David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A short week in Alsace Lorraine, October 2008

For our trip back to our winter home in Nice, we decided to visit the Alsace Lorraine area of France, an area we had never visited although we love the wines. We left Chicago on Friday, Oct 3, about 2 hours late but made up much of the time getting to Heathrow. It felt like an old plane; I was seated next to an enormous man who hung over my seat. Felt like I had about 2/3 of a seat instead of a whole seat. Anyway, landed at LHR about 7:30 AM, went through Customs, got our luggage and took the free train to the new Terminal 5. Got our easy BA flight (there was even a sandwich snack!) to CDG at 12:05, arrived safely, picked up our car (a 4 door Skoda) and got on our way. Fumbled around a bit, but finally got the right direction to Nancy. A LONG trip – about 300 K; arrived about 8 PM and finally found our hotel, which D hated. Hotel Americain is on the pietonne, not really helpful as we couldn’t bring our car there, although we got to the corner, unloaded our luggage, and D took the car to a parking garage. I took the luggage up in the elevator. Ugly entry to hotel. Room small with basic BA, but nice view out the windows to the square opposite. Went downstairs to nextdoor Tavern for wine; D had pate campagne while I had a nice salad with greens, tomatoes, pork, etc. Then back to bed at 10 PM and slept until 9 AM!!!! Wow did that feel good.

Next morning we packed, loaded the car, and left it on the street while we went to explore the town. Place Stanislaus was our destination, a World Heritage Site, that is outstanding. Magnifique! Probably the most beautiful square I’ve ever seen in any country. All 4 corners have wrought iron gates, two with fountains, and gold highlights. The palace where King Stanislaus of Poland (Duc de Lorraine) lived in the mid-1700's is now the gorgeous Hotel de Ville and contains the Tourist Office. On one side of the square is the Opera House and the beautiful Grand Hotel de Nancy. The other two sides have restaurants and shops. All the buildings are the same style with figures atop all. The square this day was filled with garden displays, featuring Japan; wending their way through the square was a 10K race which finished at one of the gates of the city.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Grand Café Foy, deciding to eat inside since, although sunny, it was a bit chilly, although there were plenty of people outside under the heaters. Inside is beige/white/ and gold, with a leafy chandelier hanging from a frieze of cupids. We ordered a half bottle of a local white wine and a 3 course menu. David and I both had the foie gras which was served with a peach marmalade and toast points; David had the noix de porc bourguignone with delicious looking potatoes and I had the sandre (fish) with shrimp and a baked potato. For dessert David had a piece – the biggest serving I’ve ever seen – of raspberry tart while I had the baba au Rhum. 25 euro each plus the wine and worth every penny!

After lunch we headed for Strasbourg, about 160K away, a nice drive mostly on autoroutes through pretty countryside. We arrived in Strasbourg and found our wonderful hotel (with the help of a map drawn by a guy working in a bar), the romantic Beaucour Baumann, a ***, in a great location near the river, housed in 18th century buildings. Beautiful outside with flower boxes; lots of flowers leading up to the entrance. Nice lobby with sitting area and fireplace and they even get the International Herald Tribune! Our room is 414; not large but comfortable with a beautiful bathroom with a Jacuzzi (!); a small desk where I am sitting in the main room, and a TV with CNN. Very comfortable!

We left our stuff for later and went out to explore this town which we fell in love with on the drive in! There are rivers surrounding the city and the buildings are half-timbered and often leaning towards each other. We walked across a bridge and found the gothic cathedral which was started in the 12th c. and finished in the 15th. The inside is dark; they are in the process of cleaning the stained glass windows, quite a job as they take them down completely for full restoration. The outside is brownstone and covered with statues; flying buttresses line the sides. The square where the cathedral stands is large and has some beautiful buildings including the Tourist Office where we picked up a map.

The main Museum Rohan is nearby; we will visit tomorrow. We walked a bit along the river and then returned to our hotel so D could take a nap. For supper we headed back towards the cathedral, looking for a winestube. Not many open on a Sunday evening, but finally found a friendly place, where we had a pitcher of Reisling – D had quiche Lorraine while I had a Salade Nicoise, less fattening than the heavy Alsacien food. Towards the end of the meal, a guitarist came in and started entertaining. We liked him so much – terrific classical guitar – that we bought his CD. Home to bed. Slept in until 9 AM.

Monday, in spite of a forecast of rain ( it rained during the night), came with sunny weather. We headed to the covered bridge (Le Pont Couvert) and La Petite France, an area of old buildings and canals, where we wandered around for a while. Then walked back towards the cathedral to have some lunch. We went to Caveau Gurtlerhoft, in a 14th c. canonical building with a stone basement with stone coved ceilings. D had the chicken with mushrooms in gravy with spaetzle and I had a salad with bacon, potatoes, egg, tomatoes, and cheese. All accompanied by a ½ bottle of Pinot Gris. Finished up with a “crepe” of apple with Calvados to share. A bit too much but yummy.

