So...where was I? Ah yes, the Alsace Wine Road. Just a moment while I get my map, where I made some notes. As I said, we began by going quickly to the south, to Colmar, and then worked our way back north toward Strasbourg on the "Wine Route." We wound our way through beautiful rolling countryside dotted with villages new and old (mostly old) before the bus rolled into the town of Riquewehr. Here's what the map says about Riquewehr: Admirably well-preserved medieval and Renaissance city. Foritifications, houses and courtyards from 13th, 15th, and 17th centuries. Dolder belfry tower (1291) and Thieves' tower (with torture chamber). ...Grand Cru Schoenenbourg and Sporen vineyard trail, Grand Cru wines.
We disembarked and walked up a cobblestone street to the entrance of a vineyard tasting room where we sampled some Reisling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer. The wine steward poured the girls a couple of Coca Colas and they played with the pebbles that covered the floor of the wine cellar for a bit. I left earlier than everyone else so we could wander the narrow old streets and find them a treat. They wanted to by some candy (natuurlijk!) so we went back to a sweet shop we'd passed earlier. MeiMei picked jelly "Smurts" (smurfs) and JieJie chose an assortment but hovered over the Smurts begging for a handout as soon as she had eaten the items in the assortment that she liked best.
I picked up a book for a few euro called Alsatian Cuisine (in English, though you can click on the link and find your way to the yummy index) and I have a recipe to share with you. It's something our bus tour narrator described that I absolutely had to try--it was on the menu of a place we went later that evening with the girls and Mr. K.
CHOUCROUTE AVEC TROIS POISSONS (sauerkraut w/3 kinds of fish)
500 each of pike, perch, and carp (my restaurant meal had salmon)
1 kg sauerkraut, Alsatian style if possible (very thin cut)
1 clove garlic
100 g. goose fat
1 bay leaf
5 juniper berries
25 cl Alsatian white wine
25 cl stock
50 g butter
1 teaspoon cognac
Scale, gut and clean the fish. Wash, drain, cut into portions. Keep in a cool place. Wash the sauerkraut in cold water and drain. Brown the chopped garlic and onion in the goose fat in a deep saucepan with a thick base. Add the sauerkraut. Add the bay leaf and juniper berries. Season with salt and pepper. Fill to mid-height with the wine and stock. Leave to simmer gently for 2 hours, stirring from time to time. Brown the fish pieces in butter in a frying pan. Add them to the sauerkraut and leave to cook for another 30 minutes, adding a little water. Before serving, add the rest of the butter, heated until it turns to a warm brown, and the cognac.
Mine was served piping hot with a cream sauce on the plate, a skewer of fish alongside a haystack of delicate, delicious choucroute. A meal I shall always treasure! You can use any kind of fish, though I would stay away from anything as strong as tuna or swordfish. A nice white fish takes on the flavors very well.
And the restaurant we went to! There are canals in the Petite France section of Strasbourg, and built right over the canals are beautiful old timber frame buildings. The room where we ate this delicious meal was a glassed-in deck right on the water with views across the canals to the lovely illuminated old places all around, and the bridge just past the restaurant. I was going to remember the name to write down for you...but just go to Strasbourg and wanter the Petite France area. If you find our place, you'll know. If you don't, you still won't be disappointed!
The next day we had a walking tour of Strasbourg and a bus ride around some of the EU administration buildings that are keeping Strasbourg's economy stable these days--especially the hotel proprietors! The EU meets in Strasbourg every so often when they're not in Brussels, even though it's a logistical nightmare. Imagine if everyone involved with governing and lobbying in Washington DC suddenly relocated to Chicago every few months just to be "fair." Ok, it's an oversimplification but still.
After our tearful goodbye to Strasbourg we headed out to the highway en route to The City of Lights, Gay Paree. The girls slept a good chunk of the way--perfect, because we were scheduled to go on a boat tour that night and I really didn't want them to miss it. Better that they nap and then stay up a bit late.
We checked into the Etap Hotel in the suburb of Saint-Mande, just outside of the Paris city line but very much part of the metro area. The Etap is the entry-level of the chain that Ibis is also part of. It's...well, how to describe it? If Ray Kroc from McDonalds and the dude from Ikea got together and designed an ultra-ultra budget hotel, basically a hostel where you are at least guaranteed a safe clean experience, they would've come up with the Etap. And I'm not even complaining. Everything's so well designed and they are so acutely aware of their target market, it's just ingenious, the whole thing.
Each room has a double bed under a bunk bed, max 3 persons per room (so again we had 2 rooms but at least this time it was easier to get one of the girls to stay "not with me" by offering the tantalizing Bunk Bed Option.) Each room has a sink, a desk and chair, a small tv, a small digital alarm clock permanently affixed to the wall by the double bed, a toilet with no seat (no breakage!) a shower in a waterproof closet (no curtain!) three towels, no shampoo, no bath mat, two slivers of soap, and two disposable cups. You want toiletries? Buy them from the vending machine in the lobby.
Breakfast at the Etap is perfunctory. You can have bread, bread, or bread, or cereal. You can have butter, honey, or jam. Milk, coffee, orange juice. You want yogurt? Fruit salad? Buy them from the vending machine in the lobby. Or better yet, ask your wonderful husband to walk to the AMAZING pastry shop across from the Saint-Mande Metro station and come home with mouthwatering croissants, apple turnovers, chocolate-almond croissants...wow.
Though I would probably go one step above the Ibis for our family if we were booking the rooms, simply to avoid having to be in two separate rooms, I have to say that if all you're looking for is a place to keep your stuff, sleep and wash up, Etap/Ibis more than fit the bill. It was comfortable and quiet, the two most important criteria.
We ate a quick dinner at a lovely cafe called La Tourelle (we returned the following night since it was so good and so welcoming), unpacked our stuff and headed to the metro for the trip to the Seine for our Bateau Mouches river boat trip.
I wish you could have seen JieJie's whole face light up--I swear you could see her heart swell with joy, and that doesn't happen for just anything--when we came up out of the Metro and she saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling like a giant diamond in the night. She and MeiMei and I decided that fairies were making all the twinkly lights. It was even more beautiful than I expected!
JieJie has this LeapPad book called Anna's First Ballet that has a section about Paris and the Eiffel Tower, so even though she's just turned 5, she knows the name and shape and a few trivia facts about the tower, for instance that it is taller in the summer due to the expansion of the metal. I really saw it hit her, the connection between what she had heard so many times and the fact that this is a REAL place and a REAL thing. I can't know for sure, but I think that was part of her excitement. For me it was really a Magical Moment.
To be continued with: Tour of the Eiffel Tower, visit to Sainte-Chappelle, our visit off the Grand Tour list to Cite des Enfants, and The Morning That Was Not To Be.