Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Birthday Girl Spends a Week in a Secret Fairytale Town; Riquewihr, France

*Riquewihr, France
The following are beauty posts inspired by my visit to Vienna, Austria:

     We arrived in Riquewihr the evening of our first day in Europe. Aubrey's 12th birthday. It was storybook magical. When we got off the highway, we drove for a while through a wonderland of vineyards, colorful flowers and passed many castles up in the hills. Just intensely beautiful countryside! I saw red Poppy flowers for the first time. I became emotional from seeing them in person and in my Grandma's home country. Grandma was a war bride. She wanted to escape the horror she had been through with the Nazis invading her town and imprisoning her family. After WWII ended, she came to the United States after marrying a US military man in France, entering through Ellis Island. She was the only member of her family to make it out of France. That red poppy came to symbolize the bloodshed during battle, from the battlegrounds grew a beautiful red poppy.
We love to visit with our family in France every chance we can, but we wouldn't be seeing them until the end of the trip in July because we were still very far from them.

      I think we should have spent the first night in Paris and then drove down the next day after a full night's sleep. Even though we had 10 weeks in Europe, I already had to sadly remove several of my "must go" locations. After our practice road trip to Arizona and back, I knew we had to change our itinerary from spending 2-3 nights in each city to spending almost a week in each one. I am so glad I decided to do this as much as I hated to miss out on the great places we were so close to. Cutting our itinerary down meant wasting no days.

     We arrived around 5:30pm and followed our booking directions of meeting at Hotel de Ville - Place Voltaire, I assume a city hall type main building. It was at the entrance of the village, which is surrounded by a medieval wall. Our only directions were to meet there between 4pm-7pm to pick up the keys to our first home of the trip. Cars aren't allowed in the village, so Brian waited in the car with the girls while I went out to search for our contact person. There was no one inside the building, I suspect because it was after business hours. I found a backdoor open with a man completing repairs in the entryway. I attempted to speak French with him but luckily he also spoke a little English. I showed him my confirmation sheet and he knew the lady we were renting from and called her as we did not have a number for her. Looking back, I shouldn't have been so surprised he happened to know her as it is such a small community.

Aubrey is going to kill me for posting! 
     I didn't think the 'no cars allowed' thing through, as we had a ton of luggage. We (okay, Brian) had to take many trips rolling and carrying the bags through the cobblestone streets while I was sure locals were laughing at us. Can you just imagine how loud wheels rolling along a cobblestone street are?!
     The streets were empty, the sun was setting. We saw a few people inside restaurants eating dinner, but most of the shops had closed and it felt like it was just us alone roaming this fairy tale village. I later learned that the majority of tourists that come to see Riquewihr come on day tours and are bused in and out, which made the mornings and evenings just lovely with only locals and not crowded streets.

     We were given a quick tour of the apartment and we just could not believe there are places in the world like this that actually exist. It felt like we were in an animated fairy tale! Exhausted and hungry, we set out to find a grocery store or restaurant that would still be open. We never found a grocery store inside Riquewihr so we let Aubrey pick out this cool restaurant called Caveau des Rois, which means Cave of the King. You walk in and go downstairs to the cave. Walls are stone and there was a clear glass floor in one area where you could see down the deep historic 500-year-old well. Very fascinating. The unadventurous, non-foodie birthday girl wanted pizza so we shared a pizza and then a fantastic dessert. Funny, I thought I was ordering the kids lemonade to drink, (the staff spoke only French) turns out it was sparkling lemon water, which none of us are sparkling water fans, so we ordered a large carafe of water with "no bubbles."

     With leftover pizza in hand, we went strolling back to our apartment (Appartement Hellfritzsch) excited to explore the home and its views and of course pick bedrooms as there were three. To get to our apartment, we had to enter the opening of a restaurant but enter into a separate side-locked door. After many flights of (beautiful and tiny) spiraling staircases, we then go out a door and through an outdoor courtyard to enter another door to the next building. I am guessing we were now on the roof of the restaurant. Then up more spiral staircases and to our front door which we had to unlock with an old antique type key. All of the doors in the home had these vintage doorknobs and old keys in them. Briella loved playing with the keys and we spent the last day trying to figure out where each key properly went. From the door, you walked into the kitchen and there is a bathroom and bedroom off to the right. Passed the kitchen was the dining room and living room which had views of the other buildings along the street. I did a Facebook Live here in my Beauty Group, showing the town from out the window. Upstairs were two more bedrooms and another bathroom. The girls decided they did not want to be near the front door in a bedroom on another floor from us so they decided to share a bed upstairs. Through our window, we could only see rooftops of all the connected buildings and the very top of the hillside vineyard, but they were the most gorgeous medieval rooftops that I couldn't stop gazing at, so to me it was still a good view.
The essentials
     The next day we got up and had to go find a grocery store. We had to drive to another nearby town, Ribeauville, which was more populated. We found our trusted Monoprix grocery store that we are familiar with and where we like to shop for groceries in France. I was very excited to find my favorite cheese bites covered in Provencal seasonings that are not sold in the US (even though I have asked them many times to carry them in the states.) I bought all the store had, an entire case of them! They are served as an appetizer, but I love (not sharing) them for a meal. We stocked up on our usual French necessities, pain au chocolat for breakfasts, milk, and a case of water. We had packed a lot of nonperishable food with us and planned on making spaghetti, macaroni and other pastas we packed since we had a kitchen, and to free up bag space asap.
Aubrey's middle name is Jeanne, when you say Aubrey Jeanne together it sounds like the French word for eggplant. It's a nickname for her and we were excited to finally see it in person at the store.

Anytime I find a large French Pharmacie, I stop and tour it either on Facebook live or Youtube. Here was the Alsace Pharmacie.

