TRAVEL: Strasbourg, France and the Alsatian tour

We are still getting used to our new holidays out here.  While all the U.S. was grilling burgers and raising chugging beers in honor of the men and women who have fought for our country, Jared and I were toiling away at work.  But that’s alright – Thursday was Ascension Day which meant a four-day weekend for us.  So we packed up and drove south, landing in the Alsace region of France.  The Alsace region is a little bit french, a little bit German and 100% charming.  This little region has a long history of being conquered and traded back and forth between France and Germany – some folks may have seen their nationality change 5 or 6 times during their lifetime.  Everyone wanted to claim this land for their own and I can understand why.

The first stop on our little tour was the town of Strasbourg.  Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region and also the official seat of the European Parliament.  The main site in Strasbourg (at least according to us) is the beautiful Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.   As one of the tallest churches in the world, it towers over this small town and is an absolute must-see.  Most of the stained glass windows date back to the 14th century, and some as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries.

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Inside the church is a gigantic astronomical clock.  Given the Alsace region’s proximity to the German Black Forest, it seemed appropriate that the clock would be reminiscent of a German cuckoo clock.  As the clock struck 15:00, the bell ding’ed and the little men moved.

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After the church was made our way down to the river.  One of the things I love doing in Paris is walking along the Seine – this was like a mini version of that.  One side was manicured, and one side was a little wild.  We chose the wild side and at times found ourselves wading through waist-high grass.  I recommend you do the same.  But word of warning, don’t keep your eyes too far from the trail – Strasbourgians seem to have an aversion to picking up after their pets (or is that just the French in general?).

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U.S. boats go “Toot Toot”.  French boats go “Toou Toou”

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After we got our fill of this little city, we headed on down to Colmar, which is just so stinking cute.  Fun fact – Colmar has a sunny microclimate which makes it one of the driest cities in France.  Our first day threatened to put that claim to the test, but the rain held off and we ended up with some truly beautiful weather.

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We wandered in the first night, grabbed a few drinks and then dug into what I imagine would be the best thing to eat when gearing up for a night of drinking (not that we were – well, not that night at least).  Roesti.  Essentially it is a gigantic dish of shredded potatoes with cream, cheese, and bacon.  Oh, and a fried egg on top for good measure.  Ultimate comfort food.  Unfortunately you get no pictures – we were so hungry we inhaled it before we even give it a second thought to act like a tourist and take a picture.  If you see it on a menu – do not hesitate.  You can thank me later.

Our dinner was occasionally interrupted by a group of rowdy boys hanging in a nearby room overlooking the restaurant wearing wigs and drinking beers.  I’m guessing they probably ate some roesti in preparation for their long night ahead.  It looks like they had quite the adventure, because the following morning on our way into Colmar to see the Unterlinden museum, we found this:

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I think it adds a little something special to the statute, don’t you think?

But back to he Unterlinden Museum.  This is Colmar’s most famous museum, and one of the most visited museums in all of France.  It is super eclectic little museum.  It’s currently going through a large expansion, so I imagine it’ll be pretty amazing once it is finished.

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Normally I don’t like the posting of photos of painting, but this painting is called Le Char de la Mort aka The Chariot of Death.  When Jared typed that into his translate app thing it said The Death Tank which I think I like better.

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What I do not have photos of for you is the fantastic paintings of the Issenheim altarpiece, which just celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2012.  Some of the paintings are pretty gruesome (to remind those suffering that their suffering is nothing compared to what Jesus suffered).  And one of the paintings was so insanely crazy and colorful that I imagine the painter must have been high – Jared and I kept referring to it as Disco Jesus.  Apparently this multi-panel altarpiece is to Germans, what the Mona Lisa is to Americans.  The only difference being that you aren’t disappointed when you see this one in person (what? it’s true…)

After our morning in Colmar, we set out to visit some of the little towns on the Route des Vins: Bergheim, Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, and Riquewihr.  Bergheim and Hunawihr were definitely the two sleepy towns but that was fine by us.  The traditional (colorful!) timber and stucco houses are what I think makes these towns so special.  The beautiful green countryside also doesn’t hurt.

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You’ll often find a number marking on the house indicating when it was built.  Being here in Europe surrounding by truly ancient things, we are constantly reminded of how “young” our country is.  And yet still, I’m always constantly amazed – like realizing that this house was built 200 years before the birth of our country.

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Did you know that the little towns in Alsace have a large stork population?  The stork is the iconic symbol of the Alsace region, and is revered as the bringer of fertility and luck to any home where it nests.  About 30 years ago, the region’s population had dwindled down to just 9 pairs, and so a hugely successful reintroduction effort was made and now you’ll now see storks nesting on top of a lot of buildings.

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We also wandered into a few little wine spots to taste the local wines.  The region is known for their white wines with the most produced wines being Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris.  In order to really truly understand and appreciate the various wine offerings, we made sure to thoroughly test them.  All of them.  As well as some of the local brews.

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Growing up, friends and family would often call me Holla or Holl, so this is MY beer.

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And because of all that taste testing, we made sure to stop and enjoy the famous bretzel and tarte flambée.

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After two days in Alsace, we turned northwards towards Luxembourg.  We flirted with the idea of driving 2+ hours of the way to hit up Lichtenstein, but ultimately ended up stopping off in Metz and I’m so glad we did.  We cruised over to their cathedral which was huge and rather cavernous on the inside.  This church has some truly stellar stained glass windows, including some modern ones done by Marc Chagall.  We are not usually fans of the super modern stained glass, but these are a technicolor wonder.

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Since the sun was beckoning us, we grabbed some picnic supplies from the marché and then headed over to the park.  As we wandered back to our car, we stumbled upon an old Roman sporting center.  Just another reminder of how vast the Roman empire was.

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Our final destination of our extended weekend was Luxembourg City.  We had friends in town from London who were running the half-marathon so we decided to stop and cheer them on.  We grabbed some wine/beer, squeezed in at the 8km mark, and got ready to cheer the runners on.  After they passed us by, we booked it up to the finish line for the grand finale.  Cheering can be exhausting work, so we grabbed some sustenance and got ready to high-five them as they headed in to cross the finish line.

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I’m pretty sure the best way to recover from a half-marathon is to hydrate, and since beer is like 90% water, celebratory rounds of beer followed.  We spent our last day hanging out in the park, enjoying sun and the company of our friends.

If this weekend was any indication, I think we have a great summer ahead.

2 thoughts on “TRAVEL: Strasbourg, France and the Alsatian tour

  1. That clock is awesome, and Jared has the same style as grandpa. Also, more pictures of the food with some background on it would be cool. Think Anthony Bourdain. That would be cool.

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