A business trip to Kaiserstautern, Germany turned into a long weekend of sampling the various delights offered in a small corner of Germany/France. A back scenic route took us just over the border into France where we settled in for the weekend in the lovely city of Strasbourg. Our accomodation at a small B&B outside the city center in the neighborhood of Illkirch proved to be a perfect location just a minutes walk down the canal path to the tram stop. http://www.chambresdhotes-lesite.com/alsace/bas_rhin/au_canal,665.html
Is it France or Germany? Technically, it is in France but Strasbourg is a beautiful little city that embraces both cultures by evidence of its architecture…
A drive south to Colmar was a great day trip packed with many wonderful experiences and pleasing surprises for all the senses. We were attracted to Colmar because travel guru Rick Steves counts it as one of his all time favorite villages.
Colmar has become a popular tourist destination during the summer months and we were thankful that the frenzy had slowed down enough to breathe in the sights and sounds of this quaint French town at a leisurely stroll. Just as we were contemplating lunch, we stumbled across the old indoor market on the canal where we found fruits, cheeses and breads to accommodate our park bench picnic.
From Colmar we drove into the French wine country’s most beautiful scenic route called La Route Des Vins D’Alsace. The narrow road winds in and out of flourishing vineyards and flower bedecked villages that dot the lush landscape and make you want to pinch yourself – “I can’t believe I’m here!” The entire Alsace wine route zigzags across the foothills of the Vosges mountain range for over 100 miles but rather than zip through the scenery we decided to take our time making many stops and immersing ourselves in the rhythm of this quiet jewel of nature.
From Colmar we headed north through small charming villages with names like Ingersheim, Kayserburg and Ribeauville. They each had their own distinct appeal but our personal favorite was Riquewihr. Perhaps it was the cute oom-pah-pah band that greeted us on the cobbled street or the crowds of crazy students performing some ritual of street merry making that involved smurf-like costumes, lots of singing and buckets of water. In any case, as we walked through the gate of the village, we immediately felt like we had walked into a Disney fable like Beauty and the Beast. Whatever celebration was going on, the locals were definitely enjoying themselves and the lighthearted cheerfulness was contagious. At the end of the day, as the sun was settling low and the colors deepened, we spotted a castle high above the valley. Hedging our bets that it might still be open, we scooted up the forest road to the gate. We were rewarded with a perfectly restored fortress, no crowds and stellar views.
Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg (King’s Castle – German) was originally built in the mid- 12th century and after many seasons of habitation, desolation and destruction, occupation and finally reconstruction (early 1900’s) the castle is restored in its grandeur with a few embellishments. A quiet evening strolling around the castle grounds and exploring its massive interior was the perfect ending to a day in the land that inspires fairytales.
To finish off our trip, we headed back into Germany to a “weinfest” in Bad Durkheim hoping to meet up with some friends who had relocated from Crete to Germany. The rumor that the Germans love their festivals is definitely true as evidenced by the packed out massive amusement park in the town. Not very conducive to finding anyone in the sea of people, so we were disappointed to not connect with our friends. However, we did meet a nice German couple over our lunch of bratwurst and beer. Afterwards we retreated away from the crowds and found a quiet cafe in the town square to enjoy our afternoon espresso by a whimsical fountain.
A few thoughts about Germany/France: It was a welcome relief to exchange the chaos of Crete for the order of western Europe, espeically for my engineer/architect-minded husband! But what Crete lacks in organization, order and beauty of design, it makes up for in its laid-back ambience and Mediterranean natural beauty. All said, you have to take each culture for what it is and not expect it to be something it never was. Personal preference is not an excuse to be critical of any culture. Perhaps the greatest lesson we’ve learned in our traveling is to see through curious eyes and learn in humility to appreciate everything….