By far, Colmar is the most picturesque place I have even been too. I feel sorry for anyone who has driven through Colmar, not researched its historic centre, and missed it. Colmar is in the Alsace Region which is very close to the German border and the city is often referred to as a historical museum. The centre reveals its charm with the colors and atmosphere of the streets and alley-ways being well-preserved since the middle ages and the ancient houses are reflected in the water which runs through the city. Every step can be a photo opportunity. Since visiting Colmar, I have noticed Colmar puzzles everywhere. Mom already owned one, not even realizing that we were going to that place.
Peter dropped us off as close as he could and we grabbed our bags, stretched the legs and headed off to the Hotel St. Martin. Wow! The half timbered houses are every color imaginable. I love this place! Just looking at the cafes and boutiques, I wanted to drop my bags and go shopping. But, we have to check in, freshen up and gather for a group German influenced supper together at the Restaurant Batholdi.
Are you getting the feeling that all we do is eat? Well, it's a food and wine tour and we are enjoying the moment. Nothing like a little sauerkraut, ham, bacon and sausage paired with an Alsace reisling. What a meal! I would like to say we walked all day and earned this pile of protein, but we definitely didn't burn many calories today.
At dinner we played the "name game". This is such a good idea. I have troubles remembering names, but I can tell you where someone is from or a story they told me. The game helped me memorize all the names and then I would go through the list and picture where they sat that night at supper. Yes, I have to use tricks...and I was the youngest on the tour! I'm an accountant and if we would have numbered everyone I would have had no problems.
I had hesitated joining the RS tours because I felt I was too young for the average age. But after going in 2008, I didn't care. The tours are filled with great people. Age does not define a person, it's just an indication of how many stories they may have to tell you. This meal was one of my favorite meals, all because of my great dinner companions. In the future I can only dream of having the life experiences and overall enjoyment for everything that Joe and Lois have. Yet another wonderful night!
Cultural Differences So in France, if you are not aggressive you will never get to the front of the line. I already knew this from prior trips and some of our tour members experienced it in Reims. My incident happened when waiting for the elevator at the hotel. There was one elevator, which holds two people and we are all waiting. I'm next, being polite, and 'bing' the door opens and before I can even grab my bag two French women look at me and walk on. Door closes and everyone looks at me and wonders what happened. Apparently...I did not 'appear' to be in line. I felt somewhat stupid for making that mistake, but it was still funny.
Our Morning in Colmar William took us on a very nice walking tour of the historic centre. Being someone who likes to take pictures, I enjoyed William's pace. He was never in a hurry and took his time to explain different architectural structures, specialty boutiques, good restaurants (my favorite part) and was always willing to answer any questions.
We also toured one of Rick's favorite museums, the Unterlinden. It houses several masterpieces from the Rhine renaissance, but the star attraction is the Altarpiece Issenheim. This altarpiece has two sets of wings, displaying three configurations. It was a puzzle for historians to figure out the order of the panels and doors.
Mom opted out of the rest of the planned day as she didn't want to leave Colmar and drive the Alsace Wine Route. Mom doesn't really like wine and wanted to walk the streets of Colmar and go into all the little stores. She loves to window shop and had a really great day on her own.
The Alsace Wine Route is one of the most popular wine routes in France with the natural beauty of the land and charming marriage of cultures.
Back in the 70's the region started a 'Grand Cru Appellation' to make sure that the region produced high quality wine. Each vineyard's production in the Grand Cru is limited to only 4 tons of grapes per acre, and within these vineyards only four grape varieties may be grown. Known as "the 4 Noble Grapes", each has specific characteristics. The Pinot Gris grape produces a full flavored wine that is slightly higher in alcohol. The Muscat grape produces a sweet but dry wine. The Gewurztraminer grape also produces a sweet wine, but with a hint of fruity spices. Finally, the most popular is the Riesling grape, which Alsatians take the most pride in producing and is also my favorite.
We were fortunate to tour the co-op winery in Ribeauville. At every place we visit, the wine lesson is different. I learn something new every time. Did you know that you can have white wine from red grapes??
Another 'wow' moment...Storks! I honestly didn't think they were real birds. When we were driving to Colmar I looked out into the field and saw something that I have never seen before. I thought, it was fairly tall and definitely a bird. However, it didn't look like a goose, so I read the RS book...Storks.
These nests weight 500 - 800 lbs. I'm not kidding. I fought with Julie about it. She thought I was making it up, but I read it in the RS book and then William confirmed it. The nests are so heavy that people would install steel platforms for the birds to build nests on. So, cool.
In the past, it was considered good luck if storks choose your home to build a nest on. Children were told to leave goodies on the window sill for the storks if they wished for a baby brother or a baby sister. So that's where the story comes from!
Peter drove us a short distance to the town of Kaysersberg. More colorful houses and lots of boutiques filled with everything from cookware to gingerbread.
We had free time here for lunch. William has been informing us of the specialities of the area and we were off to find some Tarte Flambees. It's like a pizza but with creme fraiche, bacon and onion. I also had to try the escargot cooked in a white wine and garlic sauce. They were tasty little snails and a culinary highlight for me. I am definitely full and starting to get used to drinking wine with lunch.
Now we are off to the village of Hunawihr for a remarkable view of the wine region. We took a leisurely walk through the village and up to the church perched high above overlooking the entire area. What a view! Rolling hills of vineyards in every direction. We even walked down the hill through the grape vines. This is the closest I have ever been to a wine vineyard. They may look like grapes but they don't taste like the ones I get from the supermarket.
Bon Appetit! On our last night in Colmar we were in search of another regional specialty ...baeckeoffe. It's a type of stew that traditionally was prepared at home with meat and vegetables being marinated in wine for two days then put between layers of potato and taken to the baker's to be cooked. We went to the tavern across from the hotel, the Brasserie Winstub Schwendi, in search of this heavy rich food. I ended up getting a hashbrown type casserole that was full of potatoes, bacon, cream and cheese. Dessert anyone?
By this time, Mom and I are hanging out with April, Ted and Ann on a daily basis. April is my tour buddy! After our cream and cheese meal, we figured that a walk around the town would be a nice ending to the day. But all we did was burn off dinner and go back to the same place for dessert. Ya, there is always room for dessert...chocolate and cappuccinos. Now that was a better way to end it!
Don't forget the wine... There is a small group of us that gather later at the hotel to sample the wines that people have been purchasing. I love this part. It is a great way for us to get to know each other. Sometimes the wine we get isn't the best, but I created our own blending. Mix the poor reds with the poor whites to create a decent rose to drink! A little wine also helps me fall asleep, my roommate snores...good thing I have ear plugs. (Yes, it's Mom!)
My favorite picture of the whole trip!