That trip… Sixième Jour: From Upcountry…

Our last day in Alsace.

We choose to hike up the hill to the Chateau L’Ortenberg we have been looking at almost everyday. The view is spellbinding. The Vosges Mountains on one side, the pretty town of Scherwiller on the other, vineyards all over. A nip in the air with the promise of a storm, and the sun obscured by heavy clouds. Uphill hikes are always ‘uphill’ for me, but Souvik doesn’t even pause for breath. So he gets to lug my camera. Which I keep pulling out of the bag, wanting to take pictures of everything. Naturally, we take a few wrong decisions, plodding on until we realise that walking downhill won’t get us to the castle up there. Then we spot the right path that somebody has marked with fluorescent chalk, string, some marking on trees. Huh! It’s steep, I keep my head down and pause at every hundred steps to catch my breath that got left behind. It’s a good thing, because there are lovely views at every pause. Then we catch a glimpse of the castle wall and I give it my all to get there quickly… Only to find that it’s locked up, and there’s no way in. :-/ We are disappointed, but rationalise that we had our oxygen spa and need to get back in time to finish packing. A quick peek into the chapel where I parked the bike, and we are off to Scherwiller, 800m away.

There’s a fast and furious storm just as we get indoors. Lucky to have escaped that! Missed breakfast, so find our way to Chez Cathy Salon de thé for croissants and coffee. Buy a couple of souvenirs (kougelhopf moulds), stuff them into the already full suitcases. Wisely decide not to buy the local wine we’ve been drinking everyday, because then the suitcases wouldn’t have shut.

We meet Nick to say goodbye, and he says, oh you should have gone around the locked ruins to the other side to the main castle which is accessible. Really? We missed those chalk marks on that trail then. It’s time to leave. Madame Eltier brings her taxi around, and we say au revoir to Madame & Monsieur Ramstein who have made a name for themselves for their excellent hospitality. The taxi zips away passing some of the now-familiar towns – Dambach-la-ville, Ebersheim, Epfig – and in no time we’re at Gare Strasbourg to take the fast train to Paris.
Au revoir Alsace. Paris, here we come!

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That Trip… Cinquième Jour: the Big Ride

Day 5 dawned bright and clear. We had an ambitious plan of cycling up to the Maginot Line at the French-German border, and then getting back to Scherwiller (60 km). Wanting to beat the sun on this big ride, we were off at 6.30 in the morning, riding directly into the sun. Negotiated our way through Colmar, Horbourg-wihr, Muntzenheim, and found a dedicated cycling route all the way past Atrzenheim into Marckolsheim. Tree lined, canal running alongside, birds chirping, ducks swimming – just my idea of perfect cycling conditions.

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The Ligne Maginot was of great interest to Souvik, being the Great War buff that he is. I am neutral. The tanks and weapons from the French Germans and Americans are displayed, but it is a rather tiny exhibit. Here’s the memorial:

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From the Maginot Line we cycled across the river Rhin over to Germany. Found a beer garden on the banks of the river, ideal for resting and people watching.

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A couple of hours later, we set off towards ‘home’, following the direct route from Marckolsheim to Selestat and finally Scherwiller. The weather stayed good throughout, with a cloud diffusing the sun’s intensity. We could probably have made it a full military day with Neuf Brisach in the plan, but we didn’t have that weather forecast when we set out.
A few rest stops around Selestat, and we made it back well in time for a shower and snooze before dinner.

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As for dinner, our last 4-course meal is best described only in pictures. You get to see the veggie ones, because Souvik couldn’t wait long enough to take a picture :-D. Accompanied by a glass of Crémant, a Pinot Gris, and a digestif.

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That trip…. Deuxième Jour: Chapelle-hopping

The second day of our holiday dawned bright and clear, and Mr full-of-foie gras Basu decided to jog while I blogged. I was up at 4, from a combination of jet lag and the excitement of being on the bike.

Nick met us after our breakfast of croissants with cheese, Nutella and coffee. He had an exciting route mapped out for us – to Dambach la-Ville then Epfig, Ebersmunster, through Ebersheim and back to Scherwiller. As we’ve come to expect, Nick gave us some good ideas on where to stop and what to see.

Half an hour later, we were all saddled up and ready to go.

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First task – take the bike path through the village of Kientzville to The medieval town of Dambach la Ville. And we got lost. The good news is that the spires of the chapels in nearby villages can be seen from a distance, and a few wrong turns later we were back on track.

Dambach is a fortified city dating back to the 14th century. We stopped in the shop to pick up some lunch first – un baguette, fromage, pêches, deux oranges, then cycled to the town centre to park our bicycles at the Office de tourisme. Then wandered around to admire some 15th century buildings, half-timbered houses, fountains and other structures.

