Wednesday, March 7

More From Brussels (and Alsace)

Go To France!
When you think about the Alsace-Lorraine region (if you ever do) you might imagine misty rolling hills tucked between the River Rhine and the Vosges mountain in the north east of France. At least that's pretty much what you should be imagining, because it looks like that. Without getting into a huge history lesson, Alsace has passed between French and German control a thousand times, and the result is a blend of culture, language, and wine-making technique that makes the region unique. Also a bit creepy in light of the Nazi collaboration that may have taken place?? It's all a bit hazy what happened during that time, but there were heroes and fascists...like in all wars.

Back to the Wine
If you're an aromatic white wine fan (as I am) you may imagine the so-called 'noble vine' (aka Riesling) flourishing on vineyards overlooked by castles and dotted with walled cities built hundreds of years ago. It's really like that, which is why Disney copied it and jazzed up the local folklore to create his scrubbed-up, family-friendly Anaheim paradise.

In Alsace today, there's a 'rue de vin' that's pretty much the same as Napa's wine trail, although it all feels more genuine because it's been around so long. For literally hundreds of years, families in the region have produced some of the most profound, aromatic Rieslings and a host of smaller varietals I had never heard of before visiting: Sylvaner and Pinot Auxerrois among them. They're both less acidic than Riesling, more rounded and mellow without the powerful floral perfumes you normally associate with Riesling. Sylvaner has Grand Cru terroir, so take it seriously when you go. Grand Cru!

The Food Sucked
I love food. I love food more than I love my doctor and my cat, which is a lot. But I have to say the food in Alsace wasn't good. The bread wasn't the crisp, light, slightly sweet Parisian baguette I had hoped for. And the big "must try" food for tourists is a monstrosity called the Choucroutte Avec Cochon de Lait--roughly sauerkraut with the piggie cooked with milk. Also simply called Choucroutte Avec Cochon. By either name, it was a disgusting pile up of blended pork products on a haystack of sauerkraut. I don't think the original dish must have looked this grotesque...it's kind of like the "chowder in the bread bowl" of Alsace. I stuck religiously to grilled meat and did fine. I advise the same. I have no doubt you can find a place that serves great Choucroutte...just proceed with caution.

The Cutest Town Ever Created
Globalization has brough big box stores to Alsace Lorraine. But a mile away on the 'rue du vin' you'll find the most amazing town called Riquewihr. It was a hub of wine trading for a long time, which explains why it's nestled in the heart of the vineyard country. When you're in Riquewihr it feels like a completely other world, except that all the shops have the same crap in them you can get anywhere (bascially). That's globalization again. It's a tiny walled city with a well and tiny streets that radiate from a central square. Yes, it has a drawbridge.

The Homophobic Hotel
I normally don't rant about political injustice, but I need to say something here. I was travelling with five other people (a couple (men), my partner (also a man), a gay man and a straight woman (both of whom are coupled but their SOs couldn't make it).

At this one hotel in Riquewirh that specializes in younger/poorer travelers, there was an immediate assumption on the part of the desk clerk that Pedro and Amy were a couple couple, and that the rest of us four guys weren't. In addition, the hotelier (who finally caught the vibe) asked us fifteen times whether we (the gay couples) wanted 'separate single beds' instead of doubles. Ok, once maybe to be polite, but he kept asking with an evil twinkle in his eye. Not cool.

And on top of that, the shower sucked and the room smelled like a carton of cigarettes had been lit on fire, dissolved in water, and then used to wash the sheets. The name of this place is "Hotel De La Couronne". If you're gay and not looking to be disrespected, avoid. To be fair, the younger man who did the check-out in the morning was extremely cool, and they had a very furry dog that was also excellent.

3 comments:

  1. Bummer about the treatment at the hotel. My partner and I have never encountered any such thing, even staying in places like Assisi, which is hardly Palm Springs on the gay vacation spectrum. Sounds like they have bigger problems than their sociopolitical leanings, tho, if the place was that grotty.

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  2. Anonymous2:23 PM

    i love your description of Requewihr. i think you should do a 'cutest town ever created' trip. you can start in the u.s. & visit places like Brattleboro, VT & Bisbee, AZ. then go to Gimmelwald, Switzerland. you have to take a tram to get there, because it's literally carved out of the side of a mountain in the alps. and you could go for a bikeride with a lover and some cheese and wine. but you cannot run there, because you both might fall off the cliff. it looks like this: http://static.flickr.com/13/15935871_2f1c76140a.jpg

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  3. Alsace being in the north east of France and also in the border of Germany makes it more worth visiting, its like visiting two countries at one time, and experiencing the thrills and excitement of its cultures

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