Price Gouging is Evil.

Up at the Register: What is Price Gouging and Why is it Wrong?:

In a crisis situation, it is possible for monopoly suppliers to charge prices for goods that buyers cannot afford — thus becoming not ordinary monopolists but price-gougers. Note well: This doesn’t mean buyers don’t recognize the value of the supplier’s work and risk. Rather, the problem is that the reason it is possible to charge exorbitant prices is because the goods and services in question are necessary for survival. People will literally die if they don’t have clean water.

Contrast this to the Disneyland scenario: People will not literally die — nor even figuratively do so, we hope — if they don’t have a Disney vacation.

Price gouging is the act of choosing to profit off someone else’s life-and-death desperation rather than to show generosity.

It is bad for you to do this to yourself.

Most people instinctively know that price gouging is a nasty thing to do.  A few people though, rightly observing that price rationing via free markets is ordinarily the go-to method for figuring out how to satisfy unlimited wants and needs with limited resources, get busy in their head thinking up rationalizations for why it’s just “good economics” to allow price gouging.

It isn’t good economics, and for those people, the Register article puts a toe into the world of price elasticity of demand and all that stuff.

Summary: You can be a decent capitalist and still have moments — fire, famine & flood come to mind — when you notice that the market is there to serve you, not you to be slave to the market.

 

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Lots of Bottled Water, photo by Brett Weinstein, CC 2.5 via Wikimedia.

In Search of the “Real America”

There’s a meme going around right now about what “real Americans” are like.  We see pictures of heroic rescues in the Texas floods contrasted with recent racist or fascist violence.  The “real America” is the good one.  The real America is where people pull together, act bravely, and give everything to help their neighbor, no matter who that neighbor might be.

I don’t disagree.  America really is that, and we have the pictures to prove it.

The difficult bit is that we aren’t only that.

***

I have some assorted friends whom I profoundly love and respect, and to whom I owe a perpetual debt of gratitude for the goodness they have brought into my life.

These friends are like me, though, in that they are noticeably flawed.   (Like me in kind, not degree – evidence is I’m more flawed than they are.)

I don’t want to hear about that.  Even if I do sometimes notice their weaknesses, I want everyone else to shut their mouths.  What I see in them, what I want everyone to notice, is the beauty and goodness and truth they bring to this world.   I want to shout: Do you not understand what they did for me? For you?!

***

This instinct to see the good in our friends is how we get to an All Dogs Go To Heaven theology.  It’s a good instinct.  We can see that our friends are made in the image and likeness of God, inherently lovable and worth loving.  That’s an accurate view of who they are.  The thought of such a person going to Hell is unthinkable.  We’re not alone there.  God Himself has been quite explicit about His desire to save the world rather than condemn it.

***
Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side!  We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

***

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving.   God can see those parts though.  The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be.  The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

***

We aren’t supposed to like nastiness.  It isn’t supposed to be easy and comfortable to live with horrid people.  We should want to be surrounded by peaceful, loving, generous folk who fully live out the commandments.  (Never ever forgetting Proverbs 27:14, but of course there are others as well).

So it’s understandable that we have low patience for certain sins.

***

What is lost in our national discourse is the appreciation of the complexity of other humans.  Someone can be terribly wrong in some ways and entirely right in others.  Someone can both commit serious sins and carry out marvelous good works.  (I’ve got the first part down, thanks.)

You can be a racist nationalist who risks your own life rescuing total strangers.

You can give away your fortune aiding the poor, and also devote yourself to killing the unborn.

You can be a notorious philanderer and also an unshakable civil rights martyr.

The combinations are unlimited, and Americans seem, collectively, to be trying out all of them.

***

Where our national discourse goes wrong is in trying to mount the opposite of the ad hominen attack — call it the ad hominen defense.  If my side is right, my men must be perfect.  An attack on my ideas is an attack on me and mine.

We are unable to admit the possibility of human weakness and complexity, nor to properly rank the seriousness of our failures.  Thus we end up in bizarre situations both divisive and falsely “unifying.”

Sometimes, out of fear of hurting somebody’s feelings or overlooking their virtues, we’re afraid to condemn their serious sins.  Better to get along and smooth things over for a day that never comes when somehow we’ll dialog our way past the impasse without ever opening our mouths.

Other times, out of fear of seeming to approve a vice or a poorly-formed conscience, we feel compelled to commit a course of Total Condemnation — economic, political, and personal.

