On the 23 of November we woke up again in Saarbrücken, me still in a good mood from the Christmas market last night.
Today’s objectives: cross the border to France, drive to Metz. But first, time to hit the gym. We worked out extra hard and showered especially indulgently since we know that won’t come to the next studio until we’re in Spain, at least a week from now. Sad face.
Yo seriously, I love Mcfit. It’s cheap, clean, has great equipment (at least in the newer locations, but the older ones aren’t bad either), and they even have “cyber” classes, vibration training and spinning. I use the gym when we’re home in Berlin to get my workout in and also to shower, since we don’t have a shower in our garden house where we live. But what I love most about it is that there are over 235 locations in five european countries, which means that if we’re in one of those five countries, we know that we have a place to shower, which, let me tell you, is positively crucial to peace of mind. And at moments like this, facing the prospect of possibly not finding a place to shower for a week or more, that suddenly becomes really, really clear. Mcfit is an absolute luxury for any traveler.
Since today was going to be my last day in Germany, I knew that a trip to the supermarket was necessary. Number one the list was potato dumplings and bread dumplings. Then Bavarian sweet mustard (mustard: another obsession), sauerkraut, rotkohl, and glühwein.
Against my better judgment, I might have considered buying some powdered sauce-type things since they’re really good emergency tools, but happily I’ve been spared from have to stoop that low since we found approximately ten thousand such packets before we left Berlin, and I have them with me.
Luckily, we still have two or three loaves of German bread, which will last for a few days. No other country that I’ve ever been in has bread even close to comparable with Germany’s. Sorry. I would have also loved to take at least two crates of mixed various beer with me, but Philipp vetoed that before I was even finished asking. Boo.
For lunch, I bought some frozen “Asia” vegetables that I sautéed with tofu. We ate it with rice and this organic “Asia sauce” that we found in our organic supermarket container in Berlin. Soon we were back on the road.
As we got nearer to France, we were met with hellish traffic. It quickly became clear why: there was a police check set up at the border, on all roads, on both inbound and outbound traffic.
The Paris attacks were only last week so France is still on high alert, and everyone is a bit in shock. Unsurprisingly, we, in our perfectly inconspicuous bulky green bus, got pulled out and had to show our passports while they looked with their flashlights in the windows and asked what we were doing in France. After a few minutes they let us go.
We almost never drive on the autobahn for two reasons. Reason #1: It’s boring. You can’t see any of the villages or much of the landscape. Reason #2: Our bus doesn’t drive any faster than 70km/h on average, maybe 90km/h tops going steep downhill, and less than 25km/h going steep uphill (which is really, really not fun on the highway when giant trucks are zooming up behind you doing 80). Outside of Germany, there is a third reason to avoid highways, namely, that it costs money. So we made our way to Metz on the country roads.
For anyone who doesn’t know, driving in France is a particular pain in the ass. There are massive speed bumps on the main road through every village, and traffic circles every thirty seconds. There is really a true, traffic-circle obsession discernible here. There are traffic circles in places where a stop sign could have easily done the job, and are often built in close proximity to one another, creating giant arcane traffic-circle networks through which one must navigate for several unnecessary minutes in order to do something as simple as get off the main road to stop at the supermarket for a second. It’s a sickness.
I was excited; we had looked up Metz earlier today and found out that there’s ANOTHER CHRISTMAS MARKET THERE. It even started snowing while we were still on the way, which pushed me over into ecstasy. Christmas market in the snow bonuuuuuuus. I like snow (even though it means we’ll freeze tonight), and it’s probably the last time I’ll see it this year.
When we arrived in Metz it was dark. We found a place to park in a camper lot next to a canal, and sat down to eat Abendbrot. In order to prevent myself from spending all my money on Christmas market items, I put some gingerbread from the cabinet in my pockets, and packed some warm Glühwein into a thermos to take with me, so I could feel like I was partaking. It was still snowing (yay!) so we again dragged out our winter coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, grabbed our umbrellas, and headed out.
We walked over a bridge to the Cathedral which was, as usual, enormous and beautiful. The part of the Christmas market that was set up in front ofit was closed because of the weather, but they still had the ferris wheel lit up.
We walked around in the old city; the usual paved roads, narrow alleys, pretty shop fronts, little bakeries and restaurants. As we made our way back to the bus, we came across a part of the Christmas market that was still open.
French Christmas markets are entirely different from German ones. Here, you’ll find wine and cheese booths, macarons, escargots, various fancy sausages, foie gras, oysters (yes really), soup… they even had Christmas beer, which I’ve never seen before; unexpected in the land of crap beer and fantastic wine. I didn’t try it because it was mega expensive, but maybe I can find it in a supermarket somewhere.
Another beer surprise was the presence of the Brooklyn Brewery, which had its own stand set up. I’ve never seen anything from them anywhere in Europe before (although, I’m too broke to go to bars so it’s possible that it’s available in some places and I just haven’t discovered them yet) so I was rather really shocked. It was nice to see a familiar face.
See my separate Metz Christmas Market Post for more pictures!
By the end of the evening I was thoroughly exhilarated. I went to bed still trying to figure out how I was going to get my hands on Christmas beer…
The next morning we walked back into the city to see the inside of the cathedral, and to make sure we didn’t miss anything.
Inside the cathedral there were stained glass windows by Chagall, which I loved. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen modern-ish art in a church (first picture only, other windows are older).
We found a covered market and I got to eat Quiche Lorraine (Metz is in the region of Lorraine) so I was pretty happy.
When we were finished we got back on the road. We haven’t found much food so far, so it was time to focus on spotting supermarkets. Finally, we had a bit of luck. In Pagny-sur-Moselle, we found approximately ten thousand still frozen, half-baked pretzels rolls. As I’ve said before, I am obsessed with pretzels, so my eyes almost popped straight out of my head when I saw them all lying in there, box after giant box. We took as many as we could carry and hopped back in the bus. The first thing we did was lay two of them on the heating vents just for giggles to see if we could actually “bake” them this way. Worked.
The next stop was Nancy. We found a (surely illegal) parking space on a narrow side road. There was no way we were going to find anything better, so we just made up our minds to leave it there and look around as quickly as we could.
We walked down the road we parked on until we came to Place Stanislas, an impressive square with ornate gates to a park on one side, a bunch of fancy official buildings and restaurants, and a statue of Stanislas himself in the middle.
The way everything was lit up in the evening was beautiful, but the most striking thing were all the candles and flowers and notes surrounding the statue in the center for the victims of the Paris attacks. You can see how much France has been shaken by what happened. Everyone is grieving. It reminds me a bit of being home in New York after the World Trade Center was knocked down.
With hearts heavier, we got back in the bus and drove off to look for a place to park for the night.
We ended up in a small wooded lot off one of the back roads south of the city. The trees behind the lot had several clumps of mistletoe growing on their branches. I had been noticing all the mistletoe in the trees along the roads for the past few days, and the thought of cutting them down and maybe trying to sell them had been rolling around in my head. After all, even a relatively small clump seems to sell for 10-15 euros, sometimes even more. When I mentioned this to Philipp, I could practically see the light bulb over his head. Five minutes later he had dug his saw out from the bowels of the trunk and was sawing away clandestinely behind the bus. I’m not actually sure if doing what we were doing was allowed or not. The trees were not on any private property, and technically removing mistletoe, which is a parasite, will make the trees healthier. Still though, it felt like we were breaking the rules, so we tried not to be too conspicuous.