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©2019 Shawn Basey | Tbilisi | Prague | Travel blog and tips

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The Capitol Fairy-Tale Town

July 3, 2017


This series started with a tour of Alsatian villages. If you're looking for fairy-tale towns, look no further than Alsace. 


Already tired from all the driving and sightseeing, we had one more destination to see: Colmar. Colmar is the Queen City of Alsace, a town with a bit of everything that each village of the region has, all put together in one beautiful conglomeration. It sits in the open plains, before the fields give away to the rolling hills and vineyards that crawl up the front range mountain slopes like a David Cerny statue.

 

 David Cerny's babies in Kampa, Prague

 

 

It considers itself the Capital of Alsatian Wine and is the largest of all the area fairy tale towns, still taking you back in time to what Paris might have been like before the destruction caused by Napoleon III. It’s full of squares of half-timbered houses, avenues lined with majestic Baroque fabrications, canals with boats gliding gently down them, medieval churches and monasteries, and pubs and restaurants everywhere, to spill over the spoils of the local wealth. 

 

 Colmar delivery service

 

 

Colmar’s earliest shout out was by the rock-star minstrel monastic balladeer, Notker the Stammerer, back in the 10th century AD. He was a Benedictine monk musician who frequently went on tours of the Alsatian Wine Route and wrote some pretty epic tales about Charlemagne. The city was for the most of its history part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, until the 1700s when the French Louis the Sun King rode in and stuck a flag in it for France. Then it went back to the Germans under Bismarck, back to the French after WWI, then back to the Germans during WWII, and then again back to the French, as it still stands today. I'm not sure if Brussels has a plan laid out for the continued game of hot potatoes for the territory.

a festival of foreigners

When we arrived in Colmar, they seemed to have been holding some sort of festival celebrating foreigners. They had tents from countries around the world selling ethnic foods and crafts, with a stage set up for different bands. While we were there, we saw a group of girls playing some Celtic folk music, and I’m sure I recognized them from a festival here in Prague. The best food award went to the Pakistani tent, where I had some sort of spicy hot dog thing. Anyways, this festival on the large park of Champs de Mars was just some icing on the cake, as it was a place to get some tasty and cheap food and was right next to perhaps the best place to park our car and get a full tour of Colmar. 

Le Grand Rue and Little Venice

 Rue des Tanneurs

 

From the Champs de Mars, we headed straight for the Grand Rue, the main street in the old town. I was really trying to take us on to Little Venice, but it was kind of hard to navigate, and as the actual route to Little Venice was weirdly underdeveloped, we ended up going the other way and ended up at the Rue des Tanneurs. It seems to me, from both Strasbourg and Colmar, that French leather workers must have really had the best of the world of their time, as their quarters are the best preserved and most beautiful, lined as they are with half-timbered houses with bougainvilleas pouring out their windows like jugs of wine serving the table. 

 

 Le Petite Venice

 

We made our way back down the Grand Rue and corrected ourselves to find Le Petite Venice. It’s a real weird thing to call a town’s one or two canals “a little Venice”, especially when you’re right next to a city with a lot more impressive canals (Strasbourg). This reminded me of my travels up in the Benelux, when every town there was trying to call themselves the Venice of the North. Don’t believe any of them. The name can only fairly be claimed by Amsterdam and St. Petersburg – take it from someone who’s been to all three. But here in Colmar, there were a few small canals and they were indeed quite romantic, lined with the alluring abodes and stuffed overflowing of flowers as they were. We had come though in the wrong season, spring was waiting its sweet time and we were doomed to dark clouds and only the first blossoms, but it was stunning nevertheless.

 

Le Petite Venice

 

At Le Petite Venice, a notable building is the old market hall, the Marche Couvert, next to one of the prettier bridges there. The market hall was originally built in the late 1800s, was shut down for a long time until recent years, when local vendors decided to open a farmers’ market inside. There’s an interesting detail on the outside, where the main cargo doors face directly into the canal, which had served a clear and original purpose for stocking the market with goods brought up on the waterway. 


Churches, churches!

Next we went back up the Rue des Tanneurs to make our way to the massive St. Martin’s Church. The 14th century Gothic cathedral seems to be built in two layers, with a variety of doors leading inward. It’s especially well-known for its Judensau gargoyles, showing Jews in passionate love with female pigs, representing the close relationship the medieval Christians had with their Jewish cousins. 

 

 walking towards St. Martin's

 

After that, we found our way to the not-so-massive and extraordinarily plain-looking Dominican Church. It seems to me that there was a period after all the beautiful Gothic churches had been built – or at least their foundations had – that architects seemed to have collectively given up, such as to say, “That’s it, architecture is done, we can’t do better, let’s just make boxy shit.” There were a couple of moments in history, like during the Baroque and Art Nouveau periods where they seemed to struggle and try to say, “No, but we can do something better!” But then they realized they couldn’t and just went back to box making. During colonialism, all the architects of the box-making variety found themselves in America, and with equally American optimism, said, “We can make better, bigger, and taller boxes!” And thus skyscrapers and Walmarts were born. 

 

the Dominican Church

 

The day was pressing and we wanted to get back to Strasbourg. It was an easy spit to get from the Dominican Church over to the Champ de Mars, get another spicy Pakistani hot dog thing, and get back on the road. Which is exactly when we saw a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty in a traffic circle outside of Colmar. It was built to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the death of Auguste Batholdi, who sculpted the original.

 

Do what I did and find a place to stay in Alsace and book now on booking.com:

 

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