Alsace Roadtrip

On our final day in Strasbourg, Mike and Sarah had to get up early to make their flight, so Sean and I decided to make use of the car and do a roadtrip throughout the Alsace region. I do not even know the names of all of the tiny towns we drove through (and cannot pronounce any of them!), but they were all gorgeous and each one different from the others.

We used the Lonely Planet France book to select each destination, and managed to stop in the following: Obernai, Mittelbergheim, Itterswiller, Dambach-la-Ville, Bergheim, Hunawihr, Riquewehr – and it’s very possible I missed a few!

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[A final goodbye to Strasbourg]

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[Those mountains!]

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[Do you see that chateau up at the top?]

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[Pretty much the whole town on a sign]

Between Dambach-la-Ville and Bergheim, we made a stop at Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg, which presented stunning views over the region. We did not stay long or go inside the Chateau (we’ve been in so many!) but made sure to stop for a couple of photos.

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Once we hit Bergheim, we were desperate for lunch but ran into the same problem we had been running into throughout the entire trip. Everywhere was full! Even in these tiny towns, where there wasn’t even a car on the road, the restaurants were booked. We gave up after Riquewehr and headed for Basel, Switzerland, thinking we could find something there before our flight.

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[If this little house isn’t straight out of a fairytale then I don’t know what is!]

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After poor navigation on my part (assisted by loss of signal) and extreme frustration on Sean’s, we made it to Basel, parked, and picked a restaurant. We were only in Basel for about two hours, but the Christmas markets were going on, so it was a nice and spirited way to end our trip.

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I was hesitant that driving would get boring, but I was so into snapping pictures the entire time (through the car window most of the time), and we ended up stopping for at least a view in almost each of the towns. I definitely want to go back and spend a longer time in each town – with wine tasting, B&B stays and meal reservations booked!

My only regret? We did not have any Swiss Francs, so missed out on the Basel mulled wine cups for our new collection…and they were incredible!

Wine Tasting in Alsace

When Sean and I decided to hire a car for our trip to Strasbourg, I immediately looked for things to do around the area. When I came across the Route du Vin, I knew I had the answer…wine tasting.

We chose Saturday, my birthday, as a full day spent wine tasting. I planned out three wineries and a stop in Colmar, so we started our day early and hit the road immediately, stopping at a rest stop for breakfast.

Driving in the day light was an incredible experience because the scenery was just gorgeous. I was honestly going crazy snapping pics through the car window trying the capture the moments. The pictures obviously don’t serve as a full representation, but you can imagine how beautiful the area was!

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The first winery we stopped at was Domaine Bott-Geyl, where we tried so many wines I cannot keep track of them all! It was so interesting to taste the same grape, but at different quality levels. We learned a lot about the region and the popular white wines which were made there and left happily with some purchases.

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The next stop was meant to be a winery in Riquewehr, however, as we started to approach the town we realized we were in trouble. People were parked everywhere, a good couple of miles from town. There were cars parked in between the vines of the vineyards, up in the mountain, on the roads – everywhere. We could barely drive through the town, let alone park and go wine tasting, so we ended up going straight to Colmar.

Colmar was equally as crowded, but we wandered through the Christmas markets. When we couldn’t find a place to eat (everything was full – surprise, surprise), we settled on market food. We had a mix of savory pretzels and hotdogs covered in cheese. It was all delicious. We spent a good amount of time walking around and exploring before hopping back in the car to head to the next winery.

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Our final stop was Domaine Paul Blanck. This is a family run winery, and we had such a nice time tasting wine with one of the sons. He walked us through everything, let us taste as many of the wines as we wanted, and planned the order for us so we didn’t have to make any effort! He even knew a guy who lives in Izmir (where Mike and Sarah live) who happens to be dating a girl who runs one of their favorite wineries over there! We also found out his daughter married an English guy (lunatic, huh?) and they distribute the wine in Waitrose.

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He asked us our plans for after the tasting and recommend we visit Kayersburg, a nearby village. We figured we would give it a shot, parked up closer, and walked into the town. Kayersburg had an authentic Christmas market which was lovely, but the best part was the mugs. All of the towns had cups for mulled wine and beer that they were offering on €1 consignment – if you returned it later, you would get your money back. They were for the most part plastic cups with Christmas scenes on them. In Kayersburg, we paid €2 for a glass mug that was the cutest thing ever! I honestly made a huge deal about getting two, but am so happy we have them back in London with us now.