***

Let me show you a video of the way of peace.  This is South Carolina removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

It came down because of decades and decades of peaceful protest. Did it take too long? Yes.  The remedy for sin always takes too long.  Do people suffer injustice in the course of the long, slow path of peaceful protest? Yes.  But people suffer injustice from violent protest, calumny, and vicious personal attacks.  There’s not an option for waving the Fix Everything Wand and presto-change-o the world is magically better.

Peacefully refusing to accept injustice works.  It has worked marvels of healing and change in a place where you would never have said fifty years ago that all this would come to pass.  It worked in a place where people are still fallen.  Sinful people who do wretched things made that flag come down.  Gracious people doing their best to make the image of God shine in the darkness made that flag come down.  They were the same people.

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U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle: “Soldiers, fire fighters, paramedics and neighbors ensured more than 1,000 people and hundreds of dogs and cats were safe, evacuating them to dry ground and local shelters.”  Courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

Prepping for Disasters

Texas is on my mind, what with friends being flooded and vivid memories of SC’s teeny-tiny-in-comparison floods.  Something to know about these disasters: You don’t hear from the worst-affected.  In order to post photos mid-storm, you have to have power and internet.  In order for you to see photos from disaster crews, the disaster crews have to be able to get into the area.  You can reasonably assume the destruction and death in Texas are much worse than what we are seeing now.

Into this, yesterday afternoon I was enjoying a little slice of Heaven: A leisurely afternoon of lunch and conversation with good friends in glorious weather.  During which time a friend posed a disaster-preparedness question: In the event of an EMP attack from North Korea, do we need to worry about having an emergency water supply?

On the one hand, the answer among the conversationalists was yes: Well pumps and city water facilities both use electricity, so if that goes out, your water goes out.

But I felt compelled to add: I have no idea whether the North Koreans will ever disrupt my water supply, but I know for a fact the city’s beaten them to it plenty of times.  So yes, I store water.  Weirdly, thus far we’ve been spared weather-related disruptions even when those nearby were not — but construction crews working near water mains?  Oh yes, that gets us every time.

Tip:  When you empty a liquor bottle, you have a freshly sterilized container on your hands.  Go ahead and fill that puppy up with nice clean city water while you’ve got it, screw the lid on, and stuff it into some corner where you can never reach anyway.

Related Tip: If you are using a vodka bottle, label your stored water.  Otherwise, you’ll lose track of whether you’re looking at water or vodka.  When you need the one for something, the other just won’t do.

Since water’s something you just can’t go without, it’s something I’m a recreational-prepper for.  When a hurricane comes, I turn over the canoe, lay out the kiddie pools, and put out coolers and other containers under the eaves of the house, to collect rainwater in case we lose water afterwards.  You want to be able to flush your toilet post-hurricane, even if it doesn’t rain again for a few days.

As footage from Texas shows, though, all your prepping can come to naught.  Catching clean rain water for post-storm use does you no good whatsoever if your clean water is under four feet of biohazard-laden flood waters.  Storing rice and beans won’t help if your rice and beans are soaked in the flood, or carried off in the tornado, or burnt to ashes when lightning catches your house on fire.

So why bother prepping?

 

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Image: Modified Copernicus Sentinel data [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo ], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Prepping Improves Everyone’s Odds

The reason everyone should do at least a little bit of disaster-preparedness is because you have no idea ahead of time who’s going to get hit, when, where, and how.  If my neighbor’s house floods — whether due to a hurricane or just a busted washing machine hose — if I have a little stash of instant coffee over at my clean, dry, spared-disaster house, things can be better.

Tip: Instant coffee + a box of UHT chocolate milk = A tiny package of sanity when civilization has receded beyond your horizon.

Double Tip: Even more than coffee, keep a reserve supply of any necessary-to-life medications you take.   If you possibly can, make arrangements with your physician to get yourself one month ahead on your refills.

Triple Tip:  Many people can’t do this because we have stupid, stupid, stupid laws.  Consider lobbying for change in this regard.

The reality is that in a major disaster, everything is going to be horrible.  You can’t possibly build the perfect bunker to shield yourself from every misery.  But what everyone can do is think ahead and set aside a little bit of provision, according to their means and their needs, so that overall the odds are better that somebody nearby will be in a position to provide emergency relief until bigger help can come along.

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 Photo by Brant Kelly (_DSC9077.jpg) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Related, three posts from SC’s floods that might be of interest.  The first two are particularly apropos if you have young people who would like to drive down post-disaster and help with the massive clean-up:

Once it’s all-clear and you can safely get in to help in a useful, systematic way, in conjunction with some effort spearheaded by locals who know what it is needed — which is going to be a while, and by that time the work is going to be super-nasty — do it.

