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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Journey to Strasbourg to see the EU Parliament before it all goes belly up!

Having travelled with Lyndda Robson last October to Brussels, Ghent and Bruges, with a trip to the European Parliament, we decided to travel once more with her as we wanted to see the Strasbourg Parliament before the European Union faded into oblivion.  

Lyndda works for the London UKIP MEP, Gerard Batten and the coach trip consists of UKIP supporters who are too wise to believe any promises by the major parties on holding a referendum on staying in the EU or leaving. 

In fact our membership has shot up since many Conservatives have found out that the first syllable of their name is what the party continues to do to its supporters! This year Lyndda arranged a five day trip to Strasbourg and I thought I would write up the trip in case other UKIP members may want to come with us to the continent next year.   

The trip began, very early, on Monday 12th September 2011 and the weather throughout the trip, apart from a little rough see on the first day, very pleasant and mostly sunny. 

After a little fright (our alarm didn't go off at 5am but fortunately my wife, Pam, had set the kitchen oven alarm) we made our way to London Bridge where we were picking up our coach at 7am – early, but we had a long way to go. The coach made excellent time to Dover but, once again, another fright when we were told the ferry people couldn't find details of the payment. 

After sorting out the problem of "who pays the ferryman" we drove on board and made our way to the club lounge (we prefer to pay the £14 per person surcharge to avoid the screaming crowds – hundreds of kids roaming around the boat)! But this does include a glass of champagne amongst other free amenities such as newspapers, and coffee. But so peaceful! And our waiter was kind enough to keep the champagne flowing.  

As one of my favourite breakfasts is scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a glass of champagne, this is what we ordered. It was a little unfortunate that the day we were travelling was the day that a hurricane was forecast for the UK, so we had the excitement of the back of the ferry lifting up from the ocean, and falling back with a crash which, at least, had the resulting spray cleaning the rear windows – the club lounge is always at the rear of the boat (called the stern). Fortunately we weren't sea sick and soon were back in our coach.

Then onward towards Troyes, with a short stop for coffee and the usual, although there was a toilet on the coach.  

We all had a lot in common which made for a peaceful and happy holiday. We all believed in Britain retaining her sovereignty, we all believed in a democratic body ruling us, and we all believed that the billions we pour into the EU coffers could be better spent alleviating our hard times in the UK. 

We were, of course, all members of UKIP! Apart from a couple of Conservatives who were very nice although they hadn't discovered that they were never going to get a referendum!  

Eventually, our coach arrived at the Hotel Mercure in Troyes. Our room was superb by any hotel standard, although it wasn't quite large enough for a full size football field! A king size bed with a fully equipped bathroom, and to our joy, a separate wc.  

After a quick change and clean up, we all met downstairs to go to the local restaurant which was part of the package. Here we had a nice three course meal with wine together, and when we returned to the hotel I had a great 4cl Armagnac and Pam a similar sized Cointreau (they do have large sizes in France) before retiring for a very good night's sleep. 

The beds were comfortable but we woke at around 4am with very furry mouths from all the wine, but a coke from the mini-bar sent us off to sleep again. We weren't too happy to find a small coke cost €3.50 (around three pounds).

At breakfast, we had a choice of cereal, fresh fruit salad, cold meats and cheese, egg sausage and bacon, and croissants. I decided to miss the cereal and just have all the rest to set me up for the day. Pam was a little ladylike and refrained from making such a pig of herself.  

After packing, we made our way to the coach with our cases before going on a guided walk of the town of Troyes. The walk lasted ninety minutes and was well worth going on as we would not have covered any of the places of historic interest, although we would have had a better insight of the local cafés and bars!  

 Our guide in Troyes
 Our guided walk in Troyes

After the walk we headed out for the long drive to Obernai, a beautiful and historic village a little way south of Strasbourg where we would settle for the next three nights.  

Our room in the Hotel de la Diligence (meaning a stage coach inn) was not as modern as our previous hotel, and a little smaller, but it did have wifi which although didn't work in our room too well did work very satisfactory on the ground floor reception rooms. Our room was comfortable and quaint as only a very old building can be. The bathroom was superb and once again we had a choice of shower or bath.  

Our hotel in Obernai

Our room in Obernai

The lady on the reception desk told us that the restaurant called La Dime was an excellent example of local cuisine and we asked her to book us a table for 8pm which would give us an hour of looking around.  

At seven o'clock we went for a walk around this lovely village, almost large enough to call a town and getting on for eight o'clock saw us approaching La Dime, for our evening meal. This was a very nice restaurant and, although we expected a hundred Euros plus bill, we sampled the local Alsace cuisine and pushed the boat out! To our surprise, the bill still only came to €62. 

We retired for the night feeling very full and contented. The hotel is right next to a huge clock tower and the chimes echoed through the room. Fortunately, it was turned off during night time hours but the humidity ensured a pretty sleepless night. Unlike our first hotel, this building was too old for them to fit air conditioning.  

