Tuesday, June 30, 2015

France Day 11: What stinks?!

We woke up in Colmar and grabbed bagels for a change, since we were near Germany. Then we spent the entire day driving the Route des Vins in Alsace, between Colmar and Strasbourg. It’s only about 80km, but we took our time, stopping in all the little villages along the way. The drive is lined with hills and green vineyards and is GORGEOUS!

First stop was Eguisheim, which we decided at the end of the day was our favorite. Most of the homes here were built in the 1500s, are candy-colored, and adorned with flowers. It was positively amazing.  I told M to close her eyes and imagine living here 500 years ago. She said, “great, I would have to run across town to see if my friend wanted to hang out, and would probably break my ankle on the cobblestones, then die because of primitive medical care.” Geez! Thank goodness she lives in the time of iPhones!

The best part about Eguisheim was the storks! The stork is the symbol of the Alsace region, and lots of stork products are sold in every gift shop. But we didn’t ever expect to see live storks! We saw a ton of them! They nest on top of the church! We watched them take off, circle and land. It was very cool. Here are 3 real storks with the present they brought me last time a stork visited me:

We drove through Turckheim, Kintzheim, and Ribeauville – not a lot to see. They area all very picturesque, but also all start to look the same after a while.

We stopped for lunch in Riquewihr, France’s “most visited town.” This town is unique because the hill with all the grape vines comes right up to the edge of town. So as you walk through town, you can see the vineyard looming overhead. It is a very cool effect.

I felt bad about skipping out on German food in Colmar, so I told M we were going to have an authentic, local lunch. We sat at a restaurant and I ordered quiche. M ordered meatballs with mustard sauce and spaetzle (which were very good). When it showed up, my quiche smelled SOOOO bad. It was as if someone had taken really stinky feet, threw up on them, and then walked into an outhouse. It was AWFUL. I tried to take a bite, and gagged. I couldn’t even get one bite down. I told M, “I don’t want to insult the locals, who must think this quiche is perfectly normal and delicious. So we need a plan to get rid of it.”  I waited until nobody was looking, put the entire slice onto a napkin, wrapped it up, and slid it into my purse.

I thought this was a genius plan, until it was time to pay. I unzipped my purse and a wall of odor nearly knocked me off my chair. I looked at M with the most disgusted look on my face and we both burst out laughing. I was half laughing-half crying through the entire credit card transaction with the server. He had no idea why, but must have thought we were nuts.

Now our only mission was to get that rotten quiche out of my purse. We found a trash can on the town square and I retrieved the napkin bundle and tossed it. Out of curiosity, I smelled my hand. Huge mistake. I almost vomited. My hands reeked with evidence! About that time, M realized her phone was in my purse. She made me get it out, so that she didn’t get smelly hands, and sniffed it. She was furious, but also trying not to pass out – because it shared the same horrible odor.

We wiped everything off when we got back to the car, and now, hours later, I think the smell is finally out of my purse, but I refuse to actually check.

By the way, I grabbed a German pretzel as a replacement lunch. It was delicious.

We stopped for ice cream in Obernai, the largest town on the Route de Vins, did some souvenir shopping, then headed to our hotel in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg also has a canal area, similar to Colmar and Alsace, but on a much larger scale. 

We wandered around that for a while, then walked to the Strasbourg Cathedral, built in the 1200s-1300s. It was closed, but was beautiful to look at from the outside.

By now, we were exhausted (mostly from laughing), so we grabbed a quick bite next to the canal, and headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow: Paris!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

France Day 10: Why We Came To France

This morning we got up and walked around Annecy some more. This building in the middle of the canal is a prison that was built in the 1100s. That blows my mind. That’s like 300 years before anyone in Europe even knew the Americas existed. And yet there it is – still standing.

With great sadness, we left Annecy and headed up the road to Yvoire, which sits on Lake Geneva. You can actually see Geneva, Switzerland across the lake from the medieval village of Yvoire. We grabbed some artisan glace (ice cream) in green apple, pear and raspberry flavors, and hiked around the town.

Yvoire is really charming -- with tons of colorful flowers everywhere! There is a labyrinth of the 5 senses (which we didn't do because it was too hot), a castle on the lake and lots of cute shops and restaurants. I bought a hand-carved wooden Christmas ornament and we headed back to the car to drive north.

On our way out of town, we drove through Evian, where the bottled water comes from. This was particularly exciting for me, since, as a super taster, I am a bit of a bottled water connoisseur. Evian is my favorite! (Dasani is THE WORST. It takes like water with dirty pennies in it.)  Since Evian was kind of a modern town with an expensive spa and not much to see, M was all, “whatever.”