The third is probably only of interest to a select audience:  What’s the Story Behind the Flooding in SC?  Obviously, the story behind the flooding in Texas is that Harvey is dropping several giant lakes worth of water on land that would rather be land, thanks.  What’s relevant for SC folks, and others who’ve endured similar spot-disasters, is that what we’ve experienced are situations where most people are fine, if inconvenienced, which leaves a very strong community at hand available to assist with clean-up.

Greater metro Houston, in contrast, is getting poured on in a way that’s going to be devastating more people than not.  And remember that washed-out roads means that the ability of anyone to get in and help will be hampered for a long time.

So this is a hugely different situation than that time your town was hit by this or that terrible-but-limited natural disaster.  And you know from memory that things were plenty bad enough then.  This is super-bad.

 

Two Bits of Common Sense Eclipse Safety for Kids

I live on the pending eclipse path, so How To Keep Your Kids From Going Blind is suddenly a topic around here.

First thing to know: The hazard of the eclipse is if you look at the sun.  There aren’t deadly Eclipse Rays that come out and attack while you are napping in your hammock in the shade.  The trouble, of course, is thats it’s really unusual to see the sun get all blocked up by the moon, and so people who would otherwise never stare at the sun might suddenly take an interest.  Staring at the sun is always bad for you.

(Your pets, in contrast, probably aren’t going to take up astronomy as a hobby on Monday afternoon, unless I suppose that’s something you’ve caught them at before.  My pets never stare at the sun. They mostly stare at the back door.  And meat.  If there’s a Meat Eclipse, my dog will be watching that one closely.)

So anyway, back to your kids.

#1 Practice Using Your Safety Glasses Ahead of Time

You got yourself NASA-approved glasses, of course, and you’ve read all about sun-viewing safety.  Now practice.  You do not want to be in the middle of a very short once-in-a-lifetime event and your kids are like “I can’t make mine work!”  “I can’t see!” “These itch!”  Practice.

#2 Not All Children Can Be Trusted to Wear Their Safety Glasses

If your child is not mature enough to be counted on, skip the viewing altogether.  Just don’t go there.  If your child is young enough to be oblivious you don’t even have to tell them there’s a viewing option.  You can just let your young children know that the sun is going to be covered up by the moon, so it’s going to get dark outside in the middle of the day, which is nifty.

They’ll of course want to see it get dark (but they won’t want to go bed).  So pick a room with a window that doesn’t face towards the sun during your eclipse time of day.  Set the kids up so they can watch it get dark out that window. Stream the eclipse on your computer so that they can compare the progress of the eclipse with conditions outside.

For more info: NASA has all your eclipse enjoyment science needs covered hereFood, drink, and lounge chairs you’ll have to sort out for yourself.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

What Memes Mean

Here’s something interesting about the social media reaction to the racist violence and demonstrations in Charlottesville: People felt the need to assert that racism is wrong.

It was a specific kind of assertion: Not just anger or frustration or sadness, though there was that.  Rather, there were many assertions that seemed to be purely about the need to affirm that yes, in fact this is evil.

Contrast this with, say, the announcement (I saw several over the past few days) that someone’s child had died of a terrible accident or illness.  Those announcements spur people to offer their prayers and condolences, and often in the wake of certain kinds of deaths there will be some venting of how much we hate suicide or drowning or cancer or whatever the source of the problem was.   There might, later at a less sensitive time, be links shared on how to cope with that problem or ways to prevent it in the future.

But no one feels the need to wave a flag saying, “Guys! Drowning is bad!”  or “Cancer isn’t glamorous!” or “It’s time we put aside our love of fatal traffic accidents!”  There are no links to inspiring stories about people who campaigned to persuade the world that being crushed in a landslide is in fact undesirable.  There will be no hopeful mention of the man who used to just love the prospect of dying from massive burns and smoke inhalation, but thanks to a profound change of heart, he now realizes that’s not what people should want out of life.

These evils are self-evident.  You might disagree over the extent to which they can or should be avoided (close all the mountain passes!), but you don’t disagree that these things are bad.

 

***

People can’t shut up about the evil of racism because it is still a pressing topic for them.

Perhaps your friend who daily asserts that skin color doesn’t matter can remember a time when he did think it mattered.  Maybe he wasn’t that bad, but he was bad enough.  He looked down on people of other races, or he felt that somehow his own people were superior, or that there was some justification for certain types of discrimination.  Maybe he theoretically believed in human equality, but in practice he felt that most people of this or that race were not, in practice, as educated and moral and generally deserving as people of his own race.  Maybe he still struggles to shake off the vestiges of prejudice.

