Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nancy Pelosi for Congress

I just spent a couple days in San Francisco visiting friends. San Francisco is a place where politics is in the air, at least among my friends.

One of the political controversies in San Francisco now is a women running for Congress, Cindy Sheehan, against the incumbent Democrat Nancy Pelosi (who is Speaker of the House of Representatives). Ms. Sheehan is a great women. She stood up to President George W. Bush against the Iraq war. She is running against Nancy Pelosi because she believes that the Democrats have not done enough to stop the Iraq war.

Unfortunately, this is another case of the Democratic infighting that has cost our country dearly. Nancy Pelosi needs our help. The Republicans have made it impossible for her to do what she wants on everything from the war to the economy. I think that Cindy Sheehan is a fine women, but the Republicans are the enemy not the Democrats.

Ironically Sheehan personifies the Ralph Nader approach; Nader's actions in the 2000 election made Bush's election possible which led to the war, the economic meltdown and who knows what next. Unfortunately we are a two party system and the Democrats are miles ahead of the Republicans. That's why I am supporting Nancy Pelosi.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Heimat - Buffalo NY

Heimat is a great German word that can be translated as hometown, but it means more than that ... German speakers use it to indicate more of a connection with your hometown. Maybe it's a function of the fact that Europeans move around less than Americans.

Anyway, I am visiting my hometown of Buffalo NY this week. Buffalo has been really hard hit over the last decades. The population has gone from over half a million to a quarter of a million. It's a classic rustbelt city, now the auto plants and steel factories (I used to work in one) are closed - they even cut-up the steel buildings in my old steel plant and melted them down as scrap.

The nice thing about the city's shrinkage is how quickly nature comes back. Things are growing and quiet ... although there is still lots of pollution that needs to be cleaned up before it's healthy, but the greenery is nice.

Buffalo also is a veritable architectural treasure house; there are buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham - all very famous turn of the century (1900) architects. But there are also industrial buildings: most important are the reinforced concrete grain elevators - many of which are now surrounded by the returning nature in a sort of surreal landscape. These grain elevators were very impressive to modern architects in the 1920s and were highlights for European architects visiting the USA at that time.

Buffalo, it seems to me, has made mistake after mistake in trying to address its economic problems. These problems probably started in the 1940s as the city failed to invest and embrace innovative new ideas. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, the city was really struggling and was grasping at any solution. I always think of Michael Moore's movie "Roger and Me", when he interviews the director of the Flint economic development agency, the guy says we need a festival marketplace - then the urban planning solution - and it's exactly what Buffalo was saying. How many downtown festival market places were created in those years? (Lots!)

Buffalo also made huge mistakes with its urban planning. Locating the State University of NY at Buffalo's new campus at a sprawling greenfield site in the suburbs (12 miles from downtown) is a great example. Another is spending half a billion dollars (1970s dollars!) on an underground (5 miles) streetcar line with a one-mile surface mall downtown. The underground portion was expensive and unnecessary while the surface mall pretty much killed off all the remaining downtown businesses. Compare to Zurich which spent about 100 million rebuilding its surface streetcar and bus lines to make them more attractive. I know the problem with federal money only being available for specific types of projects and the 'get in line' for funds mentality, but this was a monumental waste of money. (By the way, Buffalo is not unique, these problems took and are taking place in cities all over the USA.)

So, what's my solution? I think that conditions are serious (and given the economic situation now: extremely serious). Solving problems will require very hard decisions and very drastic actions. I would start with focusing on the city's strengths: its beautiful location on the shore of Lake Erie, its architectural heritage, the reemergence of nature in the city, and the strong feelings local people have for their city.

Clearly the city and suburbs will need to merge into a regional government; state funding is going to be severely reduced and local communities will need to work together to solve growing problems.

The city needs to do triage - what neighborhoods will be saved, which neighborhoods will be allowed to die (remove infrastructure, don't maintain old infrastructure). Focus on adding multi-family housing with amenities and local services in the locations that remain in order to create new active walkable neighborhoods.

