Of Carriages and Chapels: Medieval Moments


Chapelle de l’Oberhof

“Will I ever get through those locked gates to see the 14th century chapel?” I’ve asked that question for a number of years now, and FINALLY, I learned the answer this week. This chapel is privately owned by the Thomann family. They also own Salzmann Thomann Vineyards. I went on their website, found their email address and explained my quest. I said I was writing a novel set in Kaysersberg in the Middle Ages and would love to tour the chapel.


Inside the gates, in front of the chapel.

That very evening, as if by magic, I had an email from the owner telling me to ring the bell or call at the shop, and he would let me in to see the chapel. I was so excited; I could hardly sleep that night! I imagined sitting in the chapel, listening for the voices of the characters I’ve created, and possibly those I have not yet met. However the next day I realized, it was impossible to be left alone inside the chapel, as it was filled with wonderful art and icons. Truly a beautiful place of worship. And, I, being a complete stranger, was still afforded a personal tour by the owner.Jim took lots of pictures while I asked questions

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Window above doorway into chapel.


Beautiful kneeling benches at the front of the chapel.


Gravestone in the center of the chapel floor.

The interior was beautiful. The stone floor was fantastic. In the center was the carved stone slab in the above photo. I asked the owner about it, and he told me it was the grave of the builder of the chapel. There was a glass encased ornate staff from the Abbess of the nearby Abbey of Alspach on one of the walls. I stood in the center of the chapel and listened. I heard Amélie speaking with someone I did not recognize. Aha, a new character! I can’t wait to write the scene. The funny thing is I have no idea what I will write. But, I know once I begin the characters will have such a story to tell! Speaking of telling a story, here is a scene from the opening of my novel. (This is just the first draft, still a bit rough around the edges.) The village cheered as the opening procession of La fête des Vendanges marched down the main street toward the royal platform. The Harvest Festival had been celebrated in Rois de Montagne for centuries. As Madeline stood with her family near their shop waving her homemade banner, she felt a bite to the breeze that blew through her long black hair. Pulling her shawl across her belly, she shivered. Her unborn child stirred. Something was not right. First, the foot soldiers passed carrying flags representing the kingdom and the royal family. Madeline’s young sons yelled and jumped up and down with excitement. What boy did not want to be in the royal guard? Papillon, Rois’ town cryer, followed the soldiers announcing Borchard, the mayor, and his wife, Marie, riding on horses modestly adorned with flowers. Musicians played while jugglers and fire-eaters entertained the villagers along the main street. Several wagons with barrels of the new wine from the local vineyards rolled past the crowds. Everyone cheered, excited to indulge in the celebration following the parade. Finally, King Ulrich appeared, riding his war horse, flanked by his most trusted knight, Sir Galle de Oberay, steward of the castle. Each villager bowed. However, only briefly as the queen’s litter came into view. Everyone tossed flowers to Queen Giselle and shouted blessings. She was greatly loved and her beauty was unsurpassed. Her golden hair, braided and wrapped into a bun, gleamed in the sunlight.


Philippe waiting to carry me through town!

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Me and my lady-in-waiting, Nina.

First, the chapel. Now this! There next to the bridge across from the chapel stood my carriage awaiting me! For a mere, 8 Euros, you can take a 30 minute ride through the medieval streets of town. Yes, please! I didn’t look like Queen Giselle as I rode in my own carriage along the same street I’d just written about, but I waved at passersby just the same. It was beyond fun! Tomorrow, we go for a drive across the valley toward the Rhine River to get a feel for the lay of the land. What do river crossings look like now? What might they have looked like then? Wait till you see what we found along the way!

A Night at the Museum: Kaysersberg, France

103 Musee Entrance

Enter at your own risk!

May 18 from 7:00 pm to midnight across France was “A Night at the Museum.” All museums were open and I assume free. At least the historical museum in Kaysersberg was. This museum is normally only open for one month during part of July and August. I was determined to see it hoping to find more information for my novel. When I asked if I would be able to get a private tour, the girl at the tourist office told me about Museum Night in France. I must say I had visions of the movie by the same name. I imagined Medieval knights and cloaked monks coming to life at midnight. I’m sad to say this did not happen, but it was still wonderful.

104 Musee Stairwell

Candlelit stone stairwell to the museum.

We had to climb a candlelit stone stairwell to get to the museum. It was only three rooms, mostly housing replicas of icons from the local church. There were some medieval weapons, a collection of neolithic stone tools, and random apothecary items. I would like to tell you more about what we saw, but our elderly tour guide spoke no English…French or German. We chose German. I must say I missed a lot, but he tried very hard to speak slowly and explain as best he could. He seemed very excited about the subjects he was talking about so I tried to do the same.

105 Me at Musee

View from the museum level into the courtyard below.

