I do that sometimes--I keep my expectations low so I'm not disappointed. I know, it's dumb.
Sometimes, though, I'm surprised. Pleasantly surprised.
On this trip, that's exactly what happened. I loved the beauty of the castles--the views that morning on the top deck of our ship were stunning and special and I'll never forget them. I really didn't think that scenery could be topped.
I was about to be pleasantly surprised.
Day 5: Heidelberg
I had heard of Heidelberg--who hasn't?--but I knew very little about the town aside from knowing that they had a castle and a university. That could be interesting, given my profession, I thought, but, again, I didn't know what to expect.
Expectations exceeded. Heidelberg was lovely.
Rain threatened that day, and it rained a bit on our drive to the town, but it didn't keep us from trudging around the castle grounds.
Heidelberg castle is definitely worth seeing, if anything for the views.
Check out this sweet little guy peeking around the tree. Don't you just love that?
Heidelberg may be known for having the largest wine cask in the world . . .
(this is in the castle grounds and it holds about 60,000 gallons of wine!)
. . . but I know Heidelberg for having the best iced coffee in the world.
OK, we had cake too.
Day 6: Strasbourg, France
Now, unlike my usual self, I did not do much research prior to this trip. (Sensing a theme here?) I had had kind of a busy summer and, truth be told, I was tired. I knew we would have guides everywhere we went, so I just decided to go along for the ride.
I did, however, look up Strasbourg before I left because I thought I had heard something big about it before. Honestly, I didn't know what I was in for.
Yes, Strasbourg is the home of the EU (the European Union).
(Apparently the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. They're kind of proud of that.)
And, yes, it hosts one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in all of Europe.
But what I didn't know was how absolutely charming every street of Strasbourg would be.
Even in the pouring rain.
Our day started out a little rough as it was truly pouring rain--a deluge, if you will. Our guide persevered, even stopping in a restaurant to borrow a couple of umbrellas, but even with the umbrellas we were soaked to the skin.
But we were in Strasbourg, so we weren't about to stop. The longer we walked, the more enamored I became. Ancient timbered roofs, cobblestone streets, narrow passageways. Everywhere I turned, the city seemed to take me in.
Eventually the rain stopped, thank goodness, and I was able to really enjoy the beauty of this city.
After the "official" tour, the four of us looked around the Cathedral for a bit, including a viewing of the Astronomical clock. Once that concluded at 12:40, we were hungry, so we found a small cafe where we could sit outside and enjoy a tarte flambee, a truly Alsatian delicacy. (We all agreed that it tasted just like the Trader Joe's flatbread pizza, only better.)
We had a little time after lunch to wander before our canal tour, so Jenn and I walked through the little streets where we stumbled upon a real French market complete with a butcher, a fruit vendor, a cheese man, and a foie gras dealer. The best, though, was the huge booth full of French linen clothes. (I bought a dress. Fun!)
I think I could have wandered the streets of Strasbourg for days, if not weeks. Every street, every door, every window was different, holding unique stories behind them.
(I think this is my favorite photo of the entire trip.)
Even the shops were surprising, as one pottery shop we found had wide plank pine floors and old wooden ceiling beams that looked like they had been unfinished and scuffed by weary feet for hundreds of years. I could only imagine who had lived there, walked there, read there, cooked there. Such a beautiful little place!
Later, we took a canal tour around Strasbourg, which was even more beautiful. I could have stayed in Strasbourg a long, long time.
Strasbourg completely captured my heart, and I was sad to leave.
Day 7: Colmar and Riquewier, France
Just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any better . . .
we landed in Colmar, France.
Honestly, I didn't know much at all about this part of the trip. (Big surprise, huh?) I had never heard of Colmar, and I certainly had never heard of Riquewier. Again, my hopes weren't very high.
This ended up being, quite possibly, my favorite day of the entire trip.
The Alsace region of France is known for its wine, something I did not know before we left. I mean, I had heard of Alsace, but, again, didn't know much about that region. Now it has moved way up on my list of places I'd like to explore further.
But on to our day in Colmar. . . .
All I can really say is cute. This gorgeous city, known as the capital of Alsatian wine, is charming from north to south, east to west.
(Their largest church, complete with stork's nest in the upper right. And there was an actual stork in it!)
Colmar was where I became obsessed with window boxes. I just love how they dress their windows with herbs, succulents, and boxwood.
One cool thing I learned about Colmar: Bartholdi, the guy who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, was born here. As he was trying to figure out just exactly how to make the statue, he created several prototypes which dot the landscape throughout France. Just outside of Colmar, we came upon this:
She's much shorter and, I think, a little more stout than our own Lady Liberty, but it was neat to see that this symbol of freedom shines in Europe too.
We left Colmar and drove a short distance through some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen.
Riqueweir (pronounced Rike-veer)
"I feel like I'm on the set of Beauty and the Beast . . . only in real life!"
I think I said this more than once during our visit to Requieweir. This picturesque little village is set right in the heart of the vineyards. Its one main street heads straight up a hill where a church and steeple sits at the top.
That must be where these folks were heading.
On a Thursday.
[edited to add: Guess what! It really WAS strange that people were getting married on a Thursday. Someone from our trip wrote to tell me that these were actually models on a photo shoot. Ha! Thanks, Paul!]
Anyway, as I said, this beautiful little village is set right in the vineyards and boasts several wineries.
We didn't have a lot of time here (sure wish we had had more!), so we looked around a bit, then found a restaurant to sit and relax and enjoy some of their local specialities.
All in all, it was a great day full of pleasant surprises.
Up next . . . Switzerland!