This triage could be done by creating a new open space master plan - similar to Omstead's plan for Buffalo from the 1800s. The master plan should Create a real historic park linking the grain elevators, open-up the waterfront for people, bring back natural creeks (e.g. remove the Scajaweda Expressway that runs through Delaware Park to the Niagara River - replace it with a greenway and sunlight the creek; sunlight the creek all the way to Cheektowaga).

As Daniel Burnham said, don't make small plans!

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts as I sit at the airport waiting to leave Buffalo.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Schmap - Vienna

I just learned that Schmap - a company that prepares annotated map books from flickr photos used one of my photos for their Vienna map. Here's the link to my photo on the Schmap Vienna site:

Graben restroom sign, by Andrew Nash

Future of Railway Service - in German!

Yesterday I had an interesting experience: I was interviewed in German on the Swiss national radio station DRS. They asked me questions about the future of rail service - a topic close to my heart. I offered to do the interview in English, but the interviewer said my German was fine - I felt great!

I think they hoped that I would present really different ideas like magnetic levitation trains (maglev) or other 'visions' for the future. But I didn't. My opinion is that by applying "social innovation" to railway systems we can really improve our transport systems. We don't need significantly faster rail technology, we need to make existing rail travel easier, more comfortable and slightly faster (i.e. apply high speed rail technology). High speed rail should be the transport mode of choice for trips less than 600 km, flying for trips greater than 800 km, and, for trips in between, people should choose based on the specific circumstances.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Election Day

We received two interesting pieces of mail today: my absentee ballot from San Francisco and Christa's information on voting in the Austrian national election that happens on September 28. So, we have lots to discuss tonight!

Friday, September 12, 2008


One of my favorite German words, perhaps because it's also used in English is Angst. To me it's even one of those words that sounds like what it is (onomatopoeia).

I mention it because, like some of my friends, I am starting to have sleepless nights worrying about the US Presidential election. (I have angst!) It just makes me so mad to hear the lies coming from the Republican party ... and even madder to think that there are so many people who believe them.

Paul Krugman talked today about the lies. We all know that politicians are not alter boys (and girls) but the level of lying today is wild.

Roger Cohen talked yesterday about how the Bush Administration has divided America, making it possible for the Republican lies to work.

To me the huge difficulty is that problems today are not simple, but voters want simple solutions. It's easier to simply lie (reducing taxes will improve the economy) than to explain how taxes are needed to build the infrastructure and society we need to successfully face the future.

Returning to the subject of angst, and in an effort to inject some humor into the otherwise grim discussion, the photo is of a sausage stand in Zurich. The name of the sausage company is Angst ... would you buy a sausage from a company called Angst? Let's hope the voters don't buy the McCain-Palin lies!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Altavilla, Bianzone, Italy

If you are visiting Poschiavo or the Valtellina Valley of Italy, the Altavilla restaurant is a wonderful place serving lunch and dinner in the small town of Bianzone. If you are taking the Raetische Bahn (RhB) Bernina Express, your trip ends in Tirano (Italy). From there Bianzone is about a 12 Euro taxi ride.

The Altavilla is run by Senora Anna, a wonderful women in all senses of the word. She is welcoming and extremely knowledgeable about the region's food and wine. She is a leader in the Slow Food movement and her cooking is divine.

The restaurant is located up in the hills with windows overlooking the valley. It's idyllic, especially if you decide to stay overnight in one of the rooms. The food is superb. Senora Anna offers a couple of menus that enable you to try some of the regional specialties (one menu offers: schat, pizzoccheri, dried meats and dessert). But, it might be better to order a few appetizers from the menu (schat, risotto, the buckwheat crepes) and then a main course of meat or fish (all of which are excellent).

The schat needs to be described. It's local cheese coated in a buckwheat dough (similar to a crepe mixture) that's very quickly deep fried and served on a bed of thinly sliced bitter salad (you dress the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar yourself from the many varieties Senora Anna places on your table, before the hot schat arrive).

The service can be slow and somewhat chaotic, but the food is well worth waiting for, especially with a glass of one of the fine local wines.

Pizzoccheri - Alpine Buckwheat Noodles?

