Arriving in Alsace

January 16 2011
Watch this space...................this will be where you can share our travel and gastronomic adventures with us as we travel through France at the end of February 2011. We are doing a house exchange with with a family from Alsace, France who we have come to know through a number of Skype meetings over the last few months. We are preparing a compendium of things to see and do while they're here including getting themselves down to the gorgeous South Coast of  NSW.  It's been an exciting lead up with a whirl of things to do. We have some wonderful friends who are kindly fostering our beautiful Louis the Spoodle while we're away, so he's been in the process of gradually transitioning to their house.
We will be visiting restaurants, cafes and wineries and have arranged to meet some of the local providores. We will be based in the Alsace region for 3 months, so will follow the wine trail and beyond during our stay.  Paris is first stop................then on to Alsace. I have booked into some patisserie classes in Burgundy with Marjorie Taylor and can't wait to share some of those classes with you. I will be photographing for the column with Marjorie's permission.

Things are pretty busy here, what with winding down the last couple of weeks at work and getting the house ready for our French visitors, it's a matter of ticking tasks off our lists. But what happens then is that we add new things to the list. Never mind, we'll get there.................. 

February 20 2011 
Have now finished work and spending our last few days at home, preparing the house, counting the lists twice and the final pack. Pretty crazy-mad here, it's Steve's birthday today and I've made the burnt caramel butter ice cream to have with Jewish Apple Cake. We photographed the ice cream yesterday which looked delicious, with it's dark creamy gooey bits of praline that have melted through it. Rushed out and bought hime a birthday present, but fear he already has one of these things that he must have..........oh well, thought that counts.  We've booked restaurant in Paris for a special birthday dinner for him this weekend, which comes highly recommended and only a short walk from our apartment. Will keep you posted on that one.

Fougasse bakery

February 27 2011
Today is day 2 in Paris, it's cold but sunny and Becky and Cam arrive late tonight. Looking forward to sharing some of the sights with them. We've walked our favourite path around the Marais and visited the Luxembourg Gardens today, still feeling jet lagged, but not wanting to give into it. Pinching ourselves that we are here at last.

JeannaE deli and comestibles - Astier's new venture

March 4 2011

View from our apartment in the Marais

Having travelled from Paris to Alsace, (and struggling with the French keyboard) where we have been since Wednesday and settling in nicely to the slow pace of village life here in Chatenois. The house exchange went smoothly after a hectic trip from Paris, with a near miss of our train from Gare d'Est, because guess who got side tracked in a shoe shop? and another near miss at the Strasbourg Selestat connection, but other than that all went smoothly. We were met at Selestat station by our new neighbour Maggi, and her cute little 2yo boy; Esteban. She kindly showed us around - where to buy the necessities and some of the local sights, then left us to settle in.
We have since sampled the gorgeous local fare and finding some true gourmet delights, not to mention the sights. One of my favourites is the Choucroute or otherwise known as Sauerkraut which seems to be on offer in most establishments. It's pretty heavy but when you're hungry and cold it really fills a gaping hole perfectly. Tarte Flambe is another delicious local delicacy, which is like a bianco pizzza with onion and bacon.

Chatenois - our village

Church steeple in Chatenois
The region is laden with history and vineyards and chateaus are everywhere. Becky said she felt like she had stepped into a fairytale, although I think we have become something of a town novelty, with lots of knowing smiles and patient corrections of our tentative attempts at French, but already picking some new phrases up along the way.

As was promised, the Astier lived up to expectations; the service, food and surroundings were par excellence! If you intend going, I would highly recommend reserving a table, as it's highly sought after. The cheese platter is exceptional, with a huge array of local fromages to choose from. We were treated warmly by the staff and invited to inspect their new venture, a rotisserie and comestibles shop next door. This store is in complete contrast to the Astier, with a clean, contemporary feel and design. They also specialise in take away foods.

Restaurant Astier and ''cheese platter''
We had decided that we weren't going to over-plan our trip, with the exception of a cooking school and a segway tour. We did the Segway tour in Paris and was such a hoot, booked through Fat Tire Tours in Paris and highly recommended. We spent yesterday touring around by car and getting ourselves accustomed to driving on the wrong side of the road. There were a few ooh aah moments when I thought we would take out another car's side mirror, but all went well and now confident to tackle heavier traffic. Some very funny moments too, when the GPS took us to a supermarket carpark instead of the Haut-Koenigsbourg Chateau. The four of us dissolved into laughter.