     On the way back from the grocery store, we saw a fortified church on a hill surrounded by vineyards that looked so lovely we had to stop and see it. It was in a village called Hunawihr. The church overlooked the town and had an eye-catching clock on the outside of it. There was a beautiful cemetery that was well kept and full of flowers. It was such a scenic view looking down to the town. We stumbled upon a beautiful war memorial for the resident victims of war. The wars noted were 1914-1918, 1939-1945, and AFN-Algeria 1954-1962.  It included 45 names, some of them were civilian victims as young as 10 years old from WWII. The church doors were unlocked so we went in. The church is from 1114. Let that year sink in. That is way older than we can dream of in the US.  Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, is currently shared by Catholic and Protestant members. Funny story that I am not sure will make the cut in the web series, We were looking around at the scenery in amazement at the bottom of the hill while taking pictures, we see a naked old man smoking a cigarette out a window in a home- I'll spare you the pictures. Random but funny.

     Nearby there was also a Nazis-run concentration and extermination camp that I had on my list of maybes to visit, but I just couldn't, I didn't want to endure the sadness. It was the only one in France and was for political activists and resistance fighters as well as Jews. An estimated 22,000 people were killed there. I knew my Grandma's brother had been imprisoned but I was not sure where. When it came down to the time to choose to go or not, I ended up not wanting to see the horror of what him and sooooooo many others went through and I do not regret my decision. A writer, Boris Pahor was an inmate there and survived to write a novel about his experience there, called Necropolis. It is on my list to read.

Strolling down the petite streets, I found this lady just watching life happen right outside her window.  I could not stop watching her watching everyone. I imagined her as my Grandma, enjoying the view from her home in France and waving to my girls as they ran about. How I would kill to have had memories with her and my kids in France together.

There was this winery that had an old barrel tap built into the side of the outside wall! You could just go fill your bottle and leave the money! I love the charm of small village life!

I found a decor store and I fell in love with a statue that was for sale in it. I wanted it SOOO bad, but I could not justify carrying around a heavy statue in an already packed car for 9 more weeks. So I settled for a picture of it and I smile every time I see it. Maybe one day I will be able to go back and get it. If you go and have space in your bags, let me know!

The remainder of our time in Alsace was spent in Riquewihr just roaming the gorgeous stone streets, visiting the unique shops and their museum, and admiring the colorful cottages. I was so excited to go to the famous Christmas Ornament store, as we collect ornaments from every place we visit on vacation. It did not disappoint. We ate gelato multiple times a day as well as the biggest soft pretzels you've ever seen. This is near the Bavarian area of Germany, so there is a mix of the two cultures here. We even dressed up as the princesses we Kings are (our last name is King haha) and had a photo shoot through the streets one morning. I picked a yellow dress to feel like Belle. The girls would dance along the town fountain just as I imagined Belle doing. The museum was up in a medieval tower overlooking the town and had weapons and different items from the town from 1269 (when the castle was burnt down) through the 19th century. The current walls date back to 1291! We just cannot fathom that kind of old in the United States!

     At sunset one night, we climbed up the vineyard hill to see the town from above. It was completely gorgeous but ended up being a little too steep for the youngest. The girls ran down the hill and one-time Briella almost couldn't stop and got too close to the edge of the wall that dropped to the street, for my comfort.

Just the cutest family photo ever!
      One of the things on our summer itinerary that I was excited to do was take the girls to La Montagne des Singes, "Monkey Mountain." There were over 200 monkeys in the forest that are able to roam free in the park! That is just something we could not experience in the US. Included in the entrance fee is some popcorn to feed them with. We were instructed to avoid the young as their parents might become aggressive. We walked through the forest in disbelief that there were monkeys playing everywhere around us. We sat on a bench with one. I slowly inched closer and closer to it to see if it would allow me to sit next to it (for a selfie of course.) I held a piece of popcorn in my hand to it, and it quickly swiped it and ate it. The kids were then very excited to feed the monkeys themselves. Deeper into the woods we found a large playground for the monkeys. It had a stream of water with docks built over it for the monkeys to run and play. We sat and watched a few young and rowdy ones play tag along the planks, it was just so cool. On the other side of the park was a hill that had many adult monkeys resting on. This was just such an amazing experience and if you are in Alsace you HAVE to visit Monkey Mountain. I cannot wait for you to see the episode on Monkey Mountain!

     When driving through the mountains to get to Monkey Mountain, we stumbled upon a large 12th-century medieval castle, Le Haut-Koenigsbourg in Orschwiller. It was built at an altitude of 800 meters. Of course, we stopped to wander around. The outside was free to visit and there was a lot to see outside, many passages and pretty areas and even drawbridges! It had a panoramic view of the Vosges Mountains, the Black Forest in Germany, and the Swiss Alps! The castle has been the setting for 5 movies including Renoir's masterpiece "La Grande Illusion," a music video and the inspiration for the design of the 'Citadel of Minas Tirith' in 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy.

We were able to go inside to the gift shop and bookstore. Aubrey found an old inkwell pen and wax stamp set she loved. Briella a children's book about the castle that was in English and I got a magnet to add to our collection, and we then sat and just enjoyed the beautiful seating.

And if you are still reading, I reward you with this awesome selfie I took right as a bee flew by Aubrey at the castle.
Plus this outtake. This could have been my favorite picture of the trip if I wasn't busy screaming directions at the photographer (Brian.) It was our first week and I suppose we needed to communicate our photograph wishes more. I wanted him to photograph the scenery with me just happening to be in it, no pictures of me. This one however turned out so cool it almost looks like it is edited that way-but nope, that is just the magic of Riquewihr!

     Next, off Vienna, Austria with a stop for sleep in Munich, Germany.

Click here to see tour deals for Alsace, France

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