Pizzoccheri are the buckwheat noodles found in the Italy's Valtellina Valley and Canton of Graubunden Switzerland. I blogged about my recipe for Pizzoccheri previously. As I mentioned everyone has their own recipe, and they are all good! For more information check out the Accademia del Pizzocchero di Teglio.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Kurhaus Bergün, Switzerland

On our way back to Zurich from Poschiavo we stopped in the village of Bergün (German). It's located on the Abula line of the RhB - Rhätische Bahn. A friend had recommended that we visit the Kurhaus Bergün (German). The hotel is about a five-minute walk from the train station.

A Kurhaus is a hotel where you go for a "cure" or rest. Most of them are associated with mineral baths, medical treatments or simply relaxing for a couple of weeks in a natural environment. It's a pretty nice idea.

The Kurhaus Bergün is a beautiful Jugendstil building built between 1905-06 by the Zurich architects Jost-Franz Huwyler-Boller (who also built several other famous hotels). The hotel seems to have fallen on hard times and a group of regular customers decided to try and save it. They are restoring the hotel slowly and the work so far is really excellent.

We decided to have lunch on the sunny balcony (overlooking mountains). The restaurant has a relatively limited selection, but the food is "bio" and comes from suppliers in the region. I had a wonderful "toast". In most places a toast is like a grilled cheese wonder bread sandwich, but not here ... tangy mountain cheese served between two thick slices of homemade whole grain bread ... shows how good simple food can taste when you use quality ingredients. I washed it down with a Monstein Hausbeer (the Monstein Brewery is located in the adjacent valley near Davos). It was a great lunch.

Bergün is the start/end of the Abula railway history trail up to Preda. The Abula line was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2008. The trail has panels describing how the Abula rail line was built. It is a fun, although fairly strenuous, hike. The best idea is to start in Preda - then it's downhill to Bergün. They are also building a railway museum at the Bergün (German, very nice website with information about the Abula line) station but I am not sure when it will open.

There is also a ski lift in Bergün and swimming pool. The skiing looks like it would be good, but it's not a large area by Swiss standards. Another unique attraction in the winter is sledding from Preda to Bergün (German). They close the road, well, snow actually closes the road, and place hay bales on the worst curves, you rent a sled at the RHB railway station in Preda then sled down to Bergün. It's quite a trip. The Swiss National Railroad's Railaway program has special offers for people who want to make this trip.

All in all, Bergün has a lot to offer.

Here's a video of the sled ride!

Hiking and Eating in Poschiavo Switzerland

One of our favorite places to visit is Poschiavo Switzerland. Poschiavo is about four and a half hours from Zurich (on the train!) in the south east corner of the country. To get there you go to Chur on the standard gauge SBB (national railway) and then transfer to the narrow gauge Rhaetische Bahn (RhB) railway. You take the RhB through the Abula Pass to the Engardine Valley, then transfer to another RhB train that takes you over the Bernina Pass. It's a railway junkie's dream.

In 2008 UNESCO declared part of the Abula rail line a UNESCO World Culture Site. The RhB have done an excellent job developing creative new services and promoting rail travel. For example there is a history trail along a particularly complicated portion of the Abula line. Many railways could learn from their high quality and creative approach to the railway business (but that's for another post).

The train continues south from Poschiavo to Tirano Italy (the Valtellina Valley). People in Poschiavo speak Italian and the valley combines the best of Italy and Switzerland in much the same way as the more well known Canton of Ticino.

We stay in the Hotel Albrigi located on the main square of Poschiavo. On our first trip we met the owner (Claudio Zanolari) and he made such a great impression we have been back many times since then. The Hotel Albrigi is a historic hotel, it has only about 10 rooms and the bathrooms are on the hall. It's not for everyone (but the family also operates the Hotel Croce Bianca, which is more modern).

The food at the Hotel Albrigi is excellent, even if you don't stay in the hotel do eat there! They make wonderful pizzas (wood burning oven), great local specialties (more in another post), and excellent meat dishes. The local wine - mostly from the Valtline Valley of Italy - is great. We often start with a pizza to share and then move on to the main courses. There are tables on the square and that's a wonderful place to eat at midday and on warm nights.