Or perhaps your other friend grew up in an openly racist culture (if she’s old enough, she almost certainly did), and she still has memories of segregation and overt discrimination.  Maybe she remembers the callous things some people used to say, and the downright mean things other people used to do.

And perhaps that other group of friends who are always asserting racism is wrong are doing it not because it has ever been an issue for them, personally, but because they are regularly encountering people who are racist.  Maybe they see racism in action.  Maybe they overhear racist comments.  Maybe they get into arguments with others who try to make the case for racism.

***

This is why people post those memes.  The repetition grows tiresome for us who aren’t at that point.  We don’t need anti-racist reminders anymore than we need reminders that air should have oxygen and diesel fuel doesn’t belong on your drinks table.  We wish you would quit posting pictures of different-colored kittens all snuggled up together in a display of racial solidarity, and get back to sharing the plain old non-polemical kittens for which the internet was invented.

But we’ll be patient.  Because if you are a recovering racist, or you spend your day with not-yet-recovering racists, maybe you need an outlet.   If Solidarity Kittens help you, then please: Be helped.

***
In the making of this post, I looked through many kitten photos on Wikimedia, because I’m committed to social justice that way. Other things you might like to know about:

Enjoy.

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Kitten photo by: Onderwijsgek at nl.wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands.  

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Cute Kittens poster via Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Should You Go Watch Next Year’s Tour de France?

In conversation related to the epic vacation, a friend shared that her husband has been wanting for years to go watch the Tour de France.  If you’d like to go next year, about the time this year’s Tour winds up (check) is when you want to begin thinking and planning.  My tentative answer to the question of whether you the adequately-funded Tour de France fan ought to make the pilgrimage is: But of course!

What follows are my reasons and suggestions based on my (very) limited time spent Tour-watching this month, and my large amounts of time spent driving around rural France.  If you’re planning to take the plunge, you’ll of course want to consult some experienced Tour-followers for Tour-specific advice and tips.

 

#1 Reason to go: It is so much fun.

This is my view of the Départ from Vittel this year:

We drove through the middle of nowhere for about an hour (all of it perfectly scenic French countryside), hit a roadblock, got directions from the friendly gendarme manning the road block, and circuited around to get to the ample parking in the town of Vittel.   More friendly gendarmes* gave us directions to the starting line about a ten-minute walk from our parking lot, where we arrived in time to get a spot on the fence, get our cameras ready, and watch the tour take off.

Everyone along the sidelines was happy and excited to be there.   It was a fun and pleasant activity even for we who do not obsessively follow competitive cycling (I know!).

Afterwards we collected up trinkets from the vendors who’d set up booths inside the fenced-off area, then got the girls’ eyes checked:

Not joking!  One of the follow-the-Tour activities was a mobile optometry station called Bus de la Vue.  Anyone can get their vision screened, though adults need to understand French because they use a machine that asks you questions you need to be able to answer.

You would get to meet a lot of interesting people if you followed the entire Tour.

Realistic Tour Expectations

In terms of seeing the Tour itself, a beginner navigator should plan for each stage to either:

  • See the start;
  • Pick a station along the route to watch the athletes pass; or
  • See the finish.

Depending on your location you might be able to see two of those.  Two factors, though, should temper your expectations.  The first is that driving in rural France is a slow and circuitous process.  The second is that roads will be closed — even roads that all your research indicated were supposed to be open.

What I wouldn’t be afraid of is that every single stage of the Tour be overcrowded and impossibly expensive to visit.  What you do need to plan to do is rent a car (surprisingly affordable) and move from hotel to hotel throughout your tour.   You can’t realistically plan to save money by booking a rental apartment, since you’ll be moving from day to day.  Your budget-level hotel cost if you search diligently and reserve super-early is about $100/night.

Tip: A “bed and breakfast” is called a chambre d’hôte, and in rural areas might be easier to find than a regular hotel.  (Remember Google Translate makes it possible for you to do all your reservations in the same combination of broken French and dubious English that will be your lingua franca during your trip  — you can reserve off French-language websites, you aren’t limited to only staying with people who have English-language reservation systems.)

You could instead rent an RV and do a camping road trip, an option I haven’t priced but which seems to be popular.  Know that in an RV you should plan to park at the edge of town and walk in — don’t expect to be able to park or even drive within built-up areas.  Transit in urban areas is good, however, so you can make that work.

Staying Married When Only One of You is a Sports Fan

Imagining for a moment that you have both the funds and the vacation time to follow some or all of the Tour, the thorny question is: If my spouse and I attend together, what will this do to our marriage?

