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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 15 of 21: Alsace: Monkeys and the Schwartzwald

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Margaret and Alex at the Montagne des Singes in Alsace, France

So on the recommendation of the man in Colmar the night before, the next morning we head back to the area near Haut Koenigsbourg to see the monkeys. The Montagne des Singes is a nearly 60 acre monkey park where you can feed and view Barbary Macaques close up.

We enter the park, are given a handful of popcorn and then given lots of warnings about how to avoid antagonizing the monkeys. We are told we must hold Margaret's hand and are given strict instructions -- some via loudspeaker--on how to feed the monkeys the popcorn. We start to wonder how wild and dangerous these monkey really are.

Margaret is holding her bag of popcorn a little too loosely and an attendant runs to tell us to quickly put the popcorn in an adult's pocket. Yikes. What did we get ourselves into? Will Margaret be captured and raised by a pack of wild macaques? How will we tell Grandma?

In fact, the monkeys don't seem particularly hungry, despite the fact that we are here relatively early. They even seem a little disdainful of attempts to feed them. The kids see a large monkey begrudgingly accept popcorn from a two year old child and then nonchalantly toss the popcorn into the dirt. The child cries. Joe adopts a funny French accent and, in character as a French monkey, tells us how much he despises us and our popcorn. This makes us laugh and the joke continues for the remainder of the trip.

But Monkey Mountain doesn't take too long to exhaust, so we decide to head for the Black Forest -- Schwarzwald. The day is still young. Germany is only 20 minutes away over the Rhine River and Mom is interested in getting a cuckoo clock. Including the time in Annecy, we've been in France for well over a week now and are curious about Germany.

We head for the Rhine River where we see some locks and many people watching the river. Once we cross the Rhine, we note that all the roundabouts are decorated with huge "baskets" of giant boulders. In France, the roundabouts are neatly landscaped with overflowing, colorful flowers. Funny, stereotypical and noticeable differences.

We're not in Germany for more than ten minutes when we see a sign for a "Ruin Kastel." We can see the ruined castle far up on a hill. We decide to investigate and exit the main road. We find the footpath near the RR station and head down the street where we see more signs. We start walking up through the forest on a small trail and sure enough, there's the castle.

It's a cool ruin and appears to be named "Not" castle, perhaps after the town? To be honest, we're not really sure where in Germany we are. The kids enjoy playing and we all enjoy the gorgeous weather. Even Julia, who hadn't wanted to stop in the first place, doesn't want to leave.

We see a sign in the castle tower explaining how, at the turn of the century, some of the town's sons moved to America where they bought giant logs and sent the logs back to Germany to help reconstruct the castle tower staircase. Or at least we think that's the translation...

We're headed for Furtwangen and Cuckoo Clock central, but decide we can make it even further to Villingen where Wendy thinks she remembers that there is an even better place for checking out cuckoo clocks (she's wrong). Unfortunately we don't have WiFi and can't verify anything. In the end, we find out that we should have gone to the closer Furtwangen, but thinking we are heading for something better, we opt for the one hour longer drive to Villingen.

We park outside the city wall in Villingen. It looks good. But the maps inside are confusing and don't jive with the city. Strange. It is a vibrant, real town. We stop for enormous ice cream sundaes where Wendy gets trapped in a restroom stall. Once Wendy escapes, we ask our server about the clock museum and are told we are in the wrong Villingen! So we head ten minutes further down the road to the sister city of Villingen-Schwennigen.

We are still searching for the illusive Cuckoo Clock museum. We haven't figured out it's not here -- that it's was actually back in Furtwangen. We're still a little confused at this point and think that maybe the big attraction Wendy remembered is the Industrial Clock Museum -- Uhrenindustriemuseum. Trip Advisor had given this place good reviews and the museum had lots of fancy brochures, so we think it must be a fairly big attraction.

It's tricky to find the Industrial Clock Museum. And by now Joe's been driving awhile. Plus the area is not in any old town area ... everything looks wrong. It's definitely not a touristy area and we feel that the few people walking about are looking at us sceptically. But sure enough we walk a little further and find the Industrial Clock Museum in the middle of a random street block. It looks dark and closed. We almost turn back to our car, but the brochure we picked up in Villingen says that the museum doesn't close for another hour.

Wendy hasn't come this far to stop now. She bravely rings the bell and surprisingly a man comes out. He seems surprised to see us! We go in and hear the door loudly lock behind us. Horror movie scenarios begin to run through Wendy's head. Her mind starts to wonder whether anyone saw us enter the building. Will the cops find our parked car and find the museum brochure inside as they search for our bodies?

At this point, there's no going back. Our guide has excellent English despite the thick German accent. His knowledge of technical terms in English is quite impressive. Wendy still hears the voice in her head as she imagines the man is about to turn her family into the "human clock" or some other terrible thing. As far as we can tell, we are the only ones in the building.

The old factory houses lots of industrial machines from turn of the century. There is an elaborate pulley system attached to the ceiling that hooks up to the various large, vintage clock making machines. Our guide personally demonstrates the machines that make the various clock parts, and we get to keep the parts as they are made. Alex is enthralled.

Not easing Wendy's mind, the guide cracks a jokes about the caustic chemicals and what they can do to the human body. During the demonstrations, we hear about all the horrible workplace accidents that befell the workers -- getting caught in the pulley system and pulled into the machines to their deaths. And yes, these are the same pulleys that our guide is demonstrating with our small children standing close by.

Our private tour lasts well over an hour and actually ends with a very cool exercise in assembling a clock according to a diagram. Alex is in heaven. Julia and Margaret collaborate successfully. Nothing terrible ever befalls us (as proven by this trip report) and Alex later tells us this was one of the best experiences of the trip.

But now we have to go home to Ribeauville. At least the long drive home is lovely. We decide to head home via Furtwangen, which we missed on the way. But it's late and quite deserted. It still doesn't look like there is a lot of cuckoo clock stuff for sale. A bit odd. But we do find a bustling gasthaus. We order schnitzels and steaks. Alex amazes us by eating not only his dinner (two giant schnitzels portions with spaetzle) but a large portion of Julia's as well. There is a good German style salad bar and lots of good, cheap beer. At €60, this is a great bargain.

But it's 9:30pm by now and we still have over an hour to get home. Our Nav lady takes us through actual cornfields(!) and other strange, small roads. We realize she's been taking us the "shortest" not the "fastest" route. Somehow the navigation system had switched settings somewhere along the way. Aha! That explains some of the more scenic detours we've taken lately.

Finally we cross the Rhine River and in 20 minutes are back home and soon in bed. What a day!

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