Alsace: Taking the Zen Train

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the Saints!  I erased about 300 photos of the Alsace trip from my memory card.  I don’t know how I got them back but they’re back.  Must have been all that prayer.

After 3o odd years of hardcore travel, I’ve learned that serious preparation, research and tolerance make for happier travelers and decreases the chance of the ugly, trip ruining, surprise.  Of course reservations are necessary, but you should also SCRUtinize the hotel/train/plane before you reserve.  If you are stuck for time and find that your preferred hotel is fully booked, as was ours, lower your expectations and hope for the best.

Jade and I needed to be in Alsace on Tuesday for a boarding school interview at the Seminaire de Jeunes in Walbourg, a tiny village about 45 minutes outside of Strasbourg.  Although I’d visited Strasbourg before, I had no idea where Walbourg was, but I did find out that there were no hotels there; just the school with a few ancillary houses.  The school an ex-monastery, has a strict and disciplined curriculum that includes religious activities and some sports.  Get thee to a nunnery Jade!  Or something like that.

The fast trains in France are known as TGVs.  I went to the internet and found a deal for two first class tickets to Strasbourg in an IDTGV carriage, leaving on Monday.  “Carriages are separated into two zones: iDZen for customers wishing a quiet trip, where mobile phones and loud conversations are banned, and iDZap for customers looking for entertainment, where more noise is tolerated and games, shows, etc are sometimes given.”  This sounded good and so I reserved a “Zen” carriage because Jade and I didn’t feel like a train party. To our surprise, the conductor informed our car that Zen meant total silence, which made absolutely no impression on the 3 toddlers, the whiny baby and the annoyed parents in the car.  Whatever.

Not knowing how long it would take to get to Walbourg from the train station, I decided to book the hotel a day in advance and spend the night in order to be fresh and stress free for the interview the following day.  I found a modest, neat and clean hotel with WIFI in Haguenau, a village of 30,000 inhabitants, about 15 minutes from Walbourg.  Our room was decorated in Buddhist wallpaper with several small statues scattered throughout the room.  Zen it is.

Quel surprise!!  The hotel restaurant was primo with excellent wine and cuisine.  Within 15 minutes of our arrival, we were relaxing with a “coupe” of Champagne and a cold, refreshing Orangina 🙂

The Hotel les Pins has a well appointed solarium dining room with a view of the gardens and a menagerie of wallabies, chickens, rabbits, goldfish, pigs and other curiosities.

The dining room’s red and yellow decor was way beyond my photographic expertise, but it was elegant.

The first evening’s dinner included hors d’oeuvres of spicy olives and a veloute of asparagus with salami pinwheels.

I’m going to try to duplicate the veloute at home and also our entrees of sauteed foie gras on a crisp potato cake in a pot au feu broth.


For our main courses, Jade had limande sole and I, a succulent veal chop.  I won’t insult the chef by posting the truly ugly pictures I took of those plates.  Too bad, it was haute cuisine at it’s best!  Let’s move on to breakfast, the light was better 🙂

The hotel offers a morning long buffet from 6:15 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. of eggs, charcuterie, cheese, assorted breads, juices, cereals, fruits, coffee, hot chocolate, tea and probably some other things I’ve forgotten.

I love eating with Jade!

Such joy!

After a breakfast like that, you would think we’d skip lunch.  Not.  There was that 3:30 interview at the school to get through and we had to keep our energy levels up!  As a compromise, we only had really large salads 🙂

Jade had a fresh, crunchy salad of deep fried escargots and greens.  Wonderful!  On the side, there was some suspicious looking foam in a little jar that we agreed it would be okay for her to ignore.

I had a wonderful earth and sea salad that included magret de canard, foie gras and shrimp.  Mah-velous!  I had a small glass of Chablis.  The interview, you know.

Because we had sort of dieted with the salads, we didn’t see any reason not to have the gluttonous cafe gourmand that consisted of chocolate mousse, tiramisu, sorbet, vanilla ice cream, strawberries and cream and some healthy fruit slices.  The coffee was good too.

The interview went well and afterward we went back to the hotel, had modest dinners and went to bed early.

Earlier on, I mentioned the importance of trip preparation.  Normally, if we are taking a train, I bring sandwiches and/or snack foods along because the food in the restaurant/bar is overpriced garbage.  Unfortunately, I fell down on the job and we ended up buying a tuna mousse sandwich that was not only ugly but inedible.

On Tuesday after breakfast, the hotel owner insisted on driving us into town so that I could buy an Alsatian pork roast for M. and Mme Parret as a thank you gift for watching the dog and cats in our absence.  She dropped us in the town center outside of the covered market.  Although the Haguenau market isn’t as fancy as ours in Sens, the people are friendly and their products are fresh.  The very nice butcher sold us a beautiful cote du porc roast, threw in a pig foot for the sauce and put it all in a cute little refrigerator bag for the trip back to Sens.

As we stepped outside of the market, we were accosted by the tantalizing smell of grilled sausages, onions and peppers.  The stall owner insisted that we taste these potato and meat stuffed delicacies that she proudly told us were made by her nephew.  After several enormous “samples”, we bought some for the trip back.

