When I was a young girl, I remember my father, a doctor, bringing home beautiful photo wall calendars from the office, given to him by the pharmaceutical company reps., during the holidays. This was my first introduction to places far away that I hoped to see one day in my lifetime. In addition to Switzerland, a country I have wanted to see ever since then, the French countryside was depicted on the pages of those gorgeous calendars. Would I ever really see towns that quaint and picturesque?
Well, Saturday, my question was answered. It felt like déjà vu; I was walking through the pages of those calendars.
Our day was spent on a full-day tour of the Alsace region; the smallest of the 22 regions in France. Our guide, Patricia, briefed us on the history of this region, on our way to the wine road. I felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to get the front row on the bus (for fairness, we can only take the front row once), because Patricia was fascinating to listen to and watch. (Besides, I was able to get some fantastic photos out the front window of the bus, shooting in “sport” mode at a fast shutter speed.)
Patricia’s story of the Alsace region was quite personal, as her grandmother had been forced to change nationalities four times, as the region was fought over by the French and German; the last time being in World War II. One day she was French, the next day she was German. Her children were born different nationalities, even though they were born in the same house- in the same bed! But, the Alsace region changed hands a total of eight times in history. Fortunately, now, the two countries are part of the European Union, there is only one currency, and no passport has to be shown; the borders are open and free. And, even more fortunate is how the Germans and French now work together in harmony and speak both languages. As a matter of fact, preschool (which is free), is taught in German by a German teacher who comes from Germany two days each week. Then, on two other days, classes are taught in French by a French teacher. So, children grow up speaking both languages fluently, as well as the dialect that combines both languages. This dialect grew out of resistance by those who resented having their language and nationality changed so abruptly. If the region was controlled by the Germans, French was the forbidden language. When the French were in control of the region, it was forbidden to speak German. Today, with children being taught both languages, they can grow up and attend University in either Germany or France and be completely comfortable in either country.
As we made our way to Colmar, a one hour drive from Strasbourg where the River Navigator was docked, we also learned some interesting facts about our first stop of the day. Colmar has a small Statue of Liberty in the center of the roundabout leading to the town, because the sculptor of the statue was born in there.
Colmar, the capitol of Alsace, also has the distinction of being the location of France’s annual wine judging convention where medals are awarded to the top winemakers. We had a walking tour of the old city center and time on our own, before we continued down the wine road. At this point, I thought this was the best stop of the cruise (once we left Brugge). It was loaded with charm and there were scenes worth photographing everywhere we turned.
During our free time, I did take a break from photography and found a supermarket, so I could pick up some French chocolate bars and some bakery. For .60 Euro, I picked up a delicious Bavarian soft pretzel to munch on during our bus ride along the wine road.
Driving through all the little towns along the Alsace wine road was like being at the Tour de France. It was Saturday, so several cyclists were passing by; many in matching club jerseys. The day was absolutely gorgeous; clear blue sky and sunny. We couldn’t have planned the day any better!
We were given money to enjoy lunch on our own, so it was nice to spend our two hours in Riquewihr at our own pace, in our own chosen way. 90% of the grapes grown in Alsace are for white wine, so this is the most popular drink for the locals to enjoy, along with a tarte flambé, one of the local culinary favorites. Mom and I split one at an adorably quaint little restaurant on one of the side streets of Riquewihr, along with a glass of the local pinot gris. DELICIOUS! A traditional tarte flambé is made of dough that is rolled out very thin and topped with crème fraiche, ham and onions, and served hot on a wood board.
Before and after our light lunch, Mom and I explored the cobblestone streets, turning every which way to shoot one photo that seemed better than the last. Everywhere we turned, there were colorfully painted half-timbered houses with baskets over flowing with beautifully blooming bright flowers. And, every business had a beautifully made sign posted on the façade; some quite cute and humorous, but, all, well-made and interesting. It made me realize just how ugly and boring signs are in front of businesses back in the U.S.A.!
The symbol of the Alsace region is the stork, so it was common to see storks on everything from pottery motifs to doll clothes to adorable stuffed storks, hanging on displays in the boutiques. By the way, the stork has been the symbol of this region for so long, I think this is where the idea of storks bringing babies got started. I wonder what age the children of the Alsace region learn that storks don’t deliver babies after all…
Riquewihr was quite small, but I could have easily gone AWOL and holed up at one of their B&B’s for a few more days. But, it was time to move on to Domaine Klipfel, for our afternoon wine tasting.
Alsace wine region is the only region in France that has the name of the varietal on their wine labels. The bottles are always tall with long necks and mostly green in color. Alsace is best known for their rieslings and gewürztraminers, however, there are seven varietals grown in this region with pinot noir being the only red. Since 1818, Domaine Klipfel has been making wines from each of the seven varietals without any blends. We tasted four different white wines, and, for the first time, I found a riesling I liked. So, for 7.80 Euros, I bought a bottle to take back and enjoy on the ship during the next few dinners. For a corkage fee of $7.50, I thought it was worth reliving the memory of a wonderful day!
After nice pours of a dry Riesling, a dry muscat, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer (too sweet for my taste), we were quite relaxed for our ride back to Strasbourg, to the River Navigator.
Seen on the road back to the River Navigator: