The joy of dining in rural French restaurants

It was 11am.  It was meant to be a shopping day in Strasbourg but the traffic had us pulling our hairs at the edge of our seats.   ‘This is ridiculous!  We are wasting our precious Saturday on traffic!’

And so just as soon as we saw an exit, we speeded out, relieved to be out of the gridlock.  More motorway driving later followed by snaking forest roads that seem to go on and on,  our stomachs started screaming for food.  It was 1:20pm!

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At last we saw this one in Osthouse but the prices seem to be out of this world.  A meal per head is 42euros!  We don’t care if they are recipients of all these badges of excellence.  It’s not even our birthdays to make spending that amount worthwhie.

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Back to the van to try searching again, my photographic eye  noticed this barn next door.  Click goes the shutter!

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Finally we found this gem of a place.

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Entrée
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Main dish of chicken, beans and fries

 

For only 13euros we had an entrée, a main dish, dessert and wine in a convivial setting.
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This  photo puts me on a trip to the past half a century…

Happy and satisfied without a dent on H’s wallet, we were ready for our next destination.  The day is still young.  We set the GPS to the city of Colmar….

Black Forest: Haslach

Previous:  Black Forest: Buhlertal

How we look forward to weekends!
H’s kind of job puts him perpetually on stress mode so he wants to make sure that our weekends are fashioned to serious nature-walking  and discovering new places.  It’s not only therapeutic, it’s also a way of discovering the extraordinary out of the ordinary.
So even a trip to the supermarket must be done in a  holiday mode. Luckily we are mere ten-minute drive to the German border and Lidl Supermarkt (yes, that’s the spelling in German) is not far away.   After loading the groceries at the back of the van, we have a choice of either taking the forest trails, the river beach, the Rhine promenade – German side or French side,  the Gambshein lock where barges and boats wait until the water levels go up or down so they could pass through, the wide choice of restaurants and shops – all these within a few kilometers radius.  That’s weekend day one done.

For weekend day two – and this is the cherry on the cake – is a trip to a Black Forest village.

Since we arrived in Alsace six weeks ago, we have visited several Black Forest  Städte.  Baden-Baden, Gengenbach, Achern, Buhlertal.  Last Sunday it was  Haslach im Kinzigtal.

Haslach is one of the stops of the Black Forest Railway line ,  one of the most scenic railway journeys in Germany.  The train winds its way along a spectacular panorama of hills, valleys, rivers and magical Städte of the Schwarzwald.

 

The town

With a  population of more than 7,000, Haslach is located in the Kinzig valley, hence the name Haslach im Kinzigtal.  Between 1100 and 1200, it became the center of the local silver mining industry and the wealth that came with it elevated Haslach into a  city status in 1278.

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The two towers dominating the town’s skyline belong to just one  church – the Parish Church of St. Arbogast, a fusion of medieval, 18th and 20th century architecture.

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This is the medieval passageway underneath the 18th century church tower.

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Taking shelter inside that passageway is the town’s oldest piece of art dating back to the Roman times.  It is the tympanon of the 12th century medieval church, a stone relief showing Adam and Eve on the left, the tree in the middle and God on the right.

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Haslach was devastated by the fire of 1704 then rebuilt as a pure half-timbered town and have been carefully preserved since then.  It was in 1978  when it earned its place on the Black Forest Conservation List.  In  2001, it joined the list of towns and villages that comprise the ‘Deutsche Fachwerkstraße‘  or German Timber-Frame Road.

 

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The fairy tale image of Germany can well be seen in Haslach with its cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and their murals.

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This  is the City Hall reconstructed in 1732 and further renovated in 1953.   Only the  vaulted hall  on the ground floor built in 1572 is what remained of the 1704 fire.   The murals depict local people in their traditional dresses as well as figures from local legends.

Art, murals, jesters and writers

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Haslach was named after the hazel tree (“Hasel”) which shows in the town crest.  The hazel tree also inspired the creation of a jester figure.

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On the day of our visit, the streets and buildings are decorated with buntings and banners with images of jesters.  Every end of January, a Jester Festival takes place all over the Black Forest towns.  Can’t wait to attend one this coming weekend.
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In this mural on a house located parallel to the market square, the houseowners are throwing away bread to the locals below.  I wonder if it signifies some history of Haslach.
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For us who don’t speak German, above sign on a butcher’s shop is always helpful.

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"In this house was born the writer, Heinrich Hansjakob on 19 Aug 1837".

The son of a baker and farmer, Heinrich Hans Jakob was a Catholic priest, politician and writer.  One of the most widely read German authors, he has written over 70 short stories, diaries, travelogues and articles about religion, politics, history as well as life and struggles of the people living in the middle Black Forest.