To get around Lake Geneva, we had to drive through Switzerland for 90 minutes, and Germany for half an hour. We stopped in Gruyere, Switzerland for lunch and had, you guessed it, gruyere cheese sandwiches for lunch. Yum! This was our view during lunch:

Then it was on to Colmar. Colmar is the very reason I decided to come to France this summer. I have always loved reading about France, studying French, and researching my half-French heritage. I remember being really little and visiting Epcot Center’s section with all the countries. France was always my favorite. I bought a little purple Eiffel Tower key chain when I was 9 years old, and kept it until I left for college – telling myself that some day I would see it in person. Since then, I have been to France twice (before this trip) – but only Paris and Marseille – never the rest.  About a year ago, I was populating my “travel wish list” on Pinterest, and came across a photo of Colmar. It was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. It was similar to this, which I took today:

In our family, we have a policy – follow your arrow. Listen to your heart, know what speaks to you, and go after it. So I pinned that picture of Colmar, and told M we were going to plan a trip to France.

So here we are, and, while Colmar is pretty – I liked Annecy better. Ha! But that’s ok. Colmar led us here, and so off we went to explore it. It is bigger than I thought, and much bigger than Annecy. We walked most of the old town area, since our hotel sits right in the middle.

Hotel Le Marechal is as adorable as can be. Our room overlooks a main square in the town, and the back door opens into Petite Venise, the area with all the canals and pretty colored homes.  The problem with Petite Venise is that, unlike Annecy, you can't walk along the canals. The only real way to see it is by boat. It is still beautiful, but difficult to see.

Most of Colmar looks like Disneyland – like it can’t possibly be real. M and I kept saying “we are walking through Beauty and the Beast!”  (Which I think we have said about most towns on this trip to far.) At one point, we even broke out singing, "Be! Our! Guest!…"

Colmar has a lot of German influence, and the restaurants served mostly sausage and sauerkraut. Being a fan of neither, we grabbed some pasta in carry out cartons and returned to the room to Facetime some family back home.

Tomorrow: The Alsace Wine Route and Strasbourg

Sunday, June 28, 2015

France Day Nine: Yes We Cannes!

We thought we wouldn’t have a lot to share today, since we had a 4-1/2 hour drive from the Riviera to the French Alps. But by day’s end, we found a new favorite town, had a new favorite meal, and even drove a boat!

After scarfing down breakfast at the corner patisserie, we headed for Cannes, which we kind of neglected in our hurry to get to our hotel a few days back. We strolled the beach (above), visited the theater where they hold the Cannes Film Festival, and walked along their walk of stars (weak in comparison to ours).

We especially loved the public bathrooms (below)! For half a Euro, you can go in, go potty, and then the ENTIRE inside gets sprayed down and disinfected when you leave. I don’t know what it is about France and bathrooms, but we never fail to be entertained or delighted by them in some way.

France also has also made us realize the US has a shortage of carousels. Every single town we have visited has a carousel in the town square. Here is the one in Cannes:

They bring music, laughter and color to every park! Tres jolie! Speaking of Jolie…

Cannes kind of reminds me of New Orleans, if New Orleans were situated on a large sandy beach. The architecture is of the same era and it has that same artsy, eclectic feel. I could live here!

We walked along the old harbor and then finally decided we better hit the car and head for the hills. On our way out of town, France gave us the peace sign, to tell us it had forgiven us from a few days back, when it gave us the finger.

On the way, we drove through Valensole, where the bulk of sunflower and lavender fields line the highway. They were stunning!

But the best was yet to come, because tonight we are sleeping in Annecy. It is a town in the Alps, close to Switzerland – and has tons of wooden chalets with geraniums to prove it. If there is a heaven, it looks like Annecy. 

There are charming canals everywhere. We stopped to watch a German shepherd jump into the canal, swim all the way down to the only staircase to get out, then jump back in and do it all over again. He looked so happy! 

The town sits on a sparkly lake, with the Alps in the background. The lake is full of ducklings, swans and rainbows. We headed rented a paddleboat, headed out onto the lake, and got a good leg workout while exploring the beauty all around us.

(M was paddling during this pic!)


When we left the lake to walk to dinner, this was happening in the park:

We have no idea what was going on, but the people were having so much fun! We walked along the canals and settled into a Swiss restaurant, with wooden menus, where we had fondue. (When in Rome, er, the Alps!)

On the way back to Splendid Hotel (not even joking - that is its name!), we saw baby swans. I thought swans were supposed to be ugly ducklings as babies! But not in Annecy, the world’s prettiest village, where even the baby swans are precious. 