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We headed back to Strasbourg for dinner at a wine bar, accompanied by charcuterie and cheese boards. After, we went to a nearby microbrewery for a couple of drinks before going back to watch the Army-Navy game. Hey – you can take the Navy fans out of the country, but you can’t take the spirit out of the fans! Mike and I ended up being the only ones watching, but we sat there until the last second, huddled around my laptop, nail biting and all!IMG_4883

p.s. Sean had started working on the GCHQ Christmas puzzle before we left for Strasbourg on Thursday and it was driving him crazy to complete the puzzle and find out what the image was. Sean finished the puzzle this night and we couldn’t figure out the image…until we realized it was a QR Code (by realized, I mean googled). We stayed up trying to figure out all the rest of the parts but gave up. It’s still a mystery to us! TBC…

Strasbourg Christmas Markets

My sister-in-law and I have birthdays which are two days apart. We also both live in Europe at the moment. So, naturally, a birthday weekend trip seemed completely necessary, with Mike and Sean in tow.

Mike kept the location as a surprise from Sarah at first, but I really wanted to go to a Christmas market, and so did she, so we decided on Strasbourg. I honestly did not know what to expect, but read that they had the best Christmas markets, and was therefore very excited (I’m a huge Christmas nut if I haven’t mentioned it before).

Sean and I arrived into Basel late on Thursday night and rented a car to drive to Strasbourg. We decided to hire a car so we could have flexibility on seeing areas outside of Strasbourg..and because we were not 100% convinced we would make the last train. This was the best decision we made by far! After a somewhat stressful drive and a fifteen minutes out in the cold until Mike woke up, we arrived at the Airbnb very ready for sleep.

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The Airbnb was interesting…two bedrooms meant one massive room with a curtain down the middle, with two single beds in one of the areas. Not ideal for two couples…but hey, there was a nice view! I definitely wouldn’t stay there again, but it served it’s purpose for the most part and was very clean. The worst part was that it was  not the one we actually booked, but another one run by the same people, so there was plenty of confusion.

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We woke up early the next day ready to conquer the Strasbourg Christmas markets…and we did. I don’t even think we got around to all of them, but we went to so many, drank plenty of mulled wine in the process, and truly took in all of the Christmas cheer.

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While the markets were the main sights of the day, we also visited the Cathedral and the Hospital Wine Cellar…which has a barrel of wine from 1472!

The only mistake we made was not thinking about reservations for our meals. We were in Petit France for lunch and tried about four restaurants before we actually found one that could seat us…at lunch time! It was a traditional style restaurant with delicious food – escargot and potatoes gratin to start, with rooster and spaetzel as the main meal. We quickly found that all of the restaurants in all of the towns in the region were completed booked for lunches – must be the holiday season.

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For dinner, we went to a small Italian restaurant for pizza, pasta, and of  course wine! We were absolutely exhausted after non-stop walking so headed back to the Airbnb to get a good amount of sleep before our busy day the next day.

Wine Tasting in Marseille

Marisa and I knew that we couldn’t go to France without drinking wine…and lots of it. So, when we came across the opportunity to do a wine tasting, it seemed like the perfect plan. We signed up for a small group half day tour of the Bandol & Cassis regions with Provence Wine Tours, which would get us back to Marseille with just the right amount of time to pack and head to the airport.

We arrived just before 9:00 outside of the Marseille tourist office, the meeting point for the tour. I was assuming it would be similar to the Tuscany wine tour, with a bus parked outside the meeting point and the tour guide ushering people over with a sign. There were no people or buses outside of the tourist office, so we were confused and ultimately just stood in front hoping someone would come to us.

A couple of minutes later, our guide approached us and introduced himself. He then went on to tell us that the other group of people who was meant to be on the tour had cancelled (food poisoning) and it would be just us. So, it ended up being a private wine tour! We hopped in the van and headed on our way!

The first winery we visited was in Bandol – Domaines Bunan, after the Bunan family. This was probably one of the biggest wineries I’ve been to yet, producing 400,000+ bottles per year. Our guide knew so much and told us all about the wine regulations in France, the different grape varieties, and about the winery itself. We walked through the entire wine making process and watching real staff in action (it’s the end of harvest season so we lucked out!). We then tasted two reds and one rose – I was a huge fan of the rose, which is rather surprising! I found out they sell their wines in Marks & Spencer here in the UK so I will definitely be tasting again.