Poschiavo is an excellent place to use as a base for hiking trips. This year we made three all day hikes and one short hike. Since this is Switzerland, you can take public transport (Post Bus or RhB) to most of the trail heads fairly easily from Poschiavo, but you need to reserve in advance for some of the Post Bus lines (people at your hotel or the friendly tourist office - in the train station - can help you with this).

The first day we took the RhB train to Bernina Diavolezza. This is a ski resort in the winter and there is a cable car that takes you up the mountain to an elevation of 2,977 m (or 9,768ft). Then you hike about one and a half hours to the summit where you have a panoramic view of the Engardine and Bernina valleys - plus more mountain peaks than you can count. There is a good restaurant at the top of the cable car and if you stay in the hotel you can even take a hot tub bath (German) there overlooking the mountains.

On our second hike, we walked up the mountain from the Cavaglia RhB station to the Alp Grün RHB station. It's a short but strenuous hike uphill but the Alp Grün Albergo Ristorante at the top is warm and welcoming (watch out for the automatic door to the balcony overlooking the valley!). Many visitors are railway fans and they have an assortment of postcards and information. You can also stay overnight there. We were able to take one of the RhB's open wagon sightseeing cars down from Alp Grüm to Tirano, here I am enjoying the trip!

On Thursday we took a long hike to the San Romerio Alp. It took about seven hours walking (some strenuous) and a couple hours relaxing over lunch on the Alp. There is a very nice mountain church on the Alp and a guesthouse on the San Romerio Alp (Italian, German also available). It's best to get to the guest house early since if they are busy they run out of the specials. The food is mostly cheese and cold meat with bread, but you can order some of the regional specialties (e.g pizzoccheri) if you call in advance. You can also stay there overnight.

The church was locked when we arrived, but there were two children, probably no more than four or five years old, playing nearby. When they saw that we wanted to visit the church they ran off and brought the key, opened the door, then ran through the church showing us all the nooks and crannies.

They spoke Italian, and so most of the communication was their running around pointing excitedly. They ran up to the bell tower and started ringing the bell, then down to the crypt and then out the door. I was worried for a minute that they might lock us in, but they were just outside having returned to playing.

Our last hike was to the really beautiful Val di Campo. Again, we took the bus from Poschiavo on the main road over the Bernina Pass to a guest house at the beginning of a small road leading into the valley. There we transferred to a smaller bus (this is the one that requires reservations) and took this bus to the end of the line (another guest house - see photo).

From here it's a relatively short walk up to a beautiful lake, then you can take a more strenuous hike further to the border of Italy and return to the lake through another valley. We had beautiful weather and enjoyed a relaxing (very) late lunch at the guest house before walking back out to the main road (about 1.5 hours, but downhill so no need for the bus).

And, then, our holiday for this year was over. But we hope to return soon!

Frugal Travel in Europe

I just read a great article summarizing the lessons learned by the NY Times' Frugal Traveler on his trip through Europe this summer. I have learned these lessons myself over the last few years, but he summarizes them very well! The European Grand Tour Frugal Traveler lessons.

CERN Superconductor Video Rap

I just saw this music video on what the new supercollider at CERN is supposed to do (it was on a Wired Blog posting) of the top 10 physics videos. Finally, science presented in a way I can understand. Here's Wired's explanation of what happens in the LHC and what theories they hope to understand better and, here is the video - I just hope that the dancers don't give up their day jobs:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Terrace Garden

We have also been busy working on our terrace garden. We started in May hauling dirt and planters up to the fourth floor. Then the planting began ... from seeds, gifts from friends and relatives, cuttings and some of the plants we brought from Zurich. As these photos show Christa has a real green thumb. It's totally changed the view from our living room.

Prague Metro Sign

Here's a very clever sign in the Prague Metro. It shows a list of stations for the metro line, look closely (detail below) and you will see a double arrow. That arrow is the station we are in, if you want to travel to a station on the left of the arrow, use the left platform; if you want to travel to a station on the right of the arrow, use the right platform. What could be simpler?

