Bonjour Everybody. Unexpectedly, I’ve picked up another Tour after my Italy was cancelled. It’s very different to my usual kind of thing, but I’m looking forward to it immensely. I’m going to be French, or actually, to be specific, I’m going to become an Alsatian. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be entered into Crufts as Best of Breed. It does mean that I’ll be taking a Tour to Alsace – The Waterways of Alsace and Lorraine by Barge
For those of you that don’t already know, Alsace is a region in north-eastern France that borders Switzerland and Germany. In fact, it is so close to Germany that you can travel by tram from the regional capital Strasbourg, to Kehl, the nearest German city, in just 15 minutes. Although Alsace is part of France, its borders have not always been clear. The region has been passed between French and German control several times since 1681, when Strasbourg was conquered by French forces. As a result, Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.
This will be one of the first GRJ Tours to run into Europe for some time, but I understand that the clients have been contacted and very much want to travel, so we’re full steam ahead. The good news about being on a barge is that once you’re on it, you are to some extent cushioned from some of the more arbitrary COVID regulations, whatever they might be by our departure date (03rd September). Whether British or French, I’m expecting some sort of random bureaucratic malice – Access to Eurostar only for those wearing Ski Goggles and in possession of 7 bananas, or a French restaurant only allowing clients in on the third Thursday of the month, after 10:00pm and with a QR code proof of taking private violin lessons. This may make travel a little challenging (or it may not be a challenge at all) but that’s what makes a Tour Managers life interesting. We have to earn our money sometimes.
Our Barge and home for the week, the MS Madeleine, looks really rather nice. The English word, “Barge”, doesn’t sound quite right – it conjurs mental images of having to sit on a pile of coal while being towed along a canal by a couple of large horses. In fact, it works much better if you think “Luxury River Cruise Ship”. Hopefully I’ll have a room somewhere on board, although it may be in the engine room, or being towed behind in a rowing boat!
The local wine is also pretty good, with the best known names being Gewürztraminer, Muscat d’Alsace and the sparkling Crémant d’Alsace. The good news is that unlike their German cousins, Alsatian wines tend to be dry.
One of Alsace’s great attractions for the gastronomically inclined, other than the wines and the enormous number of Michelin-starred restaurants (so great that Alsace warrants its own specially enlarged box on the Michelin star map), is the region’s eaux-de-vie, potent colourless spirits distilled from the fruits that grow there. Finally, Alsace is France’s brewing powerhouse: Around 60 percent of the beer drunk in the country is brewed there, the vast majority of its hops are grown there, and its most famous names, from Kronenbourg to Fischer, were born there.
Put this all together and it means that although I may be sleeping in the chain locker, I’ll have a warm fat tummy and should sleep well. I’ll be blogging my way around the canals and waterways, so see you there!