Here are some options for allowing the non-sports fan to enjoy some Tour-ing but get overwhelmed by too much cycling:

  • Drop your spouse off at the day’s chosen spectating location, then use the car to go see area sights.
  • Identify sights at the start, finish, or along the route of the day’s stage, so you can both be in the “same” place but not doing the same thing.
  • Make friends with other loyal spectators, and send your spouse to chase the Tour with them for a day (or more, depending on how good of friends of they are).
  • Pair up with another couple traveling to the race, rent two cars, and give one to the sports fans and one to the tourists.
  • Drop the non-sports-spouse off at a train station to catch a train to a city of interest (for the day, overnight, or whatever suits).
  • Sign up for bus tours of scenery (wine tasting buses, for example) in the region where the sports-spouse is following the Tour.

And of course if your spouse is a sports fan but doesn’t have to see every single stage of the race, you could always choose a combination of Tour-watching days and normal-tourist days.

What is not realistic is thinking that you will somehow both watch the race and do other tourist activities on the same day.  In theory that might be possible some of the time in a limited fashion.  The difficulty is that the race takes up the middle of the day, which is when museums and shops and other attractions are open.  Unlike Americans who keep everything open all the time, the French keep strictly reasonable hours.  Also, if you are based in the start or finish-line town, everything in that town may well be closed so all the residents can go watch the race and/or staff the essential venues.

That said, if the non-sports spouse’s dream vacation consists of moving from hotel to hotel, wandering the village-du-jour  and seeing whatever happens to be on hand, and then eating a nice dinner together at the end of the day, you’re covered.  As ways to make your sports-fan spouse happy, that’s a pretty good gig.

*Security is good throughout France.  My experience is that local and national police (wearing blue uniforms) were generally ready to be helpful unless they were clearly occupied with some kind of serious situation.  In contrast, the camouflage-clad teams of four soldiers roving around carrying we-mean-business-rifles do not want to talk to you, and they do not want you to take their picture.  You can pretty much read the threat level at any given location by who is doing what for security.  The French government is serious about keeping the nation safe for occupancy.

 

Location Notes – Traveling with Kids in France

After a busy week in metro-Paris with excellent WiFi but limited free time, we returned to connectivity-purgatory in Strasbourg.  I started this post while I waited for the laundry to dry, because the local laundromat had way better internet access than our hotel did, but apparently we don’t generate enough dirty laundry to support my blogging habit.  I’m now home and finishing up these comments, and then over the next few weeks I’ll do some more photo-blogging of the epic vacation.

Meanwhile, here are some quick notes on the types of places we’ve stayed, and what’s been good for kids, and how the logistics all worked out:

Location #1 – Rental house in a large village outside of Colmar.  The house was beautiful but fragile.  That was fine for our older kids, but with little ones look for something durable.  There was a courtyard, but it contained a fish pond and a barn with farm machinery — lovely spot for grown-ups, not great very young people.  The village was quiet and equipped with basics like a bakery and a playground, so for older kids who could roam at will, it was super.

Being out in the countryside was ideal for visiting around the region, because we didn’t have to fight in-town traffic getting in and out.  If your goal is to see sights outside of a metro area, I think looking for a village location is the way to go.

Location #2 – Apartment in downtown Chamonix.  I had no idea how much I would love Chamonix and the surrounding area!  In addition to being stunningly beautiful (because: Alps), the people, mostly tourists and expats, are the most content visitors I’ve seen anywhere.  Our little apartment was perfect for us, because it let us be right in the middle of everything, but again it would have been rough with small children.   If you need space for your kids to run around, get a house at the edge of town or in one of the many villages up and down the valley.  However, parking in Chamonix is tight, so if you mostly want to be in the town itself, stay in town.

Note that the underground parking garage that came with our apartment, typical, is not suited to anything larger than a modest sedan.  If you are traveling with a larger vehicle, discuss the parking situation with your landlord or hotel-owner before you make reservations.

Location #3 – Bed and breakfast at the edge of the suburban train lines outside of Paris.  I have mixed opinions about my decision to not stay in the city when visiting the city.  What I loved: The restful, friendly, calm, beautiful location in the countryside.  Our hosts had games for kids to play in the small-but-beautiful garden, there was room to stretch out, and overall I think for our kids it was the better choice.  However, I did not anticipate how hard it would be to get the kids up and out in the morning to catch a train, we ran into various logistical challenges, and commuting does reduce the amount of time you have in the city.  On the other hand, passing through the burbs and being on a commuter line is a cultural education in itself, and one I’m glad we had.