   

The second winery was the Bodin family winery in Cassis. This is the oldest winery in Cassis, but smaller than the one we visited in Bandol (200,000 bottles per year). Like most wineries in Cassis, they produce mainly white wines. We did not spend as much time at the second winery, since they do all of their production at a different site, so we got right to the tasting. We tried five wines – 4 whites and 1 rose. Unfortunately, there were no crackers or palette cleansers, so by the third white, everything was tasting the same and I did not really get a feel for the Bodin family wines. I would have brought some back to the UK to try again, but I was only carrying hand luggage on the plane, and these wines unfortunately aren’t sold outside of France.

   

After the second winery, we spent a short amount of time in the town of Cassis, which is an adorable fishing village. It seems like a town that cruise ships would stop in – one main street with really nice shops and restaurants on the harbor. We did a bit of window shopping and then stopped for cappuccinos before meeting our guide back at the car.

   

The final stop on the tour was an overlook point near Cassis. The views we got were absolutely amazing, and Marisa was a trooper powering through her fear of heights!

   

  

While the tour was not as incredible as the one I did in Tuscany, it definitely gave me an enhanced appreciation for Marseille. Seeing the surrounding areas made me fall in love with the Provence region, and I definitely think I would return to see some of the other towns. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to drink wine starting at 10:00am?

   

[In my element]

A Weekend Away in Marseille

I’m going to be honest: Marisa and I completely wasted our first day in Marseille. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

After a 4:50am wake up call, a trek through Gatwick Airport, and short weather delays in London, we landed in Marseille and were welcomed by rain. And lightening. And more rain.

We made our way to the AirBnB (which was ADORABLE) and lost control of our day the moment we sat on the couch. Marisa was jet lagged, I had yet to recover from a long week at work, and there was the rain. Lots of rain.


  

We did try to walk around and do a bit of shopping (I found the cutest home shop – Sean and I will be ordering lots!), but quickly gave up and picked up wine and cheese and headed back to the AirBnB. I fell asleep, we cancelled dinner plans, and we just relaxed for the rest of the night.

Obviously, we had to squeeze in a lot the next day to make up for our laziness on the first day. We awoke bright and early (9:00 am) and headed to Dunk for breakfast. It’s a bagel bar that received excellent rating on Tripadvisor, but we had a rather awkward experience. The bagels were great but the girl working didn’t speak ANY English (and we don’t speak any French) so we barely made it through the ordering process let alone knew what we actually ordered.


After, we walked around Le Panier, which is kind of like the old town. There were winding streets with tiny boutiques and restaurants – it was adorable! This area really summed up Marseille: it was made to be beautiful, and really has the potential to be beautiful, but had been ruined by modern civilization. The streets were gorgeous and the houses so cute, but there was graffiti and litter everywhere, completely changing the atmosphere. Le Panier was definitely my favorite area regardless, and I picked up some soaps from the cutest soap shop to bring home to the new house!


  
  
  

After lots of hard work walking, we stopped for our mid-day glass of wine (accompanied by mussels) before heading back to the AirBnB for a quick nap. Obviously, napping was a huge trend on this trip!

Post-nap, we used our newfound energy to climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde, but not before a quick pastry stop! We we to Le Four des Navettes, which makes these little lemon biscuits that are blessed each year! They were rather underwhelming but I imagine they are great with tea or coffee.

The trek to the top of the hill to see Notre Dame was….rough. Let’s just say it proved how badly I need to join a gym. Once we arrived at the top sweaty and panting, the views of Marseile were phenomenal. And there was no graffiti in sight!!! We couldn’t see inside the basilica because there was a mass going on, but the views alone were well worth the climb.


  
     

We rewarded ourselves with an evening beer before having dinner along the port. While we didn’t see much of Marseille, I feel like we got a pretty decent feel of it. And it may not be my favorite city, but I am happy to have experienced it!

The Izmir Tour

I took advantage of staying at Mike and Sarah’s and slept as much as possible. So after a full day of wine tasting, I went to bed and slept in the following day before waking up to pack and see Izmir. Before bed, there were some rallies/protests/celebrations (we aren’t quite sure what it was) outside their apartment, so we were all on the balcony watching and sending snapchats. They live right by a square which is one of the few places people can protest, so it seems like this happens a lot. It’s never violent, though, and it was cool to see how proud people are of their beliefs.

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We got a rather late start the following day, but thankfully there is not much to see in Izmir (I mean that in a good way, I promise!).

There is a restaurant on the same street that Mike and Sarah live on that serves traditional Turkish lunch, which is essentially pita and meat. That was our first stop, where we made a plan for the rest of the day.