It was worth the tour  just to see inside this very old building. Actually, I would have paid money just to walk up the spooky stairs. There was a very large illustration of the town from the 1700s inside the museum. It was really fascinating, with specific houses and buildings marked with their construction dates. This will be useful when setting up the village in my novel.

106 Musee Courtyard

Ancient tower ruins.

Attached to the museum building was the remains of an ancient tower. We wondered around in the dimly lit courtyard taking in the medieval atmosphere. I replaced the plastic tables and chairs with wood and stone, threw in a few large scruffy dogs and…voila! Tonight the museum, tomorrow the chapel built in 1391. So much history. Meet me at the chapel!

On Writing A Novel: A Vacation of Research

96 Me at Amelie's House

Sometimes you just have to pack your bags and go there…

My husband and I have taken a week of vacation and driven to Kaysersberg, Alsace, France. As I’ve said so many times before, it is my favorite Alsatian village. The people are enchanting! It’s the perfect place to set a novel in the Middle Ages, which is just what I’ve decided to do.

97 Our 3rd Floor Apt98 Window view of Chateau Ruins

1. Restaurant LE CAPUCIN, 60, Rue du Général de Gaulle. 2. View from our window.

We found this fantastic apartment online. The ground level is the restaurant. The next three floors are apartments to rent. Our apartment is on the top floor. The views are amazing, enchanting, transporting. I look out the windows and am taken back to a much earlier time. When there were no cars, no telephones, no internet. At first this can seem fantastic until I take a deep breath and remember there was no sewer system, and I see the woman below me dumping the waste from her bed chamber pot onto the street below. The horses have left their deposits in the streets, as well. Hmm. Snap out of it. Back to the enchanting view.

99 Window with Church Tower View

View from my writing spot.

As I sit and write this post, the church bells are chiming. They’re beautiful. A few days ago, it was Pentecost Sunday, and the bells rang long and loud. It’s was a beautiful call to prayer. This is sweet music to write by. When we first arrived in Kaysersberg, our landlady met us at the bridge to show us the way to the apartment. We parked on the street, which was filled with tourists (It being Saturday.) and quickly unloaded our things. After finding a parking spot nearby, we returned to the restaurant and met the owners in their private garden in the back for a glass of wine. This was the only warm sunny day we’ve had. It was perfect. Gabrielle speaks English quite well. She’s delightful. Her husband, Jean-Jacques, grew up in Kaysersberg in this very building! It was his home, and he has inherited it. They turned the garage into a restaurant. And his father’s dentist offices into apartments. Their family living quarters are also now apartments.

When I told them I’m a writer, and I’ve come to research and write, they got very excited. Gabrielle said, “Oh, my husband will be so happy. He started a book about this area, but his computer died, and he lost it all. You must talk to him and help him.” And, talk we did. Over several glasses of wine and as many hours. Jean-Jacques’ English is not as good as Gabrielle’s. But that didn’t stop him. He did drink quite a bit of wine. He said he also speaks Chinese, but only after the 7th glass of wine can anyone understand him. So as our conversation went along, he would pour himself another glass of wine, saying, “Oh, I need another glass to lo0sen my tongue so my English will improve.” It was such a fantastic afternoon. He told me that Arthurian legends really began here. Lancelot in particular was from here. I gasped when he said this and told him I had already written this into my novel. They both looked at me and said, “We have been waiting for you to come!” Magical!

102 Wee Delivery Truck

Local delivery truck.

So you’re asking yourself, Is everything in this village cute? The answer is a resounding YES! Even the delivery trucks are cute. I wish I would have stood next to this one so you can see how tiny it really is. And it has a stork hanging from the rearview mirror, a symbol of good luck in this region.

When I wrote my first novel, The Stone Manor (which will be published at a date soon to be announced), I had been to Scotland before, but not to the Isle of Skye, which is the location of the novel. I did all my research from books, libraries, online, and memory from my first trip. Then, when I had finished writing we took a trip to Skye, and I retraced the steps of my novel to make sure it was all accurate. Or as accurate as a work of fiction should be. It was wonderful walking through my novel so to speak.

This is a similar feeling but in reverse. I’ve come here many times. But I’ve written very little so far. This week is a “jump start” for my novel. It ‘s incredible to sit here in this village and write my story. To hear the characters speak to me as I walk through the narrow cobblestone streets. I love living in the middle of my story. I’d love to bring you along as I write and explore. Stay tuned for A Night at the Museum.

Amélie: An Alsatian Tale…Music as a Muse

49 Amelie Music Box

I love music boxes…

Last year our son and daughter-in-law came to visit us in Germany. We took them to Alsace, France because…why wouldn’t we. Our son had been before as a teenager on our family camping trip. This time we rented an apartment in the old city centre in Kaysersberg for several days. It was enchanting.

