The Curse of Strasbourg
The Colts have the Patriots. Kirk has Khan. I have Strasbourg.
I didn’t travel all the way to Europe to find an arch nemesis. My arch nemesis found me.
The day started out innocently enough. After half a week staying up into the early hours of the morning partying with other passengers and the crew, my wife Lola and I decided that we should sleep in late at least one morning before we literally died. We didn’t even feel tired, which was the scary part. We were clearly converting our life force directly into adrenaline. The next time we stayed up past midnight, I fully expected my heart to explode. Wanting to ward off the inevitable, we forced ourselves to sleep in on our half-day in the French city of Strasbourg. Technically, we were across the Rhine from Strasbourg in a German city whose name I can’t remember, so I’ll just call it Not Strasbourg. The two municipalities were right next to each other with a large, easily accessible bridge between them. Lola and I slept past the departure time for the guided tour with a loose plan to see the city later in the morning on our own. Surely there would be no consequences for that short-sighted decision. On the French side of the river, evil forces began to converge.
By that point, I was very much over guided tours. Don’t get me wrong: The tour guides were all earnest, hard-working people. Some of them just worked a little too hard. I was there to see super old buildings, not to watch their walking stand-up comedy routines. The best part was when they would air their dirty laundry, which was infinitely more fascinating than whatever cathedral we happened to be standing in front of. My favorites were the German who became an atheist so he didn’t have to pay the church tax and the law student who delayed his studies to become a tour guide and seasonal vineyard worker, two totally different but equally effective ways to disappoint his father. This is one of many cases in life where I can truly say the problem was me and not them. I love old, beautiful architecture, but in the same way I love a fireworks show. Yes, it’s incredible and awe inspiring, but after two minutes, it all blends together, and I’m ready to look at something else. Tours where a guide spent ten minutes talking about a single room were absolutely exhausting and usually kept us from seeing the rest of the place because we were so hyper focused on such a small area. I was never going to remember most of what they said anyway, unless it was about how they disappointed their parents. That always stuck with me for some reason. My ideal cadence for any tour was as follows: See a pretty thing, learn one fact about it, and move on. Repeat ad nauseum. By the morning of Strasbourg, I’d accepted that there were no tour guides who could accommodate my infantile attention span. The only person unprofessional enough to deal with me was me.
Lola and I felt a pang of guilt as the cruise director made the last call for the guided tour over the ship’s public address system, but we stayed in bed. My natural inclination after spending money on something is to wring every cent of value out of it, no matter how miserable it makes me. Skipping a cathedral seemed like a waste of euros, but I convinced myself that we were actually being more efficient. We could see more of the city without a paid guide since my preferred touring pace is just shy of a sprint. Refreshed from the extra sleep, we grabbed a quick breakfast then headed to the ship’s concierge desk to find the best way into the city. The recommendation we got set us down the path to disaster.
There were two ways from Not Strasbourg to Real Strasbourg. We could take a tram, which showed up every fifteen minutes, or we could have the front desk call us a cab. We only had two hours before the boat was set to cast off for its next destination, so time was more precious than money. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. I opted for the cab. When I did, the front desk person warned me about the driver. “He’s French,” she said. That meant he might be a tad late. He was coming from a different country after all, even if it was one I could hit with a rock from the boat.
Lola and I waited for ten minutes on the ship before venturing into Not Strasbourg to wait some more. There was no sign of a taxi anywhere.
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