Wednesday, April 27, 2016

R O U T E D E S V I N S - Colmar & Eguishiem, Alsace, France

You know those advertisements where people are happily biking in the sun through vast fields and winding vineyards, sun shining and wind blowing perfectly, with a cute little wicker basket on the front of their bike and smiles on their faces?

Im not saying I looked as good as those people in the pictures, but I got to bike through fields like that on Sunday! Theres a group of roads called La route des vins, it goes through most of southern Alsace, which is the region Strasbourg is in.

Friday late afternoon a friend from junior high school arrived in Strasbourg - which was incredibly exciting! Reconnecting in France after 3 years of not seeing each other, I had an awesome weekend showing her around Strasbourg and exploring Alsace with her. Saturday wasn't the best city exploring weather, but we made the best of it! We checked out the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, Centre-ville, Petite France and la Musée d'art moderne et contemporaine. I had already walked around some of these places, but it was great to explore them in more depth! I found it really interesting being in the cathedral with someone who had more knowledge of religion than I do, because I was able to learn so much more.

 - the astronomical clock ~ figurines above it move on the hour - 

 - admiring the stained glass windows -

After enjoying a tarte flambée in Petite France and strolling through the cute little streets and half-timbered houses, we visited Strasbourg's contemporary and modern art museum. I can see how people have mixed feelings about it, but I absolutely loved it! The coloured windows around the building were the cherry on top for me. It had a good variety of art but the museum flowed well, had an intriguing "female forms in art" temporary exhibit and a great photography section. 

So, to the best part of our weekend now - our makeshift road/bike trip! We took a blabla car (a ride sharing website for Europe - to and from Colmar, with wonderfully friendly drivers both ways! When we got into Colmar, our first stop was at Musée Unterlinden, which is reportedly the best museum in Alsace. It has a great combination of the area's history, religion, contemporary and modern art. The museum itself is housed in history - its split between the old municipal baths and  the old town church. 

We then did the self guided walking tour around Colmar, which took us about an hour. We picked up maps at the tourist office across from the museum which had a great, clear route around the town that showed us everything we wanted to see! Petite Venise and old Douane areas were my personal favourites.  


After munching on our picnic lunch in a square, we rented bikes at Colmar Velo, beside the train station, got ourselves a bike route map and headed off towards Eguishiem! As someone who consistently gets lost, I was really impressed with how easy it was to get there - besides biking straight into the wind for 5km across farm fields. But despite the wind and a couple hills, it was a breathtaking bike ride through the forest, along a river and finishing through fields and fields of root vegetables and a couple vineyards, ending at the entrance to Eguishiem. 

Eguishiem was named "France's favourite village 2013" as well as being on the most beautiful villages list since 2004, plus it has won numerous France and European awards for it's florals - even in April, they were starting to get pretty impressive! The village is set up as a circle with La Grande Rue crossing through the middle, from the entrance to the far side where a stork sanctuary lies. We took our time strolling through, visiting the birds and tasting wine. Because you can't go to the Wine Road without buying some wine! We got back to Colmar after approximately 25km of biking, countless cobblestone streets explored, a couple wines tested and an uncountable amount of laughs shared. All in all, the perfect day exploring Alsace!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

M O U L E S & F R I T E S - Marseille, France

I was having a quiet evening one night, poking around travel websites... when I came across a couple 28 euro roundtrip bus tickets to Marseille! Within the next 24 hours, myself and two friends had our tickets, a hostel booked and were well on our way to planning our next weekend adventure.

First of all, I have to say I dont exactly recommend a 14 hour bus ride. It's not the worst thing ever, but it's definitely not "fun". Taking a train would obviously be more comfortable, but it got us there for a low price! We took 7 hours to Lyon then 7 hours to Marseille. The moment we stepped out of the train station (many busses arrive at train stations in Europe), you could feel the warmth of the Mediterranean and smell the salt air. Getting to our hostel was a bit confusing, but we were warmly welcomed when we arrived and the hostel was one of the best I've been to! (Shameless plug for Hello Hostel Marseille, but they had awesome community dinners and a guitar!).

