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France Encore

Although we are now home, there will be a few more posts just to wrap up our trip. Don't get off your bikes yet! Onward....

We would be flying home from Lyon, France where we began our trip, in less than a week but decided to add one more experience to la Tour de Mosel, a stay in Colmar, France. We had always heard that this is a magical place, known for its "la petite Venice" old town so we made a Deutsche Bahn reservation for us and the bikes from Koblenz to Colmar with the help of a very efficient woman at the Koblenz Bahn.

It was an easy cycle from our hotel through the river park to the Koblenz train station. I love train stations in Europe; the fact that trains are used by so many people for short and long trips, the often beautiful old architecture of the stations, waiting for your platform number to appear on the electronic board, the little coffee/pastry/sandwich outlets in most stations, the efficiency of the trains' almost-to-the-minute arrival and the comfort of settling in to watch the landscape roll by. In France, I especially love the little 3 note chime that precedes any announcement in the station. Like Pavlov's dog, I immediately get excited on hearing that.

We always try and check out the station from which we are departing in advance so we know if there are elevators for the bikes to the various platform levels or if we will have to shlepp everything up or down stairs, usually the case in small stations. They sometimes provide a narrow track for the bike wheels on one side of the stairs as in the photo below but that requires taking off the bike panniers on one side. Consequently, we try and give ourselves lots of time if we are making connections.


The Koblenz Haupbahnhof is a 1905 Baroque Revival building. It was built like a palace with central and side pavilions, and the northern wing was originally richly decorated and had direct access via a flight of stairs to platform 1, on which the Emperor arrived in Koblenz the year the station was completed. The station building and the railway tracks were damaged in air raids during the Second World War and the reconstruction resulted in less ornamentation.


Trains don't stop for long in a station so you have to be scanning for the bike car as the train pulls in. Sometimes the car floor is on the same level as the platform so we can wheel our bikes right in, the very best scenario. Often there are steps up into the car so as soon as passengers have exited from that car, you have to be quick about getting your panniers off and the bikes in, usually hanging them in the bike car by the front wheels. Our reservation for the first leg to Colmar specified the car number and seats so once the bikes were in, we found our seats, the train guy having to move a couple of people from them who didn't have reservations.

It turned out to be a most interesting first stage of our trip to Colmar due to the company of our fellow passengers who engaged us in conversation. We were a multi-cultural group - a young German woman just starting first year university in Trier, a 30'ish guy from Chile and another somewhat older guy from India, both in Germany on business. The time flew by as we swapped information about ourselves and our home countries and we are now invited to visit our new friends in both India and Chile! Unlikely but it was a lovely encounter with strangers that give you more hope for our troubled world. The Indian guy works for a big biscuit company and lives with his wife and two children in a type of rural cooperative, where all 22 kids are home-schooled and they are almost completely self-sufficient as far as energy and food production go. Amazing! And we have since had an email from him, confirming our invitation to visit.

We had one train connection to make at Basel, Switzerland. Maybe because we were a little distracted by the animated conversations with our seatmates, we goofed and got off one stop too soon at Basel DB still in Germany, rather than Basel SSB in Switzerland. No train to Colmar showed up on the electronic board and it finally dawned on us that it was the wrong station. Off to the station information desk where unusually, the only person in this small station at the info desk spoke no English. However, we somehow were able to get ourselves rebooked on another train to Basel SSB in time to make our connection to Colmar. Gotta love that efficient German train system.

We had booked our accommodation, a studio apartment in Colmar a couple of days in advance. The building was a short ride from the station in a very nice residential neighbourhood with the big round brick late 19th C. Chateau d'Eau as a backdrop.


Called Pierre et Vacance, our accommodation was an amazing discovery - and an amazing price perhaps because of our last minute booking. Turns out Pierre et Vacances is a company specializing in holiday residences and hotels under the brands Pierre & Vacances, Maeva, Center Parcs, Sunparcs, and Adagio. The headquarters of the company is in France and the core area of the company's activities is France, but it also has facilities in Belgium, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain. We would definitely look for this accommodation elsewhere now - it was wonderful!


Our studio apartment was on the top floor of what appeared to be a quite new three storey building. It was very modern both in design and furnishings and scrupulously clean. We had a kitchenette with a 2 burner induction stove, a dishwasher and a Nepresso machine, and could just buy the coffee pods at the front desk. As well as a sleek bathroom and great lighting, we also had a big balcony equipped with a table and chairs. And the building had an indoor pool and optional breakfast in a lovely room downstairs - or you could pick up croissants and baguettes at the reception desk. Pretty impressive - and we paid 43E per night.


So we had a very comfortable stay in Colmar for 4 nights. It was a nice change to not have to eat in a restaurant and we were a 5 minute walk from the old town and the beautiful 1845 covered market where we could pick up all kinds of goodies. We made good use of our Nepresso machine in the morning and the boulangerie delivery downstairs. I would have been happy there for a very long time!

