Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kyle's Birthday in Strasbourg, France

The glass latticework of the train station in Strasbourg, France surrounded us, and as we strained our necks, following the signs for Tram C, we were suddenly aware of the daunting officers pacing with what appeared to be machine guns clutched against their torsos.  It wasn't the most welcoming first sight of France, but we carried on. 

To our relief, with each stop on the tram, our surroundings became more and more picturesque.  The road split to accommodate a wide median with tram tracks perfectly aligned and cutting straight through the center.  On either side of the tracks, trees appeared with branches that resembled an arthritic hand and clusters of giant spikes shooting from each final knob, looking like arrows stopped mid-air.  The cheap storefronts and dirty sidewalks transformed into stoic sandstone and white and black timber-frames.

The view from our window

We used airbnb again to rent a flat for the week, and as Strasbourg is more of a spring-summer tourist destination, we got a fair deal on a perfectly located, large, and clean apartment overlooking a canal.  Per our usual luck, the weather was miserably cold upon arrival, so we bundled up for a stroll around our new, temporary neighborhood.  The flat owner was kind enough to stock the cupboards with some basics and some not-so-basics, so we didn't have a pressing objective.  Like all our previously visited cities, we walked around, rubbernecking.  Before coming to Europe, I thought surely all the movies and books that depict quaint European villages must be an exaggeration, some fairy tale.  From what I've seen so far, they really don't.  We crossed foot and cycle bridges onto cobblestone walkways spread along cozy cafes, fresh bakeries, and other specialty trades.  Hand-holding couples walked by with baguettes laid across their arms. Children trotted along the canals, arms stretched out hoping to snatch a swan or duck.


In the quaint little neighborhood called Petite France in Strasbourg




 At one time the largest building in Europe, we used the spires of Notre Dame de Strasbourg as our beacon.  Finally we came upon the base of the great Gothic church after weaving through the narrow streets, barely wide enough for one car.  Giant mismatched stones of the gray family made up the bulk of the structure and stacked up to the bases of the cathedral's peaks, which reminded me of the drip castles I used to make with sand.  The only inconsistency of the stonework was the giant wooden door.  Dozens of gargoyles stretched out from the sides.  A stained glass window with a giant spiral of tight petals decorated the church's face.  The bustle of activity outside the enormous church (I can't wait to see the Notre Dame de Paris!) was practically silenced when we passed through the front doors.  One corner was lit by tables of votive candles.  Another corner held the enormous crucifix, where putting one Euro into the slot lit the spotlights for 2 or 3 minutes.  The ceilings were so high it was easy to miss the sculpted heads jutting out where the peaks met.  The pulpit was enormous, though it looked small being so far away from the entrance.  Along one side, a gorgeous, ornate pipe organ took up the entire space.  Hundreds of simple wooden chairs were arranged in precise rows.  We took seats smack in the center and just gazed around for awhile, knowing it was impossible to get a grasp on the massive interior.

Notre Dame de Strasbourg

Notre Dame de Strasbourg
 We spent a few more days like this, running an errand or two per day, but mostly just doing exactly what we felt like doing during each part of the day.  When Kyle's birthday came around, I decided to let him plan the day.  We woke up around 8:00 AM and headed straight out the door.  Stopping at the first bakery we came to, we grabbed a couple of croissants and a coffee each.  We walked with our breakfast to the cathedral, where we sat waking up and quietly talking.  Next we strolled along the canals in the crisp air.  After awhile, we just so happened to find a bookstore.  It was organized in the most interesting way - the bottom floor was all literature arranged by country (French authors, English, German, etc).  The second floor was for children, and the top floor held the science, philosophy, art, and business sections.  The consistent white shelves contrasted quite nicely against the solid wood flooring.  The flashy best sellers and new releases of Barnes and Noble were nowhere to be found.  Everything was clean, organized, and scholarly looking.  In other words, it was Kyle's ideal.  Everything was in French, but this didn't stop Kyle from buying.  After we had picked through everything, we headed back to the apartment for lunch.  I made some elaborate egg sandwiches with fresh French mayonnaise, tomato, thick-sliced bacon, and avocado, then we polished off the chocolate chip cookies from the day before.  I got started on the cake of Kyle's choosing, peanut butter cake with salted chocolate ganache, while Kyle reveled in the quiet time with his Kindle.

A birthday smirk

Inside the enormous cathedral

Cookies and milk after a birthday brunch

His excitement over his new purchase is palpable
The canals of Strasbourg


Our brightly colored apartment
While the cake cooled, we cracked open a few beers, courtesy of our kind host, and started playing some music.  We spent a couple hours sipping, talking, and making song requests on YouTube.  For dinner, we walked down a few blocks to an Indian restaurant.  We started with Riesling and samosas, then dived into some of the best quality Indian we've had.  A creamy sauce of butter and tomatoes with chunks of tender chicken made up my meal, and Kyle dined on a thick spinach sauce with lamb.  We tore through the flat garlicky naan and inhaled the savory aroma of saffron basmati rice.  Stuffed to the gills, loopy on beer and wine, we conquered the cold again intent on finding a warm bar.  We quickly found a place of interest, and as we entered, old 90's American pop was pulsing through the speakers.  We ordered a couple of beers and slid into one of the wooden booths.  We laughed and watched groups of 20-year-olds flirting awkwardly and one group of middle-aged men drinking brightly colored drinks with umbrellas at the bar.  After a couple of beers, we took to the streets again, this time in search of dessert.  I performed a solo of "Happy Birthday" in Kyle's honor, then we cut the cake.  A few more YouTube requests later, we collapsed happily into bed.

Making due with the only dish that would accommodate our peanut butter cake (recipe here by the way - mine is so flat because though I found baking powder (levuvre) in the store, it was definitely yeast...)


Last but not least, I obnoxiously documented most of the day. Clearly, we've spent too much time together and are in dire need of some new company.

video

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