Amynah and I have had a lot of visitors here in the 15 or so months we’ve been in France – well over twenty in fact. Right now I’m catching a breather between my younger sister’s visit and that of my parents, who are expected in about a week’s time.
Most of the time when people come to visit, I give them my Strasbourg city tour, a harrowing ordeal that has left more than one participant in need of first aid by its end. I like to describe it as “being hit over the head repeatedly with a fact hammer.” I intend to put up a pictorial version of this before I leave, but not before, lest I spoil the joy for others. Past visitors are required to swear a strict oath of secrecy to not reveal the tour’s details, should they remember any through their haze of pain and exhaustion.
Outside of Strasbourg, things get a little dicey – I like exploring the region, but get a little bored hitting the same highlights again and again. Thus, when I discovered Val and Andy have recently taken up biking, I was happy to lead them on an exploratory bike tour.
My goal was a place called Ottrott, which has the nearest medieval castle to Strasbourg in the region. We started late, having a hardy breakfast in the local café before wandering down to my favoured bike shop to pick up Val and Andy’s steeds.
They were not pleased. Turns out when Val told me they were into biking, she meant the kind you might see on the Tour de France - narrow tires, thin seats, frames that were not constructed from recycled Panzers.
That’s not quite what they got.
The beasts with which I saddled them were large, and decorated with baskets in which a family of four could, if not live, then store a year’s worth of groceries. Undeterred, we hit the trail, and were soon on our way to Ottrott, via the Rainbows and Ponies Trail.
After about 18 km, Val started to complain she was thirsty, so we made a quick detour into Ergursheim. I asked a passerby for directions to a store where I might by water, and he directed me to a tobacconiste up the street. It was closed. We wandered on a little further and I asked some guy on a scooter leaving the village town hall the same question. He directed me to a hose behind the building, the water from which we slurped straight from the tap. This, and some apples we picked up from a local farmer, proved to be the only nourishment we’d get for the next five hours.
I won’t bore you with details of the bike trip. My repeated claims that Ottrott “was just around the corner” “just over this hill” “it’s only one village away” were met at first by cheers, then frowns, then sneers. As our protein reserves and hydration petered out my claims of Ottrott’s proximity were met only with grunts. At the end, these had given way to piteous cries for mercy. Needless to say, that while we made it to Ottrott the town, by the time we got there we were too tired to actually climb up to the castle. *
Rather than bike back, we coasted downhill into nearby Obernai and caught the commuter train back to Strasbourg, on which poor Andy was mercilessly mocked by French teenagers for his horribly square bike and plus pas chic Bermuda shorts.
Despite this ordeal, and the five-hour walking tour of Strasbourg we took the next day, I refused to give up. So on their last day in town we rented a car and drove out to Ottrott once more. That it was pouring rain didn’t deter me, nor did Val and Andy’s disingenuous claims of not being that interested in the castle – I do not suffer defeat lightly.
Therefore, we set up the mountain, mud running in rivers around our feet, in quest of the chateaux. It took an hour and a half (not including the inadvertent detour where we managed to walk right past it (fine medieval marauders we would be!) and by the time we got there – disoriented, shivering, legs trembling, clothed in muddy, sopping rags - it was closed. Which is to say, it is always closed – it had been sealed off for fear of collapse for years, a handy fact my guidebook had utterly failed to mention.
That my sister was still speaking to me is a testament either to her inherently forgiving nature or the fact that I had the keys to our only means off the mountain.
* To be fair, there were a lot of unexpected detours on the bike trip, one of which was to a village called Klingenthal, that prides itself as being a manufacturer of "armes blanches (swords) for the King of France. Way to pick a stable, long-term industry there, Klingenthal town fathers!
This I'm just throwing in here on the principal that blogs should have entertainment. The singer's name is Camille - she's like a French Bjork, but less aggressively weird. I think I'm becoming a fan, but am reserving judgement until I get a tranlsation of the lyrics to confirm she's not singing "Hit me baby one more time" or something.