"I do not know who first came up with those ugly words "forest crime" and "forest criminal". It was a hard man who made it so that the fetching of brushwood and firewood - which is what the poor do to warm themselves and to cook their frugal meal - appeared a crime. But the word is still thriving in the courts. (Hansjakob, 1897)

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Haslach has an amusing sense of art.   In the Hauptgasse, you will find these bronze statues of a farmer and his daughter watching over a bronze sow and piglets.

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Waiting for her Romeo takes a lifetime

She looks like a witch, in which case, it could be part of the Jester Festival decorations.

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They can also be poetic in various ways….

IMG_7177bAs I said, if you don’t speak German, just look at the images you pass by.  This is the Stork Guesthouse or Inn

 

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It’s lunchtime and we were desperately looking for a place to eat. We have scoured the town from inside to out, some were closed, most are snackbars, one bistro  was completely taken over for a party.  We passed by this building earlier but presumed it was the  City Hall (judging by the murals).  It was only when we noticed the menu sign from a distance that we realized it’s a restaurant.  Indeed, it is a guesthouse restaurant in a historic building constructed in the early 1800s.

 

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A classy restaurant with an old world charm.  The interior walls are covered with murals depicting scenes of Africa, India, Russia and elsewhere.   I saw a painting of a cat and a monkey off the ceiling as if they are there to entertain while we waited for our orders.

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We had Black Forest “Ragout” (pronounced Ragu) of wild venison and boar slow-cooked in red wine accompanied by a generous serving of cranberry sauce and pouched baby pear (I say “baby” because of its small size).   H and I concurred how cranberry sauce could perfectly complement the deep savoury sauce of the Ragout.  This meal is one of the cheapest on the menu at 17.80euros a plate.  Still a bit pricey but what the heck, it’s almost perfect!   The service is quick, the food is deliciously out-of-this-world that I couldn’t believe the Germans could concoct such culinary masterpiece.  The only negative review we could give is the awkward practicality of the S-shaped plate.  Everytime we lay our fork or knife on the side, it goes sliding down onto the thick sauce.

The walk in the woods

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After that satisfying meal,   it was time to hit the forest itself.  We drove til the edge of the town where pastures, farmhouses and horses dot the hills. Everything is quiet, nobody about, it was just us in the carpark.

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It’s a clear day, the snow of the previous days are slowly melting, a perfect day to amble about, inhale the fresh air and embrace the lush forest.

We meandered our way up the hill until  Haslach  appeared just a  town in miniature.  The climb was gentle, the footpath well-groomed and pleasant for hiking.

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We have trudged many hills and woods since Charlie came into our life ten months ago and all of those walks have been so exhilarating.  But the Black Forest is totally different.  Magical.   Probably because we associate it with Hansel and Gretel.  Even Charlie is blown away.

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Just like when my soul seems to float everytime I hear classical music playing, I felt exactly the same way as we meandered our way along  these majestic conifers.  My heart was leaping, or was it singing?
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This beautiful part of Germany has bewitched many travellers and nature-lovers, the  place that had been the subject of fairytales, novels,  travel stories.  But there are also horrible events that happened here.   It is here where three Nazi camps existed to house 1,700 prisoners from 21 countries.  Tortured and forced into labour to build a secret underground factory for machinery of war, most of them did not survive due to inhumane conditions.  The camps and the mine were destroyed and sealed off forever and a remembrance now stands on its place, the Vulcan Memorial.  Unfortunately, I was not aware of this piece of war history so we missed going there.  Next time.

 

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Back to the present.  Still can’t believe I’m here, right in the forest.   I am kneeling  close, savouring the  scent of each pine needle.  (I had to pinch off a small branch and picked a fallen pine cone on the way – to frame and hang on the wall at home as souvenir.)

 

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I even cared to photograph  a tree root.   I hear the quote of  Tasnim Hammed murmuring on the air –“Learn character from trees, values from roots and change from leaves.”

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Some three kilometers uphill later and not wishing to be caught by darkness,  we decided it’s time to to turn around, but first,  a souvenir shot of Charlie atop a pedestal.

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Walking downhill, it’s fascinating to observe the self-propagating character of the pine tree.  These seedlings, if well spaced and replanted elsewhere could reforest the entire planet multifold then this world will be a better place:

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Hiking done, there’s still one last thing to do before we leave Haslach, and that is, to sit in a café and do the traditional Black Forest cake tasting.

The time was four in the afternoon.  While the town was practically deserted  this morning, it was from early afternoon that the locals start manifesting their presence, trickling  into the square and alleys, ambling infront of closed shops.  Even roadside parking areas are slowly filling up with cars.  As we entered this coffeehouse which is annexed to the City Hall, how surprised we were to see this heaving humanity that filled nearly all the tables.  Families, couples and friends enjoying their cup of coffee and kuchen.  Luckily we found a cozy corner by the bar.