It was definitely less stressful for me to never have to drive in Paris, and to be able to pick my preferred train station along the RER line.  I’d say that an apartment in the city would work better if either:

  • Your kids are calm and quiet and do well hanging out in a small indoor space together.
  • You have enough adults to take the crazy youngsters out as-needed.

Look for a place near a playground and bakery if you’re going to stay in town with kids.

A couple notes about Paris:

1. I’d forgotten how BIG the city is.  Getting from sight to sight, or realizing you need to go find lunch, or a toilet, takes a ton of time.  If visiting many sights is your big priority, stay in town and allow a lot of time in town.

2. The big museums were absolutely packed with people  Security lines were long, so coming and going was not an option.  The Louvre and Musee d’Orsay were both well worth the hassle (for us), but we skipped lower-priority attractions because a person can only stand in so many lines.  Lesser known sites were not a problem at all.

Location #4 – Hotel in downtown Strasbourg.  We booked the “family” room at a small hotel (not a chain) near the train station.  It had two twins pushed together to make a king-sized bed on the floor, and then a set of bunk beds.  This is a bit of a cultural difference, I think: American hotels will overlook the part where your family crams itself into a single hotel room with a pile of sleeping bags for the kids; European hotels expect you to match the official sleeping capacity, but they offer extra beds so you can do that.

Strasbourg was the right sized city for us.  I could set the boy (age 17) free to wander at will without concerns about him getting lost — if you hit a canal, you’re leaving downtown, very simple system.  The downtown area is mostly pedestrian-only, and contains all the tourist things (stores, restaurants, markets, museums, old beautiful buildings) within a walkable distance.

Our location near the train station was handy for departure day, because I could turn in the car the evening before, and then we could just walk our mountain of luggage down the block.  It was, however, not a quiet location at night.  Given that the A/C system is called “Open Your Windows and Turn on a Fan,” let’s just say that we know an awful lot about what happens at night in a bustling European metropolis.

The big downside to a hotel, though, is that there is zero cooking to be done.  Unlike American hotels, where a coffee maker is standard in every room and a mini-fridge is very easy to come by, there is nothing, whatsoever, in terms of provision for eating in your room.  Breakfast is simple enough to put together (see “French bakery”), but lunch and dinner got expensive, even with trying to favor places that weren’t that expensive.

It was, however, much simpler to check out of the hotel on departure day than to clean and vacate an apartment.

If I had to do it again, I’d get an apartment for most of the Strasbourg leg (or whereever), and just book a hotel room next to the train station or airport for departure day.

City vs. Countryside Touring

I was confirmed in my decision to separate the countryside and city legs of the Alsace trip, because yes, driving in a European city, even a small one, is not fun.  It’s complicated and time-intensive and depends on a knowledge of the city that you as a visitor just aren’t going to possess.  If you want to get out into the rural areas, though, you do need a vehicle.  If you’re doing something like staying in Paris and you just want to make a one day trip to Versailles, no problem — transit is set up to accommodate that.  But otherwise, know that you need a car out of the city, do not want a car in the city, and you don’t just hop in the car and zip off.

There are, however, a load of options for renting vehicles.   So if you booked an in-city vacation and find yourself getting restless, ask around for ideas on how to escape for a bit.

Two children walking down a tree-lined alley in a Paris park.

 

Castles in Alsace, Part 3

Do not trust me if I say to you, “I know there’s a castle around here somewhere . . .”

Unless you want to be taken for a ride.

A long ride up a windy mountain road, and then back again by a different way, with a stop for photos in a picturesque village because it isn’t fair that the children get to take all the photos out their windows while I keep my eyes on the road, so humor me we are going to stop and park so the mother can get out and take pictures . . .

Eventually we did end up in Katzenthal (also picturesque), home of the Château de Wineck.  FYI, Wikipedia seems confused about this castle, in both French and English.  The place we visited, as you’ll see, is the one I’ve linked to — hit the Google translate button and scroll down for some history.

I’m not sure whether I would have marched myself up the hill or not, but a tired child dug her heels in at yet another evening-after-a-long-day castle hike, so the two of us walked the other siblings as far as the trail at the edge of the village, then ambled back towards our car.  We were halfway across the village when the two hiking children raced back and intercepted us excitedly: “There’s a road!  We can drive up!”

Foolishly, I believed them.

