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Alsace and Paris 2010 Archives

July 16, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane

*Now I can't get that stupid song out of my head.*

Anyway, we're off to France tomorrow! We haven't been to Europe for two years, so we're very excited. Larry's been working like a dog, so he's really looking forward to relaxing with good wine and food in Alsace. He's also thrilled because we'll be in Paris for the finish of the Tour de France.

In Alsace we're staying here: http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p517489 Planning on doing lots of hiking, enjoying the food and wine (hopefully hiking off some calories), poking around the villages and wineries, a trip into Strasbourg.

Then we'll be in Paris for a few days, staying at a favorite apartment in the 14th. http://www.vrbo.com/127079
In Paris we're planning on doing plenty of aimless wandering, seeing the Tour whiz by, going to the Albert Kahn museum and gardens, eating at some favorite restaurants and new ones, exploring the Canal St martin area, visiting the Musée Jacquemart-André, the photography Museum, and a Ronis exhibit. Oooh, and it's Soldes week!

I'm using my new Touch to carry much of the trip info--I've loaded in lots of documents, off-line maps, Zagat Paris, Rough Guide Paris, and lots of lists and portions of my GoogleMaps. We'll have the laptop, so I'll hopefully be blogging as we go.

July 19, 2010

Haut Koenigsbourg, Ribeauvillé, Back Roads

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We had very easy flights yesterday, and even slept for a few hours. We hit traffic driving down to Alsace, so didn't arrive in La Vancelle until after 5. The village is up a forested road outside Selestat, very peaceful. Houses climb up the mountainside, there's a well-regarded Michelin one-star, a hairdresser, and the usual collection of bored pre-teens hanging out. Our apartment is lovely and comfortable, in a restored 1920's house with the owners downstairs. We had picked up a few groceries from the little supermarket in the Frankfort airport (in Terminal 1, the far end of the C section's ground floor) so had cheeses, bread, and wine for dinner. We ate on our little gazebo, then poured ourselves into bed.

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On Monday, we headed down the hill into Liepvre. It's a small town with a few small factories and a tiny Monday market with what Jean-Paul, our landlord, told us was a good chicken stand. We picked up a small chicken, then some vegetables and fruit from another stand. At a boulangerie we got a seeded baguette and a slice of cherrry clafoutis and one of berry tart. We dropped off the groceries, then headed to the nearby Haut Koenigsbourg, the heavily-restored chateau on a neighboring hill. It's a 12-th century castle that was completely rebuilt by the German emperor Wilhelm II (Alsace was owned by Germany from 1871–1918). Such a massive rebuilding and reconstruction feels very Disney-esque, since every corner has been redone. It was fairly crowded, and there were many tourists dragging their children around. We heard mostly French and German being spoken, some British-accented English, and only one other American. In any case, we enjoyed the visit.

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We headed down the hill, and turned onto the Wine Route, the road that runs through the major wine-producing villages. There were tasting houses around every turn, some quite large, a few just a little stand in front of the vines.

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We stopped in Kintzheim, a pretty town with a few restaurants. We got an outside table at the Auberge Saint-Martin. We were rather daunted by the portion sizes we saw on neighboring tables, and so ordered just tarte flambees and some reisling. I love tarte flambee, with a light crisp crust and rich topping of onions, cream and flecks of ham. Larry got one with girolles, mushrooms. Both were delicious. I am always amazed seeing French businessmen devouring the huge 3-course lunches with wine, then going back to work. I'd be only good for a nap after one of those meals.

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We then headed into Ribeauvillé, looking up at the three chateaus on the hillsides above town. and found parking. The town was full of tourists, including a busload of very posh-looking British teens milling around aimlessly. Once you walked off the main street there are lovely half-timbered houses, quiet streets, and more wine merchants. We did some tasting, and bought a bottle of reisling.

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We had seen on the map a small road that headed up through the hills to the west of Liepvre, so drove up, and up, and then down through the forests. We ended up at St Marie-des-Mines, an old silver-mining town. Attractive and everyday-looking, nestled against the Vosges mountains. By now it was after five, so we headed home. Dinner was our little chicken, bread, some sauteed zucchini, and the yummy tarts.

