This morning it would be time to say goodbye to our lovely 500. We had really grown attached to it and struck a deal that if we ever purchased a fun car, this would be the model we would buy.
We left the hotel in plenty of time to find the TGV – just as well we did for two reasons:
1) I got us hopelessly lost in driving the wrong way up a one way street and finding myself committed to entering the cobbled streets of Avignon through one of its ancient gates.
2) When we did arrive eventually, there was no sign of our train on the departure board. However, there was a train stopping at Lyon departing in three minutes, fifty-five minutes before our scheduled departure. The decision was made, so we legged it and managed to board with nineteen seconds to spare.
Breathless and seatless, we took stock of our situation. We would probably be fined for being on the incorrect train and I lambasted myself for obviously making a mistake.
Rania managed to find a seat, whilst I squeezed onto the luggage space and contemplated our fate. No problem as it happened, the journey took only one hour or so and our tickets were not inspected at all.
We later found out that the scourge of French public transport had struck, la grève. Grève means strike, and our scheduled train had not been a myth of my making, but cancelled due to lack of manpower. Our instant decision had paid dividends, so often they don’t.
We were meeting a French couple we had met in Corfu the previous summer. Sylvie and Philippe would not know we were early, so we busied ourselves with a light breakfast while we waited in the vast station.
We speak school boy/girl French and our companions for the next few hours were roughly the same standard when it came to English. No worries, we had a fine time in France’s third city, known as the country’s gastronomic capital.
Our hosts were clearly proud of their city, a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right, and with good reason. Dissected by the Rivers Rhône & Saône, Lyon is an architectural delight.
We took the funicular up to the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière that dominated the skyline above us, for stupendous views across the city and beyond.
The basilica itself was pretty impressive, with it’s carved stone exterior, four steeples and prominent cupola.
The interior too was opulent, especially its striking gilded roof, set off by stunning art work.
We walked back down to the centre by means of the meandering path adorned with rose & begonia gardens that filled the air with sweet aromas and reminded us of our time in Grasse, a memory that already seemed so long ago.
We then did what any self-respecting French person does after midday, we lunched. This took up just about all the rest of our time in Lyon. It would have been rude not to do the gastronomic experience justice here of all places. A splendid treat from our Gallic pals.
We promised to return the favour in London as we bade them a fond farewell and headed for our second TGV of the day, this time for the Germanic capital of the Alsace region.
Alsace and its neighbour Lorraine, have swapped between France and Germany a few times over the centuries, the last occasion being after WWI when it was handed back to France by decree of the victorious allies.
The train sped the 500KM in around three and a half hours via Mulhouse. We arrived after nightfall, so took a taxi the short distance to our hotel. Been there and done that far too often in the past for Rania to trust me to find our destination in the dark on foot!
It was now Sunday morning and the only place nearby to buy breakfast supplies was the railway station. I realised how close we were and returned in double quick time with juice, pain au chocolat and coffee making material. We were in an Appartotel, so had all the utensils we needed, plus many more that we didn’t. I hadn’t managed to keep my run of lovely hotels going, but it was comfortable and central enough, not to mention being inexpensive.
We soon became the latest members of the Strasbourg fan club. We had to pinch ourselves to remember that we were not in Germany (accents, cuisine, gifts/tat) or Bruges (architecture, canals, bridges).
The buildings were predominantly of the half-timbered variety and a riot of different colours, adorned by baskets and tubs overflowing with flowers. It really was delightful, albeit a little on the twee side.
We decided to take the canal boat trip, a decision that we were not to regret. It was indeed very Brugesque, but superior for the old artisan quarter and it’s locks that we navigated on two occasions.
We also took in the modern European Parliament and the Court of Human Rights, filled with bureaucrats & diplomats and funded by the likes of you and I. Our boat even took part in some light booing, to mark the high esteem in which the Union is held!
Ninety-minutes well spent, we then took in the mammoth cathedral that dominates the entire cobbled Old Town. A Gothic masterpiece with its huge round leaded windows, beautiful stained glass, fairy-tale towers, grotesque gargoyles, Sagrada Familiar like columns, enormous wooden entrance door and multitude of ornate statues carved into the exterior, the most amazing of which flanked the main entrance.
Apparently the bell tower is really something truly to behold. Saved for next time!
We spent the rest of the day eating huge slabs of quiche, drinking sweet Alsace red and walking around the canal district.
An easy night was spent watching football in the hotel and reading, tomorrow we were getting car number two and traversing the famed Alsace wine route.
The Wineding Road
This was to be the undisputed highlight of our time in the region.
We first had to wait for our dusty, bird stained Peugeot to be cleaned at Rania’s insistence. Quite right too!
It didn’t take long to leave the city behind and swap the main road for the backwaters of the Wine Route.
First stop was Molsheim, the home of the Bugatti motor car. It was a pleasant village with large square, where we sat for morning coffee, flanked by typical Alsace half-timbered buildings of many colours.
Next stop was Obernai, where we stopped for a slab of quiche and a little rocket. Another picturesque little place, alive with flowers and houses draped in vines.
After lunch, we headed along the scenic route to the red roofs of Mittelbergheim. It was here that we purchased some sweet Alsace white at Domaine Gilg. The vintner was very friendly there and allowed us to taste several varieties, before we purchased our horde of three bottles.
Nearby Dambach-la-Ville, also made for a delightful stop off, the colours and floral tributes seemingly getting more bold and vivid the further we traversed the route.
We then detoured off the main route and up to Haut Koeningsbourg to visit the 900 year-old turreted chateau, built castle style high up above the vineyards. The view from on high of Vosges River and the Black Forest was well worth the effort.
We strolled around the non-paying part of the chateau – basically the path to the entrance and the cafe, but it was the views that were easily the best reason to pay a call there.
Time was running now so we scooted through the striking villages of Bergheim, Ribeauville and Hunawihr, getting our first glimpses of storks in flight as we ourselves glided by.
Our final stop of the day was definitely a case of saving the best until last. The village of Riquewihr has the kind of buildings that you are tempted to lick to taste their candy exteriors. The place looked like something that Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson had dreamt up.
We were Hansel and Gretel, but happily no wicked witches were flying around, their place taken by the far more pleasant storks that frequent the whole area.
We entered the the cobbled main pedestrianised thoroughfare through the arch at the centre of the hotel de ville building. Once inside we feasted upon the delightful looking shops, wineries and eateries, each of whom displayed their wares in a creative & colourful way.
We grazed upon a new kind of calorific quiche, justifying our over-indulgence by the fact that at least it contained some greenery. The carafe of red and sugary crepe that we also consumed had no redeeming features however in the dietary stakes!
As we ate we spied a huge stork’s nest right above us. Empty when we first sat, mother and sibling soon arrived to fill the huge pile of twigs and straw. My part-time need to ‘twitch’ was satisfied once more.
We continued our window shopping, avoiding any temptation to buy a life-size cuddly stork, before heading back along the scenic Wine Route as the sun was setting. A picture perfect ending to a picture perfect day.