Manfredas: Do you want to go to Alsace for a few days?
Me: What would we do there?
Manfredas: Look at pretty places, eat good food and drink lots of wine.
Manfredas picked me up at my door in a dinky Car2Go and off we went.
We made it to Tegel airport in around 25 minutes, which meant that we had loads of time before our flight. The plan was to go through, sit down with a cuppa and a pastry and wait at the gate, which was clearly displayed on the board. Ah, the best-laid plans…
Manfredas had checked us in the day before and had the boarding passes on his phone. HAD. That morning, they were nowhere to be found. Having tried and failed repeatedly, we approached the attendant zealously guarding the Priority Boarding lane. She couldn’t help us and she wouldn’t let us through to ask the guy at that desk. NEIN, we’d have to queue up behind the 200 plebs with check-in luggage.
We joined the end of the queue, and I told Manfredas to call Air Berlin to see if they could help. The woman who answered the phone – eventually – didn’t know anything, couldn’t or wouldn’t help, and didn’t even ask for the details of the flight or our names.
Me: OK, plan B. I’ll stay in the queue with the bags, you wait until Zealhilde over there turns her back and then duck under the barrier to the Priority area.
Normally, Germans aren’t rule-breakers but with 15 minutes to go until our gate closed, we really had no choice. Manfredas succeeded in his mission and I inched our bags towards the distant check-in desks. A few minutes later, he signalled me to leave the queue.
Me: What happened?
Manfredas: The flight’s been cancelled.
And that was that. No announcement, no notification. Good job, Air Berlin. We joined another queue – this time with other confused and angry passengers. You know the ones – cancelled flights, overweight luggage charges, forgot to print out their boarding passes… We all bonded over our mutual hatred of Air Berlin and had a jolly old time. The woman behind the Desk for Hopeless Causes and Rip-off Merchantry managed to book us on a flight to Stuttgart an hour later.
We picked up our rental car and were off. By now, we were obviously way behind schedule. Stuttgart is further from Alsace than our original choice of Karlsruhe-Baden Baden and we had lost an hour at the airport. Still, we were in high spirits when we finally pulled into our lunch destination – Strasbourg.
At this point, I was so hungry I could have eaten Manfredas, but we were in France, home of fine food, so I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. I hadn’t banked on France’s bizarre opening hours and random rules. Yes, it seems that France likes to shut down its kitchens, right around the time normal people are ready for lunch. We tried three or four places but none were serving food at that time. They looked at us like we were a bit mad for even thinking 2pm could be a reasonable eating time.
Eventually, we found somewhere in the main square and I inhaled a slice of quiche and a glass of wine. We strolled around the city for an hour or so, taking in the sights and enjoying the laidback French chatter all around us. Our secondary aim was to find a breathalyzer; it’s compulsory to have one in the car when driving in France. Unfortunately, nowhere sold them, nobody knew where you could buy them and half the shops were closed anyway. Le sigh.
Traffic was much worse than we had anticipated so we were both a bit frazzled by the time we finally arrived in Ribeauvillé. Three laps of the crazy one-way systems trying to find our apartment didn’t help much either. Still, find it we did. Manfredas called the owner. No answer. He called the other number. No answer. He left messages at both numbers in pretty decent French. After a few minutes, she texted back.
Bonjour! La clé est derrière le volet et votre chambre est la première à droite.
Me: What’s a “volet”?
Neither of us had a notion so we stalked the outside of the building clawing at anything that might reveal a space behind it. Turns out “volet” means “shutter” but we were both giggling uncontrollably by the time we figured that out.
We let ourselves into our little apartment. I badly needed to use the loo so I went in, closed the door and had a wonderful Sitzpinkel. Then I tried to get out again. NON. The door was on a little metal roller and that had twisted so that I couldn’t move the door. I bashed at it, kicked it, wrenched it – it wouldn’t budge. Manfredas, having come back in from trying to get a phone signal on the street, was greeted by a barrage of swearing and this sight:
He managed to free me and amid a fit of hysterics, we left to explore Ribeauvillé a little. To say that this place is pretty would be the understatement of the century; it’s nothing short of adorable. Narrow, winding streets, gloriously colourful houses, flowers in every windowsill, hearts on the wooden volets… it’s chocolate box charm all the way.
We found a restaurant – not hard to do – and sat down to dinner. I was just tucking in when a bird shat on my arm. Encore le sigh. Still, we figured that was probably all of our bad luck out of the way and proceeded to make the most of the night.
Stay tuned for part two! À bientôt!