A Fabulous Escape by Larry Kueneman, Untourist
A Fabulous Escape
Most of us have heard people complain after spending tons on a port-to-port cruise ship where things went so fast they can’t remember what was where. This is specifically what led my wife and myself to try a different approach. The result is that going through Untours we remember every little town we saw and will jump at the chance to do it all over again, even if (no, especially if) we saw the same places all over again.
My wife, Robbie, made the arrangements when we went to Europe. We are into genealogy, and wanted to visit the place my family came from; but any excuse would have been good enough. We drove the 125 miles to Los Angeles, where we were permitted to park our car at a hotel for a month in exchange for staying over two nights (one before leaving and one after returning (check it out where you live).
We flew to Paris where we changed planes for Strasbourg in the northern part of the Department (French for county) of Alsace. Alsace is at the juncture of France, Germany and Switzerland. At the airport in Strasbourg, we were met by our Untours guide who was born in Boston and whose husband is a medical doctor, as well as the mayor of a local town. She walked us the huge distance of about 30 feet to where our car was waiting. Since I use a mobility scooter, we had arranged for an SUV and this one was a beauty. The interesting part here was that Air France flew the scooter free both ways.
Our guide had us follow her on the highways south to the location of the apartment we were to stay in for the next two weeks. This apartment is on the edge of the town of Ribeauvillé (pronounced Reeb-au-vil-ay). Several things about this area blew us away. First, there are traffic circles (roundabouts) everywhere and, while they take some getting used to, by the time the two weeks were up, we were clamoring for more of them in the U.S.A. (There is no stopping, and yes, they are now building them here). The second thing is that all of the towns in Southern Alsace look like they were designed in the Walt Disney Studios (of course, the opposite is true—see Beauty and the Beast). Vibrant colors and flowers were everywhere. And the topper was that we arrived at harvest time, and the vineyards are everywhere.
The Untours guide got us settled in our apartment where the refrigerator was stocked with enough food to get us started. The next day there was a meeting at a local restaurant where we found we were one of about ten couples in Alsace for the next two weeks. We were given a complete description of everything happening in the area along with any flyers and brochures available. We were given the option of seeing things with other couples or doing everything on our own. As it was, we chose to be on our own. We found the town my family came from and a cousin we had been writing to for six years. We also found wonderful foods, magnificent scenery, wonderful warm people, and memories for a lifetime.
We had very little problems in communicating with the locals. There are enough people who speak enough English to make the trip free of stress. The villages of Southern Alsace often have a street named after the date the allies drove the Germans out, although the animosity is almost extinct. And one Frenchman actually kissed my hand because I was an American. A special event during the time we were there was a visit to a winery where the wife of the owner was from California.
Our wonderful time there over, we drove across the Rhine river and through the state of Baden-Wurttemberg into Bavaria in the half-day drive to our next destination. Going from France to Germany we expected at least the traffic stop one finds in driving from Arizona into California, but there was no such experience.
It was a bit stunning when we parked on the grounds of a castle complete with a moat and heavy walls that was to be our place of residence for the next two weeks. We were greeted by Baron Manfred von Crailsheim and his wife. This castle has been in his family since the 1600s. We were shown our place to stay. This was a large apartment in a building on the castle grounds that once was a cattle barn. Considering the now heated floors and beautiful appointments, any bovine thoughts were a long way off. An added restful advantage is that Manfred himself is a medical doctor.
Being advised what is going on in the area in advance is a great advantage and we saw what we wanted at our own pace. And to the south of Sommersdorf Castle was Neuschwanstein, the castle that formed the basis for the original Disneyland. When our wonderful and unforgettable stay was coming to an end, we drove back to Strasbourg, deposited the SUV we had rented, and flew home.
All I can say is, “Wow.”
A big thanks to Larry for sharing his story today!