The (unplanned plan) is to head to Germany and Luxembourg tomorrow by train for a few days to visit some historic towns such as Trier, on the proviso we can secure a booking........we shall see.

March 7
This German town on the banks of the Mosel river is beautifully picturesque, oozing with history, almost too much to grasp. We've explored the churches, monuments and the Roman archaeology with great gusto. The chilly weather has been interesting, but hasn't put us off. The temperature has ranged from -3c reaching a max of 3 or 4c in the day. We've made good use of our thermals on this leg of the trip and berets and leg warmers are de rigeur.

The food is typically german with bratwurst and meats the order of the day.  The pastry shops are magnificent selling all types of sweets and we've partaken regularly while on the tourist trail. Sorry to say that Germany cannot do good coffee, but the hot chocolate makes up for it and is to die for. We've frequented the local Winehaus regularly and eaten dinner there both nights. The first when we joined our new found friends Dietmar and Sylvie and introduced to the owner, spending a great evening drinking and eating well into the morning. We went back there for a second night and again enjoyed a fun evening sharing our stories. We swapped our details and promised to make contact with invitations on both sides to visit.
Trier town square Germany
It just so happended that today was the culmination of Karneval today throughout Germany! It started with shops decked out in red hearts and feathers and people wearing unusual costumes such as indian squaws, avatars and devils, walking about as if this was quite normal. We've learnt that this is equivalent to lent and culminates in the Karneval, a fancy dress ball then moves into the fasting season until Easter. It was a bright and exciting day in the town square today with all types of costumes seen in all shapes and sizes. Music blaring reminiscent of Eurovision with the locals singing and dancing to massive speakers and a polka beat. We joined in and drank our share of steaming hot cups of a kind of cherry mulled wine.

We've all headed back to our rooms for a rest - the pace is hectic, vowing to meet at 7 for dinner to partake in something that doesn't resemble a bratwurst sausage - we cross our fingers in hope.

Tomorrow it's off to beautiful Luxembourg before heading back to Selestat and our village of Chatenois.

March 8
Luxembourg and Chatenois
A whistlestop tour of Luxembourg exploring its beautiful scenery was all we had time for before heading back to Chatenois by train.  Luxembourg was teeming with fast luxury cars, high ravines, ancient monuments and buildings perched on rock ledges. The weather was warm and sunny and we walked the circuit across the bridge through to the city centre and around.
Luxembourg city centre

Cakes from Oberweis Patisserie

We stopped for lunch in a warm little cafe that sold soups of all descriptions, all accompanied by a crunchy roll. This was just perfect before jumping back on the train to head home to Chatenois.

We got back to Selestat station to be greeted by our smiling car, still sitting in the car park, voila! What a great sight that was! we were unsure that this would be the case after flying out of the house 4 days before, running late for the train, still dark and not really clear about which direction we were heading to the station. We loaded our gear into it and excitedly headed back to our house to get warm. An easy day followed as Beck and Cam had both developed a flu.

March 9Again jumping in our trusty vehicle, we chugged our way up and around the Vosges, under Beck's navigational directions as she had wanted to see the Struthof Nazi Concentration camp located in the town of Natzwiller. So she navigated while Steve drove. We didn't get to see the camp that day, but drove through some gorgeous little towns on the Alsace wine route.

She was determined to find it, although only had one more day left to see it, so tomorrow it was. We feasted on a home cooked French meal.

March 10
We again attempted our Natzwiller visit and under Steve's capable directions and a trusty GPS we at last located the camp. We travelled up into the mountains through snow and ice which only reinforced the horrific experiences the inmates must have suffered. It is an incredibly intact site that provides a comprehensive insight into the horrors and history of this place and the times. All four of us came away awed and sombered from the experience. 

We stopped off in the forest to picnic in a cutting in the side of the mountain. This revived us to continue our trek through the mountains, taking back roads back to Chatenois.

We had a lovely dinner out in Chatenois that night to celebrate Beck and Cam's last night with us before heading back to Paris for a week and then their journey ends. Beck ate so much Charcreute that she couldn't sleep.

March 11
An early start to drop Beck and Cam at Selestat station for a fond farewell. This was with mixed feelings, they were heading to Paris and we to stay for another couple of months in Chatenois. We are excited to be alone but will miss the company too.

Planning begins for the next leg of our adventure and off to Beaune, Burgundy next week for the cooking school, but  not before a rest, to try and fight off the flu that Beck and Cam left for us!