Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Colmar, France – Raindrops and Wine

We saw lots of dark clouds between the buildings.
The clouds added to the charm.

“It is not France.” We were told this by a Parisian the other day, who asked if we have ever been to France, and we said we've been to Colmar.

He has a point. Colmar is just across the French-German border in the Alsace region, and the town has retained its German essence. Alsace changed hands from Germany to France and back several times. Between WWI and WWII it belonged to France; then Hitler claimed it for the Nazis.   Now it’s French again, but it still feels very German except maybe for language. Just as I was starting to get used to German – voila! – it seemed nearly everyone around us was speaking French. In truth, there is a variety of languages spoken there. It isn’t hard to find someone who speaks enough English to communicate.

Our hotel is in the Venice district -- the most picturesque point of town.
Most photographed point, from what I saw.
Hotel St. Martin is on right.
When we arrived it was raining. Not a downpour; just enough to remind me about the umbrella and jackets back home. Oh, well! Colmar was so pretty that I soon forgot. We checked into the Hotel St. Martin, which is located on the most picturesque corner in the Little Venice area of town. Another good pick by Mark.

Whenever we arrive in a new place, we always walk around to get the “lay of the land,” but first we needed food. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was 3 p.m. The woman at the hotel desk shook her head when we asked if any place would still be serving lunch. The Europeans seem to keep a pretty strict schedule, and it was time for coffee and pastries. She suggested a café up the street, very good, the one with the teddy bears in the window.

Mark discovers galettes in the rainy streets of Colmar, France.
Tiny little creperies are are popular
with students, too.

We took a look. The place was jammed with people sipping double espressos and eating sweets. With our guts cramping from lack of food a meal of caffeine, butter and sugar didn’t appeal to us. I was really craving a bowl of soup. What to do? We went walking, and found a little hole-in-the-wall place where a young man was selling crepes and galettes. Galettes are very thin buckwheat pancakes with your choice of fillings: cheese, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, onions …

This will do! We love eating from roadside carts, anyway.

Menus that come in several languages are great learning tools.
This menu was in English and German.

Later, we went for a drink at the Schwendi restaurant right across the street from our hotel. They serve food throughout the day, including breakfast any time! The menu comes in several languages, and we could now recognize many German dishes. I could have had my soup. We were still full of gallettes, so  we ordered house red wine, which came in an earthenware pitcher. There is no bad wine here.

An evening stroll.
Colmar at dusk.

Historic old town Colmar is a window shopper’s paradise, with a maze of interconnected cobblestone streets and alleyways. It felt so cozy and welcoming that we decided to spend an extra night there in the charming Hotel St. Martin – Mark had left one night open in our itinerary. The St. Martin, like Colmar, is a bit of a maze – several old buildings laced together, with stairs and passageways connecting them.

Next time we come to Europe, we will have bicycles.
I longed to get on a bike. Next time!

Colmar is also a wonderful place to people watch. No, it isn’t Rome. But in early morning and mid afternoon, the streets are filled with noisy students on their way to and from school. In between times, tourists and locals are strolling and sitting in cafes, and peering through windows at store displays. We talked with an American woman about my age who was with two other couples on a week-long bicycle tour through Alsace. How I envied them! Next time …

Yes, by this time we were starting to talk about what we will do when we come back to Germany. Next time, we will stay not for a week, but for several weeks.

Our young sommeliere explains the nuances of the wine to Mark.
Our sommelier knew his business. 

That evening, we decided to do some wine tasting and found a little wine bar with two very young sommeliers. We were told that because they did not have a certain license, we would have to order a bite of food. So we ordered a bread and cheese appetizer, which was the perfect compliment to the selection of wines that our sommelier recommended. Needless to say, we didn’t make it out of there until dinnertime was over, but never mind. What a feast we had! It was a “splurge” dinner price-wise, but all we had was bread, cheese and wine. Lots of wine.

We actually found it the next morning...
The Wine Cave.

When we finally emerged, we were surprised to see the streets deserted. Next morning, we found our way back and took a few photos in the daylight.

Germany trip 408
Teddy bears are a very popular motif.

We went to the “terry bear” café for breakfast. It was then that we learned that the French do not get up early, and those that do only eat plain croissants in the morning. Gone was the wide selection of cakes, pastries and strudel. We are learning.

Germany trip 433
St. Martin Church is made of pink stone.

I was feeling like I needed a little lift, a little personal attention, so I had my hair trimmed and styled at a salon. One of Mark’s favorite things to shop for is hats, and so afterward we wandered into a hat shop where what usually happens, happened again – we each got a hat. Mine is really a man’s hat, but I don’t care. It’s more “me” than the women’s styles, and because it is wool, it was good in the light rain.

The roundabout features
the Statue of Liberty.

The one museum that we visited in Colmar was the Bartholdi Museum, in the home of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty.

By this time I felt that I really needed a salad for dinner. It was raining again, so we ducked into a little restaurant that had some salads on the menu. Within a few minutes, we were worried about whether we would be getting any food. A single waitress was managing the entire place and, while it wasn’t big, it filled completely up, including a large party of about ten or twelve who arrived just after us and sat at the next table. She brought us a jug of wine, so we were committed. As she took orders from everyone in the restaurant, we looked around and noticed that not even the people who where there before us had any food.

This may be the best salad I have ever eaten.
Local house wine is served in
green-stemmed glasses.

But wait, a miracle happened. Somehow, food began to appear with amazing speed and consistency, including the most beautiful and delicious salad I have had in recent memory – which by now is admittedly bad. I don’t even remember what Mark had, but I loved my salad.
Next morning, we went out for coffee and yes, a croissant before we hit the road. Next stop: Munich, and Oktoberfest!

But not before a little allergic adventure in Switzerland …

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