Aussies in Alsace – Our journey from Hamburg by train took us through green fields increasingly streaked with rain to Baden Baden. Here we left the relative comfort of the Deutsches Bahn to stand on the wind swept concrete platform and waited for the French SCNF to take us to Strasbourg. My limited French enabled us to buy a local ticket at the lovely old Strasbourg train station to Molsheim, just 20 minutes away. Exiting at Molsheim, we stood in the rain on a deserted platform wondering how we were to reach our AirBnB. Not a taxi in sight and the driver on the end of the taxi phone would only come ‘demain’ -tomorrow. Even the toilets were locked. It seemed a call to our hosts, Edin and Betty, via the expensive Australian phone option was our best bet. Betty arrived and with limited English took us along a gravel path by the rail track to our destination. The ‘appartement au calme, proche de le gare’ – the calm apartment near the train station fortunately lived up to its name, spacious, quiet and with a sun deck and washing machine! We were welcomed by a bottle of local sparkling wine.
What a contrast it was the next day which dawned bright and sunny. We wandered into town past the Jesuit monastery, down cobbled streets to the main square and the tourist bureau. We passed the war memorial with French first names and German last names, a recognition that this area had changed hands many times. Street names and menus too were in both languages. We wanted to explore the vineyards and try some wine – and to hire some bikes.
“Oh, yes,” said the young woman at the bureau. “Here is a wine map, you go up the hill to the vignerons and the bikes are at the camping ground.” Off we set with our bikes along the cobblestones and up the hill to the vineyards. The road became a very steep track but we pushed on, wheeling the bikes past the grapes vines interspersed with field poppies. Surely we would find a cellar somewhere here! But no, signs for walkers with explanations about the history of the town and nature but no wine tasting. We learnt wine making here dates back to the 7th century when the monks tended the vines.
The view above the town was wonderful but we were ready for some sustenance, so a speedy descent took us to the Klingenfus vigneron and restaurant, which was shut for lunch! We had forgotten small villages in Europe have rather restricted opening and closing hours. We deferred to the boulangerie in the square for a large baguette.
Later that afternoon we discovered two vignerons within the town circuit and bought wine from both. Alsace has particularly good white wines and our particular favourite was Rene Boehler’s Leimen Sylvaner. The vignerons live within their wine cellars and Rene informed us he was the 7th generation of wine makers in his family, some of whom are shown below in the emblem on his old farmhouse.
Our journey home took us past the Molsheim Cigogne or Stork nursery. Several storks had made large nests on top of very tall trees and were feeding chicks. The area around Molsheim is renowned as a breeding ground for storks and we continued to see them gliding into their nests.
One of the reasons for visiting neighbouring Strasbourg was to catch up with Marie-Anne and her family. Marie-Anne had spent 10 months in Brisbane and had stayed in our apartment. A great explorer, she had encouraged her 92 year old father and brother as chaperone to make a visit to Australia and explore the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Kakadu and Uluru. We had met ‘le père’ in Brisbane and were keen to meet them all again in Strasbourg. Now veterans on the local SNCF trains we rendezvoused at the Strasbourg main station and realised the old stone building is encased in a modern glass bubble to protect the stonework. Marie-Anne recommended we take the Batoroma boat tour around the old town on the river Ille – l’isle sur l’Ille’. But first we needed to transport ‘le père’ over the cobblestones in his wheelchair for a morning expresso.
On the boat tour, we learnt about the history of Strasbourg – its strategic importance at the juncture of the Rhine and the Ille, its rich mineral deposits, its 2000 year old history and its modern strategic importance as the legal centre of the European Parliament and the Human Rights Court.
We motored around the Ponts Couverts to the lock which provided a wall around the city and all – including ‘le père’ – climbed to the top where this photo is taken. Apparently Rouget de Lisle composed Le Marseillais, the French national anthem in Strasbourg. The city was occupied by Germany for 150 years and many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings date from that time. Gutenberg while born in Mainz, started his famous printing process in Strasbourg and a large statue stands in the square.
After lunch in Petit France, we explored the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a beautiful building from the 16th century which houses the famous astronomical clock. The current clock is the third iteration built in 1843. The first clock was built in 1400’s and included a rooster who crowed out the hours, including spreading its wings. It is thought to be the first example of an automated robot. In the 1500’s, the clock was rebuilt to represent the rotation of the planets and recorded the first eclipse. The current version is a huge device built by a team of scientists, watchmakers, engineers and astronomers.
At 12.30pm, solar noon in Strasbourg a bird crows and a procession of apostles rotate around Christ. Even at 3.45pm when we were there it was most impressive, with bells ringing and wooden figures rotating around the top tier.
We loved our time in Molsheim and Strasbourg and on our last morning, a Saturday our hosts invited us to join their neighbourhood boule competition. We were indeed flattered but needed to proceed to our next adventure – cycling up the Rhine.