July 20, 2010

Riquewihr, Bergheim, Dinner at the Farm

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On Tuesday we drove the Wine Route into Riquewihr. By this time we had figured out where to pull off the road to get some nice views without getting rear-ended by a speeding tractor or tourist with a bit too much reisling under his belt.

Riquewihr is a beautifully preserved 15th century town surrounded by vine-covered slopes. Although the main street was already getting crowded by tourists at 10 in the morning, there were plenty of quiet back streets for walking.

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Jean-Paul was in town, and had invited us to drop by to see the building he's in the process of renovating. "Renovating" seems too mild a word for what he's doing, which is rebuilding a 15th century winemaker's house into modern luxury apartments while keeping as much of the past intact as possible. The house is built into the old ramparts, so the back windows will overlook the vineyards; and the front will have traditional glassed-in balconies overlooking something very rare in town--a garden. We picked our way through the construction rubble to peer at the huge old wine press in the basement, then followed Jean-Paul as he showed us the massive old beams, original carpenter's marks in woodwork, the new stairs, and how the apartments will be configured. An interesting aspect they've recovered was the old "peeping window" at the corner, where the occupants could check out who was coming or going on the street below. I tell you, I want the apartment on the top floor which will have glassed-in views onto the rooftops and vineyards beyond.

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Continue reading "Riquewihr, Bergheim, Dinner at the Farm" »

July 22, 2010

Colmar, Hillsides

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We headed into Colmar early on Wednesday, wanting to beat the heat and crowds. Colmar is a small city with a beautiful old core and a wonderful museum.
We easily found parking in the lot near the big movie theater, a few blocks from the tourist office and the Unterlinden Museum. It was just 9, so we decided to begin with the museum, before it got crowded. The museum is in a 13th century former convent, and is best known for the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. The altarpiece was made for a monastery which treated those with Saint Anthony's fire, a disease people used to get from eating fungus-infected grain. (Hey, isn't travel educational?) The altarpiece was made of several panels showing scenes from Christ's life, which opened up like two books on either side of the main picture. The museum has a nice collection of Roman and early Gothic art, and then you get into the former chapel where the panels of the Altarpiece have been hung for viewing, along with models so you can see how it originally fit together. It's stunning.

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Downstairs are rooms of historical relics from the area, dating from neolithic times. And upstairs are more pieces of regional art, as well as some modern works. A very nice museum, on a scale that isn't overwhelming.

When we finished, the temperature was already over 90. We followed a walking guide from the Michelin Green Guide, which would through the old part of Colmar, "Little Venice." A a few small canals run through town, and this is where the tanners and fishermen used to live. The houses are the traditional Alsatian style, beautifully restored. You can even take a flat-bottomed boat through the canals.

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We also visited several of the town's churches, and saw the lovely 15th century Virgin of the Rose Bower. We didn't get to the Musee Bertholdi, about the Colmar-born designer of the Statue of Liberty. One wonderful building is the Maison des Tetes, a Renaissance townhouse decorated with hundreds of carved heads.

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We were pretty wiped out by this point, and a heavy lunch sounded unappealing in the heat. We drove out of town and found a little place in Turkheim for some nice salads. Turkheim is another lovely village, and I can see now how people can say that the Alsatian villages all blend into each other after a while. Turkheim has a nice feel to it, and you get away from the small tourist plaza very easily.

Continue reading "Colmar, Hillsides" »

July 24, 2010

Strasbourg

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Thursday morning we drove the short distance into Selestat, and found the free parking lot by the side of the train station. We bought return tickets to Strasbourg (7 euros each way, ouch) and hopped on the train, a 15 minute ride. Fron the Gare in Strasbourg is a very easy walk to the major sites. The weather promised rain sooner rather than later, so we decided to do some walking first. We followed the walk in the Green Michelin with some side trips, winding through the shopping district and then the old part of the city and Petit France. Strasbourg feels prosperous and sophisticated, and we enjoyed walking around. We crossed bridges back and forth over the river, wandered down streets, ducked into doorways and churches when the rains finally came.

