Alsace Route du Vin, Hogwarts and Barbary Monkeys

Trip Start Jun 20, 2010
Trip End Jul 14, 2010

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Flag of France  , Alsace,
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We have been chasing the hotter weather as we've traveled from Amsterdam to Bruges to Luxembourg, and now in Colmar we have finally caught up to it. The temperature is about 90F and sunny. Carolyn has come down with allergies that are making her eyes red and itchy, and I am fighting a cold, so it is a good day to take a break from a lot of walking and tour through the Alsace Route du Vin (Wine Route) in the car.

First stop was the Hyper-U, a supermarket near the B&B, to get some water, wine and fruit for snacking. I didn't realize until we were at the cashier that the fruit had to be weighed and have a price sticker put on it before going to the register. The cashier's hand gestures were all the communication that was needed to understand. Mick dashed back to get the fruit weighed, and luckily the cashier and the woman waiting in line behind us took the delay in stride. We sheepishly left with the goods, a little embarrassed but also with a little more knowledge about how to buy fruit at the supermarket!

We took the expressway from Colmar to the small village of Saint-Hippolyte, where the Haute-Koenigsburg castle is perched on the mountain top overlooking the town. The castle was restored in the early 1900s during the reign of the German emperor Wilhelm II. The Alsace region has been in dispute between France and Germany a number of times, particularly because France believes the national border should be at the Rhine River, while Germany believes the Vosges Mountains are the best natural border. The castle, like the region, has switched ownership between the countries several times. 

Visiting castles is a great activity to do with Sofia, since it usually requires a short hike through the woods to get to the castles, and then once there much opportunity for climbing and exploring. The Haut-Koenigsburg castle is popular for school field trips, and had a number of summer camp groups when we visited. The staircases, turrets, and furnished rooms that were open to the public were fun to explore for both the kids and parents. Much of the castle looked like the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and you could imagine that the children were walking through the staircases on their way to wizarding school. The top floor of the castle had a breathtaking view of the plateau below, and the many villages and vineyards along the Route du Vin. The Haute-Koenigsburg is definitely a worthwhile stop if you are in the Alsace.

Not far from the castle is the Montagne de Signes, a "Monkey Mountain" wildlife park that is home to about 300 Barbary Macaques. The monkeys live free ranging in the pine forest, and there are walking trails for the humans to walk through the park and interact with the monkeys. You pay the admission fee and are given a handful of popcorn at the entrance that can be given to the monkeys as you walk around. The monkeys seem to live a great life in the park. Some were hanging out by the trail watching the humans go by and taking a piece of popcorn if offered to them. Others were napping, playing, or grooming each other. There were several newborn monkeys clinging to their mothers, and young monkeys making mischief. There was even a monkey that had managed to catch a big frog and was sitting in a tree using the frog as its play toy. It seemed that the monkeys were just as interested in the humans and our behavior as we were of them.

Once back in the car, we drove down the road that connects the many wine-making villages. A number of these villages were completely destroyed during World War II, and then rebuilt afterwards, but some were miraculously spared. All contain tidy half-timbered houses with colorful flower pots on the windows and narrow cobblestone streets. Each village is surrounded by vineyards growing the varietals of the region -- Gewurztraminer (too sweet for my taste), Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, and Pinot Noir. We stopped in the village of Hunawihr, and walked through the town's fortified church and adjacent graveyard. The church is shared by both Protestant and Catholic faiths. The rows of vineyards were planted almost to the foot of the church walls, and approaching thunderstorms added a dramatic flair to the environs. 

The evening was spent relaxing in Leslie's back yard, with some wine and food we bought at the charcuterie a few blocks away. Later that evening we walked into Colmar's old city and had dinner outside in a small square at a brasserie that serves traditional Alsacian food. I thought it would be healthy to get a salad for dinner, instead of another night of cheese, potatoes and ham. The salad brought out had croutons fried in bacon grease and chunks of thick bacon layered on top. It was good, but not as healthy as I thought it would be! Sofia struggled with her quiche Lorraine, but more than made up for it with an ice cream sundae for dessert.
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