Copulating couple, the symbol outside the EU in Strasbourg

The next morning meant an early start as we were off to earn our €150 per person supplement by attending as visitors, in the heart of EU Government. so we set the alarm for 6am. But, before breakfast, we went for a little walk to build up an appetite, and afterwards climbed aboard our coach for the Strasbourg EU Parliament buildings.

After going through airport style security and showing our passports, we went to their visitor's café for coffee - which we had to pay for - before attending a meeting with Ryan, a Maltese official who was surprising honest about the EU! Unlike the propaganda we had to sit through the previous year in Brussels. Gerard Batten and Nigel Farage followed on by giving us some interesting and more succinct insights into the EU and its mysterious workings. 

Ryan "informing" us about the EU

We then climbed to the public gallery to watch the voting. The items to vote on were each given a number and when the number was called the MEPs looked to their “pitboss” down in the front who gave a thumbs up or thumbs down and everyone blindly voted on that numbered motion. Nobody other than the guy in front ever know what they are voting on, and were never told. After all, the MEPs are just there for show, it is the unelected commissioners who make the laws.  

Afterwards, as Strasbourg operate a park and ride scheme, we got a tram into the city centre and had lunch in a local café, at very extortionate prices as we were in the tourist area!  

The street train taking us around Strasbourg

Half of us went on a walking tour and the rest, having just missed out on a riverboat cruise, went on a tractor tram around the old town before catching the tram back to the coach, and returning to our hotel.  

There was a festival in the square when we returned to our hotel and we learned that it took part every Wednesday from end July until this one in September which was the last. Musicians played and sang, dancers danced and hundreds of villagers sat around eating at long bench tables. It was all very happy and cheerful although the compère did rather like the sound of his own voice! And it was in French!

Dancing and music in the market place

Our hosts (Gerard Batten and Trevor Coleman) were holding a gala dinner with inclusive wine at the local top hotel. The wine flowed rather freely and when I discovered a 32 year old Armagnac my undoing was total and, once again I did not have a pleasant night when we got to bed.

 The UKIP MEP's treat for us all.

Thursday morning, up early to see the market. And what a massive market it was. Apart from the main square it covered so many side streets and even part of the main street. Certainly the largest market I have come across since the Green Point market they hold every Sunday in Cape Town. 

A very, very tiny corner of the market

Whilst we were checking it all out we walked through a church cemetery and were amazed at the extremely high standards of grave maintenance. 

The graves are regularly and lovingly attended

Street scene in Obernai - a heavy German Influence in the architecture and the way people keep their houses looking tip-top.

We also went for a walk around the top of the old town wall ramparts before climbing aboard our coach to go to Ribeauville which was a beautiful and very old town in the wine area of Alsace. Whilst there we went on another road tram which gave us a good insight of the area. 

On board our road train to see Ribeauville and surrounds

Parking is difficult to find so any flowerbed will do!
 Ribeauville High Street
Old castle on the Hillside in Ribeauville - (taken at 840mm)

After lunch we went to the Koenigsberg castle which was restored in the very early 20th century by Kaiser Willem.  Lyndda had arranged for a guide to take us over this magnificent old castle.

The castle, renovated in the early 20th Century by Kaiser Willem

The old armour...

And later cannon

Afterwards we went to the Becker winery where we sampled a few of their wines and I bought six bottles of one of their “grand cru” Gewürztraminer wines.  

Then back to Obernai where most of us had a drink in the internal courtyard of one of the local hotels before returning to our hotel.

In the Le Gouverneur hotel internal courtyard

One last meal at what we considered the excellent La Dime restaurant where, after two evening meals of the local cuisine, we treated ourselves to a rare fillet steak each, and it was out of this world.

I had told our waitress I wanted half way between blue and rare and when it came, I realised she had understood me perfectly!  

Then back to the hotel to pack prior to a very early wakeup call the next day. 

The alarm call on our last day came at 5:30am but as we had packed we used the time to take a final bath each and relaxed a little before a 6:30am breakfast and a 7:15am start.

Boarding our coach after a comfort stop

Our long haul from Obernai to Calais was punctuated with two comfort stops and a longer 45 minute lunch stop where Pam and I had a hot meal and a 25ml bottle of Bordeaux (Claret) between us. In addition, one of our lady travellers shared her larger bottle (50cl) with us as she couldn't drink it by herself and didn't want to buy the smaller “claret” bottles.

Once again, on the boat we treated ourselves to the club lounge where Pam had a ploughman’s lunch and I had a huge beef open sandwich and we shared a cheese board. 

The waitress came over to refill our glasses but by then the alcohol was beginning to take its toll, so I surprised Pam by asking for just half a glass for seconds.  

We had made good time as we were due at London Bridge at 8pm and were there by seven o'clock.  

Lyndda Robson had put together an excellent trip and managed to keep us on time, all the time. Gerard Batten when thanking her at our gala supper said that shepherding UKIP members was a little like herding cats so alas I shall always think of her as our “cat herder”. On the coach coming back we were told there will be a five day trip around Luxenbourg in June. Most of us have put our name down for this, depending on dates and cost, including the writer. If you have a UKIP membership card, why not join us?

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