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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 14 of 21: Alsace: Castles, WWI, and Colmar

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View of Ribeauville, France from the castles above

Early the next morning we invite Julia to hike to the Ribeauville castles but it requires a 7am wake up call. She declines, so Mom Dad and Alex head off again as the girls sleep. We make it up to St. Ulrich and Giersberg Castles again, and meet very few people along the way.

It is truly a privilege to walk up into the hills, to see the amazing landscape below and the beautiful ruined castles ahead. We feel lucky. But we don't stop to admire the two castles we've already visited. We are here to find the third castle: Ribeaupierre.

We find the footpath sign that says "facile." And the word "facile" truly is in quotation marks, which makes us wonder. We begin a long walk on a small footpath. At times we lose faith. The path is very small and we infrequently see small signs that are confusing and contradictory, but every once and awhile we are reassured that we are still on the correct trail. We are encouraged by the fact that the path continues to go up the mountain, which at least puts us in the right direction.

We trudge on and ultimately our faith is rewarded. We see a sign with an arrow pointing the way to Chateau Ribeaupierre. It's taken us about an hour of walking uphill from the lower castles. We've probably been gone from the hotel for a few hours at this point. Mom keeps contemplating the human energy it must have taken to bring stones up this mountain to build these castles. Even bringing water up must have been a tedious job!

Cheateau Ribeaupierre is quite deteriorated and closed to the public because of the danger. But most of the fences have been pushed aside by previous visitors so we decide to explore. Despite Wendy's warning, Joe and Alex enter the crumbling tower and eventually reappear, safe and sound. After all, we've spent a lot of time and energy getting here! There's not much to see, but we do get another spectacular view of the town below ... and the two castles below ... and the satisfaction of having made it.

As we start to leave, we see another hiker, the first we've seen up here. He thinks we are German and asks us if the castle is open. We're not sure what to say but it's clear we've explored so he goes in as we are leaving. We hope nothing fell on him.

It's almost 10am by the time we return back at Caveau and get everyone out for breakfast. Wendy is hungry from the hike and orders an omlette to go with her croissant and coffee. We pass a fruit seller and purchase more peaches and mirabelles, small, yellowish plum-like fruit. Mirabelles are in season and delicious. We start to see them on menus and for sale on the streets.

The first stop the entire family will be making this morning is Set Marie Aux Mines, about 20 minutes away from Ribeauville, headed into the hills. Joe read that there are WWI bunkers open for exploration. We drive toward Ste Marie Aux Mines and note the cobblestone road/highway. We didn't expect Ste Marie to have much to offer, assuming it'd been bombed heavily in WWI. But it has a decent, if not particularly well preserved or memorable old town. They do have a grocery store and we stop and purchase supplies, including quite a few things from the deli counter: mushroom pate and onion tart. We notice that the town is heavily Muslim which is interesting.

We head just out of the town, follow Joe's internet website directions and immediately see the landmarks Joe is looking for. We get out of the car, eat lunch and head for a hike. We soon see many WWI cement bunkers in various states of disrepair. In WWI, this small area was held by the Germans who bombed the French held areas below.

On the trail we encounter an older French couple from Nancy who attempt to share their map and chat with us. Limited success on both fronts, but they are very friendly. We do gather that the woman has a granddaughter Julia's age who is in England polishing her English -- just as Julia is working on her French in Alsace. Julia and the lady attempt a conversation while Dad looks at the map, again with limited success. We decide to head back to Ribeauville.

This little excursion was fun but not all that Joe had hoped for. Luckily the day is still early and we decide it might be a good day for laundry. After asking a gas attendant in nearby MIttelwihr for a laundromat, we find it on the main street. (Although we did miss it the first few times because of parked cars hiding the sign.) Luckily there is a French attendant inside who speaks English. Unlike Italy, the soap here is not automatically added and you have to feed more coins into the wall machine and press the correct buttons. The attendant and another customer tell us we have chosen too hot a setting and are disapproving that we have put all our clothes into one big load. It's hard to do laundry in foreign countries!

We've noticed there's a small neighborhood fete happening down the block, so while our laundry goes through the wash, we check out the festival. It's got a beer tent, a wine tent (in a cute, fake barrel), and lots of local food treats. We buy a blueberry tarte and two pretzels. Julia empathizes with an older man who is selling his birdhouses. The old man has no customers or even interested parties, Joe suspects this is because each basic birdhouse is €50! We also see the locals firing up the tarte flambé oven, but it's time to go back and check our clothes.

We walk back to the laundromat and move everything into the dryer and decide to take the kids back to the hotel and have a parents-only dinner in Colmar, at the restaurant we'd taken note of on our first day. We drop the kids in Ribeauville and by the time we get back to our clothes, they are dry. Good timing. So we fold them and head for Colmar, where we easily park and soon find the restaurant wed seen, by retracing our steps. It's got a Michelin star, so we hope it's good.

Our French is not good, so the ordering is slightly awkward. The French have quite an elaborate system for meals. We somehow figure our way through the initial ordering and end up with a local bottle of pinot gris. Wendy has the pork medallions and Joe gets the pork knuckle, which is what we'd seen in the window a few days ago. Both are excellent.

We are seated in the small upper floor. It's hot and a bit stuffy. The table nearby includes an older man from Colmar and his old Dutch friend who is traveling with his teenage son. We have a nice conversation with their table, in which the notable comments were "Everything is in Paris", said with a long sigh, the Dutch man asking about "pilgrim fathers" in America, by which we eventually determined he meant the Amish or Mennonite. Also memorable was the Mirabelle tarte.

We also are approached by a big Texan man who has overheard our English conversation and bounded over for advice. In a booming and friendly voice, he asked us to help with some choices, which amuses us since we are just figuring it out ourselves. The French man at the next table is quite nice and helpful. The man departs and Wendy later talks to their entire, large table and discovers they are a group of retired friends taking a trip together.

At the end of our meal, we talk to the French man about things to do with kids. He recommends Monkey Mountain, which we remember from Haut Koenigsbourg area, so we think we might do that first thing tomorrow. Our new French friend also tells us never to leave money for a bill on a table as it's not safe. Hand it to the waitress, he says. This was by far our "fanciest" meal, but the entire bill turns out to be only €70. We realize how expensive those kids make meals!

Back to Ribeauville. The kids are still alive and doing great. Off to bed!

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