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Afterwards, Mike had to run a few errands which we tagged along for before taking a walk along the Kordon (the water). It was refreshing to catch the harbor breeze after so many days in the still heat.

Our first tourist attraction was Asansor, which is essentially an elevator that takes you from one street to a higher street. The story is actually pretty cool because it was built to make it easier for women, children, and elderly to get up to the high point without facing the walk up hill and the altitude differences. The view you get at the top is if the entire city, and across the harbor as well. We sat up there for coffee before moving on.

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[Mike in his element]

We then went to the clock tower, which is the major tourist attraction in Izmir. It was much smaller than I expected, but in a nice little square that had a ton of people. There was also a really cute mosque in the same square – it is tiny (only one octagonal room) and the coloring is beautiful.

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Around the corner from the clock tower is Kemeralta, the bazaar in Izmir. It was much different than the Grand Bazaar – fewer souvenirs and more practical items (clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc.). It was probably more crowded than the Grand Bazaar when considering it relative to size, though, and we struggled to maneuver our way through all of the people. Mike and Sarah picked up 5 kg of chicken (because why not) and I grabbed some tea to accompany my new tea set.

We stopped back at the apartment to drop everything off and then moved on to the most important stop of the day: ice cream. I was going to be that girl who took a picture of her ice cream, but I became the girl who devoured the entire cone before remembering to do so. When we were walking back from our ice cream stop, we picked up midge dolma, which are sold on the street everywhere in Turkey. They are basically mussels stuffed with rice and a bit of lemon juice added on. And they are delicious. We went from one each to three each in a matter of 30 seconds. I was worried I wouldn’t get the chance to try them since we were cutting it close wth time but I’m so happy we not only got to try them but also found really good ones!

With an hour left to kill, we went for one final hookah/tea break before heading to the airport. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and, naturally, decided to spend that time shopping. Since I didn’t get the chance to pick up coasters from the markets, I bought a set at duty free. And a hot plate! Slowly stocking up on things for the house…

[All of the souvenirs…I think I went a bit crazy this trip!]

Wine Tasting in Izmir

After traveling for a week straight, it was nice to be able to sleep in in Izmir. Sarah and I both happily took advantage and stayed in our pajamas, catching up on the Internet since we finally had wifi, while Mike was out running errands in the morning. 

Once we finally set off for the day, we headed to Urla, which is the wine country in Izmir. We visited three wineries during the day: Urlice, Usca, and MMG. 

  
Urlice was the smallest of the three and had a really quaint, rustic feel to it. The girl there said they serve pizzas on the weekend and also do six course meals when you have a large group. We unfortunately did not have the chance to meet the owners, but the girl who was there told us they lived in America for awhile and opened the winery once they moved to Turkey. They only produce about 10,000 bottles each year, but the wines were so good – I ended up buying a Rose which was unlike most roses I’ve had, and a Cabernet Sauvignon which was both delicious and had a really cute bottle! 
        
Usca was slightly bigger and had absolutely incredible views. It was set high on a hill in a barn-like structure which had a coastal feel. The winery would be the perfect venue for a party. We were able to try four of the wines and all of them were really good. However, we were not able to learn as much about the wines as at Urlice, and the environment seemed more formal than friendly. 
   
    
 Our favorite by far was MMG. We met the owner and his daughter – it’s a family run business – and learned all about their wines and the winery’s history. They were extremely friendly and open, so we spent a good amount of time there just chatting while trying the wines. The owner had just been to Virginia and visited some of the vineyards, in the Leesburg area we assume, so we talked to him about the various types of grapes found there and how Leesburg is turning into the prime brewery/vineyard location. I had such great conversations that I honestly wanted to buy a full case and send it home, but they do not ship internationally (so sad). No worries, Mike and Sarah will have to find a way to get me a supply!

    
   
 
Their winery was located on the mountain, with stunning views and no other businesses in site. They also had just taken in a street dog who was a six month old black lab and the cutest puppy ever. He would get overly excited and pee, just like Bruno did when he was younger. After good conversation, great wine, and puppy love, we all left so happy. I told Mike and Sarah they better go back there all the time and promised my return the next time I am in Turkey. 
    
It’s crazy how much better of an experience we had wine tasting in Izmir than in Bozcaada, an island pretty much known for its wine. I am so excited to experience more wine tastings throughout Europe, and at home when I get back. Also, I made major progress this week on filling the wine rack in the new flat. Three happy campers returned home today!