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At 11:30 we headed back to the Cathedral, where strangely, we couldn't find an open door. We finally saw a sign that the Cathedral closes at that time of the day so a special opening can be done for the chiming of the famous astronomical clock. So we waited in a wet line for a while (Lands End makes a very nice light rainjacket, by the way), bought tickets, and filed inside. We were herded over to the clock, which is a massive structure stretching toward the ceiling. We stood on the hard stones for a good 20 minutes, getting a small taste of what it must have been like standing at church services. A movie about the clock finally started, which was heavy of purple prose and swelling music, but a bit short on historical detail. Ah well, you can read about the clock here: http://www.otstrasbourg.fr/article.php?id_article=148&lang=en

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The clock begins to strike when two angels strike the hour, and then a skeleton Death does so, as figures from babies to old men parade past him. Above, the Apostles go around Jesus, who blesses them as a rooster crows off to the side. We took a shaky little movie, which I'll upload and add later.

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By this time, we were hungry, and our wet clothes had dried somewhat. We had noted a street of restaurants mentioned in Pudlo and Michelin nearish the Cathedral, so wandered over. We decided on a newer place that seemed to be popular with French-speaking business people, usually a good sign. We had a lovely lunch, Larry with the daily special of a beautiful piece of beef with frites and tasty green beans; and I with duck breast and potatoes gratin. We shared a Moelleux, a molten chocolate cake for dessert. Au Petit Tonnelier at 15 rue des Tonnneliers.

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By the time we stumbled out of the restaurant into the rain, it was after 3:00. We figured we had time for one museum, so walked over to the Musée Alsacien. It's a museum about daily life in the Alsace of the past, and we found it quite interesting. With admission we got free audioguides in English, which was wonderful for putting the exhibits on homes, occupations, customs and religion into context. There are several rooms on the Jewish population, including a tiny little reconstructed shul.

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Strasbourg is a lovely city, with much more to see and do than can be explored in one day. We'd like to return.

We had noticed a nice looking fresh pasta shop, so stopped by there for some spinach ravioli and a piece of Parmesan for dinner. Took the train back, and spent the evening at home reading. Pasta with zucchini for dinner.

July 25, 2010

Here and There and a Shopping Spree

We woke to drizzle Friday morning, and decided to just hop around a bit. We had wanted to get a few bottles of the Riesling we had really liked from a winery in Riquewihr, so headed over. There was a small market on one of the side streets, so we bought some sausage. We got a nice price on a half case of Riesling from Regine Zimmer, and oh yes, why not taste more at 9:30 in the morning. Just to make sure there wasn't another we preferred. Larry insists he can pad the bottles in our luggage. We'll see. I think we'll need to drink a bottle or two in Paris.

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Since the fruit at the market didn't looks as good as what we bought from the farm the other day, we headed back to Sigolsheim. That farm wasn't yet open, so we stopped at another down the road. Mmm, apricots. Also got a bottle of their chestnut honey.

We were near Kaysersburg at that point, so stopped in town to look around. Another lovely place, but fairly bristling with souvenir shops amidst the charming old houses built alongside the river, with a ruined chateau and vines above.

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You can meet all your stuffed stork needs here as well.

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I did do my part to assist the local economy with a bottle of eaux de vie, wild raspberry-flavored jet fuel. There are also many small distilleries in the region.

By now it was lunchtime, so we headed up to Bergheim , where there was a restaurant that had looked appealing the other day. We had a lovely lunch at Les Lavndieres. We kept it fairly simple, but I could definitely see returning for some more of the owner's cooking, as even our basic lunch was perfectly prepared. Choucroute with pleasantly mild sauerkraut that tasted more of wine than vinegar, with an assortment of tasty piggy parts and different sausages that the waiter kept fishing out of a pot as we finished the plate. And a frozen "kugelhoupf "ice cream for dessert, yum. Delicious local wine in a pitcher. http://www.leslavandieres.fr/

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I remembered that I wanted to stop at the Beauville factory store outside Ribeauville. It's on the road going toward St. Marie aux Mines, on the left. I was wishy-washy about which size table runner to buy, and was a good girl and opted for the smaller and cheaper. I'm kicking myself now, that I see the online prices are double the shop's.