50 Blue Rental Kaysersberg

(We rented this blue upstairs apartment in Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.)

Previous to this trip, I discovered music boxes at a souvenir shop in Paris. They were cheap and fun. The perfect thing to start collecting. I came across the one pictured at the beginning of this post  in a little shop in Alsace while shopping with my husband, son, and his wife. They always have a significant number of music selections to choose from. I picked this one up and began turning the handle ever so slowly. The music was…enchanting. I looked at my family and said, “I’m going to write a story to this music. It’s wonderful and mysterious sounding.”

Then, as fate would have it, time passed and the music box sat on my desk, its story held captive inside. I was busy getting my first novel ready to publish, among many other things.

This fall my husband and I returned to Kaysersberg and a story began to form, as I’ve written about in previous posts. The name of my main character came on our second visit in as  many weeks…Amelie. My youngest son reminded me there is already a movie by that name. I’d forgotten, so I googled the name to see what all was out there. Basically, just this movie, which is in itself enchanting. A French film that takes place in Paris in contemporary times. Do I keep the name? Was I mistaken in choosing it?

51 Yellow Dresser French Room

Time passed again, and I was in our guest room, which I’ve decorated in what I like to call Alsatian-French Style. I noticed the little music box and picked it up. I turned the crank ever so slowly, and the haunting melody played. As it did, the story was released, and I knew I must find the name of this music. I remembered it had a french girls name in it, but more than that I couldn’t remember. How would I ever find it? I would have to wait till I returned to France…to the shop.

More time passed, and I was looking for French music to play while writing my new novel because it helps transport me into the world I’m creating. I decided to look up the soundtrack to the movie, Amélie. I listened to the first two songs and knew this was what I needed! I bought it. And, today, as I sat down at my desk to write, I hit play. Several songs into the album I heard it! I quickly pulled up iTunes and looked at the title of the song, La valse d’Amélie. (Amélie’s Waltz) It was the song in my music box. The one I bought in Alsace, where my medieval story takes place. It was like magic! I picked up the music box which I had placed on my desk days earlier and again, turned the crank ever so slowly. It was her waltz!

Music is a beautiful Muse indeed!

New Novel: Setting the Stage

43 Writing Desk at Christmas

My writing nook…

While fishing for an agent for my novel, The Stone Manor, I’m beginning work on a new story. As is always the case, I need to regroup, leave Scotland behind for the moment and move my imagination and soul into Alsace, France. I find it helpful to surround myself with items and photographs from the setting of my new novel.

44 Pics Above Writing Desk

FOR EXAMPLE…on the wall above my desk are frames filled with pictures from the village where my story takes place. Top left being my heroines home. I will change out photos as the writing progresses with my many pictures from visits to this beautiful Alsatian village. Eventually, I plan to spend some extended time in the village writing. For now, photographs will have to do.

Sitting atop my desk are two wine bottles, which I’ve turned into candle holders. Yes, I do light these while writing. Ambiance, ambiance, ambiance. The bottle on left was purchased from Kaysersberg, Alsace, France, my story setting.

45 Books on Writing Desk

In fact, if you look closely, my main characters house is on the label. Even better. The house is now a winery. The magic continues. The bottle on the right is a California wine called Bohemian Highway. I just love the name and label. Just a personal statement here.

The stack of books are the beginnings of my research. Life in a Medieval Village, Life in a Medieval Castle, A World Lit Only by Fire, Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel to name but a few. Writing a book well takes lots and lots and lots of research. The magic comes in the ability to take all this research and fold it seamlessly into a story, a story worth reading.

46 Writing Desk 1

The final touches to begin my writing…fairy dust. No, really. I’ve got my feather pen from HP, my enchanted mug filled with delicious hot tea, and no writing desk would be complete without a holder full of all manner of pens and pencils, a pirate flag, and two, count them, fairy wands for good measure. Yes, that should do it.

By the the time you read this post, I should be well on my way to finishing the first chapter of this new adventure. A first chapter that will inevitably get cut, trimmed, or moved before it’s all over. But, I must start somewhere…and I have found that chapter one is a very good place to begin.

In a land of light and shadow, a very long time ago, there lived a girl. Her name was Amelie.

Amelie: From Castle to Cottage

39 Kaysersberg Chateau Tower Roof View

(Castle tower in Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.)

When a character introduces herself…

Following my last trip to Kaysersberg, I began researching names from the region. I wrote out a list, mostly from the Middle Ages. As I began to read each name aloud a character began to form, with a story to follow. My Alsatian Tale is taking shape. No doubt, it will shift several times before finally settling on the printed page.

But for now, she has a name…my heroine. Amelie. Her life began, as is fitting for this fairy tale, in a castle. But as fate would have it, at fifteen, she  finds herself living in a small village, in an even smaller cottage.

