Friday, August 19, 2011

Wine and Hot Tubs

Seriously, not what you're thinking.

We spent last weekend in Alsace.  This region encompasses a swath of eastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland, and has passed back and forth between France and Germany several times over the centuries.  It doesn't feel quite French nor does it feel entirely German.  Somewhere pleasantly in between.

Strasbourg is the main city, which is where we stayed.  The city feels very...European.  Not just because the EU Parliament meets there either.  It's one of those European cities that reminds you that people have been living here for a long time.  Actually, people have lived in Strasbourg since 12 BC and Julius Caesar's Roman legions marched down streets that you can still walk on.  And the cathedral - which is huge, daunting, and impressive - was built between the 12th and 15th centuries.  For over 400 years, it was the tallest building in "Christendom." (Can you tell I read the tourist materials? We've had some debate over what exactly Christendom means.  But I can tell you that it means the cathedral is tall. I was a history major, after all.)
Tall cathedral spire
People in Alsatian dress showed up and we all took photos of them. Because it wasn't clear what else you were supposed to do.

We also spent a day in Colmar, about a 30 minute train ride from Strasbourg.  Colmar is a gem. We explored Petite Venice, which is a neighborhood that dates from the 1300s, with colorful half-timbered houses along a cute canal (hence the name).   Dutiful Jews that we are, we also stopped by the synagogue which actually dates to 1840 - we're not clear how it survived the war, given that Alsace was annexed to Germany, everyone had to become a Nazi, and the Jews did not fare well.  Of course, we only got into the synagogue by getting a four-year-old boy wearing tzitzit to let us in - we still don't know where he was going.
On the way to Colmar

Petite Venice

But the reason we went to Colmar in the first place is because everyone in Strasbourg told us we had to check out the annual wine festival, which has been going on for 64 years.  Alsatian wine is unique, featuring primarily reisling, gewurtztraminer, and pinot gris (in other words, all white wines).  The Route des Vins goes south from Strasbourg with Colmar pretty much in the middle. Anyway, huge regional wine festival? What's not to love?

And then we arrived. It was the strangest wine fair ever. Think 10% wine and 90% hot tubs, kitchen appliances, and gadgets only seen on infomercials. Such as - the spaetzle maker!
The spaetzle maker!

We did taste five or six wines, and we did eat a delicious flatbread with fresh herbs and cheese.

At the point where we realized the guys at the water cooler tent were eating and drinking better than we were, we thought we should probably ditch the foire bizarre (foire is a fair, and pronounced in a way that rhymes with bizarre).  Because we can't fit a hot tub in our Paris apartment.
They got a whole bottle of wine! We only had a glass.
Back to Strasbourg we went. More on Strasbourg to follow, including adventures with Baby Oil, secret fantasies, and more.

PS In general, I've a bit of a backlog with the blogposts - the pie episode was an exception because it necessitated immediate blogging. So this post, and the next few, happened before I burned the pie.
PPS No, I don't actually know what spaetzle is.