A Travellerspoint blog

France

Strasbourg

Alsace region

overcast 7 °C
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The rain followed us from Colmar to Strasbourg and as we left we saw unfortunately there had been another train derailment this time the line from Strasbourg to Paris. It didn’t impact us yet as we transitioned from Colmar.

Arriving at Gare de Strasbourg, a large terminal including trains, buses and trams we ended up catching a taxi to our apartment which was in the Grand Isle, in pedestrian only streets and we could see the Notre Dame Cathedral spire from our window. After settling in, we headed out to look around at the river, the outside of Palais Rohan and the Notre Dame square, blustery and wet we finished our sightseeing for the day.

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The following day our mission was to see Petite France, a lovely pedestrian area of colourful medieval and Renaissance houses near the river that formerly housed fishermen and tanners and are now shops and homes. The weather was fitting for ducks, who were swimming in the river, as it was drizzling wet and extremely cold with a real feel of 0 degrees. Near the Petite France area there is the Pont Couverts (Covered Bridge). There are three towers remaining that are no longer covered but still impressive that were fortified to defend the town. Opposite the covered bridges is the Vauban dam with the barrage built of pink sandstone, we walked on the terrace and the inside of the barrage which is a well used pedestrian walkway. The afternoon was spent out of the rain looking through Galleries Layfette and other stores.

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On the Saturday, it was a cold start but the sun was out and we made, like many others, full use of the day walking around. We found one of the old port gates which is near a magnificent health and hospital precinct, St Paul’s Church which is picturesque in its position from the river, the swans that gracefully swim the strong river currents, different squares including the student quarters and also Saint Thomas’ church on Rue Martin Luther. A street food lunch sufficed - Strasbourg sausages, fromage, sauerkraut topped with mustard in a baguette meant we could eat and walk the French markets full of fresh produce, flowers, antiquities and second hand items.

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Sunday was our last full day in Strasbourg and after a later start and a windy day, we decided to walk around the grand isle river. This meant we got to see other key Strasbourg buildings and monuments along the way including one that celebrated wine and the role of Strasbourg in the creation and distribution of wine. In the afternoon we visited the Notre Dame cathedral also of sandstone in a pink hue and is said to have the largest gothic spire in Europe. The cathedral has glorious stained glass windows, an ancients astronomical clock and is known for its rose window. Well worth the wait and braving the cold and windy square for a visit.

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On Monday morning an early start for the day, as we walked to the train station and saw that the first train for the morning to Paris had been cancelled and waited to see that our train had been delayed and would also be further delayed on the line. As we were advised on the train our eta in Paris we knew even with a short walk from one station to the next we would miss our connecting train to London. Highly recommend Eurostar, in their stride re-ticketed us and a few others after us, for the next train, so we headed through the customs process, and then waited with some lunch before boarding the train to London. The train trip was easy and the volume of people a change to what we have been used to more recently. On arriving at Saint Pancreas station, it was exciting to see the black cabs as we joined the queue for a taxi. Unfortunately our taxi was blue, but our cabbie provided us with excellent commentary and tips for our local area, he also gave us a photo opportunity of driving a London cab. We are staying a 5 minute walk from the Tower of London and Tower Bridge - both amazing sights on a very cold, wet and windy London afternoon.

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Posted by bonne vie 12:48 Archived in France Comments (1)

Where fairytales are made

Alsace region

overcast 6 °C
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We signed up for a day tour with Alsace Safari to see more of the region towns, a castle and some wine tasting. The Alsace region is renowned for a 170 klm route of vineyards and wine making and as soon as we left Colmar we were surrounded by vineyards interspersed with villages in the distance.

After an 8.30 am pick up our first stop of the day was Hunawihr, a small village with the fortified church on the hillside the most prominent feature. We walked beside the vineyards up to the church which has been a shared Catholic and Protestant church for the last 300 years, an outcome that was initiated by King Louis 14th to ensure legally Catholics could use Protestant churches. This also supported people’s faith during the change of country not the place, though history shows this has not been without conflict.

