Today was one of our lighter driving days compared to the other days. We would first spend some time in Strasbourg, visit the Habsburg Castle, and then end in Zürich.
Strasbourg is in the historic region of Alsace-Lorraine. The unique thing about Alsace-Lorraine is that in the span of 100 years it has flipped back and forth multiple times between France and Germany as a result of three wars (the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, and World War II). As a result, the city shares cultures from both countries. This is super evident in a part of town called Petite France, most notably the timber framing around each building. The local dialect Alsatian, also has Germanic origins.
It’s also the home of the European Parliament. This is where over 700 democratically elected Members of European Parliament pass legislation.
Thus far, in France, I had been speaking my very limited French here and there whenever I needed it. As we waited for the tour, a Middle Eastern fellow struck up a conversation with me in French, kind of just asking us where we were from etc. It was kind of weird, but we went along with it anyway – it didn’t seem like he was a pickpocket or anything. I managed to get pretty far in the conversation in French actually, which surprised me quite a bit. He told me that he had moved to France from Afghanistan after working there as part of the local security forces, and even showed me his old Afghan ID, and a bomb scar he had.
The conversation got super weird when he started asking about our yearly salary, and it seemed like he was asking us for money (but it’s possible some of that was lost in translation). At that point, we totally understood why he started the conversation in the first place. We basically told him that we’re not that well off either and he tried to give ME money, and I still don’t understand what was going on there. When the tour started, it seemed like he was still staying within our general vicinity, which made it even weirder. Eventually he picked up on that and left us alone. We even checked if he followed us back to our car (just in case).
Strasbourg appears pretty proud of their cuisine – even their postcards have pictures of recipes of different Alsatian dishes. One that we had was called Flammekueche (in German it’s Flammkuchen, so it’s easy to see the German influence in the language here, at least in this word). I think the closest analogue that English speakers would know would be a flatbread pizza, but with more French style ingredients like fromage blanc, and uses crème fraîche as a base as opposed to tomatoes.
From Strasbourg, we began our journey to Switzerland. At the border, we bought our vignette (it’s a required sticker on the car for driving in the country). I spoke to the lady in German and I got a nice feeling speaking and listening to a language that I understood again.
Our first destination in Switzerland was the Habsburg Castle. This is where the House of Habsburg began. This is THE Habsburgs that wielded enourmous power in Europe for centuries, most notably the Holy Roman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The castle looks quite modest compared to other European castles like Neuschwanstein, but this is because it was originally constructed almost 1000 years ago.
As we drove through Switzerland, we expected mountain passes full of snow, but there were actually very few mountains along that route! We probaly would have seen some in Zürich itself, but too bad it was nighttime.
We arrived in Zürich just in time for a fondue and raclette dinner, because that’s what the stereotypes say. Of all places we found though, we found the most touristy one. I’m pretty sure everybody in there was a tourist.
As we were chatting while eating, I was trolling my friend, saying he comes from China even though he’s actually from Taiwan, since Taiwanese people stereotypically like to assert that Taiwan is not the same as China. A lady at our neighbouring table heard us and actually confronted us about it. She seemed so pissed off! She seemed fine once we told her we were just messing around, and that I’m from Hong Kong (people from there generally side with Taiwan). But imagine travelling all the way to Switzerland and hearing someone trashtalking your country!
This concludes our fourth day. Stay tuned for day five!