Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alsace, France (May 1 - 4)

Since there are so many holidays in May in Europe, Shannon and I decided to take a little trip to the eastern border of France to a region known as Alsace for a few days. This area is a major white wine producing region which enticed Shannon and me to find out more about it since we both enjoy fine wine! A few of Shannon's coworkers have been to this area and really enjoyed it as we did as well.

Since Alsace is on the eastern side of France, it borders Germany and actually was formerly occupied by it; thus, the villages resemble German architecture. Most of the streets are full of colorful half-timbered houses and quant cafes and shops. Some of the villages we visited also had castles either in their towns or on hills nearby, which we were able to hike up to. One of the castles we visited, Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg, dated back to the 12 century and had been restored quite spectacular. Each of the rooms was furnished to show what it was like in the olden days.

We stayed in a bed and breakfast also known as a "Chambre d'hote," in a cute town called Colmar in the Haut-Rhin Region of Alsace. Every morning we were served fresh croissants, French bread and other kinds of breads with jellies along with tea and orange juice. Since it was a holiday weekend there were several travelers in Colmar and the other towns we visited. Other towns we visited included Obernai, Ribeauville, Hunawihr, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg and Eguisheim which were all basically within 20 km of each other (no more miles, only km's here!). The Vosges and Ballons are small mountain ranges near these villages where we were able to do some hiking up to old castle ruins.

We also visited 4 wineries and ended up bringing back around 2 - 3 cases of I said, we enjoy our wine! As you can see from one of the photos below, the hillsides were covered with grapevines; though, not the prettiest this time of year since they hadn't put any leaves on yet. Basically, all you saw were grapevine stalks everywhere, but I can imagine it would be quite beautiful during the Summer and Harvest time...more reason for us to go back! This region is mostly known for its Rieslings (my favorite), Pinot Gris and Gew├╝rstraminers. The Rieslings in this region are much dryer than what most Americans think of Rieslings because they are thinking of German produced ones which are actually much sweeter than Alsace Rieslings. We even found a winery that included our name, 'Meyer Jean-Luc' (Eguisheim), which thankfully had good wine! Two other wineries we liked were called Paul Zinck (Eguisheim) and Sipp Mack (Hunawihr). We enjoyed good conversation with some French customers that were at Sipp Mack; though it was very slow paced because they insisted that we try to speak some was good practice for me, though I'm still in the beginning stages. Luckily, one guy wanted to practice his English, which his wife said he needed to do, so Shannon wasn't left out! He plans to start French classes once things slow down at Deloitte.

In Colmar by canal with half-timbered houses

More Half-timbered houses - all villages look similar

Patio dining area in Colmar within the shops / canals
Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Grapevines with Castle above
Castle ruins near Ribeauville
More Castle ruins near Ribeauville
Winery we visited - Paul Zinck

Queens Day - Amsterdam (Apr 30)

Some background on Queen's Day: Queen's Day is a national holiday in the Netherlands on 30 April. It basically celebrates the birthday of the Queen of the Netherlands and is supposed to be a day of national unity. The tradition started on 31 August 1885 on the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina. Since 1949, after the ascension of Queen Juliana, Queen's Day is Queen Juliana's birthday on 30 April; regardless of the current Queen's actual Birthday. Furthermore, Queen's Day is known for its "fleemarket / garage sales" all over the country, where everybody is allowed to sell things in the streets. There are a wide range of activities that go on throughout the day like, children's games, musical performances and music concerts. During the celebrations as reference to the colors of the House of Orange-Nassau, people dress in the color orange which is sometimes called "orange craze". Also the night before Queen's Day is celebrated too in some cities and is called Queen's Night.

Since one of Shannon's coworkers wanted to go up to Amsterdam to see what this celebration was all about, I decided to join him; unfortunately Shannon had to work. First, we began by checking out some of the garage sales which were on almost every street. We didn't buy anything; though, at the end of the day, one lady just started giving away things free, so I grabbed a brown pitcher that I could put flowers in. We also stopped by the Heineken Brewery for a quick photo. Later on we went through Vondelpark where we saw a variety of things, such as kids/adults selling 'compliments', kids singing, kids hosting games they created, martial arts choreography and many other unique things. For the most part, I felt that Queen's Day was basically a huge party with everyone dressed up in orange shirts or costumes. There were DJs playing mostly techno music on every main square with people dancing. There were also live concerts with local artists from the Netherlands, I believe. The canals were jammed pack of people on their boats...dancing and drinking away. Like I stated in an earlier blog, Amsterdam is a city of its own and might I add, full of people who like to have a good time and are extremely laid back!
Canals full of party boats

Everyone wears orange (not Shannon and I, maybe next yr!)

Brewed in Amsterdam