclebound man on that same train had a huge tattoo down his arm bearing the name of the town the train was bound for - Karlsruhe - as well as a muscle tee bearing a message about how the greatest thing in the world is to be from Karlsruhe. He too had a beer - as did basically everyone we saw before noon. (There's a rule on German trains that you can't throw your beer bottle out the window. Having the beer itself, presumably, is a right not to be messed with.) The drinking seems to taper off after that point, once the more serious drinkers enter an afternoon stupor, only to pick up again late in the evening, when the usual Western tradition of Saturday-night drunkenness begins.

Strasbourg itself was, we learned upon arrival, having a "braderie." Had I known this ahead of time, I might have imagined a quaint, contained antiques market. But there are evidently braderies in Belgium as well, so my husband knew what we were in for. What "braderie" means, to continue in NY-centric terms, is a Third Avenue summer street fair, except rather than covering just a stretch of Third Avenue, it's the entire city center. It was the usual European-market array of cheap harem pants and tube tops, bins of underwear, discount racks in front of high-brow stores marking the end of the soldes, and giant fabric posters of Che Guevara and (the official mainstay) Bob Marley, but none of this was the real draw. That would be the mops. Sellers enthusiastically hawking some kind of special all-purpose mop were found throughout the city, and were doing such an amazing business that we proceeded to spend the afternoon dodging the mops that maybe one in four Strasbourg pedestrians had just purchased. (My cynical theory: the mop-sellers work in cahoots with pickpockets who draw on the crowd enthralled by no-doubt-steeply-discounted mops.) The streets were 34th-Street-level packed, and covered in the kind of organic urban debris a country dog can't get enough of. I have no idea what Strasbourg is like when not in street-fair mode.

Braderie aside, Strasbourg was pretty great. I even managed to fulfill my dream of bringing a poodle into a French department store, taking Bisou into Galeries Lafayette. This is most definitely allowed, given that the escalators include a warning decal indicating - with a surprisingly simple icon - that you must scoop up your lap dog while on them. I browsed a parapharmacie, considering and rejecting the possibility that my impending 29th birthday means I should spend 12 euros on paraben-free anti-aging cream. (Sunscreen from Duane Reade or whatever is probably more effective, although the packaging doesn't compete.)

We ate well (lox and gravlax duo, riesling, cappuccino, apricot clafoutis-type tart), and I had a little bit of French high-street fun. American Vintage! Cos! Which, to whom it may concern, sells things like this, but for much less. I know that one is supposed to find it un-charming that the little shops of Paris that seem like boutiques are actually Paris-wide chains, some of which have since expanded to New York. But I didn't mind seeing those that hadn't yet made it to the States in Strasbourg. Not one bit. I'd almost forgotten about that thing, clothes-shopping, because the highlight in Heidelberg is H&M, and Princeton...


Some other time, when not trying to fit an entire vacation into an afternoon, when no poodle is involved, I will need to visit all the historic sites (I've been neck-deep in the world of Alsatian Jewry since forever, and did a qualifying-exam list on the Franco-Prussian war). Some trip that does not involve a poodle-specific suitcase, as well as a carrier that looks more appropriate for a golden retriever, I will have to look at the regional-history bookstores. This was not, in other words, a busman's holiday, but maybe that can be for the best.

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