I didn’t want to leave Crete.
But we did, and boarded an AirBerlin flight to Basel that ended up being quite a nice flight thanks to what I can only explain as a glitch in their seat assignment system. AirBerlin charges for seat assignments prior to check-in, even on award flights such as ours (though you do get a free checked bag with an award flight). Prior to our trip, I toyed with splurging on exit row seats, which cost around 30 Euros to reserve. About a month before our departure I gave in, and as I as going through the checkout process I received a notification that the transaction error out during the credit card authorization because their payment system was overloaded. I figured I’d try again in a few days.
When I went back to try and repurchase the exit row seats, however, AirBerlin’s website indicated that we had already bought them! I checked our credit card transactions and there had definitely not been a purchase recorded for the seats. So I decided to take a gamble and just let everything be. If we did in fact get the better seats, it would be a nice bonus. If we didn’t, no big loss.
Well when we checked in at the airport, we still had the exit row seats! We stretched out during the hop North to Basel-Mulhouse Airport and upon arrival enjoyed the heart-shaped Lindt chocolates they passed out to everyone on the flight. Why don’t any U.S.-based airlines do this? It was so much better than a packet of nuts.
BSL is a weird place to land. Depending on which door you go out, you could be in one of three countries: France, Switzerland, or Germany. And finding a bathroom in arrivals was even trickier than finding the right country because they were in the midst of a remodel. After we collected our bags, we found our way to the bus stop that would get us to the Saint Louis train station. A short ride deposited us in a green and yellow field with a path to the depot and my first properly french croissant that I’d ever had. Since it was a train station croissant, it wasn’t really the most transcendent pastry but it was still better than anything I’d had in my home country. I won’t bother delving into how sad that is.
We used the one-hour train ride to Strasbourg to doze/admire the rushing scenery/admire the handsome locals. It was lovely… And then upon our arrival in Strasbourg we found ourselves greeted by a shockingly different climate from the one we had enjoyed so much in Crete: Cold, windy, and raining. I had not prepared for this. And a quick check-in with the Weather Monster on my phone revealed that the situation was not bloody likely to improve during our visit.
My research on the historical climate had suggested it would be mild with a very solid chance of sunshine. The warmest item in my suitcase was a hooded sweatshirt. I had planned to take Chris cycling. My heart… sank. I mean, there was still plenty we could do in the city during our visit, but now we wouldn’t be able to do the one thing I had wanted to do more than anything else. This was going to require some emotionally difficult situational adaptation. Even though we had packed light and were toting medium-large carryons, we knew a beeline to the hotel was going to be the smartest move. After pausing to take in the impressively harmonious juxtaposition of old and new that is the Strasbourg train station, we hustled to the nearest tram stop that would get us to the Hilton.
The Hilton might sound like a somewhat luxurious choice for two queens on a budget, but the truth is we just got very lucky. I had been sifting through some pretty attractive AirBnB options at the beginning of the year, but in February I stumbled upon the deal of a lifetime thanks to what was either an insane sale or a glitch: The Hilton Strasbourg, which normally offers reward stays at 50,000 Honors points per night for a standard room, had put their Executive Floor rooms on sale for 32,000 points per night! I didn’t waste a beat in booking a reservation there and it actually freed up some room in our budget for nicer dinners and a bit of shopping.
After dropping our bags, we went back to the center of town to visit the botanical gardens before they closed… and buy some warmer clothes. With temperatures slated to hover in the low thirties during the day, sweaters and scarves would be an absolute necessity. Upon arriving at the university botanical gardens, we were greeted by a charming old Frenchman who told us that we had less than an hour to explore before he’d be going around the grounds ringing a handbell to alert everyone that the gardens were closing. Chris and he had a nice conversation in French that I half understood. Grinning, we meandered through a faerie garden and into the tropical greenhouse.
forty-five minutes later, as we were standing by the central pond listening to the frogs singing, there came the distant ringing of a bell. We made it to the gate before the caretaker and hopped the tram back to the shopping district because I still needed a sweater! Thankfully, H&M came to my rescue. I was able to take my fashion game up a small notch.
Okay, a really small notch. But whatever. It was still an improvement.
With slightly more layers on me than I arrived with, it was time to wander the streets in search of the most important thing we came to Strasbourg for: Tarte Flambée.
Chris had already researched our first sampling location, an out-of-the-way place down a narrow side street called Binchstub. that was tightly packed with locals on a Friday night. We waited long enough to smoke a cigarette before space opened up, and I was immediately smitten with the sights and smell of the place.
No stranger to cold weather, the place had cleverly built places to stash coats and other accessories around a long bar that served as a communal dining table. A lengthy list of local ales kept me occupied while Chris picked out the tarte flambées we’d be eating.
We took down three tartes before coming to our senses and and regaining our willpower to resist the sultry temptation of crème fraîche, onions, and paper-thin crackers crust. We reluctantly stepped back into the chilly night air and made our way back up Rue Des Hallebardes. Little did wee know, this was actually the long way back to the hotel. Had we turned right instead of left, it would have been a short walk back towards La Republique, on the other side of the tram construction we accidentally got caught up in. But we didn’t care. It was a cold, clear night in an old and beautiful city. I lit a cigarette, slowed my pace, and took the time to forget everything but how nicely the lights of Saint Paul’s cathedral reflected on the river’s surface.