Ste-Marie-aux-Mines and Ribeuvillè – Castles

woodland wildflower
Me and Rose at the real ruin
Cool ruined castle in Alsace
Climbing up to see the ruined castle.  It was pretty steep.
My dad’s train to take him back to Nice
Mirin saying goodbye to Smoozie the sheep dog at Bernard’s.  They really got along well.
A view of the extremely touristy rebuilt castle.  It was pretty, but they treated you like sheep.
Mirin peering out of a castle window at the touristy castle

Still at Ste-Croix-aux-mines.  We had the rest of the afternoon off and only had to be home in time to help make dinner, so we went down the valley to a castle. The picture I sent a couple days ago that was the view towards Germany has the castle on the right. We drove up some switch back roads and found the parking area. We charged up the mountain and ended up doing the circuit around the castle with Marc bringing up the rear with the camera. The castle itself had been rebuilt from 1903-1909, when Alsace was part of Germany, essentially as a way to thumb their noses at France. It turned out to be a massive tourist trap, but cool anyway. We were late enough in the day not to have to pay full price. We went up into the high part of the castle into the imperial rooms and there was a giant German tour group there covering the exit so we went back down and felt gypped. Mirin had spotted the way through, though, so we charged back up into the keep barely in time before they closed it and sure enough, the tour group had moved on and we saw the way forward. It was a good thing since we had only done about a quarter of tour. We got to see lots of medieval weapons and a whole ramparts full of cannons. Mirin had us take lots of pictures for Sam and Gus. It was nice, and we got to go to a castle for Mirin, but the overwhelming touristyness left a bad taste.

We had to rush back to Bernard’s to help with dinner, but still got passed by crazy motorcyclists on the way down the switchbacks. We got back in time and the preparations for dinner began. Bernard had defrosted a leg of one of his lambs, and he put it in the oven while Angie made a potato dish with some of the cured bacon we had gotten at the market in Ste-Marie-aux-Mines that morning. Some friends of Bernard were coming for dinner so it was a special occasion. They were archeologists that worked for the government overseeing construction sites. We asked them what counted as old enough to be considered historic here, since the cultures have been using stone and iron for so long here. They said that they were really excited because the limit was 100 years, so WW1 was starting to be protected. They had three girls all around the same age as Bernard’s daughters and after dinner all the kids went out to pay tag, even Clo. Clo played for two minutes and then made a beeline for the hay loft and went to bed. Marc and I took turns sitting with her and we finally went to bed. We set the alarm for the first time on the trip because Marc had to catch the train in Colmar at 9:20.
We woke up early and herded the groggy kids into the car. We said bye to Bernard, his girls all left with their friends the night before, and Schmoozie the sheep dog tried to get on the car with Mirin and had to be held back by Bernard as we drove away. We made it to the Gare Colmar in time to figure out the self serve ticket counter and see Marc off.

After we waved goodbye to Marc, we went straight to the hostel since we were hoping to stay there a day early. We found it and there was a full sign on the door, but they made room for us, I guess since it was still early yet. It was just as well we were there a day early since they had lost our reservation for the next night anyway. With that sorted out, we headed out of Colmar, which turned out to be more like Detroit than the pictures online. We went to Ribeuvillè, which we had driven through on the way to Ste-Croix-aux-Mines, to try and find out way up to the castle ruins we’d seen. First we went into the downtown to find some pain au chocolate, and then we found the road up to the trailhead but the tiny parking lot was completely full. It turned out that every parking lot in the whole town was full because it was the weekend of the Pentecost, so we ended up parking about a kilometer out of town and walking to the trailhead. The trail up to the castle put the forced march up to the Roman ruins to shame. It was just a rocky path up the side of the mountain, with wild roses and beautiful oak forests. The worst part was that we had seriously underestimated the amount of water to take, and it was all gone before we got to the top.

The ruins were really cool. There were a lot of people up there, but it was very much a ruin. There were some stairs up to the remains of the keep, and there was the occasional guard rail, but other than that there was just a sign saying that by order of the mayor, the city of Ribeuvillè would not be responsible for any injuries. Clo was in the backpack, and had just woken up, and Mirin and Rose were sufficiently awed by the drop not to be careless. Mirin had insisted on the way up that we would go to all three castle ruins, but the lack of water forced us down again. Mirin had been motivated by the castles on way up, but the way down was almost to much.