Copenhagen Airport

I visited Copenhagen airport on a business trip in June. It's a bit crowded, but it's being remodeled and they are doing a fantastic job. The security screening is really efficient and well designed (no photos allowed). The area is filled with people wearing polo shirts like the one pictured here ... nice touch ... a bit different from US airports.

Oh, and similar to many European airports they have a train station in the basement. Here's a photo, the airport buildings are in the background. There are frequent trains to the center city and over the Bridge to Malmo Sweden.

Weekend in Prague

We traveled to Prague in July for a lazy summer weekend. I've been there several times and, while the city is crowded with tourists, it really is beautiful and worth visiting.

We took the train from Vienna to Prague (about 4.5 hours). Most of the Vienna trains do not stop in Prague's main train station but at Nadrazi Holesovice station a bit outside the center. This station is on the Metro line C, three stops from the main train station. We bought metro tickets at the station and the ticket sales person took the relatively high denomination currency we had just taken out of the automatic teller located nearby.

Several travel books said tourists probably don't need to use the excellent local public transport much because most of the sites are within easy walking distance. We found that to be true.

We ate at several good restaurants. We quite enjoyed the Olympia Restaurant located at the west end of the Most Legii Bridge (good views of the castle and Charles Bridge from this bridge - see top photo). The restaurant served excellent traditional Czech food with a bit of contemporary style. Especially good was the draft Pilsner Urquel beer which they told us was of the unpasturized (Tankovia). While I love Pilsner Urquel beer, this was even better. The Kolkovna Group has several other restaurants around the city - we saw one across from the Spanish Synogogue and one near the Municipal House (on the other side of the Metro station. Dinner for two with beer cost about 20-25 Euros.

Another nice place located in the center of Prague was Bredovsky Dvur Restaurant (webpage is in Czech, but has map and photos). We went well past lunchtime, so they were out of many of the daily specials, but we had good salads and a great dish of celery and rice. The restaurant was preparing for dinner and we noticed that just about every table was reserved, so if you want to eat here you probably need to reserve in advance.

We had coffee at the Grand Cafe Orient located in the Museum of Czech Cubism. It's well worth the price of coffee just to see the cafe!

We were too late to eat at Bakeshop, a fantastic bakery located between the main square and the Jewish Quarter.

In between eating, the Prague Museum of Communism, Jewish Quarter, Municipal House and Castle were all well worth visiting. The city is great for walking, lots of interesting sights and architecture. I took an architectural tour of the Municipal House the first time I visited Prague and that is highly recommended.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Riquewihr to Bennwihr - Hiking in Alsace

The hike from Riquewihr to Bennwihr is a bit less scenic than the Ribeauville to Riquewihr segment, but is still worth making. The route is mostly downhill and winds through the vineyards. It took me about 1 hour, although I took a short cut through Mittelwihr. The photo above is looking back on Riquewihr from the trail.

Bennwihr is a very small town. There is a cafe (the bus stop is located in front of the cafe) and a small food shop (closes at midday). The cafe does not serve food, but it's fun to stop in for a beer or coffee. The photo below is of a statue honoring soldiers who died in the war; it's located in front of the church.

There are several small wine makers in Bennwihr who have tasting rooms and also a very good cooperative cave located on the Route des Vins D'Alsace on the south part of the town.

Riquewihr, Alsace

The hike from Ribeauville to Riquewihr takes you through vineyards and the forest, following the rolling hills. It took me about 1.5 hours at a moderate pace and was a good way to work off the Tarte Flambe and beer. (Did I mention that Alsatian beer is the best in France? Probably the combination of German and French cultures.)

The trail enters Riquewihr at the 'top' of the village (see photo above). Similar to Ribeauville, Riquewihr is an oblong-shaped village with a main street (rue du General de Gaulle) running through the middle. Unlike Ribeauville, Riquewihr still has its medieval walls and gate houses, so its filled with tourists (for good reason). The main street slopes down (relatively steeply) from the western gate to the eastern end of the village. The village is filled with historic buildings and is mostly free of cars. The photo below is from this year, it was raining!