Colmar is on the Alsatian Wine Route and considers itself to be the "capital of Alsatian wine". Having developed a taste for Riesling on the Mosel, I was happy to continue my wine tasting and since our trip was almost at an end & I thought I could get them home with careful packing, I bought some of the long-stemmed, delicate green wine glasses it is usually served in. Jim bought a beer glass.


Between 1673 and 1945, Colmar bounced back and forth between France and Germany and was even taken by the Swedish army in 1632 and held for two years during the Thirty Yeats War. Amazingly, the beautifully preserved old town was mostly spared from damage during the French Revolution and the subsequent wars.

We were only a 5 minute walk away from the old town and even after all the lovely sights of our past 5 weeks, I was quite entranced by its beauty. Eight centuries of French and German architecture are on display in Colmar.


The cobbled streets in the former butchers', tanners' and fishmongers' quarter, are divided by canals of the river Lauch, earning it the nickname "la Petite Venise". The canal bridges and many of the buildings are covered with flowers and there seems to be a penchant for attaching all kinds of decorative items including pots and pans to the exteriors of the colourful old shops and restaurants.


Rustic flat bottomed boats with silent electric motors take tourists up and down the canals, at a rate far less than in la grande Venise! We had a morning coffee at the market sitting in the sun on a little deck built over the canal with the boats floating by. There are plenty of tourists in Colmar and high season would probably be uncomfortable in the narrow streets.


Colmar was the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834–1904), the sculptor who created the original Statue of Liberty and there are many fountains and monuments by him and a Museé Bartholdi.


There are several other museums too including one with a famous alterpiece, the Isenheim Altarpiece. It was sculpted and painted by, respectively, the Germans Niclaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald in 1512–1516. It is Grünewald's largest work, and is regarded as his masterpiece. It was painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim near Colmar, which specialized in hospital work. The Antonine monks of the monastery were noted for their care of plague sufferers as well as their treatment of skin diseases, such as ergotism. The image of the crucified Christ is pitted with plague-type sores, showing patients that Jesus understood and shared their afflictions.

The weather was too perfect to drive us into any museums. We just enjoyed walking the streets, sitting in the cafes and even exploring the elegant residential neighbourhood our accommodation was in, including a lovely part with a vintage carousel.


On our last full day, went for the most idealic 35 km return day cycle along the Canal de Colmar. Built in 1864, the canal connects with the Rhine and you could continue on the Rhine Cycle Route (EuroVelo 15) south-east to Andermatt in Switzerland or north-west to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Or to Strasbourg in between. The portion we cycled, like most canal routes took us through a rural landscape glowing with the colours of fall.


It was a Sunday and our plan was to have lunch at a little restaurant situated that Jim had seen the day before on an exploratory cycle while I went shopping in town. However, when we got to this utterly charming eatery, we discovered all the tables were already reserved for the one seating. However, the owner invited us to have coffee, which was some compensation and we soaked up all the atmosphere of this totally delightful place, all outdoor tables in a tangled garden setting, right on a small dis-used excluse (lock) of the canal, with the sound of the falling water a musical accompaniment to the whole experience.


After an equally effortless and beautiful cycle back to town, we stopped at a funny little cafe we had seen before. It had a simple menu, a selection of tartes and salad so we opted for an inside table to take in the quaint art nouveau decor and collection of enamel coffee pots and old posters. In addition to a young man, a very elderly woman in black scurried back and forth, taking orders and delivering tartes. It was very busy and our simple meal somehow took several hours but we were entertained the whole time watching both customers and staff.


We finally gave up on the prospect of ever being asked if we wanted dessert or coffee, paid our bill and departed. We stopped at a boulangerie on an adjacent street to see if there was anything we wanted to take home, parking our bikes right outside the door and doing a quick 1/2 minute scan of the delectables. Returning to our bikes without having succumbed to temptation, we noticed that the basket on the back of my bike was pulled to one side. Then I noticed that my purse that I had unthinkingly left in the basket was missing. We scurried back to the restaurant to make sure I hadn't left it there. Main non - it was gone!

This was the only time in all our trips we have ever had anything stolen and we have often locked up our bikes with all our panniers in place for short periods of time. It was a good lesson in not getting too casual. Although it was an upsetting experience, it could have been so much worse. The thief got little - my credit card, bank card and drivers' licence, all cancelable and replaceable and no money; at lunch I had given what was leftover from my shopping trip the day before to Jim so we knew how many Euros we had left. The loss of our credit card would have been problematic any earlier in our trip and we will now travel with a second different credit card kept apart from our primary card, just in case. As it was, we could still use Jim's bank card to get any needed cash. I was most regretful about the loss of my great travel purse that has accompanied me on all those trips. Hope the thief enjoys it!


Posted by Jenniferklm 21:42

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Still great commentary, even posted from BC. Colmar looks like an extended stay destination in itself.

by Gloria Schmidt

I see you had a great stay! Good for you! Thanks for sharing your excellent photographs and interesting story.

by Vic_IV

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