Seriously, put Annecy on your bucket list!! It is our new favorite.
Tomorrow: The reason I decided to come to France in the first place: Colmar

Saturday, June 27, 2015

France Day Eight: Merde! I Used All My Data!

This morning we strolled down to the beach and ate breakfast overlooking the Antibes harbor.  The French Riviera is about an hour and a half drive from end to end (Cannes to Menton), so we decided to straight to the end (at the Italian border), and drive back to our hotel, stopping along the way.

Menton is a gorgeous town of citrus colored buildings with a huge Italian influence. We walked through the market, out onto a long pier, and along the beach. 

There wasn’t a lot to do other than stroll, and it was hot. So we headed for Monaco.

Along the way, I told M about Princess Grace. She was fascinated. She grabbed my phone and started Googling “what ever happened to Princess Stephanie?” and read me a long story about the details of the accident. Of course, we had to find the road where their car went over the edge. I do like to provide educational trips.

We left France for a whole hour to visit the tiny country of Monaco and its big city Monte Carlo.  Monaco almost went bankrupt in the late 1800s, so they decided to build a Casino. Then a few decades later, it decided to have no income taxes for any residents. Those two things have made it a haven for the world’s rich. Because of that, we decided to look for our prince for one full hour. All I can say about Monte Carlo is that it is freaking amazing. It has clean, wide streets, gorgeous architecture and “MC” everywhere – which M loved since those are her initials!

We walked around the casino and watched all the guys gawking at and examining the cars parked out front like they have never seen a Ferrari before. Then we walked around back and BAM! – ran right into a Laduree. (M and I have been obsessed with Laduree ever since we visited one in Paris in 2012. It is a historic chain of very fancy tea shops with amazing macarons.) This Laduree sat overlooking the yachts in the harbor, and even had an all-white carousel – so we were IN!  

We had 2 ice cream sundaes for 40 euros (I mean, they did have all kinds of delicious caramelized almonds, Chantilly cream, salted caramel gelato, Madagascar vanilla beans and other stuff… which KIND of make it worth going broke to eat ice cream for lunch).

I hadn’t found my prince, but we had to leave Monaco and return to France for the little hilltop village of Eze. There is a very tiny municipal parking lot with a big line of cars waiting to find spaces. A handsome Frenchman walked up to our car, knocked on the window, and asked if we wanted his space. Then he literally stopped and blocked traffic so we could back into it. He got out of his car, and gave us his parking voucher, which still had 2 hours left on it. Who says the French aren’t nice?! Once he drove away, I realized -- he was our prince!

The problem with Eze is that it is on top of a freaking mountain, and you have to park basically at the bottom and walk up. We gave it the old college try, but it was just too hot. We walked halfway up, hit a few shops, and bailed. Since we still had time on our parking voucher, and we had only eaten ice cream for lunch, we went to a hot dog stand and ordered 2 dogs – which came on baguettes, of course.

Right about this time I got a terribly upsetting text from AT&T telling me I had used all the data available on my international data plan. I called them in a panic and said, “BUT I HAVE TO BE ABLE TO FACEBOOK, TWITTER, AND TEXT PHOTOS!!!!!” (I may have even been crying.) They told me I could have one more gig of data for $120. Done and done. Problem solved.

Leaving Eze, we could see Nice below us. It is HUGE. Not even joking, it appeared to be about the size of Chicago. We drove all the way through on the Promenade Des Anglais, with the beach on one side and lots of fancy hotels on the other. The beach was very crowded and lots of people were out strolling. We saw this for about 8km:

As we were leaving, we had this conversation:

Me: “So how did you like the drive through Nice?”
M: “It was nice.”
Me: “I see what you did there.”

On our way to St. Paul de Vence, we stopped to fill up with diesel fuel. A woman ran outside and handed me a plastic glove to wear while I pumped gas. WTF. I seriously love France.

St. Paul de Vence is a hilltop town similar to Eze. By now it had cooled down, so we made the climb. It was spectacular and so worth the burn. M sat and watched a bunch of guys playing boule (aka bocce ball), made a wish in a well, and did a lot of shopping. 

All the little tangled cobblestone lanes had the most adorable shops. 

Even the bathrooms were pretty!

Finally, we headed back to Antibes and walked to dinner. M played with some French kids and a bubble man in the park, and then we returned to Hotel Mademoiselle, exhausted.

When we were back in our room, M said, “This was my favorite day so far.” I have to agree. I liked the French Riviera about 100x better than the Amalfi Coast. It is prettier, easier to drive, and has way less traffic. We both decided that we will return here someday and spend an entire week exploring it in more depth.

Tomorrow: The French Alps!