Now I know this post has gone on longer than I usually do but I have to say one more thing.  See that knife?  That is the first present my husband gave me in 1975.  It’s an Old Timer, guaranteed for life against breakage and loss.  This strange man asked me if I had a pocket knife and I said, “well no”.  One day he came back with this knife and put it in my purse, saying that everyone should have one.  At the time I just laughed, but I have used this knife for cutting string, prying open stubborn cans on camping trips and for  numerous other things, including making the above sandwich on the Zen train.  He’s got a thing about flashlights too.

About cookinginsens

An American living in Burgundy, France
This entry was posted in Appetizer, Dessert, Food and Wine, French, Hors d'oeuvres, Main dishes, Salad, Sandwich and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Alsace: Taking the Zen Train

  1. Michelle says:

    Looks fun, the food has so much culture. Not the tuna lol.

  2. Laura says:

    Once in a while a long one’s a treat! I note that if Jade attends the school, you can look forward to many more memorable meals!!

  3. I think the shot of the pork roll with the knife and plastic cup is a wonderful food shot. Got to say that Walbourg looks like a damn good reason not to go to Alsace. Isn’t there a nice school in Burgundy or maybe in Dijon, Lyons or even Marseilles:)

    • Thank you Roger. Walbourg is very close to Stuttgart where we will be living. There are no Lycees is Stuttgart. It will be good. It’ll teach Jade endurance 🙂

  4. I’m so glad you took the photo of your tuna mousse sandwich.. it really highlights and, by contrast, really elevate the stunning bounty of food you had on your trip!! You’re better than I.. if I had eaten all those wonderful dishes I would have slumped asleep at the interview;) Jade.. oh, my goodness she has the most beautiful, beaming smile!! Lovely!!!

  5. Tessa says:

    I loved this post! Such an interesting trip. I’m glad that you got your photos back. I know what that feels like… I did the same thing on a visit to New York.

  6. Mad Dog says:

    Great post – I really enjoyed reading about the trip and especially the food!

  7. Shira says:

    All of your photos are spectacular! And that delicious sandwich might just stay with me all day 🙂

  8. What a wonderful trip. Looking at your photos reminds us of our early years together in Europe – primarily Italy – and how much we miss it sometimes. One of the real pleasure sin life is the surprise of an unexpectedly good hotel in and out of the way place and it looks like you and Jade hit the jackpot! Lovely food, lovely photos, so glad you were able to retrieve them and share them with us.

    • Thank you Cheryl and Adam. Sometimes, most times, it just works out. Especially if you are prepared to accept the less than perfect. Then, even if you don’t find that “hidden gem” hotel you will be open to finding something else that makes your trip worthwhile. For example, the really cool butcher and the lady with the sausages.

  9. Karista says:

    Love the pictures! Love your post, fun and delightful read. And what a stunning beauty is Jade. The sweetest smile!

  10. Karen says:

    I don’t know about your room but the food certainly looks great. It looks like you found a winner.

  11. I hope that the interview went well! Hopefully, it won’t be too much like a nunnery!

    And deep fried escargots? Omg. Yum!!!!!!

    • The interview did go well Daisy. She’ll be starting there in September. It won’t be a nunnery but it’s strict and should give her a boost before she has to sit for her brevet.

  12. Did I just see a kangaroo? Perhaps I’m just tired. Love the photos.

  13. This is the first I’ve heard of the zen train. How lovely to travel in silence, looking out the window. And then to have that dessert plate.

  14. Michelle says:

    What a great post! I love Alsace (we spent a month there a few years back), but it really is one of the strangest places I’ve ever been. Thus, it surprises me not at all that you found wallabies. And what did I say about you making wursts look beautiful?

  15. Paula says:

    It has been really nice reading about your travel (and the knife!). Some people have something special to make travel diarys or chronicles, I think you’re one of them 😉 Of course, your photos help a lot 😉

    And it’s so great when you don’t expect a lot, and then you receive a lot, like in that hotel you stay, it’s so wonderful!!
    And what about the food!! Even if that foam sounds suspicious 😛

    It’s a good day to read this, cos this week we’ll travel to France. We love that country, their markets, the beautiful little villages… But this time it’s to Paris!! I can’t wait!! And now, I’m more impatient seeing all this food, and my beloved café gourmand!

    (Sorry for my english full of mistakes, and my long comment!).

  16. Angela says:

    Hi, Glad I found your blog! We just had an interview at the school in Walbourg also for our two boys. They loved the grounds and want to start right away. Is Jade happy at the school? Our kids would be interne and come home on the weekends. Would love some feedback from others. Thanks

    • Hi Angela. Jade is very happy at the school. She was having a few problems at her last school and it seems that those have disappeared and her work and attitude have both improved. This is her second year as an interne at the school. She comes to Stuttgart on the weekends and during vacations we go to our home in Sens. Are you living in France?

      • Angela says:

        Hi! Thanks for the reply! We live in Switzerland and our kids will come home on the weekends as well. They will start after the October break. Are you happy with the level of extra help with homework, etc.? How do you like the staff that are in charge of the interne students? Do you have my private email? If yes I would love to talk to you more about the school. I only know one other family with kids at the school and so far they are happy as well. Thanks and hope to hear from you soon.

Leave a Reply