On a fine mid-September afternoon 13 Exeter Quilters gathered at the Coach Station in Exeter at the start of a trip to the 16th European Patchwork exhibition at Ste Marie-aux-Mines in the Alsace region of France close to its border with Germany and Switzerland.

Exeter GroupWe arrived in the rain at Heathrow airport at the end of the first leg of our journey and, after some confusion found the shuttle to take us to our hotel for an overnight stay. After a 5 am start, we were on the shuttle yet again struggling with our luggage on the way to Terminal 5 (the new one). We were all impressed with the building and were swiftly dealt with at the handling desk. We self-checked in, after some initial instruction, from Mary Beale and Linda Pardoe. We even selected our own seat – isn’t technology a wonderful thing!

After breakfast –some of us had a full English – and a browse around duty free, we (by the time some of us would normally be getting up) were on our way to Basel. It was a good day to fly, with just a little bit of turbulence over Germany, and by coffee time we landed in Switzerland where our coach driver, Vincent, was waiting for us.

Marlene Chaffey and her friend Pat Morrison were the leads on this trip – Pat being the confident French speaker, was the ‘official’ interpreter. Our destination was the city of Colmar just over the border in France.

En route (French!!!) we made a detour to the Parc de Wesserling where there was an English style garden and a textile museum where we spent an enjoyable afternoon and enjoyed our first French meal.
Late afternoon and we arrived in Colmar, a delightful French city with a strong German influence, and the hotel Ibis, which is situated just off the town centre. The hotel was clean and bright and we were largely in adjacent rooms, which were rather compact for double occupancy, which caused some consternation at the outset. Later we went to a nearby restaurant for our first French meal – chicken with noodles being a bit of a sticking point – or noodles in particular, until it was discovered they weren’t your usual, but Alsacienne, and made with potato. We were all tired and crabby by this time and then tension was relieved by the arrival of Sheila Fraser (remember her?) and her husband. Once, a member of both, Exeter Quilters and SWQ, but now living in France – it was good to see her.

After a good night’s sleep we all awoke refreshed and ate a good continental breakfast with a wide range of foods to suit everyone we were joined by two Spanish quilters who were booked on our tour. At 8.15 am we embarked on the 40 minute drive to Ste Marie aux Mines the exhibition centre. Sheila met us at the registration desk (after all she was an old hand at this game having been to most of the previous exhibitions there) when we received our wristbands, which entitled entry to all the venues.

It was staged in three other villages, close to Ste Marie and accessed by way of a free bus if you showed your wristband that is. We began by watching the fashion show together, which was largely clothes and accessories made from felted wool (must get my embellisher on the move!!) After the show we all went our separate ways – some to the commercial area and the trade stands, and others to the various exhibits in the immediate area. It was a bright, but cold day. Sheila took me under her wing and we began by boarding the bus to the farthest village, Rombach where there were largely German Log Cabin exhibits held in the Church and the village hall. From Rombach we went to Leipvre where we saw the exhibits by the young people of the area and the entries by the Spanish Quilters Guild. We were delighted to discover that one of the Spanish ladies in our group had an entry and was in fact a prize winning professional tutor. By late afternoon I made my way to the retail area for a quick browse before rejoining the group and promising to meet Sheila again tomorrow. The coach was all chatter about who’d seen what and where – some people had even made a few purchases.

That evening we strolled to the next restaurant chosen for us by the tour operator – Le Petit Schlossberg where we all learned to love the area speciality the tarte flambé a bit like a pizza but nicer, cooked on an open flame which we had as a starter and several times as lunch on other days. The main course was a Baeckaoffa stew another local dish with a fruit salad to follow. I have been forgetting to mention the Reisling and the Muscat wines we drank at every meal, which was another local product and absolutely delicious. We could see the vineyards on the hillsides as we travelled to the Show each morning. Thursday dawned and a bright sunny day followed – we were reprimanded, by a fellow guest in the dining room for making too much noise (probably French!!) He obviously didn’t understand the excitement of fifteen quilters gathered in one place since his lady companions looked far from exciting.

