Sunday, May 27, 2007


Okay, still working on the whole getting-caught-up idea - maybe, just maybe, I'll have written about all my trips before leaving France (in a week! eek!) and maybe not. We'll see. So, onto Colmar and Strasbourg, where I went with Kelly the week after Freiburg. After a 5-hour train ride (man, I am jealous of all those people traveling after June 10th) we arrived in the teeth-achingly quaint city of Colmar. Seriously, I kept expecting the houses to turn out to be gingerbread, or something. So we wandered around, taking pictures of all the picturesque-ness like good little tourists, bought some ravioli to take back to the auberge to cook (our favorite money-saving strategy, and also a guilty pleasure, because the French rarely serve pasta as a main dish, and we both love it) and made our way to the youth hostel (which, as always, was pretty far out of town).

We woke up relatively early the next morning, eager to see the streets of Colmar without lugging heavy backpacks. More picturesqueness (we especially enjoyed Petite Venise and its canals) and a woman giving out free cookie samples, which naturally prompted us to buy some from her vast selection. I really wanted to say "One of everything, please!" but prudence won over impulsiveness and I settled for a little gingerbready thing, a pistachio macaroon, and a couple chocolately things. They were delicious. We also had pretzels, an Alsatian specialty. Then it was off to the Musée Unterlinden, which was a lot more fun than we were expecting. The audioguide was free, so we figured why not? and took the French one. It was hilarious in its melodramaticness - when describing all the Medieval paintings of Jesus crucified, there were actually angry-mob sounds in the background, and dramatic Carmina-Burana-esque music. My personal favorite, though, was the description of a painting that was retelling some religious story involving a chicken and a saint (Ooh! Blog contest! If you know this story I'll bring you back a Kinder Bueno (or Duplo, whichever you prefer) from France! But you have to tell me before Saturday.) and there were genuine chicken clucks and wing ruffles in the background. But I shouldn't make too much fun of it, because it was interesting to get a little more background on the paintings. The prize possession of the museum is the Retable d'Issenheim (French explanation, but the pictures are pretty anyway), which is one of those folding altar decoration thingies that depict a bunch of Bible scenes. This one is gigantic, and has lots and lots of panels that had to be separated out to be put on display, so now it takes up a whole high-ceilinged room. It was wonderful to have the audioguide, since I have no Bible background, and pictures are way more interesting when you know the stories behind them. Then there were rooms and rooms and rooms of interesting Alsatian stuff, including suits of armor and chain mail and a knitted tapestry (picture on Flickr) and just before closing, we got to this room that had toys! Tiny little dollhouses and kitchens and dolls with wardrobes to die for... I was interrupted mid-drool by the museum staff herding us out 20 minutes before closing. Grrr. But it was a lovely museum, anyway.

For dinner, we tracked down some traditional Alsatian food: flammekuchen and spätzle. Flammekuchen is a thin-crusted rectangular tart with cheese and crème fraiche and onions and deliciousness, and I described spätzle in my last entry and am too lazy to do it again. But it was all really, really good - how can you go wrong with cheese, bread, onions, noodles, cream, or any combination of the above? You can't, is the answer. So then we rolled back to the hostel and went to bed early, in preparation for our trip to a small town on the "Route des vins" for a wine tasting.

We woke up at the crack of dawn and were eating breakfast when we realized that we'd misread the bus schedule and needed to be at the bus stop in 5 minutes, not 20. Slight panic ensued, but we made it to the bus stop in time for the local bus that would take us to the bus station in Colmar proper to catch the bigger bus for the small town. We then made a heroic dash to the bus station. Of course, we didn't know where our bus stopped, so we went around checking all the buses that looked likely, but it was getting past time for the bus to leave, and we didn't see it. Finally, we asked the driver of a different bus, and he said "Oh, it was that red bus over there, the one that left a few minutes ago." Cue slapping of foreheads, because we hadn't checked said red bus because it looked like a private tour bus. Lesson learned - in France, they use luxury buses as public transportation. So we went, disappointedly, back into Colmar, visited the vineyards of the city of Colmar, and caught our train to Strasbourg.

Strasbourg is bee-yoo-ti-ful. We bought a 24-hour unlimited-rides tram and bus ticket, which was the best purchase of the weekend - the tram system is a wonderful hybrid of subway and bus, because it's faster than a bus but you can actually see things, instead of being stuck underground. This time, we managed to find a bus that went all the way to the youth hostel, which was lovely. We went back into town and explored, finding amazing ice cream (I got Speculoos, which is a kind of cookie often served with ice cream, and it's spicy and delicious) and cute little stores and the cathedral:
Purtypurtypurty. We then went back to the auberge to cook dinner again, being the frugal daughters of Scotsmen that we are, where the water took, without exaggeration, 45 minutes to boil. It wasn't the greatest kitchen ever, let's put it that way. Anyway, after that fiasco, we decided to go back into town to experience Strasbourg by night. The cathedral was, of course, ridiculously beautiful, and it was warm, so there were lots of people outside enjoying the weather. We got our fair share of catcalls, mostly from sketchy, sketchy men but some from cute Italians (all of Italy, apparently, goes to Alsace the third week in April). Then we caught the last tram back to our beds.

The next day, our last, we happened upon an open-air market of everything from cheap trendy clothes (sadly, mostly one-size-fits-all-badly, so we didn't buy anything) to traditional Alsatian food, so we bought a garlic sausage (we almost got the wild boar, but chickened out) from a lovely man who kept giving us samples, some cheese, and some straightened-out pretzels and made little sandwiches to eat on the steps of the cathedral. They were delicious, but since we had no knife we had to gnaw on the sausage, which made us look slightly barbaric. Then we discovered a cute little shop that had very original clothing for reasonable prices, so we had to try everything on, and I found a beautiful black lacy skirt with a petticoat that swishes when I walk and makes me very very happy.

I managed to convince Kelly that climbing the cathedral spire would be fun, so we paid our 2 euros and started up the 350 steps. It turned out to be an amazing way to see the cathedral close up, since the spiral staircase we were winding our way up had windows on three sides, so we got to see all these cute little carvings of random animals climbing up various columns and things. There were frogs and cows and goats and gorillas and mixtures thereof - medieval stonecarvers had fertile imaginations. Then we finally got to the top, but we couldn't go up the spire (nor would we have wanted to, given how much we were panting). There was a beautiful view, though, (unfortunately, my camera had died the day before, so no pictures) and we could see the spire close-up, too.

After all that exertion, we decided we deserved a restaurant with a terrace where we could order a cool drink and people-watch for a while. Luckily, there was one right by the cathedral, so we could look at the Gothic beauty too. We got Oranginas mixed with grenadine, the inventor of which I want to kiss, and nursed them for as long as possible so as to be able to stay on the terrace.

Finally, we found the Musée Alsacien, which was celebrating an anniversary by giving everyone free entry. It's a neat museum, built into some old houses overlooking a central courtyard, so you can see the real rooms and how people lived. There was another toy room, so I spent a while in there, drooling over tiny little pintucks and buttonholes...

Then, alas, it was time to catch our train back to Paris to return to classes and real life. It was a lovely trip, though.

1 comment:

  1. I loved Colmar and the hill country around it - did I ever tell you that MY high school French (and German) teacher was from there? (from Ribeauvillé).... I went to visit her family and friends when I was studying in Caen my junior year of college (1982), spent two weeks touring the hills, villages, chateaux, wineries... even had Easter dinner in Heidelberg Germany (wild boar...)
    Enjoy your last few days - stop in and say hello when you get back!