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Riquewihr was the next town and formerly fortified by ramparts and a moat where now only the the inner and outer tower gates along with a small portion of the ramparts remain. The main street in town is peppered with colourful medieval and Renaissance homes that are elaborate in their design and carved figures. It was amazing to learn that the timber components are cut to connect perfectly without the need for nails or other materials to hold them in place. We learnt about the three main window carvings used at the time, the heart - there was a single woman in the household of marriage age - the clover - good luck- and the trinity in three lines for faith. A quick coffee including a lovely border collie who wanted to sit on you, some macaroons and a look through an amazing Christmas store we rejoined the group.

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Moving on we headed to our lunch spot at Eguisheim and walked the picturesque streets with a lot of storks busy building their nests on the roofs. The branches from the vineyard are used to make the nest. Near the walls where the old gates to the city would have been, we walked to the main square which has a fountain with a statue of Pope Leo IV who was born in the town. There is also a small but beautiful chapel dedicated to Saint Léon on the grounds of Château Saint Léon. Our lunch consisted of traditional Alsace food including Baeckeoffe and Munster Gratinee.

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Lucky we warmed up from lunch, we drove through the town of Selestat and headed up the twisting roads of the Voges mountains to the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. When we arrived it started snowing, this was the best part of the day walking through snow to enter a medieval castle that was originally built in the 1st and 2nd century. It was fortified by successive families (Hohenstaufen, the dukes of Lorraine, the Habsburg and the counts of Thierstein). The castle was under the rule of the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian 1st when it was besieged in the Thirty Years war by Swedish forces and the top of the castle razed and burned, the lower half of the castle built into the natural rocks is original. The castle was left in ruins and after the Franco-Prussian war, the ruins were gifted to the German Emperor, Wilhelm II in the late 19th century, who paid to have the castle rebuilt to showcase the Middle Ages. Both he and the architect took some liberty in the accurate representation of parts like the keep and the main dining hall that were not like the original. Regardless of the artistic liberties at the time, the Emperor’s foresight to rebuild a magnificent castle for future generations including period furniture and artillery ensures a well visited monument today. After World War 1 the French regained the area and castle as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

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Kaysersberg was another town we visited and we walked the streets finding the ruins of a castle above the town and vineyards, a church with an amazing carved altarpiece, glass blowing workshops, a fortified bridge and a designated area used in former times for communal clothes washing in the river.

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The day ended with some wine tasting at Justin Boxler’s at Niedermorschwihr, a family run business of four generations since the Renaissance period. This included a tour of the barrels with one up to 200 years old and a video that showed her son, a very tall French man entering the very small openings to clean the barrels. The smallest opening is 20 cm and their cousin has a young Japanese man who is able to enter and cleans this barrel. The Boxler’s produce mainly white wines, Pinots, Riesling, a surprising white and light wine Muscat along with wines that are certified Grand Cru - of course we took a few bottles home for later. A lovely way to end the day.

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What’s the link to fairytales? Besides a great day in the Alsace region, the region is also said to be the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast and the picturesque towns provided plenty of visual moments of a provincial life.

Posted by bonne vie 10:44 Archived in France Comments (1)

The land where babies come from

Colmar

semi-overcast 8 °C
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Colmar is a magical small town of approximately 70,000 inhabitants that swell with tourists. Our apartment is in the middle of the historic centre with the colourful medieval and Renaissance houses all around, the former customs house and the river that was used by fishermen, the tanners and enabled a flower market. Fish are still in the stream that runs all the way through the historic area of town.

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Colmar, like other towns in the Alsace region, have lived under at times throughout history under German and French rule on more than one occasion. Tourism is a key component In the region and it is very easy to see why with a strong link to the Alsace emblem the stork along with gingerbread, wine, beer and Christmas.