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Right out of Dambach, we turned left to climb the hill to the Chapelle St. Sebastien. That hill sucked the juice out of me, and I had to walk up from midway. For a fabulous view of Dambach La Ville below.

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We spent a few minutes inside the chapel, a cool relief from the intense sun. And it wasn’t even noon!

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Then we set off on a longish ride, through Bienschwiller, toward Epfig, through the farms and vineyards on dedicated cycle paths, to the Chapelle Saint Marguerite.

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The ‘highlight’ of this chapel is the ossuary – holding skulls and bones of juveniles during the peasant revolution. The interior of the chapel is calm and inviting, and they have a short commentary about the history in 3 languages. I loved it!

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We moved on towards Kogenheim, and turned off towards Ebersmunster. But not before stopping for lunch at a banc de l’impératrice (the Empress bench), built all over Alsace for peasants to rest. Feasted on our baguette and cheese, slurped our peaches and were refreshed for another long ride ahead.

The Abbey of Ebersmunster was to be our last stop, suggested by Nick as a study of contrasting styles from the previous chapel. And what a shock it was!

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The ornate interiors would not have put me off had we not seen the simple dignified structure just before. Interesting, though!
Getting out of Ebersmunster, we had a little confusion of the north-south direction, but just ended up taking the longer way to Ebersheim, and continuing straight home to Scherwiller.

Dinner that night was at a charming family run restaurant in Itterswiller (among the few to be open on Sunday evening).

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We had a detailed discussion on every course (!) during which I agreed to try the fish, knowing that Souvik would eat most of it. We started with a glass of delicious Riesling, then starters of toasty bread with salmon pâté and little shrimp (Souvik ate them all), salad with mushrooms and other standard ingredients (delish) for me, and chicken confit for the hungry husband. Followed by the grilled fish and noodles in a delicate cheesy sauce and fluffy pastry for me and a gigantic chicken cordon bleu with sautéed potatoes for the boy. I had a few bites of that fish, and passed the rest to Souvik, trading for the yummy potatoes. When we couldn’t finish the entire quantity, the lady offered the local Munster cheese with cumin. We were expecting some durian-type smelly cheese, but this one was harmless, and very nice with the toasted cumin. Not done yet – a small portion of citron glacé to round off the meal, and we were in food coma!

That trip which could be called Notre Tour de France…Première Jour

A day spent in an airplane, train and car, but no cycle yet! Our French vacation has begun, and unsurprisingly, the boxes that were checked off are cheese (yum!), wine (wines!) and a four-course dinner of some fine French cuisine (tears of joy and burps of satisfaction),
The train journey from Paris to Strasbourg set the mood – all the ugliness of CDG was forgotten, and I cringe to admit that I gushed over the goats in the fields, among other agricultural landscapes all the way.

A short taxi ride later, the pretty town of Scherwiller presented itself:

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We’ve booked this tour with Susi Madron’s Cycling for Softies, and we were met by their local rep, Nick, for an orientation about the region – the history, people, food and drink. Souvik’s eyes opened wide at the mention of WWII relics along our route, and we have a longer wishlist than the number of days available.

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After that refreshing glass of Crémant and all the cheese, we needed to get moving, so the first order of sightseeing was walking about the village of Scherwiller.

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We learnt that the Alsace region is one of the most prosperous regions of France. People are paid to plant flowers in their houses and the mayor of each town has the important task of deciding the date on which the plantation will take place in their town. All makes for a uniformly beautiful look that I’m happy to admire as we walk through the villages.

As it often happens during travel, we met some interesting people. Isabelle was gardening in her house, and we stopped to have a chat in half-baked Franglais. She ended up gifting me a couple of roses from her garden, and completely making my day:

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Our short and slow walk wasn’t much of a workout as it was an appetiser for the elaborate 4-course meal that we had over 2 hours. For Reva’s benefit, I’m listing them all: starting with the crémant, amuse bouche (some corn and toasted pumpkin seeds under cauliflower foam (I think)), then foie gras and pinot gris for Souvik and salade with pinot blanc for me. The main course was pork sausage over veggies and champignons with veggies (figure out who ate what). Souvik had a Pinot noir in this course, and I wisely declined more wine. I shouldn’t have to tell you that every course was outstanding, and more than once we wondered how the French could stay thin! And then came this fabulous dessert of ice cream over a base of cake over a base of fruit and nuts and a sugared crispy bread stick. I have described it poorly, but it was the undoing of us. I think I’m going to wite down every meal in detail, so reader, if you don’t care about such tidbits, you should simply skip over to the end 🙂

And that’s the last view we had before we tucked in:

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