Home for a short nap, then off to the museums. There are at least three museums housed in the Palais Rohan. We first went through the Fine Arts Museum, but were disappointed to see that it was a lot of really old stuff – mostly religious. Just when it got to the more interesting (to us) stuff – Corot, etc – it ended. Not really any impressionists. Then we toured the Archeological Museum which covered pre-historic man, up through the Celts, the Romans, and Medieval times. Quite interesting , but mostly what we have seen many times before. We went through a special exhibit of Japanese art – mostly urns and the like. Then on to the Museum of Decorative Arts which was housed in beautiful rooms of the palace. The windows look out on the river Ill. But again, not too much that we haven’t seen before. 6 euros (senior rate) for the two of us for all.

For dinner we found a nice winestub, Au Vieux Strasbourg, for a pichet of wine and dessert: D had an apple tart and I had meringue with ice cream and too much Chantilly (which D ate). And early to bed, ready to wend our way down the Route de Vins tomorrow.

It rained most of the night Monday but we woke to a beautiful morning. I’d had a bad night sleeping , so D had b’fast downstairs while I got ready to leave. We headed out to Obernai where we pick up a banana and a pastry for my b’fast, and we walked around the darling town with its market square with a statue of Ste. Odile and its Halle aux Bles (flour/wheat) built in 1554. Then we took a slight detour and headed to St. Die des Vosgnes. A beautiful drive over the mountains, a bit scary, and getting late – hoping we would not be after 12:00 for the museum – it would be closed – and that it would be open on Tuesday. Got there around 11:30, got to the TI who pointed us in the right direction. Got to the museum at around 11:45 and were directed to the biblioteque where the manuscript is shown. Saw it!!!! This book, printed in 1507 in St. Die, is the very first reference to the newly discovered land, calling it "America" and showing it on the Waldseemuller map. Quite moving. Then saw the cathedral, the cloisters; walked back through town, again crossing the Muerthe River, got the car and headed back to Alsace. Whew! We made it!

Passed through several tiny charming towns on the Route des Vins; especially liked St. Hypolyte. Stopped for a wine tasting - Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Gewurtstraminer - and bought some. Walked thorugh Ribeauville – very charming – picked up provisions for supper – cheese, sauscisson, wine, pear, grapes. Lots of photos.

Then on to Colmar – difficulty finding our place, but finally there. Wow! Charming room and great bathroom – huge, with window overlooking canal. A 4*, the Hostellerie Marechal. Had a wonderful picnic supper at about 5 PM in our room and then walked around the town. Exhausted! To bed.

Wednesday, of course, we were up early. We had a light breakfast at a café in the middle of town and headed to the famous Unterlinden Museum to see the Issenheim Altar, an ancient tryptych. We followed the entry to the Medieval Art section and waded through all the religious art, finally seeing the most famous piece. It was interesting, but we’re not really all that wild about holy art. We also saw the area of period furnishings which were quite interesting, especially an ancient piano and a couple of cribs, one with beautiful inlay. The area of modern art was closed.

Then we saw the Dominican Church, with its famous triptych of Mary of the Rose Bush. And we visited the Cathedral.

Back to the hotel for our reserved lunch. The Restaurant “A L’Echevin” is quite a place, with a narrow dining room looking out to the canal where little boats go by often with tourists. We ordered un coup de Champagne to start with the bouche amuse of ecrevisse in filo dough, just delicious. Our entrée was rabbit pate with beautifully dressed greens in a pastry shell. Then pike/perch, perfectly cooked with an almost caramelized outside, served with artichauts. Then wonderful beef with mashed potatoes layered with mushrooms. All was accompanied by a bottle of Riesling, a Grand Cru, which was delicious. For dessert there was a vanilla ice cream wrapped in chocolate and raspberry ice with tart cherries. We each had a glass of a perfumed dessert wine (Gewurtztraminer from Rolly Gassman Winery) that was outstanding. What a meal. I had to go and take a nap! A long one!

There wasn't much left of the afternoon. While David visited the Bertoldi (creator of the Statue of Liberty) Museum, I check email and took care of correspondence. We didn't even consider having a dinner. We were in bed early. We had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel at 7:15, and then left for the very long drive to Annecy. It was a rainy and dreary day.

It had cleared by the time we arrived in Annecy. We had quite a bit of trouble finding our hotel (this must be a major reason why people take tours!), a 4* L'Hotel de l'Abbaye, charming but not really living up to the 4* standards in my book. The staff is friendly and we were offered a room on the 1st floor, but David complained when he learned there was no elevator, so were offered instead a larger room, at the same price, on the rez de chausee (ground floor). It was nice, but the decoration was a bit drab; there was a lot more they could do with the room.

WE had arrived around 3:30, having had no lunch. The receptionist said there were several restaurants just up the hill (the hotel is located in Annecy-le-Vieux, quite a ways from the tourist area downtown, so not really conveninent). We walked up and found only one open at such an odd hour, Cafe Brunet. They welcomed us and, when they learned we hadn't eaten, found us a nice plate of cheeses and wonderful crusty bread; afterwards we shared a piece of apple tart - there's always some fruit tart in the kitchen. We enjoyed several glasses of local wine with all of this and it was just right. It served as lunch and dinner combined.

We went to bed early, exhausted from our drive and still catching up on jetlag. We were up early, had a large and expensive breakfast (the eggs were extra, total coming to $50!) at the hotel, and set off. We had no time to explore Annecy and it was again a really dreary day, so we set out to Nice. We stopped along the way for a late lunch of lapin au moutarde avec pate, the plat de jour in a country restaurant, the only thing on the menu. It was delicious. Then finally home to Nice.