Eighteen November 2007.
That day Mark and I met for the first time after a month spent chatting online. After two years I moved to my beloved Brighton, we had a civil union, a marriage (always between us!) And now we are living our french experience. In fact, Every year since 2007, we have celebrated that day by spending a week in some remote corner of the British Isles. November 15th marked our second month in Gerardmer. This year, given that we already live in a more or less remote location, we decided instead to spend a few days in nearby Strasbourg, perhaps even making a trip to Baden Baden, practically around the corner, but in Germany.
And, this was the plan, it would have been the best time of the year: with the Christmas markets, the decorations in the streets and the lights sparkling in the night!
So, armed with syrupy Christmas spirit we booked trains and accommodation, ready for the urban adventure!
It didn't take us long to realize that markets would be inaugurated on November 22nd, that being the day after our return! Never mind.
The day before our trip the snow began to fall heavily over Gerardmer and we couldn't help but take a long walk under the first real whiteout of the season.
It never stopped, in fact, in the evening it fell even heavier and continued for the rest of the night.
On the morning of our departure we woke up early and were greeted by a decidedly Scandinavian landscape: the lights of the awakening town lit up the dawn through a curtain of falling snow.
Speaking of a storm would be an exaggeration, but ...
"But yes, we are in the mountains, imagine if the roads aren't cleared!" I said, full of optimism as we slowly made our way to the bus stop sinking into the immaculate carpet of snow that covered what should have been the road.
The bus didn't show up , the panic did: now what?
Fortunately, another bus, which went in the opposite direction to the one we needed, managed to reach the stop. A quick exchange and we understood that a car stuck in a road somewhere had stopped all traffic towards Gerardmer from that direction. We did a quick calculation and decided that our only chance to reach our destination was to get on that bus to Saint Diè. From there we would take the train to Strasbourg, hoping in the meantime that our clean shaved faces would be able to melt the heart of the train conductors so as not to have to pay for the trip twice.
The Gerardmer to Saint Diè journey was exceptional: we entered the heart of the Vosges, the snow went crazy all around us, but the bus managed to trudge slowly on. The authorities must have sent a warning because suddenly the trucks ceased to circulate and parked on the side so that the road was all ours and of the few motorists who decided not to give up.
We began to descend towards Saint Diè, the flakes became heavier, flaccid until they turned into raindrops and the snow quickly turned into a memory.
At the station they assured us that given the bad weather, it would be sufficient to explain our situation and there'd be no problems with the conductors. Hooray!
Strasbourg, one of the capitals of the European Union, as we are rightly reminded without shame by the trams painted in blue and yellow.
A city so rich in canals, Germanic architecture, narrow streets and romantic bridges that you almost feel like breaking into singing "Bonjour Bonjour" like Belle: the Walt Disney heroine in The Beauty and the Beast. But there is something else: it's a lively and dynamic city, not just a tribute to it's past. In hindsight it would have been better to visit it in another period (or from today ... November 22 ...) since the various chalets of the Christmas markets, scattered everywhere and not yet opened, added the warmth of a B&Q store managing somehow to block the views. Despite this it is a city that we will definitely visit again.
Baden Baden, 54,000 inhabitants, is about an hour from Strasbourg. Once again, we took advantage of Flixbus which, for a ridiculous price, took us to our destination.
For some reason unknown to me, our bus was stopped for border controls between the two countries. The fact that the three policemen seemed to belong to the cast of a gay adult movie, somehow made this inconvenience less annoying than it should have been...
All clear. We proceeded towards Baden Baden and shortly after the bus left us at the station.
From there a quick walk to the centre.
We thought ...
We managed to get lost, finding ourselves following a path that took us through woods and vineyards.
Finally we arrived in a vaguely urban area and asked a distinguished lady where the "Stadt Centrum" was located. She looked at us a little alarmed and with her hand, gestured that it was quite a way away, but that we were on the right path.
It was only when an hour later we really reached the centre and we found a map, that we understood that Baden Baden station is 8 km away from the town itself!
So ... I have to be fair: the day was grey, we were in the middle of the dead season and just like in Strasbourg the town was scattered by "works in progress" for the installation of the Christmas markets. So not the ideal situation, but I believe that even if we had found ourselves there with the town all sun-kissed I would have struggled to fall in love with it.
There is money, a lot of it: 1 millionaire for every 30 inhabitants. Russian and Ukrainian magnates mostly, but also German aristocrats, have made Baden Baden their second home and the city caters for this market. Dead minks and foxes sadly crowd the window displays of the luxury boutiques that line its elegant streets ... there is a severity about the place that chills me a little.
That being said, the long narrow park that stretches along the Oos river is romantically seductive even on a gloomy day.
The hills of the Black Forest that surround the city reminded me of the Vosges and, as usual, we couldn't resist another long walk in the woods. A circular path took us to the Walhaus: a viewing point chalet that opens onto Baden Baden and the surrounding hills, still dressed in autumn colours.
Back in the city we explored the upper district, around the Schloßbergstraße (!), Fewer people, fewer shops, no corpses. Much better.
The bus going back to Strasbourg arrived with Swiss punctuality, to confuse things.
Imagine my disappointment when no checks were made once we reached the border! I really wanted to know if the quality of the French customs police could compete with that of the German. Who knows, maybe they could star in a movie together keeping alive the spirit of the European Union!
If you wish, you can find the previous chapters here:https://www.intertwine.it/it/magazine/6x5HVUR/un-anno-a-gerardmer-a-year-in-gerardmer
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