Strasbourg – and the Greatest Meal of My Entire Life

I have a story to tell about the greatest meal of my entire life.

It happened this way…

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On our way back from Switzerland, we drove through (and stopped in) Strasbourg, France. Aaron and I really enjoyed our visit last year when we came with McBryde, and we were glad to be able to revisit Strasbourg.

It happened to be Mom and Dad’s 30th anniversary, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than by a visit to this neat Franco German town. Mom wanted to visit it because, well, France! And Dad was keen to see a place that figured prominently in the life of John Calvin. Calvin briefly preached here, and it was here that he met his wife Idelette. Ian enjoyed the incredible astronomical clock in the cathedral, and we all loved the winding alleyways, quaint shops, and wonderful mix of France and Germany that made the city unique.

We got some sweets in a shop near the cathedral, and asked the shopkeeper for his recommendation of a place to eat in La Petite France – the charming old town near the water. His recommendation was La Corde a Linge, and I will be forever indebted to him for sending us that way.

Side story: On the way, McBryde saw and purchased two large, pseudo-African masks from a shop for $10, and then had to carry them through the city the rest of the evening in a giant paper bag. The story of the masks continues in Ireland, and it makes for quite  a tale! I will be sure to include it when I write a post on our time in Dublin.

We found the restaurant easily – it was crowded, but thankfully there was one last table, and we quickly sat down before it could succumb to the tide of dinner-goers who were heading towards it!

The menu was relatively simple, but absolutely sumptuous, with dishes like “roasted duck in pinot noir sauce,” or “gourmet meatballs in Alsatian mustard sauce.” I was charmed to see that each dish was named after a type of fabric (La Corde a Linge after all does mean “washing line” in French, so this makes sense). After some debate, I chose the “Flannel” – a simple spatzle (German noodle) with fresh tomato sauce and slivered Parmesan. That may sound underwhelming, but you did not taste it.

It. was. divine.

I don’t know how they did it, but every bite of that dish was amazing. The ingredients tasted like they had just come off of the vine, and everything was cooked to the perfect consistency. The sauce was sweet, yet savory, the noodles were perfectly buttery and lightly salted, and the cheese on top was the perfect mix of creamy and strong. Everyone else at the table was blown away by their dishes as well – the simplicity, and yet the flavorful taste! I tried a little of Dad’s ratatouille – incredible.

Normally we don’t indulge in coffee and dessert when we go out, but the food had put us into such culinary heaven that we couldn’t stop. When coffee came out, it was accompanied by beautiful, delicate pastry rolls – which the boys promptly pretended were fancy cigarettes (gosh, I can’t take them anywhere!).

We lingered long over the dinner and dessert, eking out the balmy french evening by drinking our coffees slowly, and savoring every pastry crumb.

Twilight was falling when we finally finished, and wandered back through the winding alleyways and across the canal to our car.

It was one of the most charming and lovely evenings of my life, and undoubtedly the most delicious meal I have ever eaten.

And coming from a self-professed foodie, that means a lot.

Return to Rivendell – a Weekend in the Alps

It is hard to believe that, as I sit down to write this post, it has been over a year and a half since we landed on this continent. In that time, we have traveled to some truly incredible places, but few can touch the beauty and the majesty of the Swiss Alps and the valley of Lauterbrunnen. Mom, Dad, McBryde, and Ian arrived in the end of June, and our first family trip was a return to the gorgeous valley that inspired Tolkien‘s magical elvish valley of Rivendell.

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As we had the year before, we arrived in the late night, in the pouring rain, and awoke to a beautiful vista of mountains and ethereal clouds. We rented out the top suite of a chalet-style flat this time, and our landlord was the funniest little Swiss man: he had such a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and seemed about a hundred years old.

In between rain showers the next day, we explored the valley and town. There are some really lovely little shops in Lauterbrunnen: mostly tourist shops and outdoor stores, but even the grocery stores seem quaint when surrounded by the majestic Alps.

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We had stopped for a drink at a very hipster coffee shop (seriously, the signs on the window were drawn on masking tape) when we saw two of our friends walking down the main street! Aaron and Shuey (Jessica, but she goes by her last name) were visiting the town the same weekend, and although they were planning on going on way more intense hikes than we were, they did join us for a meander to the beautiful Trummelbach falls, and an evening of pasta alfredo and board games afterwards.

The next day was Sunday, and we visited the beautiful town of Geneva and the church where John Calvin preached, but that is going to have to be a whole other blog post!

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On Monday, the clouds finally broke to glorious sunshine, and we set off on a massive 9 mile hike up and down the mountains! We took the cable car from Lauterbrunnen up to a small stop nearer the top of the mountains, and then walked several miles (about an hour and a half steady going) through some really gorgeous trails to the town of Muerren.

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On our way we saw lots of cows in the woods, the deep clang of their bells echoing off of the sides of the valley. Occasionally we would come out on overlooks, and the clouds would shift, giving us views of peaks that were slowly drawing level with us. A small train ran parallel to our path, and Mom and Dad ended up taking this back down the mountain after our stop in Muerren.

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When we were about halfway through with this first portion of our hike, we came across a (seemingly) empty wooden chalet that had a lovely porch. We were hoping the owners would be there so we could purchase drinks, but they seemed nowhere in sight. However, there was a fridge full of cheese and yogurts (all freshly farm made) that were available for purchase. We left our money in the tin milk pail on top of the fridge, and continued on our way after a brief rest and several small tubs of yogurt.

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We arrived in Muerren around 2, and most of the shops were closed until later in the day. Something I did not realize, but the Swiss seem to take a siesta in the afternoon for a few hours, rather like the Spanish. Thankfully the hotels were open, and we had a nice rest and drink on the porch of a beautiful ski lodge that overlooked the valley.  The concierge was pleasant and friendly, and shared our love for all things Wes Anderson. In fact, he told us that the reason he was working there was because he loved the movie “Grand Budapest Hotel!”

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Mom and Dad left us to head down the mountain via train around 3:30, and Ian, Aaron, McBryde and I loaded up on bread and cheese from the local grocery, and began the long climb down. I was amazed at how my endurance for the climb had increased since the year before. We had made the same trek last year, but I was completely exhausted by the time we arrived on the valley floor. This time however, I felt more than equal to the task; amazing what a year of European walking can do for you!

In one of the little towns on the way to Gimmelwald, we came across another “honest shop” where items were laid out on shelves, and patrons were expected to pay into a little box. I love this tradition, and have often wondered if it would work as well in the U.S. Several cats had followed us down the path a little ways, and when we stopped here, they sat near us and ate some cheese we gave them. We joked that they might be the owners in disguise, watching to make sure we paid.

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The path grew steeper after Gimmelwald, and some of the sides had been roughly washed away by the recent rains. The weather was lovely though, and we sang and chatted as we clambered down, the sound of waterfalls constantly in the background.

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We made our way to the valley floor just as evening was beginning to fall, and found a Swiss Franc in the bridge that McBryde had left there a year before. We put another in its place, then started our walk up the valley to our chalet in Lauterbrunnen. img_1686

It was a long walk back, and we were footsore and tired by the time we arrived at our temporary home, but the views, the clear air, the incredible scenery, and the quaint villages we passed through made it a trip well worth tired feet.

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We left the next day for the long drive back to our home in Germany, tired but satisfied with a weekend well spent among the beautiful Swiss Alps.