Monday, May 19, 2008

Our neighbourhood in Strasbourg

We're in between "gigs" right now. Yesterday saw the departure of our latest group of guests, Mark's sister Barbara and nieces Natasha and Erica; and Friday we leave for Greece. Hopefully we can use the next few days to clean up some school work and learn the Greek alphabet!

In the meantime, I'm already getting a little nostalgic for Strasbourg, and we're still living here! I think this has been precipitated by the baby steps that we're taking towards moving back to Canada. Mark has been talking to people at work, we're planning our schedule to visit Mark's parents in Manitoba, and we're registering the kids at a science camp in Rocky Mountain House in mid-July.

With the end in mind, I've started looking at our pictures in a new light: as souvenirs, rather than as markers of our day-to-day lives. I still feel the need to capture some particular images of our lives here, so I'm making a list. However, I've got a collection started, and below are a few of the memories that I want to keep: images from our Strasbourg "neighbourhood".

The Ill River

The Ill River, a tributary of the Rhine, splits and flows around the centre of the city of Strasbourg. This was the view from one foot bridge to another near the Place République at the beginning of March. I was so amazed that the leaves were out on the trees already.

The Paris Store: Hypermarché Asiatique

The Paris Store is the best Asian foods store in Strasbourg, and it's right across the street from our apartment. You can buy some really crazy stuff here, and it's cheap! (in a good way).

Place de la Cathèdrale

Located about a 10-minute walk from our apartment, the Cathèdrale Nôtre Dame is the number one tourist attraction in Strasbourg. The Office de Tourisme is located in the place, so the cathedral was one of the first sights we saw, although it was a few months before we explored the interior and climbed the 328 steps to the viewing platform.

Evening view from the apartment

Strasbourg is a happening place, with new construction and reconstruction projects happening everywhere. We've been told that Alsace is a rich area with special deals negotiated with the French government; we feel safe here, partly due to a large police presence.

Fishing on the Ill River

According to one of Mark's German cousins, the French consider fishing any time and anywhere to be one of their God-given rights (the French have a lot of these). According to us, this just doesn't look like real fishing!

Parc du Fossé des Remparts

We spend a lot of time at this park, whose entrance is about a kilometre away from the apartment. Mark and I both use it as a jogging/walking trail; one lap is just over 2 km. We have watched the wildlife in the park -- ducks, coots and nutria -- over the seasons, and admired the carefully tended family garden plots.

Petite France

Petite France, also a 10-minute walk from our apartment, must be tourist destination #2 in Strasbourg. This collection of ancient half-timbered buildings, some dating back to the 1500s, embodies the spirit of Alsace.
Photographer's Note: the young model pictured here against the ancient building is Chris's mom.

We've got the best of both worlds right now: still in France, but happily anticipating our return to Canada. I'll be keeping my camera ready to capture the bits and pieces of our lives here before we leave.

Email us! christinateskey @ or mvieweg @

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Hiking to châteaux

One of Meghan's wishes this year was that we could hike to a castle, one that wasn't restored so she could wander around and explore it at will. So far we have visited three castles, and two have fit her requirements.

Heidelberger Schloss

Our first castle trip was back in November when we visited the Heidelberger Schloss. Technically it's not a hike, but we did have to walk about 2 km from the train station to reach it. It's a huge, amazing complex, but it wasn't quite up to Meghan's standards as it has been partially reconstructed. We also had to pay an entrance fee (another bad sign), and visitors are not allowed into any of the inner rooms except for the few that have been converted to other uses, like the apotheke (pharmacy) museum and a commercial wine shop.

Huge wine vats in the cellar at Heidelberger Schloss

We struggled a little with the cold that day -- it was our first taste of European winter, and we weren't ready for it. Walking through the freezing and drafty stone buildings, it was easy to get a sense of how cold they must have been back in the days when castles were actually people's homes.

In contrast, the other two chateaux have been more to Meghan's (and our) liking. In contrast to the first, we hiked to the other two in spring when the weather was warmer, and it may have made a difference to how we felt about them. At the end of March we went on a hike to Chateau D'Andlau, just outside of Barr, when our friends from Burns Lake were visiting.

Château D'Andlau

In front of an old stone fireplace at Château D'Andlau

The château, which looks very imposing from a distance, is mostly a ruin that you can explore from the inside out. All of the wooden pieces of the château have long since rotted, leaving only the stonework behind, but you could see where the huge fireplaces were, and it was fun speculating where all of the rooms would have been.

