A few weeks ago, I set to see one new city every week. The first one was Dresden, then came Oranienburg, Kostrzyn nad Odrą and Hamburg. This time, I took Friday and Monday off to meet my friend in eastern France.
August 14: Basel
Floriane and Jean-Philippe picked me up at the eerily deserted Basel airport Friday morning. We reached the city a few minutes later and only stayed long enough to see the riverside, the town hall and the old city.
After an hour in the city, we hopped back in the car and headed for Bern.
August 14: Bern
Early in the morning, we reached Bern, the capital of Switzerland. We parked the car on the Nydeggbrücke. The 190 meter long bridge offers a fantastic view on the turquoise waters of the Aare river and the medieval houses of the Old City.
We only stayed as long as our parking space allowed, but we were fortunate enough to see most of the old city, including the Zytglogge with its flock of mesmerized tourists.
August 14: Neuchatel
Even under the rain, Neuchatel didn't lose any of its charm. Set at the base of a mountain and bordering an eponymous lake, the village was characterized by modest vineyards and narrow, curved roads lined with aging stone walls.
After an shockingly expensive lunch in Neuchatel, we struggled to find anything to entertain ourselves. Forced to stay by our hotel reservation, we settled for a tour of the local wine museum. The visit was laughably uninteresting, but it kept us busy, and that's all we needed.
Despite its outdated style and its comically unhurried innkeeper, the Hôtel Les Tilleuls was oddly charming. The small mountainside inn offered more than one would expect for 50 francs: perfect silence, a fresh breeze and an unhindered view on the Swiss Alps.
When the skies cleared, we left the hotel in search for food. Still sore from our overpriced pizza, we dined on bread and Nutella, then went to sleep.
August 15: Lausanne
We had overpriced croissants and coffee at a McCafé, then walked around the city.
August 15: Geneva
Geneva was yet another gorgeous, excessively expensive Swiss city. We had a small, yet expensive breakfast at a McCafé, hoping we would find something more fullfilling on the cheaper side of the border. We walked around the city centre for a while before heading for the CERN.
The CERN visit was the most disappointing aspect of the trip. We were too late for guided visits, so we settled for an underwhelming exposition about muons, photons and other incomprehensible science-y stuff. I was surprised by how run-down the buildings were. All in all, we spent less than 30 minutes there. Hey, at least it was free!
August 15-16: Lyon
We crossed the border back into France and headed for Lyon, France's third largest city. With the prices falling back to sane levels, we could finally afford to eat out.
Julien, Célie, Floriane, JP and I headed for the docks to watch the sun set with a few beers. As soon as our host joined us, we walked through the narrow streets of Lyon to find a restaurant.
For 19 euros, I got to eat one of the finest meals I had in Europe so far, and our slightly inhebriated waiter felt at ease to share some of his sailing stories, free of charge.
Further down the street, we found a small bar to stay at. I had my first White Russian and decided that milk and vodka were never meant to be together. If Eastern Europe-themed drinks are your thing, a Moscow Mule is a better investment.
We spent our next day visiting Lyon, this time under a clear blue sky. We followed a cobbled path to the top of the Croix-Rousse hill to get a fantastic panorama of the city.
While some cities are booming with tourists in the summer, Lyon is completely deserted by its inhabitants. As a result, it was hard to find a restaurant to eat at, especially as most of them close in the afternoon. Nonetheless, we had another amazing meal punctuated by eau de vie on the house.
We rolled back to Julie's apartment, then drove to Colmar - Floriane's home town - to rest for the night.
August 17: Strasburg
On Monday morning, we took the train to Strasburg, about an hour from Colmar.
Strasburg was without an ounce of doubt the most beautiful city of the trip. Its small rivers lined with half-timbered houses, terrasses and asian tourists would make for a perfect Midnight in Paris sequel.
We joined two of Floriane's friends there and we spent the afternoon visiting the city with them. We stopped by a small French restaurant where we ate lavishly then washed it down with white wine.
We parted ways at the Strasburg train station so I could catch the 5 o'clock plane for Berlin.
August 17-18: Berlin
We repaired in Berlin later in the evening. With only a few hours of energy left, we stopped for a kebab near Hackescher Markt and went straight to bed.
Unfortunately, Tuesday was another cloudy day. I rented bikes for everyone so we could zoom across the city and make the best of my friends' short stay.
I took them to Bernauer Strasse to see the remains of the Berlin wall, then we biked to Alexanderplatz where we could see the TV tower. We stopped for a quick currywurst (a Berlin specialty), then headed for the Reichstag.
From there, we biked through Tiergarten along the gorgeous Straße des 17. Juni and exited the forest near the Siegessäule. We turned around and headed east on the Straße des 17. Juni, ultimately reaching the iconic Brandenburg gate.
We headed south for Potsdamer Platz, stopping by the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. Although Potsdamer Platz is much more beautiful after sunset, we could not afford the luxury of visiting later.
We then headed west to see the former Luftwaffe HQ and Checkpoint Charlie. Fun fact: the men guarding the iconic checkpoint are not on the US Army's payroll; they are actors.
By 5PM, we had most of Berlin's main attractions covered, so we followed the Spree until we reached Warschauer brücke, breezing past the mile-long East Side gallery.
Our final destination was The Bird. After blabbering about their burgers the entire weekend, it was a suitable climax for the trip. Our burgers were faithful to their reputation.
Renting bikes to see the city was one of the best decisions we made. At 12 euros a day, it was hardly more expensive than a 24-hour tageskarte, and we didn't spend much time in the hot, crowded U-bahn.
My friends left at 3AM that night to see half a dozen additional cities before returning to Montreal. On my side, I decided to spend the next weekend in Berlin to finish this article, sort through all the pictures and rest a bit.