Luckily there were wild roses growing by the side of the path and he was able to munch on the petals to keep his spirits up. As we got down toward the town there was an old man filling up his water bottles at a fountain marked non potable. We asked if it was actually okay, and it had the non party scratched out, but he said it had made him sick once and pointed us down into the town. We found that fountain and it didn’t say non potable, tasted great, and so far so good. We ducked into a nice tucked away restaurant right before they closed at 2 for the break before dinner, and got a local style charcuterie plate. It was really different since we were so close to Germany, and 100 years ago it was Germany. The whole thing came on a bed of warm spiced sauerkraut, and had three different sausages, two types of bacon, one cured one just brined, and ham. We finished up and walked back out of town to the car.

We went down to Colmar from there and tried to find the part of town that looked like the brochures, but all we saw was one of those little tram things made up to look like train to take tourists around. The rest of the town looked like the set for Le Haine. We drove over to the west to the spurs of the Vosges and went up into the foothills a ways on Le Route du 5 chateaux, but after the morning no one had the motivation to climb to any of them so we just found a picnic area and had a snack. By now we were low on water again, so we headed back to Ribeuvillè to the fountain. It was getting on dusk, so we found a spot close to the fountain to park, got water, and went back to the hostel.
The hostel was by far the worst of the ones we’ve stayed in. It was actually really empty except for some cheerleading team, and the worst part was that out of our window you could see a huge playground. Clo got really exited, and the big kids too, but after investigating, we found the hostel shared the building with a kindergarten and the playground was closed.  We also didn’t find the tiny, almost-invisible button to close the blinds, and spent the night with light pouring into the room.  Clothilde woke up at 5, as the sun was just rising.

Monday was our first big travel day without Marc, and we were worried about the kids. My stick driving is no match for the French mountain roads, so Angie was driving, and with all the roundabouts and turnoffs I had to nagivate, so there wasn’t really anyone to wait on the kids. It turns out that wasn’t what we had to worry about. Monday was Pentecost, which France being a Catholic country, is apparently big deal. Like everything is closed big deal. We did find an open boulangerie on our way out of Colmar and got a couple baguettes, my coffee, and more pain au chocolate. We headed out towards Aix-les-Bains and were making good time when we needed to stop for gas. All of the stand alone stations were closed. The stations in front of the supermarkets were open for pay at the pump, but American credit cards don’t have the chip in them so they don’t work. We ended up going on a hour long detour past lots of either closed or card rejecting gas stations. We ended up trading someone cash to use their card for us. It only took another half hour to get back on track.

The next problem was food. The pain au chocolate was long gone and the bread baguettes were dwindling fast. The butter was all used up at Bernard’s, and again, the water was getting low. We passed another open boulangerie and got more of the same, that was all they had. Nothing else was open anywhere, I guess they kept the boulangeries open since the last time no one could buy bread in France, people lost their heads over it. Even Mirin was getting sick of bread. We were going back up into the Alps by this time, and the quick way was to go through Switzerland. Apparently if you don’t cross the border on le autoroute, and act disinterested when you pass the border guards, they assume you’re a local and don’t look twice as you go by. As soon as we crossed the border there was an open gas station, and since we were still traumatized, we filled up and bought water. Unfortunately we were going through in the afternoon, and the Swiss still observe the no open restaurants from 2 to 6 rule, so we were still in bread and water.

We were still a day ahead of schedule, and had to go through Annecy on the way to Aix-les-Bains, and one of Angie’s favorite hostels from her earlier trips was there, so we went into town to try and find it. We ended up asking someone, and got there just after it reopened at five. We managed to snag a family room and they said there might even be a restaurant open at the camp ground around the corner. Sure enough, it was open. It wasn’t the best meal we’ve had, but the steak frite was hot and the wine was decent, so after our day of bread and water, it tasted wonderful. After dinner the kids played at the little playground (accessible this time) and we met a German family that had been at the beach in Spain for two weeks and was headed home. They spoke very good English, and the kids enjoyed playing. Their kids were 5, 3, and 4 months. We played for a bit and went to bed. 

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