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Why “I Ain’t Been Nowhere” and ten more things I learned in Alsace, France…

It’s time for me to write another one of my “ten things I learned” posts. This one is coming a bit later than usual. I’m going to preface the post with a bit of an explanation for the people who still follow my travel adventures.

I’ve held off on writing my usual “ten things I learned” post for our most recent trip to France. I’m sad to say that I’ve kind of lost some of my desire to produce travel blog posts. There are a couple of reasons for this development.

Ever since I moved my blogs to WordPress, I’ve been struggling with lagging morale, particularly regarding the travel blog. Part of the reason I’ve been struggling has to do with people who were following me on Blogspot and decided to cause trouble. That situation was what led me to move my blogs in the first place. I suspect they just didn’t like me personally, for whatever reason, and decided to stir up some shit. It all ended badly, and ultimately, not in their favor, but it left me with some significant psychological angst that has taken some time to overcome.

I spent a year struggling with feeling really violated and angry, mainly because the people who were causing issues were being creepy, dishonest, and toxic. I’ve written quite a lot about that situation, mostly on my main blog, so I don’t want to rehash it here. I do think it’s really sad that some people feel the need to meddle in other people’s business and try to sabotage something like a personal blog. What those people did caused real damage on many levels, and there was absolutely no reason for it, other than their need to be destructive and creepy.

The second reason I’ve been less enthusiastic has a lot to do with the pandemic, and how difficult and annoying travel has been since COVID-19 became part of life. I was finally starting to feel better about writing in early 2020, only to have everything fall apart due to a deadly novel virus. The below song by Rhonda Vincent is pretty much a good summation of my feelings about COVID… If you haven’t heard it, I highly encourage you to listen. I promise it’s good, unless you just can’t abide bluegrass.

Sometimes, I think I’d like to go back to the USA, just so I can see Rhonda Vincent perform in person. Even if you aren’t a bluegrass fan, this song is awesome. Those harmonies make me want to cry! (in a verklempt way)

I am happy to report that Europe really is FINALLY opening up again, and COVID measures are becoming less obnoxious. This is happening, even though COVID infections are on the rise again in Europe, and I was actually exposed to COVID on our latest trip (though I haven’t been sick). I’m hoping the “red tile” on my Corona Warn app will go back to green today. Bill and I had a wonderful time in France, and now we want to travel more. So, I’m hoping we can move back into our former lifestyle, and I will recapture the joy of travel and experiencing new places and things. And now, on to the ten things I learned…

10. COVID-19 measures in France are currently much less annoying than they’ve been in Germany.

One of the reasons Bill and I went to France in the first place is because we didn’t want to be bothered by strict COVID rules. France doesn’t require FFP2 face masks, and if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to bother with masks in public indoor areas of restaurants and hotels. You do still need to wear a mask in shops, because they don’t check for vaccinations at the door. This was true during our visit, but as we know, rules are always subject to change.

9. Soufflenheim is French pottery heaven!

We have been to the Alsace area of France many times, but we’ve always stuck to the Wine Route. This was our first time exploring the area above Strasbourg, and we decided to go there because we knew Soufflenheim was where Alsatian pottery is made.

8. But there isn’t that much else going on in Soufflenheim…

Or, at least that was our impression during our visit. It’s a great place to go pottery shopping, but I wouldn’t say the town is particularly picturesque. However, nearby Sessenheim, where we stayed, is very cute!

7. There’s more to Alsace than the Wine Route.

On our previous trips to Alsace, we stayed in pretty, tourist friendly towns like Riquewihr, Colmar (Bischwihr), Ribeauville, and, of course, Strasbourg. We have visited the picturesque hamlets around Riquewihr and Ribeauville, and even made a point of stopping by Kaysersberg, where Anthony Bourdain took his life in 2018. If you go north of Strasbourg, you’ll still be in Alsace, but it feels different… and it’s well worth seeing.

6. Auberge Au Boeuf is a really cool place to stay!

I think the main reason we enjoyed our trip so much is because we discovered Auberge Au Boeuf, which is a wonderful, historic restaurant. But it also has four really cool bedrooms that can be rented. We were delighted by how thoughtfully designed and beautiful the hotel was. The little town of Sessenheim is also notable for its historic connection to Johann von Goethe, a very famous German poet, playwright, novelist, and statesman.

5. Michelin starred restaurants are not the end all, be all…

I do enjoy eating fancy food on occasion; but I’m really much more of a comfort food fan. We ate at the Michelin starred Auberge Au Boeuf twice. I’m not sorry we did that, but we did learn that “fancy food” should be special, or the magic wears off. On the other hand, it had been so long since we last indulged!

4. Speaking German often, but not always, comes in handy in Alsace.

We kind of already knew this from other trips, but we did run into a number of people who didn’t speak German or English. It made me wish I had studied French, in school, instead of Spanish.

3. The town of Bitche, which is in Lorraine, is very close to Kaiserslautern and Ramstein.

I did not realize how accessible this town, with its impressive and famous citadel, is to Germany’s largest military community. Maybe if Bill had worked in K-town, we might be slipping over the border more often.

2. Saverne is a cute town I’d never heard of!

We visited Saverne on a whim after we got bored in beautiful Obernai. Seriously, Obernai is a very pretty town, but it reminded me so much of other wine route towns. It was a treat to discover Saverne, which was about 45 minutes away. It had a very different feel. I wish we’d had time to explore more of it. Maybe we can go back.