There are many restaurants, small hotels, wine tasting shops and souvenir shops in the village. There are also several small museums: one for the post office and communications in Alsace, one for the local artist Hansi and another one (there seems to be one of these in every historic city) on medieval torture.

My interest in visiting Alsace is more on the food and wine side. My favorite Alsatian food is Tarte Flambe - the Alsatian version of pizza. It's made with a very thin dough, next they put creme frache then the toppings which generally include bits of bacon (spec in German, lardons in French), onions and other things. I love to have it with Munster cheese, another local specialty.

There are many good restaurants in Riquewihr, so take a walk through the town, check the menus and stop at one that appeals to you. We ate at Au Cep de Vigne (also a hotel) located at 13 rue du General de Gaulle, and La Taverne Alsacienne (17 rue du General de Gaulle), and both were excellent (both times Tarte Flambe!).

La Taverne Alsacienne offered a beer brewed at a Riquewihr microbrewery on draft. The beer is called Hollbeer and the brewery (Brasserie) is about 100 meters from the east end of the village (8 avenue Jacques Preiss). I was lucky because the brewery was open the day I visited and so I enjoyed a small glass of fresh beer (La Hollbeer PRESTIGE - 6.5% alcohol) while talking to the brew master about the growth of microbreweries in the USA. The family also makes schnaps and sells a large variety of them in the shop adjoining the Brasserie. The people working in the shop and Brasserie were very friendly and helpful.

Walking back into Riquewihr I stopped at my favorite wine degustation room/shop, Hugel & Fils. The family has been making wine since 1639. The tasting room staff are very knowledgeable and helpful, it is clear that they take their work seriously. I tasted several wines and they were all good. My favorite was their Classic Riesling 2007 ... when I tasted it I had one of those ethereal moments where your eyes roll back into your head with pleasure ... the salesman must have seen that and so he asked, good? Heck yeah! I bought six bottles to carry home with me on the bus and train!

Of course wine was not the only thing I purchased in Riquewihr, I also needed to buy some Munster cheese, which is unlike any other cheese. It pretty much defines the term 'stinky cheese' but the locals know that and they vacuum wrap it for traveling, although when the shopkeeper learned that I would be taking the train she suggested that I unwrap it so that I could have the train compartment to myself. Combining the cheese - served a bit runny at room temperature - with a bottle of Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer Tradition (2006) is another of those ethereal experiences (and helps explain why I have gained so much weight living in Europe).

The bus stop is located across from the post office at the eastern end of the village. The photo above is looking at the Marie (city hall) and up into the vineyards surrounding the city from the bus stop. The bus (see earlier post) takes you to the Colmar railway station. I took the local train to Strasbourg, where I caught the overnight train back to Vienna, quite satisfied from my day hiking, eating and drinking in Alsace.

Ribeauville, Alsace

A good place to start your Alsace hike is Ribeauville. If you take the bus from Colmar, you actually travel through many of the wine villages on your way, then you walk on the return trip.

Ribeauville has a very nice cooperative cave (Cave de Ribeauville) - check the hours because they close during midday. The cave is located just a little west of the historic village on the main road (Route des Vins D'Alsace). It's near where the bus drops you off.

Then turn back and walk through the city park to the village. The historic village has an oblong shape running west Route des Vins D'Alsace up into the hills. The village's main street is called Grand Rue (de l'Eglise) and is a semi-pedestrian street filled with restaurants, hotels and shops, all of which I found to be relatively reasonable and less crowded than those in Riquewihr. There is a tourist office right at the beginning of this street on Place des Cloches.

I had a great Tarte Flambe (an Alsatian relative of pizza) at a restaurant/hotel called L'ami Fritz - it's shown in the photo above. Several other restaurant/hotels also looked fine although I did not stay or eat in them. They include Hotel au Lion and Hotel Cheval Blanc (great map of the village on this page).

On the way through the village I stopped by a winery from Domaine Jean Sipp. I did not have time to taste the wines but it looked like a great place. They have two rooms that they rent to visitors - I made a note to stay overnight there next time I visit!