Day one in this beautiful port city consisted of exploring the waterfront and old town, and the cutest little neighbourhood within in called Le Panier. It's known for its small streets, colourful buildings and cozy feel the flowers (which are planted everywhere) give it!

 Because we were in the south, and on the ocean, we obviously had to sample the local fare. Moules et frites it was for lunch - and oh boy it was delicious! Later that day we walked around some more, specifically away from the waterfront centre and down the coast to catch some better views, and a stunning sunset. Hanging out on the beach for the late afternoon and early evening was beautiful, relaxing and just what we all needed. There aren't really words to describe walking along the coastal road and watching the sun go down! 

Saturday was the star of the show: Parc nationale des Calanques! The Calanques are a string of limestone or dolomite mountains formed during erosion and floodings over centuries, and are only found along the Mediterranean coast. We hiked on the Sugiton and Morgiou Calanques, including hiking down (which was harder than back up!) to the creek at the bottom of the Sugiton. If you ever visit Marseille, I could not recommend more a hiking trip to the Calanques and down to the creek as it is definitely on "my top 5 most beautiful places I've ever been" list - and I'm from Nova Scotia! We also went swimming (it was Easter weekend people!!!) and it was the same temperature as the ocean back home in July. We had numerous French people look at us like we were crazy, and even though we were two Canadians and two Americans, we just yelled "Nous sommes canadiennes!" and kept swimming in the clearest turquoise water I had ever seen!
- view over Morgiou -

- Sugiton creek -

- 2 Americans, 2 Canadians & 2 New Zealanders go for a hike... - 

Saturday evening was a quiet evening, with me making a big pasta supper for us to recover after a day of hiking! My adventures on Sunday were fairly solo - Kat and I walked up to the basilica and then she went for her run where as I wandered around the neighbourhoods outside of the Old Town and touristy area, getting lost then finding my way with each new area and discovering fun little corners around the city. The best place I found was a little spice shop, that also sold family-made Marseille soap (and the most delicious olives I've ever had). The people working in the shop were so kind and friendly, answered all my questions about the different spices and soaps and were so excited to have a Canadian in their store! 

 - red wine, patchouli, aloe vera & more! -

 - a tantalizing mixture of smells - 

- I also checked out the Palais Longchamp ~ beautiful architecture and super cool history - 

Lastly, Monday was our long bus ride back to Strasbourg, where we arrived in the middle of a rain storm - very different from the beautiful weather we were just starting to get used to. All in all, I highly recommend a trip to Marseille; it's weather, water, mountains and multiculturalism will enchant you!

B L A C K F O R E S T - Offenburg, Germany

A few weeks ago, I got the chance to go to the Black Forest in Germany. A friend found cheap last minute train tickets, so we booked them and hopped on the train at 7:30am Saturday morning. The train over wasn't the most ideal, as two of our group almost got fined and kicked off for not having printed tickets and we had stopover at a station that didn't actually have any station, but all went well! Getting up to the hiking paths proved to be a little difficult, as we didn't realize the tourist office wasn't open on the weekend in Offenburg, but we managed to find a map and ask the really nice girls at a sports store how to get to the trailhead. Turns out, there were castle ruins at the start of the trail and the routes veered into the woods from there, making it a perfect starting point and picnic spot.

The hiking was fantastic! It was fairly easy, with well defined groomed paths that were most likely logging paths at other times during the year. That being said, if you're going to the Black Forest for more intense hiking, I dont think Offenburg would be your spot. The castle ruins were fascinating though and we got some beautiful views of the classic dark pines that define forest, feeling like we we had stepped into a fairytale like Snow White.

After coming down from the forest, we found a local Kneipe (pub), and had a couple post hike beers. Hopping on the train around 8ish, we napped our way back to Strasbourg after a tiring, but beautiful day!