Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Alsace Fairyland (by Lisa) UPDATED with photos!

Search your imagination for an image of the French/German border (the valley bound by the Vosges Mountains to the West and the Black Forest to the East) and every stereotype is indeed true. The pristine villages of half-timber houses, courtyard fountains, winding passages, red tile roofs, hanging flower baskets, citizens on bikes, central cathedrals. And while we didn’t stumble into the Maginot Line (weren’t even asked to show passports crossing the border to Germany) nor see abandoned tanks from France and Germany’s repeated fighting in this region, there were fighter jets overhead, lots of them. We first thought they might be patrolling the border, but then learned there is a military flight school near our village.

The weather was great, and being in a valley like that reminded us of home. I had an attachment to Alsace before even arriving. Maybe because we were seriously thinking of living here, maybe because I admire the region’s tenacity given all the conflict seen at this crossroads of Europe. This region seems to be thriving. Colmar and Mulhouse are adorable small towns where it’s easy to wind your way through narrow streets admiring the architecture. Colmar is the birthplace of Bartholdi, sculptor of our Statue of Liberty. Colmar also saw Rick in Beer Heaven--he found a wine shop with a beer room with 300 beers and Irie and I left him there to drool and take his time picking out a selection of mostly Belgian, some German, and no French beer. Ken, take a look at the pics and decide how you want to bien profiter (take advantage) when you are here. Irie found her way to Gingerbread Heaven and we took our time picking out little cookies and macarons. In Mulhouse we came upon the ubiquitous merry go round. By this time Irie is having to use her own money to ride. Not only did she ride but she found out the price, bought her ticket and arranged her ride all on her own. We were nearby, supervising from a café.

We planned a day trip to Strasbourg for the end of the week. By this time we were friendly enough with the family next door that we could leave Maggie outside in the compound. They were pleased to look after her. I really looked forward to seeing this city, mostly because it already seemed familiar from all our research. It really was postcard perfect on this sunny late summer day and I had stabs of doubting our decision. Not only is Strasbourg beautiful, it is vibrant and cosmopolitan without being fussy or uppity. There was a certain energy to it that seemed very livable. Maybe the energy came from the candy store that Irie swore must be like Honeyduke’s from Harry Potter. Instead of Every Flavor Beans they had Every Flavor Caramels and Every Flavor Suckers (good suckers). I kept reminding myself that the rivers Ill and Rhine aside, Strasbourg is landlocked, and very cold and grey in winter. I would suffer. We are already considering a train trip up for a sparkly and enchanting pre-Christmas weekend.

Alsace is also famous for its wine road which winds throughout the valley through charming villages, one after another. Our last day in Alsace we left Irie with the neighboring family and had a date wine-tasting.
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The layout of the vineyards is gorgeous--lush, green and oh-so organized. The villages dot themselves at the edge of the Vosges and it’s an embarrassment of riches with the number of wineries. How to choose? No method really, just drive into a village, find a place to park and look for the signs that say déguster et vente (tasting and sales). The first stop caught the elderly vintner off guard, as I think he said his son and daughter in law usually man le cave. I think we woke him from a nap. The family tree on the wall traced back to the 1600s. The second guy was our age, and we interrupted him in his work, but was very happy to chat and keep pouring. He has an award winning Pinot Gris, and a Grand Cru Pinot Gris, which we loved. The first sensation of this one was “peaches.” He also taught us about the Alsatian Pinot Noir--which is like a cotton coverlet compared to the goose down comforter that is the Oregon Pinot Noir. They actually chill this red, which is more like a rosé, but don’t think of blush wine!! But you don’t drink it straight out of the fridge, all the taste is lost, and you don’t let it come to room temp either. This guy was great, because his main take home message was there is no right or wrong way--you just like what you like. The third one seemed surprised to have any visitors at all. He was welcoming nevertheless (they all were). He had several awards too, but they were from the 80’s. We asked to try a Muscat, not being familiar with this grape, and he hesitated. He said it was a project of his son’s, and while we were free to taste it, it wasn’t bottled. “It lacks something,” he said. Yes, it lacked something. It also had something. “Armpit” on first whiff, “sausage” on tasting it (Hi to my friend Kim who used to pour for Paschal, and for whom I loved to charm with my tasting descriptions). That one went into the bucket. He did have a cremant (sparkling wine) and a Riesling that was good. I am happy to report the Rieslings here are dry. We learned German Rieslings are sweeter and that German wine tends to be drunk by Germans. This guy also had a lovey-dovey cat and a wife who told us about her daughter who had just moved to Canton, Ohio for 3 years. We gave our condolences. During each of our 3 visits I introduced ourselves as from Oregon, mentioned the wines there, and then had to explain where Oregon is. Oh yes, we are also purchasing these treasures for 10€ or less per bottle. At the grocery store it’s even less. As I catalogue my French experience for later comparison to things at home I am already wincing at the cost of French wine at my local co-op.

(PS. to family: lots of emails bouncing back, specifically kari, brenda, norm and ken. Not sure why, but hopefully you'll see this. Kari, talk to Ken about flight deals. Ken, you are definitely welcome to stay, and that time is open. I hope to have internet at the apt. in about a week. -Rick)


DanaM said...

Warm greetings to you all!
We have been loving reading your blog. We almost feel like we are their - with the exception of the actual food, wine, scenery, you know!! Give Irie a squeeze for us - particularily Jenna - she was wondering how Irie was on her first day in a new land!
Hoping to connect with you soon to talk possible business idea. Are you on email or should I call??

Best regards to you all and keep writing such beautiful memories. I say Peter Mayle move over!!

Kari said...

dad forwarded your e-mails. I'm not sure what the problem would be but keep trying. I've talked to Ken about flights and dates. Seems I have to pick a date soon if I'm going to come. Still not sure about the $$$. Keep the posts coming!