Friday, July 27, 2012

The wtf moment continues

I interrupt the fairly interrupted already tale of vacation for a short side question:

What is it with the Russians?

Why, oh why, are they flocking by the, mm, modest-sized groups of a dozen or so a day to the post about the tramway? The post has not gotten any more interesting, and it wasn't all that fascinating in the first place. But they keep coming.
1554 hits and counting, and 1544 of those must be Russians because Russia has become very black on the map of where visitors come from and I know that none of you regular readers are so silly as to check that old post every day, to see if I finally made it interesting by adding the winning numbers for the next lottery, or photos of scantily clad men, or somesuch nonsense.

Ah! Perhaps people looking for a guide to the tram stops in Clermont-Ferrand are bizarrely routed through Russia and land here after clicking on a link they thought might be able to help them find their way to an ASM rugby game at the Michelin stadium. I didn't know Russians were particularly interested in rugby, but those who are, are welcome to cheer for the ASM.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The train to Herrlisheim takes about 10 minutes. It's only 6 km according to the highway signs, though I'm sure on foot it wouldn't be that.
The town is on the worng side of the tracks for my destination up the hills to the west, but I go in search of a sandwich, in case the village uphill has nothing for lunch. One ham & cheese, check. Oh, and one of those chocolate cookies there! Breakfast was kind of light for a day of labor. Yeah.
There's a map of various trails posted in a parking lot by the bank, but no landmarks showing where to actually catch them. There's a blue, a yellow, two greens, and a red. A combination of blue-yellow-red will get me up to the Trois Chateaux. Perfect, if I can get started on the right track.

Indeed, it seems the three towers on high are not the lookouts of one massive castle, but three independent castles. How strange. They're so close together, and so obviously from the same period, they must have been inhabited simultaneously. They're like rowhouse chateaux. Wonder if there's a shared yard.
Or in fact any yard. It's steep up there.

These mysteries in mind, I go off for the immediate challenge of crossing the railway, and then the freeway. An unpleasant 20 minutes of heavily used roads later, I'm in the vineyards.
Here, oh so happily, there are no fences. There are not even indications of where one property ends and the rival's begins. Now and then I spy a trail marker, but why bother - I don't know at this point if I should go right or left. Just as good to wander about in the general direction of my goal.
Where the rows between the vines have not yet been cleared of their spring weeds, bright flowers ascend the green rows marching up and down the hills.Men with funny tractors are busy this morning taking care of all that disorder; straightening up the vines adventuring in forbidden directions, and clearing away the spots of buttercup yellow and poppy red.

In the village of Hussern, there's another map indicating a loop up to the 3 Chateaux, but again no indication of where the loop hits any of the roads. Just look around, I suppose. Up this alley and that one there's mostly dead ends, but I find a dirt track that seems accessible. Going in the right direction...
My sandwich is seeming rather a puny lunch, and my bottle of water utterly inadequate. Shops always close at 12 or 12:30, so I have a few minutes to score something, if only I can find a shop. Quite a trick around here, unless you're looking for a vintner's.
Ah, here is one, tucked away behind purple walls and not advertising its modest self at all. The woman is clearly surprised to find a shopper, or maybe just a face in her shop she doesn't see every day. Cold beverages? Er... There is a single cold soda, a Coke Zero, rolling around at the bottom of the fridge, behind the box of spare carrots. (I would say rejected carrots, but she clearly intends to sell them later.) I'll take the Coke, and the last half dozen apricots, please. Perfect.

Once you get past the last row of houses, there's a whole spiderweb of trails and tracks leading vaguely upward through the heavy woods. Soon signs appear, with arrows for the 3 Chateaux. The sun is invisible through the thick canopy. There are no views over the plain, and the Chateaux remain hidden by the trees and the extreme angle.
Even the top of the ridge is covered with pines, preventing any view of the Chateaux until you're right up on them. Impossible to get a photo of all three, since at either extremity of the site the land falls off into nothing.
Not that there's much left to see. Each Chateau was tiny; not more than the donjon (tower) and a few auxiliary rooms now barely footprints outlining their space.
RowChateaux indeed!
The one in the middle has some solid-looking wooden stairs and platforms going up for a great view from the top, but it's all inaccessible behind a huge rusted iron gate. Alas. Otherwise it's pretty much a dull pile of rocks. The 3 Chateaux are best admired from afar, where your imagination can fill in all the missing stuff.

