Colmar and Strasbourg France: The “Small Provincial Towns” of Alsace

Colmar

“There goes the baker with his tray, like always. The same old bread and rolls to sell. Every morning just the same. Since the morning that we came. To this poor provincial town”

The view from our Airbnb window.

Yes, those are some of the opening lines to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. The town of Colmar appeared to be right out of the animated film. Villagers, bakers, tourists, and souvenir vendors roamed streets lined with half-timbered homes with colorful faces of yellow, red, blue, and pink. It was quiet, calm, and teeming with charm. A middle-aged man dressed in coattails and a steampunk top hat rode by on a bicycle as we marched onward to our Airbnb. It was in the middle of the small town. The view from our room was amazing and picturesque with the dark wooden beams of the eastern French style peering back at us from all around.

Surrounding Colmar are a string of hills and low mountains with fortresses and historic chateaus with views for miles. By this point in the trip, I found myself sick with plenty of congestion and a deep cough. It meant that we had to slow down a bit and cut a day out from seeing the chateaus via bicycle, a missed opportunity but one we will backtrack to later in life. North on the outer limits of Colmar, a WW2 M4A1E8 Sherman tank stands proudly as a reminder of the past. I am not certain I had seen one up close, but it assuaged my history needs for a few days.

Overall, I found French food somewhat underwhelming. I think this is partially due to my bias for spicy food. However, we did participate in two of France’s favorite culinary pastimes: bread and cheese. Countless baguettes and croissants were consumed from various bakeries. Realizing she can be sweet, crusty, and soft, I also started referring to my wife as “my little baguette”, which she seemed perfectly happy with. A permanent Market Hall contained a farmer’s market with butcheries, cheese shops, and produce. We picked up a soft, creamy strip of Gorgonzola, an aged, dark orange Mimolette, an herb crusted ball of sheep, and our favorite soft bleu Roquette. If there was one thing I could not get enough of, it was French cheese, and “my little baguette” wife.

For the second time in recent weeks, I found myself covered in mosquito bites. Hannah asked if “my forehead was Hawaii?”. When I quizzically stared back with a blank expression, she proceeded to add, “because its full of volcanoes”. We both started laughing. After all, if things went right every moment during the trip, what fun would that be? I also came down with a cold, which puts a definite dent on enjoying a place. I was a hot mess, and traveling can make enduring it even harder. Early on, we realized a sense of humor was imperative on the trip. This is my mosquito bitten forehead, or the Ring of Fire, depending on who you ask.

Strasbourg

This city was north of Colmar via a short train ride. It historically changed hands between France and Germany several times, as did much of this region close to the border. There were many more people milling about the town taking in the historic Gothic cathedrals and wooden facades of the town buildings.

White tent roofs are a good sign of a farmer’s market. When I see a handful, I tend to get excited. An avenue of Strasbourg contained men and women hawking wares to keen eyed locals with smiles and laughs exchanged aside currency. A quite talented trumpet player set the background with his instrument pouring out a catchy tune. Hannah had a soft spot for musicians and always tossed in a coin or two when they were very good or really making an effort.

It was a weekend day during our visit and one thing that stuck out was an organized march that paraded through the streets. Armed police and motorcyclists led the way while the sound of drums and a loudspeaker were heard booming from behind. Hannah and I were naturally curious but averted away from it. Large crowds and irregular events like those can draw attention from deviant individuals, and safety was our #1 priority.

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