I was hiking from Ribeauville to Riquewihr. The route leads one along the Grand Rue to Place de la Marie, where you turn left on to Rue Klobb, which turns into Rue de la Marne and then left onto Rue du Vignobles (where the "trail" to Riquewihr really begins). I will discuss Riquewihr in another post.

Ribeauville to Riquewihr to Bennwihr - Hiking in Alsace

I had been making day trips to Alsace from Zurich for several years. Only when we moved to Vienna did I realize how much I missed these trips. One of my favorite things to do in Alsace is to hike between the small wine villages. The photo above is of the village of Hunawihr viewed from the trail between Ribeauville and Riquewihr.

We don't have a car, so I have posted an entry on how to visit some Alsatian wine villages on the bus previously. A good option is to take the bus to Ribeauville and then hike back to Bennwihr via Riquewihr. Catch the bus back to Colmar from Bennwihr. Here's a link to the Ribeauville-Riquewihr tourism website.

The villages have developed a 'wine trail' through the vineyards with a few guide posts and signs providing information about the grapes and wine making. For me the real pleasure is simply hiking through the fields (actually the service roads/paths) and just enjoying being outdoors.

The wine trail is described on a brochure I picked up in 2007, but I did not see this year. It's called "Les Perles du Vignoble - Plan decouverte, Sentier viticole des Grands Crus" and it's in French, German and English. I will try to scan a copy and place a link to it here (there are maps of the six villages, small descriptions, and a map of the trails. There are several different trail options, so you can decide how long you want to walk.

The main villages Ribeauville, Riquewihr have lots of restaurants and shops, most of which are open all day. The other, smaller villages, don't always have places to eat and shops often close during the midday, so keep that in mind in your planning.

While a village may not have a restaurant or cafe, they all have one or more places that sell wine. These 'shops' range from small stands selling their own wine to cooperative cellars which stock wine from many local wine makers. Generally you can taste wine in these shops for free but you really should purchase a bottle or two.

The hiking is very nice, there is very little traffic on the roads and even very few people. It's a great way to get in touch with the terroir.

I have posted separate articles on attractions in the different cities on route.

Public Transport in Alsace, Riquewihr

One of my favorite places in the world is Alsace. There is something magical about the vineyards and hills and the mixture between German and French cultures. And, did I mention the food and wine!

We don't have a car and so visiting the small wine towns and villages can be difficult, but it's possible. I generally take the train to Colmar (a wonderful city in its own right - more in another posting). There is a bus station located right outside the train station where you can catch a bus to several of the wine villages. The photo below is of the stained glass windows in the train station cafe. They are hidden in one of the side dining rooms. The restaurant is not bad.

These buses run very intermittently (often only three or four a day) and it can be hard to get information about them. However, many of the buses are operated by the French Railroad's TER (regional train) company, so they are included in the train arrival/departure information systems.

My favorite train arrival/departure information system is from the Swiss National Railway, the site is very clean and easy to use. Here's the English Version. Compare it to the French version ... oh my god what a disaster, but that's another subject.

To use the Swiss system simply enter your starting point (you can choose Colmar) and your ending point, in my case I choose Riquewihr - which is a wonderfully picturesque village from the middle ages (lots of tourists, but for good reason). Another good option is to take the bus to Ribeauville (it goes through Riquewihr on the way) and hike to Riquewihr or even on to Bennwihr.

When you board a bus at the train station you need to buy your ticket in advance, there are machines in the waiting hall. When you board in the villages you can pay cash to the driver (who can usually make change). The drivers I have encountered - while they did not speak much English - are very friendly and helpful.

Also, be sure you check the schedule for the return bus and find out exactly where it stops ... as I mentioned the buses run very in frequently and you don't want to miss them. (As it happened my bus was about 25 minutes late on the return trip which gave me lots of anxiety, but it eventually arrived.)

Bad Blogger, Bad

I admit it, I have been a very bad blogger this summer. The problem started when I decided I wanted to revise my website and incorporate a blog into the home page and make several other organizational changes. So, I decided to wait until that was done to post again ... dumb. The website is still not done and I have lots to report from the summer, so I guess my summer postings will all be dated September. On with the show ...