We loaded up and headed towards where I’d left them.  The “road” begins with a teeny-tiny alley between two buildings, ample for pedestrians and more than sufficient for those narrow tractors that the farmers drive through the vinyards, but not the sort of place Americans drive automobiles.  Warnings from the rental contract flashed in my head.

Conveniently, I have rented a French car.  It knows the way French drivers behave, and so it has sensors that beep ruthlessly at you if you get anywhere even vaguely French-like in your parking habits.  I really wanted to see this castle.  Possibly an addiction is forming.  So I sucked in my gut (as if that would help) and thought French thoughts, and threaded the needle.

No furious beeping.  No scratches for the rental car guy to charge to my credit card.  Apparently it is a road.

Except that the “road” never turned back into a full-sized road.   As we wound our way up, I grew increasingly suspicious that I was on a private road belonging to the vinyard owner.  Also: I wanted to see that castle, and anyway there was no place to turn around.  So up we drove, and sure enough there was a wide spot for parking right at the castle, and that, too, was probably meant for castle custodians and not for us, but the place was empty because it was late, so if we were supposed to get in trouble the villagers were slacking off on that job.

***

The remains of Wineck are small – here’s the keep and tower.  You can go inside on the occasional opening hours, but we declined to trespass (we’re like that — our ambiguous vehicle situation not withstanding).

Castle Wineck Keep

Here’s a detail from one of the walls at the base of the structure:

Castle Wineck - Wall detail

And here’s a wall cross-section:
Castle Wineck - Wall Cross-section

There are some slight but distinct differences, you’ll note, between this wall cross-section and the cross-section of wall from the Eguisheim castles in Part 2 of this series.  If you are just joining us on the castle tour, Part 1 is here.  The last thing I  have planned for the  (Alsatian) castle series is a look at the furnishings in Haut Koenigsbourg, coming next.

The Epic Vacation Archives:

Alsatian Castles Part 1
Alsatian Castles Part 2
World War 2
Alsace Scenery

 

Castles in Alsace, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

The next place we went after Ribeauvillé was the Ecomuseé  d’Alsace, outside of Mulhouse.  (Say it: Moo-Lose, as in, “the first cow to moo loses the game.”  Resist the natural urge to prounce it “Mull-House.” You are not mulling the house wine, you are playing the quiet game with cows.  Also recall: Google Translate is your friend.)

There are no castles at the museum, but there is a strong house – une maison forte – built on site from salvaged 15th century components rescued from Mulhouse.

Medieval "Strong House" reconstructed at the Ecomusee d'Alsace

The tower is not a perfect reconstruction.  The curators took the remains of the original building parts and gave their best rendering of what it might have been used for, and what would be most interesting or educational for museum-goers.  Like Kaiser Wilhelm’s reconstruction of Haut Koenigsbourg, it’s an interpretation, not a replica.  It’s useful for thinking about how fortifications were made for various purposes.

After a full day at the museum (topic for another post or two), we drove north towards our home village and of course we spied castles on the western horizon.  There was no other choice but to hop off the autoroute and pick a departmental road that pointed in the general direction and try our luck.  After several missteps we succeeded in the following the promisingly named Route des Cinqs Châteaux to the parking lot for Les Trois-Châteaux du Haut-Eguisheim.

There are two trails out of the parking lot, one of which will take you in five or ten minutes to the three castle ruins above the town of Eguisheim.  The other trail will take you all kinds of places far, far, away.  It was only obvious in retrospect which trail we should have tried first.  Eventually, however, we reached our goal.

As you come up the trail from the parking lot, the first castle is this rectangular tower.  We’re viewing it in this photo from the north, standing in the ruins of the second castle, but you actually arrive on the site from the west.  (These photos are from about 6:30 in the evening, beginning of July, so the sun is informative for directions.)

Rectangular tower of the first of the three castles of Eguisheim

To the right of all those low walls of Castle #2 in the foreground are two towers.  Below you can see the remains of the northern of those two towers.  Both are closed (for safety reasons) but trespassers with decent climbing skills do go up to recreate. (Not us, thanks for asking.  All these easily-accessible high places along the edge of the Vosges are popular with local teenagers.)

One of the towers of the second of the three Eguisheim castles

You can see in the above photo a bit of broken wall between the sites of Castles #2 and #3.  Here’s the cross-section of that wall:

Cross-section of a wall between Castles 2 & 3 at Eguisheim

In case you tend to wonder, like I do, how the insides of walls are built.  And finally, here are the foundations of Castle #3:

Foundation of the third ruined castle at Eguisheim

The three castles are right up on top of each other.  It’s more like a castle complex.  Or one of those castle-subdivisions where the neighbors all complain about how they have no side yard and you can see into each other’s kitchens.   It’s enough, though, to make you wonder about the other two châteaux implied by the road name.  There was plenty of daylight, so we decided to keep driving up the mountain.

