Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Mulhouse – trains, planes and automobiles

This post covers our time spent in Mulhouse, Walsall’s twin town in France.
We drove into France on one of the few free motorways, passing a large Peugeot factory and an airport. On the way out of Switzerland signs pointed toward Basel-Euro Airport. When we entered France the signs suddenly changed to Basel-Mulhouse Airport. Even though this joint airport is technically in France, it seems the Swiss didn’t want to even acknowledge Mulhouse at all on their signs!
Until I started work in Walsall I’d never heard of Mulhouse. I knew the name now because it is the only town brave enough to have become Walsall’s twin town! Mulhouse though was obviously not content with having the jewel of the Midlands as it’s only twin town and has gone to acquire 5 or 6 other twin town buddies as well.

Left: Mulhouse
Below: Train Museum


When we were driving though the town centre the first thing we noticed was the shiny new tram system. Like many French cities such as Caen, Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand, the French have turned to the tram to solve their public transport problems. We got a bit lost heading to the campsite (our GPS tried to usher us under a low bridge that would’ve decapitated poor Ace) but eventually we arrived at the Camping Municipal. Run by the council, they charge the bargain price of €12 a night plus only €1 for 2 hours of WiFi connectivity, bargain! The toilets and showers were old but okay, although there was something wrong with hot water while we were there.
The next morning we got up early and bought a joint ticket to the train and car museums at the campsite reception. We started off with the Cité du Train, when we arrived just before 10am, two bus loads of pensioners had just arrived and were milling about in front of the brightly coloured façade of the museum. Some of them seemed rather fascinated at these young(ish) anglais in their right-hand drive camping-car.



We entered the first part of the museum, a huge hall filled with engines and carriages. The first lot of oldies had moved on from the first display so Sarah and I stayed back listening to the translation on our audio guide. A woman in her 30s with a video camera came over to us mumbling under her breath. Eventually she repeated in French “I can’t film the trains with you two in the way” motioning to us that we should move on from the first display. How bloody rude! I told her we’d bought tickets like everyone else and she could get stuffed!

We spent two hours in all at the train museum. There are huge 2 halls full of locomotives which tell the history of the railways. Some of the exhibits include the President of France’s train (until rail travel was discontinued in the early 70s), a snow plough train, early locomotives designed by British engineers for use in France, and a video showing the TGV breaking the world record speed of 574 km / hour.
Below: Automobile Museum, looks cool in black and white hey?


After lunch we headed to the French National Automobile Museum – the Schlumpf Collection. Once again the museum is quite spectacular – housed in a former woolen mill, there are over 400 cars on display. The former owner of the woollen mill, Fritz Schlumpf, amassed a huge private collection with the profits of his textile ventures. From the 1960s onwards he had a full time workshop of several dozen employees restoring cars for him. In the early 1970s the price of textiles dropped and Schlumpf fled for Switzerland. The government took over his collection and opened the museum in the 1980s.


Cars here range from very early models at the turn of the century right up until the early 1970s. Bugattis were a clear favourite of Fritz with dozens of them in the collection. We took a guided 20 minute tour of the museum which pointed out the highlights. I’m not particularly a car lover, but even I was in awe of the sheer number and variety of vehicles on display. The gem of the museum is a priceless Bugatti Royal – only 6 of which are in existence.


After the car museum we had a look around Mulhouse town centre. Most of it was fairly quiet being a Sunday, but in the main square in front of the cathedral, Place de la Reunion, there was a textile fair taking place and it was quite lively. After a wander round we jumped back in Ace around 4pm, we had a campsite to get to before sundown!

Left: Someone had to pose in the fur coat and hat and it wasn't going to be Sarah!
Below left: 1920s Bugattis


Below: Watch out, Sarah's behind the wheel! / Formula 1 cars

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