Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Step Back in Time

My wife Becky and I had an adventure in the French region of Alsace after the World to the Wise Cultural Tour was over and the rest of the participants had gone home. We were staying at a guest house owned by some friends in a tiny village 25 km from the beautiful city of Strasbourg. The village is surrounded by vineyards, as Alsace is widely known for its wines. High atop one of the Vosges mountains overlooking the Alsatian plain sits the convent of St. Odile, the patron saint of Alsace. Our friend Eric took us to visit this remarkable landmark built by Odile's father to commemorate her healing of blindness in the 7th century. That's 7th, not 17th. 

As Becky and I biked through the vineyards, though, we were intrigued by a dilapidated castle atop another mountain. It turns out there are multiple castles in the area, each one having been built by the medieval lords to protect their serfs from invaders.

One day we decided this castle needed to be explored from closer up. We rode our bikes to the town of Barr, as far as the road would take us. We then left the bikes chained to a tree and set out on foot on the trail whose signs pointed to the Château d'Andlau. It was one of the hottest days we've experienced yet in Europe, but the brilliant blue sky and the intrigue of castle ruins beckoned us upward. 

The forest was so dense, however, that we didn't catch so much as a glimpse of the castle until we had actually arrived at the end of a pretty demanding hike. What we found was a 1,000-year-old fortified castle ruin which was supposedly undergoing restoration; but there was not a soul anywhere around -- so we gave ourselves permission, so to speak, to do a little exploring on our own. I've seen many castles in Europe, but this was the first time that I found myself exploring one with just my wife,  as if we were the first ones to discover it.

Our entire time in Alsace was magical -- including fireworks in Strasbourg on July 14, the national holiday that also happens to be my birthday. But we'll never forget our clandestine climb to the Castle of Andlau and the journey back in time.

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