The various proprietors of the vineyards each have their tasting and sales rooms in the village. I'd love to stop and have a glass, escape for a moment from the midday sun that's making me think I should have brought some sunscreen. But, while you're invited to taste, this is a series of small sips destined to make you figure out which one to buy. On foot as I am, buying wine is out of the question.
The tasting also occurs in the cave, or cellar, rather than under a tree or an umbrella on a flowery terrace. So forget it. What I need is a just a simple bar with chairs on the sidewalk, but there isn't one. I'll just have to walk all the way back to Herrlisheim and then the train to Colmar for refreshment.
To get back to the train station I decide to try to follow the marked trails. Take the yellow, then change for the blue, going right, just after the yellow leaves the green. Keep on the blue until it T's, and the quick way is on the right.
That works pretty well, except for the T at the end, which isn't properly marked. By that point my feet have been seriously tenderized, and the extra 3 or 4 km to find a crossing-point under the freeway are not appreciated.
I have 44 minutes before the next train, and was really looking forward to something cool to drink. The restaurant at the station is closed. On vacation. Back in the center of town, nothing is open at all except for the bank. Feh. I go in, but the lone teller has a crowd, and in unlikely to leave his post to refill my water bottle in the back room. Near the station there's a candy manufacturer with an open sales room. Yeah, tried to avoid going in there, but what's a parched girl to do? The cashier is pleased to fill my bottle while I pick out what goodies to snack on...
In the last 15 minutes before my train, the very same train I arrived on yesterday, the sky decides to rain.
For just three minutes.
The ground is dry again before the train even pulls up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More of Colmar

I wander around the old town until 7, when the shops close up for the day. They're just beginning the summer sale season, so it's worth looking into some. But they're the same old shops as anywhere, with an extra layer of high-end boutiques laid on for the wine-country tourists. We've got the same in Clermont - why shop here and schlepp it all home? It's sad they're all the same chains. Except for the Alsatian souvenir place of course. (Even there, it's a disappointment to see that this one artist who's made such incisive jokes about Auvergne has an Alsatian version that is pretty much the same, just a word changed here & there.)
A bath, a bit of tv, and dinner. I end up on a side street at the edge of the pedestrian district, in a little family-run place. 6 tables on the sidewalk; maybe twice as many inside. Everybody eats outside if the weather allows.
The boss knows his wines and I don't, so I let him recommend. By the glass, and I have two. A sweet aperitif, an Edelzwicker or a Gewurtz; followed by a drier Pinot Gris for my summery plate of fruit and chilled delicacies. Most of the local specialties are hearty winter food, so it's a rather generic plate, but nice.
Four of the tables are eventually occupied, thankfully none by smokers. Sometimes I have a dining room all to myself as a refuge from all the tables around me lighting up. Next to me are a pair of germans who have some difficulty communicating with the boss.  The boss's German sounds fine at first, but is more or less limited to the food words of the manu. He does not understand that the German drinking wine finds his libation too warm.
But this is sorted out. And the evening is enjoyed by all.

In the morning I discover I have failed to bring socks.
Can't do serious walking without socks!

Instead of an early start for Herrlisheim and the vineyards and the ruins, I guess I'll take a photographic tour around the old town before the tourists fill it up. Until the shops open.