The third castle, Château de Wasenbourg, has been the best so far, even in Meghan's opinion. The château was quite a pleasant surprise for us as we had not done a lot of preparation for the trip. Because we had not yet traveled north of Strasbourg, one Saturday in April we got an Alsace train pass for the family (a deal at 26 €) and headed out to Niederbronn-les-Bains, a village that we read about in the Michelin book that my sister Barb left us. One line in the book told of a château which was an hour hike from the town, so we decided to try to find it without any maps or other planning. After some uncertainty about the initial directions, we found the sign that showed we were on the right path. The hiking around the Alsace region in France is amazingly well laid out, with symbols such as red triangles or blue circles indicating the path to follow, and times to landmarks given in minutes and hours -- but you have to step lively to arrive at your destination in the given time! Luckily our château was no exception, and the signs indicated that our hike was 1 hour 15 minutes in duration.

This hike was more of a climb than any we had done so far, but ultimately it was worth it. Coming over the rise at the top of the hill, the first thing we saw was a huge monument created back in Roman times that was built into the stone. It was only when we were right beside it that our attention shifted to the château itself; and according to Meghan, this one was even more fun to explore than Château D'Andlau.

The kids peer over the edge at Château de Wasenbourg

At Château de Wasenbourg, we could sit by the windows at built-in stone seats, and Meghan was able to walk completely around the top part of the château.

How many other people have sat in these ancient stone seats, staring thoughtfully out the window?

We spent about an hour exploring the area; the only thing spurring us back to Niederbronn-les-Bains was our hunger (unfortunately this was one of the few times when we didn't bring enough snacks.) On our way back down, we all agreed that, without even planning it, this turned out to be one of our most successful château hikes!

We hope to see at least one more château before we leave, but we'll have to plan our time carefully. With visits from family and our upcoming trip to Greece, there's not as much time left as we'd like to have before our return to Canada. And we still have so many things left to do!...

Have you done any hiking lately? We'd love to hear about it! christinateskey @ or mvieweg @

See our family pictures on Flickr.

Check out the kids' blog.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Day at Lake Constance

My mom has been visiting us in Strasbourg for almost two weeks now, and we wanted to show her a little of Germany while she's here. So far she's seen quite a bit; her flight from Calgary landed in Frankfurt, and she's been back several times since then. We wanted to see the Black Forest, so it was an easy decision to make a day trip by train to Lake Constance.

The train ticket is a good deal -- 27 € for up to five people to travel for a day in the Baden-Württemberg area of Germany, which stretches from almost Mannheim in the north to the Swiss border in the south, and from the French border on the west to just past the city of Ulm in the east. Unfortunately we had to tack on the extra cost of a return ticket from Strasbourg to Kehl, the German border town just over the Rhine River from here, which raised the cost an extra 18 €. However, it's still a cheap way to travel!

The train trip was interesting, but most scenic in the middle when we wound our way through the mountains of the Black Forest. In many ways it reminded us of the scenery in northern BC, but in Europe the forests seem a bit more sterile when you see how carefully they log the trees and remember that very few wild creatures exist in these forests now.

Konstanz, Germany

We didn't spend much time in Konstanz, the German city at the end of our train trip. When we first arrived it was a little chilly, and after a brief trip to the tourist information centre, we made a beeline for a restaurant. When I say "beeline", I'm talking about a bee that can't actually remember where the hive is, because we did our usual zig-zagging from this café to that sandwich bar, rejecting them for the usual reasons: the kids won't eat that; it's too expensive; they only serve sandwiches.... We finally found a nice little café that served exactly the right type of food for the right price, and we had such German delicacies as pea soup with wieners, fried potatoes with vegetables and cheese sauce, and käsespäeztle, (noodles with cheese).

While we were eating we discussed alternatives for the day. This was one of the few times that we didn't have a goal in mind before we left: we had no map, no idea what attractions were in Konstanz, and no plan other than to ride the train through the Black Forest. In the end we decided that we would like to go for a boat trip on the lake, so after lunch we walked back towards the train station and lake shore. As we were looking around the boat docks, a passenger ferry rolled in which was headed to Meersburg on the other side of the lake, so we hopped on. (Of course all of this was due to Mark's good German and fine detective skills!) The brief ferry ride -- only 30 minutes -- was a lot of fun. We ordered a yummy apple strudel and ice cream treats, and the kids had a good time exploring the deck of the boat. Lake Constance is quite spectacular, and part of the charm for me was knowing that I was riding the waves in sight of three different European countries -- Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Meersburg, Germany

Meersburg is a cheerful-looking tourist town built into a hill, so we did a lot of climbing up steep stairs and streets. The kids found a playground half way up the stairs and stopped to play for a while. When we finally made the summit, we were treated to a wonderful view down Lake Constance towards Austria.

View looking east down Lake Constance from Meersburg, Germany

Unfortunately, we couldn't stop for long; we only had about 90 minutes before we had to get back on the ferry in order to make the train back to Strasbourg. On the way down we picked up some pastries and drinks in a tiny grocery store which we promptly wolfed down as soon as we got on the train. After our 2 1/2 hour return train trip, we arrived back home in Strasbourg just before 9 p.m., pleasantly tired from our day of travel and sightseeing.

Email us! christinateskey @ or mvieweg @