Our last stop of the day was one of the local tourist traps, the Volarie des Aigles. (The other is a "Monkey Mountain". I find monkeys creepy). Falcons, eagles and other large birds are very cool to watch as they respond to commands--when they feel like it, which was amusing to both us and the handlers. The birds swoop very low over the audience--you can feel their wings beating the air above your head.

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Headed back home for a rest before our blow-out dinner at the Auberge Frankenbourg. I'll do that in a separate entry, which it deserves.

July 26, 2010

Auberge Frankenbourg

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We love good food, and are perfectly happy eating at simpler places, those with more emphasis on good food and value than flash. But if you're staying in a village with a well-regarded Michelin one-star restaurant just three houses away, you just need to go with it. So, on our last night in La Vancelle, we wandered down to the Frankenbourg.

The restaurant is in a soaring room in the hotel, with lots of glass walls and light wood. The staff (including the chef's mother) are charming, very pleasant and at the same time perfectly correct. Interestingly, the prices for the plats were not much higher than what we'd been seeing in other restaurants in Alsace. We decided to go with the "Gourmet" complete menu of 5 courses, with paired wines. Hey, we're celebrating our 20th anniversary and my 50th. And at 64 euros per person including wine, it's a very fair price. My photos are a bit dark and grainy, as of course I was not using flash.

Service was like an elegant little theater production--lots of changes in silverware, murmured explanations of what all the tiny details were in the food--some we didn't catch, as it was beyond our French. Didn't matter.

First a little amuse-bouche. Crab mousse on cucumber; and a gelled tomato relish with rice crisp.
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More little goodies. Lobster under a citron creme; and I have no idea what the other was, except it was perhaps based on chicken and mushroom, and delicious.

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First course. A religious experience on a plate. Foie Gras, perfectly seared, with a little apricot confit and sprinkle of good sea salt. We ate this verrry slowwly. I no longer remember what the wine was, but it was lovely with the richness of the liver. (No, it was not that charred, that's the lighting)

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Fish course. Beautifully cooked cod, so tender it almost had a sushi texture. On a swirl of gazpacho, with a cucumber and apple relish. Nice contrast of warm, velvety fish, sweet-tart cool gazpacho, crunchy topping. A more buttery white with the fish.

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Meat course. Some cut of pork, but as rich as beef, in a delicious sauce. Another one to eat slowly. The best polenta I've ever had as well. I do not want to know how much butter and cheese was in it. A fantastic Spanish red with this.

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Cheese. This was my one minor disappointment, although Larry liked it more. A marscapone mousse with Parmesan cracker, with a little salad of crisped herbs and sprouts.

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Tiny strawberry sorbets in mine ice cream cones. Could this be any cuter?

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Dessert. Roasted peach on an almond froth, with vanilla ice cream. The peach and sauce was really wonderful, the barely sweet ice cream was a bit icy, probably because of the low sugar.

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And more little treats--apricot-nut rolled cookie, mini cheesecake with some sort of fragrant fruity thing on top that burst into liquid in the mouth; and a chocolate-raspberry confection that had Larry almost on the floor.

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Dinner took three hours, and was a lot of fun in addition to being absolutely delicious. A comparable meal in New York would be easily more than twice the price. It was also fun seeing the other diners--from a very elderly couple in back of us who somehow went through the 7 course meal, to a well-dressed couple in their 20's out for a special date, to backpackers enjoying a good meal. the Auberge has hotel rooms and is right on the hiking trails, so I think it'd be a great place to spend a weekend.


Next anniversary.