Or not so late a start, really; the Monoprix is already open at 8:30, and they do have socks. Off we go. Once I drop off my breakfast reading and refill my water bottle at the hotel and get to the station, the 9:04 to Mulhouse is at the quay, and I don't have a ticket. The time it takes to get one is just 30 seconds too long. 59 minutes 30 seconds to wait for the next one. If I were really a daring adventurer, I'd have hopped the train ticketless.
Might as well have a look around. Lots of busses stop here, as one might well imagine. Hey! One to Turckheim at 9:11. Tomorrow. I'll take that one tomorrow if I can't find that trailhead. It's a curious schedule - 8:30, 9:11 and 12:05, but then one every half hour later in the afternoon.
Strolling around I see one of the statues of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. THere's a replice statue in town, but apparently pretty far away on the north side, best got to by car. Just here there's little statuary, but blocks and blocks of Belle Epoque houses, luxurious gardens all around them, and delicate but firm fences. You can tell this used to be Germany, though, because all the blocks are square. No silly French streets laid any which way around here! 

On to Herrlisheim!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

To Colmar

The middle-aged woman next to me on the train is wearing a skirt that reaches to mid-thigh. Just a centimeter or two beyond a mini.
It's not the display of her legs that's so ridiculous - no prettier or less than mine, the same uneven complexion and cellulite. Bravo for courage in the face of new-found veins. It's that she keeps pulling it down, betrayed by the fact that sitting in a short skirt is much less flattering than standing up in one.
Every few minutes, an adjustment. With no visible difference in the extent of pale flesh exposed.
Ladies, please: if the skirt is too short, wear a longer one.

I've got just four days for travelling this time. Italy is a bit far for that, because of some inconvenient train schedules, so I'll get there some other time. September, if I dare take time off then. On my way to Strasbourg a year or two ago I was intrigued by the pretty countryside around Colmar, so that's where I'm off to. My friend in Nancy, Joanna, meant to join me with her little boy, but he seems to have come down with something and they may or may not join me later. For once I might have company on one of these outings - we'll see!

8:56 depart for Lyon. 12:05 from there for Mulhouse. 20 minutes wait there for the small local train to Colmar. Mulhouse around the station doesn't tempt me, in spite of the waterfront with its docked boats. the local pauses at:
Mulhouse Dornac: boring suburb
Staffelden: corn on one side, big houses with big yards on the other. No good hiking there.
Bollwiller: cute town with its hexagonal onion-domed church. The station parking lot is big enough to hold the cars of the entire town.
Raedersheim: major corn.
Merexheim: corn, wheat, corn.
-a crane in a mowed hayfield-
Roufflach: grain silos, half-timbered pub.
Herrlisheim-près-Colmar: there are castle ruins on the crest of the row of hills, and finally vineyards everywhere. Yea! Here I could just get off the train for a stroll through the green, though the ruins are some miles away.
All that in just 37 minutes. I'll pick up the schedule to get back to Herrlisheim - small towns are great for hiking. In a biggish town like Colmar it's sometimes hard to find the trailheads, and in a city like Mulhouse you can hardly find the trailheads at all because they're all way out in the burbs. It's only 4;30. My plan is to drop my stuff at the hotel and go for a walk, picking up a guide to peruse over dinner.
Time to go see Colmar.

It's one of those French jewels, with a large central pedestrian district where the streets are cobbled and the old-fashioned signs hang out from the shops, showing as much as telling what's there. Spotlessly clean. Old half-timbered buildings restored and painted.

The churches and other major structures have tha wonderful roofing done in patterns of colored tile. The warm yellow and red sandstone is gorgeous in the evening light.

And storks - there really are storks nesting here and there about town on the metal platforms provided for them.

I look into several bookshops and newsagents, but although tour books for the region abound, they all expect you to have a car. Except one - there is a guide for cyclists. Alas, this is (oddly) not a walking sort of place, unlike my adopted Auvergne, where dozens of hiking trail guides vy for your attention. I do eventually find two fold-out maps of the region that have red trails marked on them. One of these could do, though it would be better to have the common sort of book that describes the landmarks and has a detailed map of just the part you want.
There are only two red lines leaving Colmar anyway. One follows the river, and if I just go down there I'll find the trail. Trails are always well marked in France - once you find the trailhead you can't miss it. The other goes up toward the interesting, vineyard-covered hills, departing from a mall at the west edge of town that a bus is sure to go to, so I pass on the map.
more tomorrow...