European Excursion Day Nine: Three Countries, Two Dogs And One 1970’s VW Van
What I’m about to tell you about is my favorite day on the whole European trip. I don’t like to pick favorites, but if I was held at gunpoint I would say it was Saturday the 9th. It was all around a fantastic day, every aspect of it was brilliant and I will treasure the memories. To begin I should say that Alsace Lorraine is a special place for me because that is where my family comes from. For a bit of history on Alsace, it is a territory in the Rhine River valley. The land has been fought over for years by Germany and France. There’s how the story goes, the territory ceded from France to Germany in 1871 after the Franco-German War. Then was reclaimed by France in 1919 after WWI, but was then surrendered to Germany in 1940 during WWII. Then finally in 1945 it was once again given to France. The citizens of Alsace Lorraine were used as pawns in the feverish German and French dispute. The people’s house were confiscated, they were punished for speaking French and some were put in camps because of where they lived in the reign. All in all this area has had some very had times, being persecuted because of where they were from and what religion they practiced. Don (my friends father) told me that even today there is tension in the area left over from the fight over the land. The area is spectacularly gorgeous and out of all the places we have visited I think I would choose to live in Alsace.
The day was split into three main parts, but before I get into where we went I want to talk about how we got there. By this I mean our mode of transportation. We rode around the countryside in a 1970’s Volts Wagon Van. It was like something out of a movie. Sam, Riley, me and the two dogs packed in the back and the adults up front. It was kinda like going on a mini vacation. So the day was off it a great start just rolling down the highway in that awesome vehicle, plus I had a tiny dog sleeping on my lap and an energetic eight year old next to me telling us jokes. Now let us begin…
Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg:
This is a beautiful castle located on top of a huge hill. It was a fun drive winding back and forth to get up to the castle. Then once we got to the top we could really appreciate the view and what a view it was. Words can’t even begin to capture the beauty. From the castle you could see out in all directions across the expansive Alsace region spackled with tiny town, vineyards and fields. It was a very clear day, so we could even see The Black Forest in Germany. The castle itself was also impressive. It was first built in 1147 and added onto over the years as it was paced into new ownership. It was the castle of the Duke of Lorraine for nearly 300 years. In 1899, it was given to the German emperor Wilhelm II in hopes of resorting the bonds between Germany and the Alsatians. After WWI the castle was again in possession of the castle and there was great distain for it’s link to the German Empire. Today it is a popular tourist desitination and I can tell you why. One it has fantastic views and two it has unbelievable charm. When you are walking through the castle, you feel like you are walking through a real castle. It has been the best castle I’ve been to. It seemed so authentic with its great hall, armor room and courtyards. We really enjoyed our visit, but Riley – who was less then enthusiastic about the castle- gave us the quote, “It’s just a pile of stones!” Now whenever we go someplace we like to say, ” You know this is really just a pile of stones.”
La Montagne des Singes:
After a quick lunch of cheese, pretzels and the most amazing baguette, we were off to our next stop of the day. This being La Montagne des Singes. Which is a monkey habitat for Barbary macaques. These are an endangered monkeys originally from northern African. The habitat allows the monkeys a safe place to live and breed. It also functions as a research center studying the Barbary macaques behavior. The habitat has been open since 1969 and has relocated hundreds of monkeys back to their native Africa. This was truly a unique experience. I mean who would have guessed that I would feed monkeys while I was in France. Not me! The monkeys live in a fenced in area, so to enter we had to go through a giant metal door. It was like going into Jurassic Park. Once inside we could begin exploring the park and feeding our new monkey friends. At the beginning we were each given a handful of popcorn that we were allowed to feed them. We had to place one kernel in your palm and them stretch out your hand to the monkey. They would then snatch the piece of popcorn from your palm and eat it. Though sometimes they didn’t want the popcorn if they thought it was too small of a piece. There were some sassy monkeys in that park. Highlight of the monkey park was when I had just finished giving a monkey a piece of popcorn and another monkey ran at him and they began having this sort of monkey man off. They were screeching and showing off their scary teeth. Nicole grabbed us all and we were all huddled together as the two monkeys resolved their manly issues. The employee told us that it is mating season and they were just trying to show off to the ladies. Let me tell you boys, I was not impressed by your outburst of manhood. Better luck next time.
The last place we visited was in Germany, one of my mother countries. Freiburg is a small town located in the south of Germany near the French border. When we first got there we did a bit of shopping. While waiting for Don and Riley to buy a bike helmet I meet my boyfriend outside of a sport shop. He was a nice mannequin decked out in biking gear and advertising the shop. Nicole even took pictures of the two of us together. We were a match made in heaven, but unfortunately he would leave the bench and I had to continue on without him. Another cool aspect of the city was that in front of many stores was mosaic tile showing a picture of what the store sells. It was cool to see tiny shoes in front of the cobbler’s door. The town seemed like something out of a book, filled with unique history and charm. It is a medieval city and its biggest landmark is its cathedral, Freiburg Minster. We went inside and admired the fantastic architecture. The cathedral was founded in 1200 and was added onto over the years. The cathedral has Germany’s only Gothic church tower and survived several air raids. After exploring the ancient cathedral we set off for dinner. For dinner I had my first Wiener Schnitzel and authentic German potato salad. Yumm. I wanted to eat something German, so I was very happy to get to eat Schnitzel, plus it was very good. I don’t know what I expected, but it exceeded my expectations. After dinner we headed back to the van since all the shops were closing and it was now dark. On the way back we saw an older man playing an accordion. It all felt so German. I loved it.
Until next time…