Sunday, August 24, 2014

La Route du Vin

Trivia fact of the day: France is the most visited country in the world, ahead of the U.S.A and Spain. Is there any wonder why?

Friday morning on the last day of our French vacation, we left Strasbourg early so that we could see as much as we could of the Alsace wine route before we had to return our hired car.

This wine route is a beautiful drive. The towns are very picturesque, with enticing shops, and the scenery between stops is lovely - rolling hills full of vineyards. We managed to visit five of the recommended stops before 14:00 when we had to head for the main highway and home.

Our first destination was Molsheim toward the north end of the route. While Bob took a couple of photos, I popped into Tourist Information to ask a few questions about the region. When the young woman asked me what French departement I was from, and I explained that I was Canadian, she told me that I did not sound Québecoise. My accent was gentler than that. My French must be improving.
Quiet square in Molsheim

Obernai was next. We discovered that parking was free for the first 20 minutes, so we gave ourselves about that long to explore. I found my way to a shop where there was a good sale, while Bob took more photos.
There was no one on the tourist train in Obernai - yet

Above the town of Dambach-la-Ville , we saw a lovely church with views over the vineyards and the community below. So pretty!
Vineyards and Dambach-la-Ville from the church above town

We arrived at Ribeauvillé at lunchtime and soon found ourselves a couple of sandwiches to take out. A few kilometres further along the route, we stopped at Riquewihr, one of "les Plus Beaux Villages de France". We almost drove around the village and left since there appeared to be no parking spots anywhere. However, at the last moment, we found a place. After all that effort, we decided to have a good look at the village, making it our last tourist stop of the day.
Half-timbered houses in Riquewihr
The clock tower in Riquewihr

Another street view in Riquewihr

Just after 14:00, we headed back to Neuchâtel on the fastest route our ancient GPS could suggest. All went well, until we hit Biel, Switzerland. Traffic there was so slow that we lost a lot of time. We were on a tight schedule since we had to return the car to France that evening, but wanted to drop off all our purchases at our apartment beforehand. By the way, in case you are wondering why we did not simply rent a car in Switzerland, the answer is simple. The cost of car hire there is double that in France.

In spite of the delay, we thought we had enough time to get to Pontarlier, France before the EuropCar dealer closed at 18:30. We had an hour and a quarter to travel what Google Maps suggested would take 56 minutes. It turns out there was a detour through the mountains that added another 25 minutes to our drive, so were too late. The dealership was in the middle of nowhere, and we could find no drop-box to return the car key, so we took a leap of faith and left it with a woman in the frozen food shop next door. (I called EuropCar the next morning, and she had followed through, returning the car key for us.) There was also nowhere to eat nearby except a Cafeteria style place across the road at a grocery store. There, we had by far, the worst meal we ate in France: cold and overcooked green beans, with acceptable meat and rice, covered by a mystery sauce. Never mind: it filled a hole.

Our adventure was not over yet, however. We still had to get to the train station in time for the 21:08 train to Neuchâtel, the last of the day. The taxi we called did not show up in good enough time, so we hoofed it three kilometres. Thank god the cafeteria had free WiFi so we could work out a route!
Bob hurrying to the train station in Pontarlier

Fortunately, we made it, bought our tickets and stood waiting on the platform with one other passenger, also a Neuchâtel resident. She and I ended up in conversation, although it was mainly one-sided. She was a woman with sad stories to tell, one after another - and she told them at length, in French, with a German accent. Then, she sat on the train near us and told me more. Bob is not conversant in French so the listening was all mine.
Talking on the platform in Pontarlier

At about 22:00, we pulled into Neuchâtel after a very long day. Our French vacation was over and we were glad to be "home".

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