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Report 2015: Alpine Adventures and Other Travels in the Rhone, Rhin and Rhön

By wendy lynn from California USA, Summer 2012

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Page 13 of 21: Alsace: Haut Koenigsbourg and Strasbourg

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Haut Koenigsbourg in Alsace, France

The morning is a bit overcast as we get an early start to visit Haut Koenigsbourg, a renovated castle just fifteen minutes away. Despite our early start, we see tons of cars and worry about parking for the first time in Alsace. This is clearly a tourist mecca.

Haut Koenigsbourg looks impressive and complete as we walk up. We buy our tickets and find we are just in time for the English tour. Our guide is quite good, and only three other people join us, so it's quite intimate and informative.

We learn that the castle was first mentioned in the 12th century when it was owned by the Hapsburgs. Haut Koenigsbourg was strategically located at the junction of the Wheat and Wine road and the Salt and Silver road. In 1899 the local town of Selestat gave the castle to Wilhelm II who renovated it in the German style, as a symbol of Germanic power -- Alsace was German at this time.

Wilhelm's renovation was not done in a historically accurate manner, however, and we hear it is often ridiculed by the French, but it still looks interesting. It reminds Wendy of Hearst Castle in California. Our guide is French and makes a Freudian slip of sorts -- he calls the time when Alsace belonged to Germany (and it did so many times over hundreds of years) as the German Occupation. He corrected himself by calling it one of the many times when Alsace had switched back to German ownership. But it gives us insight into the mindset of the local people. Later in Germany, we will hear a German guide in Heidelberg talking about the horrible Louis XIV and the French invasion. It seems true that history is really all about your own point of view.

We leave Haut Koenigsbourg, passing the intriguing "Monkey Mountain" on the way down the mountain but decide not to stop. We park in nearby Selestat for lunch, but the town seems dead and not intriguing. We decide to head for Strasbourg. We know Strasbourg is a little too big to hit in half a day, but it seems like the best use of our time.

It only takes 30 minutes to reach Strasbourg, but parking is quite difficult and the parking alone takes us almost another stressful 30 minutes. We finally find a garage that allows us more than two hours of parking and we set out on foot.

Strasbourg is a big city, bigger than Annecy although smaller than Munich. We head for the Cathedral, one of Strasbourg's jewels. It's impressive, although everyone in the family is a bit grouchy from hunger, particularly Julia. It's 4pm and still nothing to eat but the occasional pretzel. Joe can't understand why this is a problem.

The interior of the cathedral is beautiful, and we are able to see the astronomical clock in action. Joe and the little kids opt to climb the tower for a great view of Strasbourg while Wendy and Julia visit the post office and Julia successfully uses her French to buy stamps for postcards.

We walk across the street and decide to visit the Notre Dame museum -- Musee de l'oeuvre Notre Dame -- before it closes at 6pm. It's already 5:15. The museum houses Alsatian statuary, art and artifacts from Romanesque, Gothic, Medieval and Renaissance times. A very good collection and even Julia is appreciative. To mom's dismay, Alex touches an interesting painting of a decaying pair of lovers and then we are followed by staff for awhile.

By now we are starving. Wendy wants to eat at a restaurant she has found on Trip Advisor. Often we find restaurants on our iPhones but can't locate them easily in town, or we find they are not conveniently located. But here is a highly rated restaurant that we actually find right where we are, but dinner time is just starting and the place is small and a bit empty. Julia strongly feels this means it's no good and of course wants to eat at the busy place right on the busy plaza. Mom knows the food won't be nearly as good -- and probably twice as much money -- but, wanting to keep the peace, she agrees.

Joe orders Backoeffe, a local specialty which is meat and sliced potatoes baked in a clay dish. It's just okay, a bit watery and not terribly distinctive. Julia orders the coq au vin and is very happy, although it's not as good as the one at Caveau. The kids meals are the best bargain: the meatball tastes like good meatloaf and is covered in tasty gravy. The kids meal includes great fries and even drinks and ice cream. Mom and Dad order Munich-size beers.

After dinner, we walk back down to the river and are able to catch an 8pm boat tour of the river. Julia doesn't want to go, and we again force her. We all enjoy the tour, even Julia, and the boat ride includes the fun and novel experience of passing through locks. A relatively long walk back to the car and a 45 minute ride home in the dark is not as fun. A busy and sometimes frustrating day. Still, all in all, a great day.

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