Sheila and I continued where we left off the previous day at Ste Croix au Mines. We saw the entries by the French Patchwork Guild, the Japanese and Korean entries, which were all very impressive. The work I most admired was by a French embroidery artist named Marie-Therese Aubin. She did the most exquisite embroideries inspired by nature – work that was covered in fine net and the most amazing machine embroidery on the top.

Differently, an artist I have long since admired and whose books are on my coffee table is Alison Holt from Shropshire. Her freehand machine embroidered landscapes, woodlands and flowers are ‘droolworthy’ She had some wonderful seascapes on show and I suspect that there is another volume there in the not too distant future. I bade farewell to Sheila after lunch and continued on around the exhibits close to Ste Marie. Kaffe Fassett was there with many of his quilts and very obviously the star of the show. I am not a great fan of his work but it was nice to see his quilts at close quarters.

That night we had another great food experience chosen for us by our tour operator at Restaurant Bartholdi. The meal began with a great starter, a big salad with croutons and lardoons – that was really good. Then came the ‘piece de resistance’ (French again) the main course was a sausage, something between pink and orange in colour, on a bed of saurkraut (cabbage cooked in vinegar) and potatoes. Sometimes the sausage is substituted by a piece of fat bacon – I think we had that too somewhere. I have since been told that it is a speciality dish that my French son-in-law will always choose if it is on the menu – so much for French cuisine.

On Saturday morning and another beautiful day dawned. A trip to Strasbourg had been arranged for us and yet again we boarded the coach for the journey of nearly an hour. On arrival in Strasbourg a step-on guide joined us on the coach and gave us all the information as we cruised around the city. We saw the European Parliament building, which was designed by a British architect, Richard Rogers. All the flags of the member nations were fluttering to the front. Nearby was the Court of Human rights with a piece of the Berlin Wall mounted in its walls.

We drove through the residential area around the parliament buildings – impressive houses belonging to those working within those buildings – MEP expenses came to mind just momentarily. We were a bit miffed to learn that all those who work within the Parliament are exempt from tax.

On many of the houses or telegraph poles we saw Stork’s nests and even saw a pair of the birds in a Nature reserve nearby. Strasbourg is of course at this moment in time, French, but has alternated from time to time in the past from French to German. It was interesting to hear that German taxes are lower than French so many people went over the border, a mile or so away, to do their shopping. On foot, our guide then led us through the narrow city streets, passing some unusual and wonderful shops to the ancient cathedral building in the centre of Strasbourg.

We weren’t allowed to loiter, as we had to be in the cathedral before noon as it was free to enter up till then. At 12.30 the most amazing astronomic clock chimes and clockwork figures move around denoting the time of day and season. We were then led through the narrow streets past markets and bustling crowds to a point in the oldest part of the city where we enjoyed lunch under the shade of a huge plane tree alongside the canal. Such a picturesque location with fabulous buildings alongside, which could have come from a fairy story picture book, and tourist barges plying back and forth in the glorious sunshine. All in all a wonderful day full of abiding memories

More sunshine for our last day at Ste Marie au Mines, and I think most of us left our shopping until this time. I kept seeing members of our party pouring over the many goods on offer at the booths, which were very different from those, we were used to. We boarded the coach back to Colmar by mid-afternoon so that we could have time to investigate our host town – after all we had only seen it during the evenings. It was certainly worth it because like Strasbourg it had a cathedral and very impressive architecture. More importantly it was the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty – there is a replica at the entrance to the town.

Another early start on Monday saw us on the coach on our way to the airport at Basel for our flight back to Heathrow. I think we were all tired, having enjoyed a brilliant holiday, but ready to go home. I would on behalf of everyone on this Exeter Quilter’s trip, like to say a huge thank you to Marlene and Pat, Mary our Banker and Linda our Photographer for all they did to make this the success that it was.

Here’s to the next time

Jean Bartlett
Exeter Quilter and SWQ

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