July 28, 2010

Sunday in Paris--Musee Albert Kahn, Le Tour

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Sunday morning we went out for bread, I made omelets with the girolles, and then we headed up to the Albert Kahn Museum and Gardens. http://www.albert-kahn.fr/english/

It's just outside of Paris in Boulogne-Billancourt at the last stop on the Line 10 Metro. Albert Kahn was a wealthy banker who among other projects, started the Archive of the Planet, sending photographers and filmmakers around the world to capture disappearing traditions from 1909 to 1931. He also built a fantastic garden around his home, mostly Japanese in style, along with more conventional wooded and floral gardens. Because the photo collection is so huge, they only show part each year, in topical shows. This year's was on Brittany, and we found it fascinating. The gardens are lovely, and well worth the trip.

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Afterward, we sent across the street to a brasserie and had a decent lunch, surrounded by neighborhood grandmothers. I had one of my Paris traditions, foie de veau.

Larry was dying to see the Tour de France go by, but we weren't thrilled about jocking for postition amongst the hordes on the Champs. So we headed to the 16th and found a stretch of wall along the river where the view would be good. We had looked at the time charts, and anticipated the riders would be going past at about 3:30 or so. We waited. And waited some more (I am now more than ever in love with my ipod Touch, as I got to read a downloaded book) as the team buses, team cars, and various Tour entourages came beeping by. Finally, at about 4:30, the riders approached. They whizzed by, and my husband was very happy.


Took a bus back in the direction of the apartment, and got off early so we could get a walk in. Passed this interesting old bathhouse.

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Dinner at home.

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July 30, 2010

Monday--Jacquemart-André, Canal Saint-Martin, Paris Plages

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We've always managed to not quite get to the Musee Jacquemart-André on previous trips. I had seen that they had a special exhibit on Spanish artists, so we headed up there on Monday. This museum (along with the Louvre) is one of the few open on Mondays.It's up in the 8th, an area we don't often find ourselves in. We arrived early so walked around a bit, found a patisserie with croissants au beurre (the ones made with butter, not other fats, will be labeled as such) then found a bench to sit and discreetly nibble as we watched junior bankers stride by.

The museum has English-language audioguides as a freebie with admission, very much appreciated by us. The museum is fascinating, in a 19th century mansion owned by serious art collectors. Nélie Jacquemart was a society portrait painter, and after she married Edouard André they roamed the world collecting goodies. Both the "Museum" areas they set up to display their collections and the more private apartment are lovely and fascinating; and the show "From El Greco to Dalí. The great Spanish masters" was a nicely focused way of showcasing how Spanish artists have approached certain themes or subjects. You can't take photos inside (although I saw several folks sneaking them) so you'll just have to look at the website: http://www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/jacquemart/

We had wanted to eat in the cafe (under the famous Tiepolo ceiling) but the line was terrifying. So we took the Metro over to the Canal Saint Martin area, to check out where another ST friend will be staying. Ah Mondays in late July, so many Paris restos closed. We ended up in Le Bistro des Oies for a very pleasant lunch. Like many little cafes they offer a lunch dish of the day for about 9 euros so those with lunch tickets (Ah, France!) go. I had a great piece of salmon with buttery carrots and mashed potatoes, and Larry had the special, pieces of lamb with dynamite frites. Crunchy-top creme brulee for dessert. I liked the vibe (the owner is delightful) and food, and would definitely return. Le Bistro des Oies, 2 Rue Marie et Louise (near the Saint martin Canal in the 10th, Metro Goncourt, Republique, or Jacques Bonsergent. http://lebistrodesoies.com/

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This area reminds me somewhat of maybe parts of Brooklyn---a mixture of working class and young trendy types, some harmless winos sunning themselves along the canal , busy avenues with quiet little streets in between with shops selling everything from vacuum cleaner parts to artfully ripped clothing. Perhaps not as manicured and heartbreakingly lovely as tourist Paris, but definitely more real.

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We decided to walk into the Marais, and then just kept on walking, ending up at the Seine.

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Continue reading "Monday--Jacquemart-André, Canal Saint-Martin, Paris Plages" »

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