Life in a castle may appear charming, but for Amelie it is among the timbered houses and along cobblestone streets that the real story begins.

An Alsatian Tale: Now and Then

36 Fall View of Vineyards Kaysersberg Cemetery

(The cemetery in Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.)

It’s fall in France. Everywhere I look, from the once green ivy blushing red to the golden vineyards, life is preparing for winter. I look at the cemetery and wonder who’s buried here? I don’t think so much about how they died, but I find myself imagining how they lived. What must life have been like to live and work in this small Alsatian village?

All work and no play makes for a really, really long day. Yesterday, Jim and I decided to break up our work day with a short trip across the Rhine.  I returned to Kaysersberg on a three-fold mission. First, to find the sun and enjoy a piece of quiche-Lorraine for lunch. Success on both parts. With tummy full and skin soaking in the Vitamin D, I embarked on my second task. Shopping. Success again.

37 My Favortite Kaysersberg Clothing Shop

(This is my favorite clothing shop ever, well it’s right up there with Anthropologie.)

There is a shop I step into every time we visit Kaysersberg. Many times I leave with some new weird and wonderful piece of clothing. The couple who own the store are really cool. He has long gray hair, and she has short magenta hair. Very artsy looking. I think we might be good friends if we lived there. And if I spoke French. They speak no English. But we somehow manage to get along quite well.

Yesterday, something crazy happened. After making another fun purchase at their shop, we walked down a couple of stores and stepped inside a shop that had watercolors, prints, and drawings of various Alsatian villages. The owner began speaking English with us (How did she know?) and explained about the artists, and then said she knew we come here every year. (Of course, we’d been there twice in as many weeks as of late.) It appears we’ve become known! Can I just say, I LOVE THIS. Who knows what they say about us. One can only imagine!

I’ve gotten carried away with the shopping, but just one more thing about this part of my mission. I was determined to buy two cookie tins I’d seen in a bakery with cute Alsatian children painted on top of them. Hansi style. (If you’re not familiar with this artist you should check him out.) They were 6.90 Euros. I thought this was very reasonable. What I didn’t know was the only way you could purchase said tins was to fill them with the gourmet cookies sold in the shop, it was after all a French Bakery. Just let me say the final cost of the tins was more than I would normally spend in a month on cookies, but the tins were so cute and the cookies, well…gourmet. Yum.

38 Me at Chateau Gate by Bridge Kaysersberg

My third and final reason for returning to Kaysersberg was to wander around as if I were my latest character and try to see things from her eyes. I walked down alley ways and took more pictures of town. I looked up at the woods on the hillside and wondered if she hunted wild mushrooms there.  I looked at the small stream running through town and imagined she might have washed her clothes there.

I left Kaysersberg feeling excited about writing her tale. Armed with more photos and story ideas, we drove home to the Black Forest. As we left France, the sun disappeared behind the low-hanging clouds and the multi-colored leaves of the forest covered hills welcomed us back to Germany. And, I wondered…

An Alsatian Tale: Letting the character tell her own story.

35 Jean Dietrich House

(Kaysersberg, Alsace, France)

How characters tell their own stories…

One of my favorite places to be in the writing process is when characters are introducing themselves to me. I’m walking through Kaysersberg (my favorite Alsatian village) and stop on the bridge. Looking at my favorite house, a young woman appears in my mind. My imagination engages and a story begins to form. I smile and begin to walk back through the village, following my new imaginary friend, looking carefully at the cobblestone streets and the timbered houses, wondering where will she take me? It’s exciting, always.

I’ve been to this village quite a number of times and have lots and lots of photographs. Three of our four adult children have accompanied my husband and I on some of these trips. The photos I have were taken by each of us. The village seen through different eyes. Always a good thing.

Next, I will chose some of my favorite shots and print them. Then, I’ll pin them to one of my cork boards and set it up on my desk while I write. I often listen to music when I write. It helps transport me and hold me inside my story. I’m listening to some of my favorite Celtic music right now. Alasdair Frasiers’s Dawn Dance. I know this isn’t French, but my new friend may have a bit of Celt flowing through her blood. I’ll know soon enough.

This is a process. For me, at the beginning especially, I wander up and down different paths trying to find just where to start. It’s not always the beginning of the story. Often, the beginning comes when I’m deep in the middle of a tale and my characters let me know more about themselves. I love making new friends. I love telling their stories.

After writing for a bit, just becoming familiar with painting a picture of the village with my pen, I’ll do a bit of research, about the history of the place, the people who have lived here, legends that might already exist. She’ll let me know if one of these suits her fancy or if she has her own tale to tale.

So here we go. As I look out my window the fog sits heavy on the hillsides, the brilliant fall colored leaves peeking through. It’s a great day to write.