If you are on a mission you can walk the main sights of Colmar in one day, however we have thoroughly enjoyed spending more time here and looking with fresh eyes as we go out and see something new each day. It has been much colder with temps hitting at times 3 degrees at 9 am so we have been a bit slower to get moving and when it rains it adds to feeling cold. There are many historical buildings such as the guardhouse, the house of heads, Pfister house and the outside of what a typical medieval farmhouse would have looked like. In one of the many beautiful parks in Colmar there is also a well preserved German water tower called Chateau d’eau.

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There are also quite a few museums in Colmar, we had a look at the outside of the Bartholdi museum located at the birthplace of Augusta Bartholdi the creator of the Statue of Liberty and other key monuments. We chose to visit the Hansi museum. Jean-Jacques Waltz, under the pseudonym Hansi or Oncle Hansi, is a famous Alsatian illustrator and artist and was self sufficient in his profession, unusual for the time. He wanted to make his art available for the broader public and all social classes. His publication, Mon Village, in 1913 described typical village life for children however it also made sarcastic fun of the German authorities where he was subsequently charged guilty of resistance the following year. Due to an error he was able to flee to France and enlisted in the army as a translator and later assisted with war propaganda against the Germans. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he fled to southern France and was caught and beaten by the Gestapo, he then managed to escape to Switzerland to wait out the end of the war before returning to Colmar. We had seen some beautiful shop signage earlier in Colmar and were pleased to learn that some of these were actually designed by Hansi, with three originals still in town.

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The main church, St-Martin Collegiate Church is the size of a cathedral with its construction commencing in the early 13th century. It is very dark inside the church and feels very medieval with some natural light highlighted through the stained glass windows.

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On our first Sunday morning walking through the town we were very happy to see on the roof of the main church, two storks building their nest and singing their noisy love song. Most will have heard the legend that storks bring babies to their respective families in either a basket or via a cloth held in their beak and in the Alsace region the stork is protected and is thought to bring the home owner good luck if it decides to build its up to 500 kg nest on your roof.

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Posted by bonne vie 10:35 Archived in France Comments (0)

Time after time

Nice

overcast 8 °C
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Our time in Nice was drawing to a close and a day tour planned was cancelled. Out came the map and Cimiez up on the hill of Nice was the destination. The bus was the easiest way to traverse the hills and the area well signed.

Our stop was the Arenes, and a quick walk brought us to a a Roman stadium nestled next to parkland full of olive trees a couple of centuries old. At one end of the park is an old monastery, their gardens and also a cemetery, the resting place of Henri Matisse. The park also contains the Musee Matisse and also a museum of items from the Roman settlement uncovered in the 20th century. The settlement remains identified are mostly from Roman baths and a couple of shops and a house that would have seen up to 4000 people attend the area for the stadium events.

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The early evenings spent walking along the Promenade Anglais watching the sunset and the glitter strip come to life.

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Posted by bonne vie 08:33 Archived in France Comments (1)

Relaxing in the Riviera

Nice

sunny 14 °C
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Braving the peak hour metro and many stairs with our luggage, we headed off on a rainy morning for Nice. The metro was busy and in the crush to get on the train the backpack was jammed into the closing door and needed saving with the assistance of a local. Navigating our way to the train station from the metro we then hopped on our regional train, luckily having the carriage almost to ourselves. The line follows the coastline giving a glimpse of the beautiful French Riviera and even a group surfing on one headland.

Arriving in Nice there was a second mishap with the backpack as a mad dash was needed to rescue it from the train. Leaving the station, there wasn’t the wow moment like in Marseille as we headed off on the kilometre walk through town to our accommodation. Our unit thankfully only on the second floor is a block from the main beach and very close to the Nice Ville city centre. Once settled we headed to the Promenade des Anglais and back via Place Massena.

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Our apartment is central to everything so we have walked to the port, the old town, the open air markets and also taken the white petit train which provides cultural and historical information about Nice. The Greek, Roman and Italian influences are layered as you walk through Nice. It has been lovely to be near the ocean, sit on the infamous blue chairs, people watch and also watch the sunset in the afternoons.

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Posted by bonne vie 08:49 Archived in France Comments (0)

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