The parking lots at Château du Hohlandsbourg were all packed at 7pm, which at the time we resigned ourselves to hiking up from the farthest of the parking lots seemed like no big deal.  What do we know about castle popularity?

So we haul ourselves ten minutes straight uphill, which after already having walked around all day took a lot of castle-hunger, and were rewarded by this massive impenetrable edifice:

Entrance - Chateau Hohlandsbourg

Wait.  Except that we’re looking at a wide open door, right?

What you don’t see is the hired security guy whose job is to inform us that under no circumstances can he let us inside, because it is now 7:15, and the castle closes at 7:00, and there’s a big government meeting going on inside.  Ah.  So that’s why all the parking lots are full.

We resigned ourselves to staring out at the view of Colmar in dazed dejection at our fifteen minutes of misfortune, and took photos for a bit, because we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.

View from Chateau Hohlandsbourg

The security guy was, however, fine with us walking around the exterior of the building.  After enough landscapes and selfies and group portraits and eavesdropping on the sorrows of other rejected hikers, we were feeling energetic again.  We scrambled up an informal trail and started our tour of the walls.

For the most part, Holandsbourg looks like long stretches of blank wall, which make for horrible photos, and a few of these on the corners:

Corner of Old Holandsbourg

You can, however, look in through the arrow slits down at ground level, which from some angles gives you a view of the governmental party-tents, and into other holes you see things like this:

View into Hohlandsbourg castle

Honestly I think we had more fun scrambling around the perimeter of the castle than we would have had if we’d been let inside.  We never would have circumnavigated the place if it hadn’t been our only choice.

Jen looking into the Forbidden Castle (Hohlandsbourg)

Me, looking into an arrow slit of the Forbidden Castle.  There is glass behind this particular slit, hence my reflection, but you can see into the meeting space that’s been created within.  Two more castles still to come in this series.  And for those who are wondering, all the photos in these posts are mine, all rights reserved.  See the copyright notice in the sidebar.

 

Castles in Alsace, Part 1

After Haut Koenigsbourg, we transitioned to compulsively hiking up to any ruined castle we saw from the road.*

Castles tend to be built in sets, it turns out.  The first group of ruins we visited were the three castles above the town of Ribeauvillé.  You park at the base of the mountain and walk up through the woods, and though the trails are well-marked, if you aren’t sure which trail you are supposed to be following, that can create a nagivational difficulty.  But we eventually got to all three.

Giersberg is the lowest, smallest, and you can’t go into it.  But it’s pretty satisfying if you’re not from around these parts.  (Tip: For any of these links that take you to French-language sites, Google Translate does pretty well. Just hit the magic button in Chrome and you’re set.)

Giersberg castle as seen from St. Ulric castle

Giersberg seen from the trail.

St. Ulric is next to Giersberg, and you can go inside and climb all over the place.  We did that.

St Ulric castle seen from Giersberg

Here are details from above and below of that room full of windows.  You can see where timbers were supported to make a floor.

Hall, from above, St Ulrich

Hall, from below, St Ulrich
This is a view looking up to the main tower from within the castle.

 

 

Tower, Haut Ribeaupierre

Here’s looking down from the tower into the valley.
Tower view St Ulrich

And here is looking down from the tower into the other parts of the castle.
Interior Birdseye St Ulrich

Here are wall details.  You can see there are multiple construction techniques going on over the years.

Wall detail St Ulrich  Wall detail #2 St Ulrich

 

After that we took the wrong trail towards Haut-Ribeaupierre, but quickly figured out that going down the mountain was not going to gain us any elevation, and turned around and picked the correct trail the second time.

Haut Ribeaupierre main non-entry

Canon hole? Haut Ribeaupierre

Wall detail with contrast, Haut Ribeaupierre

Goth arch side entry Haut Ribeaupierre

Haut Ribeau Pierre round tower.

After that it was late and we were pretty happy to descend and go home.  Here’s a view of our car from about 2/3rds of the way up the mountain:

View of Ribeauville from St. Ulrich

Yes, I walked all that!  I know!   Part 2 of the Alsatian castle tour coming in the next post.

 

*Tourism tip: An advantage of visiting Alsace during June or July is that you have until nine or so to be off the mountain each evening, which means you can head off on a hike anytime you see something interesting as you’re driving home from your main event activity that closed down at some civilized hour.   FYI this practice can interfere with dinner.