  1. It’s time to get back to enjoying Europe… for as long as possible.

One of our biggest regrets during our first time living in Europe is that we spent too many weekends at home. We completely missed out on the Black Forest and Alsace during our Army tour. In fact, I don’t even remember any visits to Stuttgart Mitte during those two years. When we came back to Germany in 2014, we were determined to explore more. For four years, we were able to do that, and we did it to great success.

But then, once we moved, we dealt with harassment and COVID-19, which knocked us off track somewhat. As we’ve learned from COVID, life is short and tomorrow is never guaranteed. Putin is making things in Europe a bit tense. Add that to COVID, and things can seem mighty grim. The truth is, every day there are risks to be faced. It’s time to face more risks and get back to living. I hope that’s what we can do more of in 2022.

And to those who want to cause trouble and see me fail…

France, restaurant reviews

Reunited with France… and it felt so good to be back! Part seven…

Saturday morning, after breakfast, we decided to visit a couple of other towns in Alsace. One of the places we visited is the quaint and picturesque hamlet of Obernai. I wanted to go there because many of the times we’ve stayed in Ribeauville, I’ve noticed that our WiFi signal pings from there. A woman I knew from Stuttgart also happened to visit Alsace back in January 2020, when we were also visiting. We met up with her at a winery and had a tasting, and I noticed that after we parted, she went to Obernai. I remembered thinking the photos she shared made Obernai look like a very inviting place.

So we went to Obernai, which was every bit as cute as I thought it would be. The town has a large parking lot, complete with a very nice looking public restroom facility, which was closed due to COVID-19. As I walked around Obernai, I was thinking that it reminded me a lot of Ribeauville, except it was a lot bigger and busier. I noticed there is a shit ton of new construction going on there. It looks like a lot of people are moving to Obernai, or businesses are relocating there. The old town area is very charming and adorable. We mostly just walked around there, but got bored before it was time for lunch. It looked like a good place for eating, tasting Alsatian wines, and shopping, and I did notice a lot of places of interest, complete with informative signs in French, German, and English. But I still got the urge to move on fairly soon after we arrived. We visited the free public restroom, where donations were being accepted for the people of Ukraine.

Bill and I ended up getting off course on our way back to the car, so we were a little “lost” for a short while. It suited me fine, since I got the chance to take more pictures. We did eventually find ourselves back on the right track to getting to the parking lot. Obernai is definitely a cute town, but I think I prefer Ribeauville, because it’s smaller, quieter, and less “peopley”. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be up for a return visit someday. Below are some photos from Obernai.

As lunchtime got closer, we decided to head to Saverne, a town Bill discovered and was curious about exploring. Saverne is about a 45 minute drive from Obernai, but it’s kind of in the right direction for getting back to Sessenheim. That was important, since we had reservations at seven o’clock for our second gourmet dinner at the Auberge au Boeuf restaurant.

We easily found another free public parking lot in Saverne, although there was a two hour time limit. The lot was right next to the Presbytère Protestant, which was inaugurated in 1897. It is a very beautiful church, but we didn’t take time to visit it, because we were on a mission to find lunch.

As soon as we walked into the little town, which is situated on the Rhine-Marne canal at the foot of a pass over the Vosges Mountains. It has a very different feel than Obernai does. The main drag is on kind of a steep hill that actually reminded me more of the Alpine town of Chamonix than Alsace.

Licorne Beer!

I had never heard of Saverne before we visited there, but I was impressed by what I saw during our short trip. For one thing, Saverne is home to the Brewery La Licorne. Licorne is the French word for unicorn. We didn’t stop in for a visit there, but we did pick up a six pack of their brews to bring home with us. We also visited Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité, a beautiful old Catholic church that dates from 12th century. Bill was in a hurry, because he was worried about the time limit on our parking. Of course, no one was standing there with a stopwatch when we arrived, and I doubt people were chalking tires. He’s still big on following rules, though.

Saverne is also home to Rohan Castle, which is known as the “Little Versailles of Alsace”. It really does look like Versailles! And we almost had lunch at Taverne Katz, which is in a beautiful, historic building built in 1605 on the main drag through the town. We decided not to eat there when I noticed how many people were having lunch at that time. Instead, we dined at a place called Le Bistronome. Le Bistronome gets mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, but we had a good experience there. Curiously, the complaints on Trip Advisor seem to be about a “lazy, inappropriate, and grumpy boss/waitress”. We didn’t have that impression of the service at all.

During our visit, a very pleasant lady was handling all of the tables. She kindly suggested a table to us, and I noticed everyone in there appeared to be a local. I heard one woman even murmur “American” when she saw Bill and me. A large French family, complete with the obvious matriarch, sat kitty cornered to us. She gazed at us, looking either grumpy or curious. I couldn’t tell, but she did seem to be much beloved by the people she was with.

Below are some photos from Saverne and our lunch at Le Bistronome, where we enjoyed the musical stylings of Billy Paul and Barry White. I swear, it’s not a trip to France if I don’t hear the song “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once! That restaurant is where I heard it on this trip to France. It also occurs to me that it looks like Bill and I only eat beef, fish, fries, and chocolate mousse. That’s not true at all, but that was how it worked out during our trip. Lunch ran us about 70 euros. The waitress was clearly very pleased when Bill tipped her generously.

By the time we were finished with lunch, it was mid afternoon. Bill was also worried about the parking lot time limit. So we headed back to Sessenheim, where I took a nice nap before our second big dinner. Bill went to the store and picked up some beer and wine. Stay tuned for the next post…