Crepes Suzette!

Trip Start May 07, 2012
Trip End Jun 06, 2012

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Flag of France  , Alsace,
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Monday morning and we’re up and ready for the journey from Freiburg (Germany) to Colmar (France) with a three hour stop in Basel (Switzerland) to have a look around.

We board a German train at 10am that has already been travelling for 5 hours and it is full of business men who are already comfortable in first-class and seem to eye our arrival in much-travelled casual attire as a temporary arrangement – half expecting us to be moved on once the ticket inspector arrives – they are disappointed!

After 45 minutes we arrive in Basel, stuff our bags in left luggage lockers and take a pleasant walk around the city (the oldest in Switzerland).  The historic centre is very interesting but a couple of hours is sufficient to cover most of the important sights  particularly as dark clouds are gathering overhead and rain is threatening. Beneath the station we witnessed what must be one of the biggest (if not the only) bicycle ‘car’ park in Europe.  We also saw, on the platform next to ours, the French train that recorded the fastest train speed in the world, a staggering 575kph (356mph), in 2007. Basel is particularly interesting as it is about 2 miles from Germany and literally a few hundred yards from France, so it doesn’t take us long to walk into France and board our next train for the 40 minute journey to Colmar which sits slap bang in the middle of the Alsace wine region. We both hold a great affection for Alsace wines, particularly Gewürztraminer (for its great partnership with Thai food), so are looking forward to the penultimate leg of our trip. Our brief journey to Colmar was given added interest when at one of the intermediate stations a man, dressed as a woman, wearing a wig, make-up and a dress boarded the train and sat behind us. Maybe a normal occurrence in rural Alsace!

Our last hotel is in the centre of Colmar old town. It is very agreeable with a good view of the canal and overlooking a busy square of bars and cafes. Colmar is a relatively small town of 30,000 people but is the centre of a very important wine growing area dotted with small villages and vineyards.

For the final dining experience of our trip extensive research pointed us to a small bistro called La Cocotte de Grande-Mere and to cut a long story short we had a great night at this small restaurant which is very unique. It is owned by Jerome, and his Korean wife, Mina.  Jerome is front of house and employs only one other member of staff, the chef. He only opens Monday to Friday for lunch and in the evening from 7pm to 9pm – so he can enjoy his family life. The menu is limited as the dishes are seasonal and freshly prepared – and, as would be expected in a wine growing region, the wine list is excellent and compiled mostly of local vintages. After all the other customers had gone (we were last – as usual!) we had a good chat with Jerome and he decided to celebrate the end of our journey by opening a bottle of champagne and generously sharing it between the three of us, for which we thank him very much and wish him well deserved success. He is already rated in the top 5 of over 100 restaurants in Colmar via Trip Advisor.

Back to our hotel and switch on the TV to find the Diamond Jubilee concert from Buck Palace being aired on a French Channel, albeit a delayed transmission.  So we watched the whole thing – until 1.30 am. Very tired!

Up on Tuesday and have our last day in France. We planned to visit one of the Alsace wine villages, Riquewihr, by bus (a 20 minute journey). There is only one bus every 2 hours so it is critical that we catch the 12:10. We missed it by a minute! John’s excuse is the indecipherable signage on the 10 different stops at the Bus Station but all is not lost as we pal up with two Taiwanese tourists who have also missed the bus and commandeer a taxi to take us to Riquewihr. Our taxi driver is a real character named Boby who is a pony-tailed Spaniard married to an Italian who became a taxi driver in France four days ago but doesn’t like it because it’s hard work and the money’s bad. He says he can speak Spanish, French and Italian but not English, however he manages to entertain us in English for the whole of the 20 minute journey in his unique enthusiastic style. Glad we missed the bus and it ended up costing only double the bus fare anyway.

Riquewihr is a wonderful, remote, walled village which has been linked with the surrounding vineyards for hundreds of years. It is so picturesque it looks like a film set but still contains the working bottling plant of one of the most established vineyards in the Alsace region. During our three hour visit we managed to have a look round the village, enjoy a very nice lunch of Tarte Flambee (an local Alsace dish similar to pizza) and a very enjoyable wine testing session at the caves of the ‘Maison Zimmer’ vineyard. Our view of Alsace wines remains very positive but is now even better informed.

Good news…we managed to get the bus back but after the six-glass wine tasting we needed 45 mins shut-eye before our last night out. Not a spectacular finale as we only wandered 20 yards across the road from our hotel to the liveliest bar/restaurant in town and we were able to sit outside. However, our final evening was livened up by three events:
1. A group of evil looking Hells Angels, some from a French Chapter and some from a Holland Chapter roared into town and sat at the table behind Janet. They were well-hard and sipped chilled white wine and shared a pizza!
2. There was a local culture show nearby where sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, husbands and wives danced together. The vids are below. We’ll say no more!
3. Amongst the crowd watching the dancing family tree was the strangest person we had seen all holiday (and that took some beating…). He was a bearded middle-aged gentleman attired in a pair of flip-flops, swimming trunks and a suit jacket (temperature: 10C). Unfortunately we also noticed that his toe-nails were about an inch long! Again see pic.

After all this and a final glass of ‘Marc de Gewürztraminer’ (Grappa) it was time to get our heads down and prepare for a return to the UK in the morning. We cannot believe it’s nearly all over………..
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