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And this is our third Black Forest cake moment taken over the last three  consecutive weekends.  “Next time we’ll try the other cakes”, H whispered.  I couldn’t agree more.  This Haslach version has too much whipped cream.

Black Forest: Buhlertal

Home of the cuckoo clock, the Black Forest cake and where Hansel and Gretel lived and encountered the wicked witch, the Black Forest is one of the most beautiful and most visited region of Germany. So-called because of the general dark color of the pine trees that grow here.

Visiting this region has been in our Bucket List for ages but never got into doing. Well, we are bracing ourselves now because it won’t only be a once-in-a-lifetime visit, it’s actually becoming a place for weekend retreats and Charlie’s walks as it’s darn too close to where we live we even get to do our groceries here! Oh it’s so much fun shopping for food in Germany, a fantastic country, so wealthy and high tech and yet, very much old-fashioned in many ways…

We promised ourselves to do a thorough exploration of the charming towns and villages, vineyards, castle ruins, great food and staggering sceneries and hiking paths that the Schwarzwald (Black Forest in English) is famous for, during the period that we live next door, which is in Alsace, and for every opportunity  we get which are the weekends.

The place we visited this Sunday is that of Buhlertal, a Winter Wonderland postcard beauty that we felt Christmas hasn’t left this lovely village yet. Awesome!

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The drive towards the Black Forest, as you can see the silhouette of its mountains in the background.

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lunch

A lovely lunch of beef goulash with potato dumplings in strong red wine sauce and lashings of Riesling wine, the waitress sporting the German costume, what a great German experience (which is now occupying our weekends!)

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The month in photos: December 2015

 

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01 December 2015
In the garden, Hungary
It’s a headache traipsing through muddy footpath and muddy holes plus the muddy paws that have to be wiped every time Charlie gets through the door.  I can’t do anything about it except create a story and scrap it.

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02 December 2015
at Home in Hungary
I adore poached eggs.  It’s healthier and is a great way to enjoy the egg in its purest form but it’s quite complicated to make it.  I tried everything I saw on tv cooking demos and recipe books but to actually do it yourself is a different story.  But one day, a simple idea struck from out of the blue.  I re-discovered the virtue of my aluminum poaching pan buried in the pantry a long time ago.  I thought it was too laborious  cleaning it up,  not easy lifting the egg off it anyway as it sticks into the pan, plus the scare of aluminum’s negative effects on our health.   Glad I didn’t throw it.  Now it occupies pride of place in my kitchen cupboard, at least until I find similar that is non-aluminum.  How do I do it?  Just line each mold with baking paper, crack the egg, boil and voila, a perfect poach that lifts up in a breeze and practically no cleaning involved.

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03 December 2015
at Home in Hungary
Woke up to a misty morning, looked out of the window, visibility almost 20%, a very atmospheric sight,  so I picked up my camera even before I turned on the coffeemaker!

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04 December 2015
at Home in Hungary, morning walk
Walking Charlie this morning, I noticed one single apple hanging from a leafless tree.  October till November is when apples mature and fall into the ground if they are not harvested by man nor pecked by birds but this one seems to be holding on tight.

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05 December 2015
at Home in Hungary, morning walk

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06 December 2015
at Home in Hungary
The neighbourhood children surprised us with their singing of Christmas songs just outside the gate.  Luckily we have chocolates sitting in the pantry.

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07 December 2015
Lenti, Hungary
The beauty of living in Hungary is that you can eat practically everyday for just centimes.  The problem is, there’s no English translation of the menu so you usually  end up eating something unpalatable..

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08 December 2015
Bazekerettye, Hungary
We plan our walking trips so that Charlie and us don’t get bored walking the same spot everyday.  There’s always something to discover.

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11 December 2015
at Home in Hungary
The first frost has come this winter.  Today, we leave for France, a slow two-day journey that will take us through Slovenia, Austria, Germany and finally France….
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11 December 2015
On the road again
We just exited Austria but as soon as we entered Germany, a border police car came following us.  Random checks on borders have been intensified after the Paris attacks so we are not surprised.  We then followed the Police car for what seemed like ages and finally arrived at an obscure spot.  Just as soon as we stopped, I noticed the figures “1,050 kg” flashing on a neon screen above .  Wow, the van weighs over one ton!   Not surprising as it is packed with household effects to roughly furnish the new house we are renting in Alsace.  So all passports, driver’s license, car registration checked and verified, we were allowed to go but we had to ask them where’s the quickest way to get back to the motorway since they obviously diverted us to some maze of roads…

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12 December 2015
Roppenheim, Alsace, France
Arrived in Alsace in the afternoon, bright enough to look around and scout for a restaurant.  This one has the Michelin label at the door so it looks expensive but amazingly, the road in front of it is packed with German-registered cars, not just ordinary cars but Porsche, Mercedes, Ferrari.. . The German border is just minutes drive away so this restaurant is perfectly placed!
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13 December 2015
Roppenheim, Alsace, France
Woke up to this view  from our B&B window.  It’s 7:30am, still dark, but already looking forward to going to the boulangerie to buy those real croissants and pain aux chocolat which we have been missing for a long time.

