The highlight of our couple of days in Baden Baden was a visit to the Caracelle Thermal Spa. Unfortunately cameras and smart phones are banned from the spa so we couldn’t take any pictures but I did find one online to give a little taster..
I read a lot of reviews about the place, mostly because I wanted to know what we needed to take with us. On Trip Advisor the reviews fell into two categories. Most were enthusiastic about the experience of the spa pools and a few others were less than impressed. As we’d had an enthusiastic personal recommendation we decided to ignore the unimpressed and go for it. We are so glad we did! We spent three hours floating around in warm thermal water, sometimes outside and sometimes in. There were bubbles and water jets and a bit with a current that made you feel like a strong swimmer when you were doing doggy paddle. Our favourite was the hot and cold pools where you alternated between freezing cold and hot hot hot. That was the business. Our fellow spa goers were quite contained about the whole process but we made various noises depending on the temperature – you know the kind of thing, ‘Oo ya, Oo ya’ for the cold and ‘mmm lovely’ for the hot. I think it’s supposed to be taken terribly seriously but we were having too much fun. There were a couple of steam rooms and loungers under warm lights and then we discovered the stairs to the upstairs saunas. The notice read “no swim wear allowed” so we diverted to the café for breakfast. Communal nudity at nine on a Saturday morning was a step too far for us. We saw a number of people heading up the stairs wrapped in towels and it did cross my mind that the designers could have been a bit more discreet and not made the stairs the open tread variety.
Wrapped in our towels we enjoyed a breakfast of kings, albeit the continental variety, then we lay on the loungers and read for a while before we were back in the pools for our last half hour of pure bliss. We really can’t recommend it enough. For three hours it costs 19€ and our breakfast, including coffee and juice, cost 6€ each. Where can you get luxury like that for so little expense? We really didn’t want to leave when the time came and if we hadn’t had two little pooches back at the van waiting patiently for another walk, we might have been tempted to stay for the whole day. You can do that for 23€. If you like water and doing very little except float in the warmth, this is a must visit place. If you plan far enough ahead you can book in for massages, facials and a whole lot of other forms of pampering.
The Stellplatz at Baden Baden is very popular and filled up quickly. The cycle ride into town is pleasant and easy and if you don’t have your own bike with you, you can hire one from the Stellplatz. We were a little on edge staying there because I’d made a dog’s breakfast of buying a parking ticket. My lack of working German meant that I had no idea what I was doing so I did what anyone does in such a situation – I pushed buttons hopefully after putting money in. We did pay to stay but our ticket seemed to say that the process had been interrupted. The machine also refused to take the last 4€ we owed of the 24€ for two nights stay. As it happened, no official person came along to check the tickets so we escaped without being fined, publicly humiliated or imprisoned. Whew.
On Sunday morning we left Baden Baden, said a fond farewell to Germany and were over the border into France before we could say Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland. Our next stop was the little town of Molsheim, close to Strasbourg. We chose it because it has a municipal campsite with good reviews and there are frequent trains into Strasbourg, just 15 minutes away. The hot weather had broken and, typically of the weather, it had taken the whole thing too far. All we wanted was a few degrees cooler but no, it had to go to extremes and the rain was coming down in torrents as we rolled into the site at Molsheim. We settled in, ordered our bread for the morning and set off for a damp stroll around the town. Molsheim is the town where Bugatti cars were designed and made and we had landed here on a Festival of Bugattis. Don’t try to say that when you’ve had a few glasses. We came across an exhibition of Bugattis through the ages and wandered about admiring their elegant good looks before returning to the van and looking at one another. It was 3 p.m. on a Sunday in France. This is something we haven’t yet mastered – what the heck do you do with yourself on a wet Sunday in France? Everything closes, except in this case the Bugatti Festival, and the entire population disappears. In the UK we are a nation of every day and sometimes all night shoppers – everywhere stays open and you can find entertainment somewhere, even if it’s only in Ikea. In France the whole world goes silent. I believe that this is good for mental health and for family life but in a motorhome when the rain is beating down and you have no TV reception, it can be a bit disconcerting. Fortunately we have our iPads and our Kindles so we spent the rest of the afternoon reading and playing mindless games. It was a couple of hours before it occurred to me to log onto the site wifi and find out whether Netflix would let us watch outside the UK. No problem at all! After dinner we watched an episode of Orange is the New Black and felt a whole lot better. Thanks Netflix!
The next day we set off in the train to visit Strasbourg.We gave the dogs a good walk first, then left them to sleep in the van while we did the sight-seeing thing. Strasbourg is beautiful, rich in history and modern culture. People of every nationality seem to be there enjoying the wonderful buildings and the hundreds of shops and pavement cafés. We got lost almost immediately, finally found tourist Information where we were almost crushed to a pulp by the crowds of tourists, paid €1.50 for a city map, only to be given a free map when we paid for it and shot out into the Cathedral Square, driven by a desperate need for oxygen.
Right in front of us was one of those little tourist trains that rattle you along with head phones giving a guided tour in your own language. We needed a sit down by then anyway so we paid our 7€ each and got on. It was surprisingly interesting and pleasant being shuffled through the city and hearing little snippets of the city’s history. By the time we’d done that and wandered round La Galerie LaFayette department store feeling horribly scruffy, we were hungry. We came across an odd little café bistro advertising the dish of the day so we wandered in and asked for a table. We were doing pretty well speaking French to the waitress until she tried to describe what the dish of the day actually was. It was hopeless – we had no idea what she was talking about so we ordered it anyway and hoped for the best. When the food arrived we still had no idea what it was but we took a guess at chicken livers in sauce with some kind of strange fried pasta. It tasted better than that description sounds.
Accompanying our dinner we were “entertained” by a couple of girls at the table next to us. They were speaking English with North American accents but as most people in France seem to be taught English by American teachers this doesn’t mean a thing. I was convinced that they were native English speakers until they spoke fluent and easy French to the waitress and then wasn’t at all sure. The “entertaining” part of the process was the way that one of the girls managed to use up all available auditory space by speaking so loudly and so lengthily that no-one within a ten foot radius had a chance of making themselves heard to their lunch companions. I could give you a verbatim account of her story but it would be cruel. Enough to say that her obvious linguistic skills were overshadowed by what she lacked in self awareness and social skills. The girl sitting with her literally never got a word in edgeways until after about half an hour she leapt up and said “I’m sorry, I have to go to the toilet”. Our quiet little lunch in a garish but fun French bistro was liberally doused in details of a total stranger’s health problems and the complexities of her love life. I could see other diners wincing as her voice rang out above the noise of clattering plates and piped music and there was a collective sigh of relief as the two of them left the place. The last thing we heard as they left was “So, to finish the story …”
Back on the train and into the van we got out our books and our maps and decided on the next place to visit. It’s south on the Alsace Wine Route for us … next stop Orschwihr. It sounds German but it’s definitely in France. A free Aire de Camping Cars and surrounded by vineyards and caves with free wine tasting. What a treat.