 

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13 December 2015
Alsace, France
Our first day in this house, our accommodation for the next several months while H takes on his new assignment.   Nope, it’s not the whole house, just the ground floor with a garden for Charlie. Lovely area with Germany so close hence everything looks gloriously Germanic even their Alsatian language and their looks, but thank goodness we are still eating French food!  It’s like living in two countries!
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14 December 2015
Haguenau, Alsace, France
The new house is  empty so it’s like starting from a blank canvas.  We have to search for places to buy furniture and appliances.  This is Haguenau, one of those places, but they are closed as it is Monday.  We went exploring the Christmas market and yuletide decorations instead.

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This dentist’s chair looks tempting to buy

15 December 2015
Marienthal, Alsace, France
Our first stop was the Depot-Vente near Haguenau hoping we could find tables, kitchen cupboards and furniture.  Depot-Vente or “consignment-stock” is very popular in France as one can buy items – vintage, antique and authentic –  at throwaway prices.  Most modern ones are Made in China anyway so we prefer buying our stuff here.

 

 

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16 December 2015
Strasbourg, France
We drove past Strasbourg in search for a particular shop that sells reconditioned appliances.   Happy with our purchases, now we can cook (cooker and oven) and wash (washing machine).

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17 December 2015
 Alsace, morning walk
There’s a lot of interesting walks around our village including this boardwalk over the river Zorn.

 

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19 December 2015
Forest of Haguenau, France
We miss doing forest walks with Charlie so today, we are exploring a little bit of the Haguenau Forest.  This is the biggest undivided forest in France and the six biggest in the country.  It is also called “La Forêt Sainte” (Holy Forest) because in the Middle Ages, it attracted a lot of hermits.  Many convents and churches were built around especially between the 6th and the 13th centuries, hence giving its name “Holy Forest”.

 

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20 December 2015
Weyersheim, France
Half-timbered houses make this village and all of Alsace look like it came out of a fairy tale book.  IMG_6143small23 December 2015
Strasbourg, France
We did a quick trip to the Christmas market in Strasbourg last week but I wanted to see more,  not only to take more photos but also to do  last minute Christmas shopping.  What I love about Christmas markets  are the charming handicrafts,  locally made and not imported from somewhere.

 

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24 December 2015
Christmas Eve
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25 December 2015
Rheinmuenster, Germany
It’s Christmas Day so as gift to ourselves, we decided to spend it in Germany!  Well,  the Fatherland is just “over the fence” or literally, just across the Rhine which is at our doorstep.  We were quite surprised that the place we went to,  Rheinmuenster,  still has traces of a Benedictine Abbey that existed from 817 until its closure in the 19th century and its Coat of Arms is still on display at one end of the village.  At a local bar, we tried their beer still bearing the monastery label, so refreshingly good despite cigarette smoke wafting through the air.  Smoking inside restaurants and bars are still permitted in Germany which is a shame because it spoils the enjoyment of nonsmokers like us.  We ended the visit by buying pizza for lunch…..hurray!

 

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Narrow, deep and raging, the Rhine river travels 1,400 kms through six countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands) until it joins the North Sea.

26 December 2015
The Rhine Promenade
We did our traditional after-Christmas Day walk along the Rhine.  Fascinating!  You see Germany on one side and France on the other divided by Europe’s longest and most important river, the Rhine.   Here, the embankments on  both sides present a vibrant scene of people of all walks of life, taking walks with their dogs, families or friends, simply enjoying themselves.  There’s also the ferry (above right, with both the French and the German flags flying) which transports cars and people to and fro, every few minutes for a 2-minute journey.

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27 December 2015
Baden-Baden, Germany
Still a holiday, Sunday, and desiring to see more of Germany, we drove to Baden-Baden, a city we’ve always wanted to see and the opportunity is here, only 40-minute drive away, plus the Christmas market is still on.  It ‘s fantastic! Beautifully presented and well-attended.  The city’s name translates to “Bath-Bath” because of the many thermal baths making it as Europe’s summer capital and spa destination.  We shall go back for the spa experience but in the meantime, we are marvelling at the resort-like atmosphere, the hilly landscape and the fashionable feel.  We are loving it already!

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29 December 2015
at home in Alsace
Walking Charlie this frosty, misty morning, I find everything truly photogenic…
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30 December 2015
at Home in Alsace
Charlie still hoping to receive more gifts from Santa.

 

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31 December 2015
at Home in Alsace
Charlie arguing with the chef as to his animal rights.