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ALSACE, FRANCE: Colmar and villages; BACHARACH, GERMANY - SEP 2017

PART 1 of 3. The other parts immediately follow as replies to this post.

My wife and I visited Alsace in early Sep 2017, staying in Colmar for four nights, followed by two nights in Bacharach, Germany. In the past we had stayed in other regions of France; Alsace has its own precious character and provided us a charming experience, and Bacharch was pleasant. Only minor negative was an irritating incident involving train service in Germany.

In Colmar we rented a small apartment (with clothes washer) from My Sweet Homes. The location in the old town on the Rues des Marchands was ideal: a few steps from the Customs House, an easy 15-minute walk to the train station and 3 minutes to the Market Hall (Marché Couvert).

We arrived in Colmar the afternoon of Fri Sep 1, spending Sat and Sun in Colmar, and Mon visiting villages outside Colmar.

Colmar’s Marché Couvert proved to be a valuable resource during our stay as we shopped there at least 4 times; everything was fresh and delicious at a reasonable price. Twice we bought breakfast with coffee and ate outside the market. We also bought an excellent boxed lunch with a generous salad, and items for making lunch and dinner at our apt - sausage, cheese, fresh produce, wine, fruit. One of the large produce kiosks sells several varieties of wine from a certain winery; though the bottles are visible inside the kiosk, one must ask for them – we found them to be a very good value. The market venders were all considerate - especially if one started by saying "Bonjour".

Our top experiences in Colmar:

  • Seeing the reaction of a Marché Couvert vender one Sunday evening. By 6pm the town shops had closed – and we needed a bottle of wine. Fortunately, the Marché was having a three-day multi-decade anniversary, and thus was staying open unusually late: 7pm. We stood in line at the kiosk described in the previous paragraph. There were three tourist customers before us, and the young man working the counter (who spoke fine English) was becoming quite frustrated trying to meet the demands of each of these customers – all of whom communicated in native-speaker-speed English and seemed unsure of what they wanted. Finally, my wife’s turn came, and she stepped forward to face the now-surly vendor. Though she understands no French, she had memorized the phrase she spoke next: “Bonjour. Une bouteille de Reisling, s’il vous plait.” The young man’s face lit up, he clapped his hands, and cried “Bravo!” as he presented her the bottle.
  • Doing the town walk described in the Rick Steves guidebook. Petite Venise is pretty both day and night.
  • Enjoying a sunny picnic lunch and bottle of wine (both from the Marché Couvert) while surrounded by medieval structures in the courtyard behind our apt. Other than us, it was almost deserted.
  • Visiting the Unterlinden Museum.
  • Visiting the Hansi Museum. The first floor is a store that sells a wide range of Alsatian goods targeting tourists. The second floor is a small and interesting museum that commemorates an Alsatian (largely commercial) artist known as Hansi, who lived from 1873-1951 and whose real name was Jean Jacques Waltz. He designed the wrought-iron shop symbol used by the Alsatian restaurant Bofinger in Paris, as well as many such symbols still used by some Colmar shops. He is well-known for his illustrations of the local people in traditional Alsatian garb engaged in everyday activities, and of whimsical depictions of the German administrators who governed Alsace after Germany annexed the province following the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.
  • A robust Alsatian dinner at the Wistub de la Petite Venise restaurant. It was quite crowded, and we were lucky to get a table sans reservation.

[CONTINUED on PART 2]

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PART 2 of 3

On Mon Sep 4 we rented a car and enjoyed stopping at the following sites:

  • Eguisheim, a well-preserved beau village. We went early before the crowds, arriving about 9am. After a town walk we were having coffee in the town square when tourist buses began arriving. This was our signal to leave, and at 9:45am we were on our way.
  • Turckheim, another beautiful village on the Wine Route. Less touristy, and as pretty as Eguisheim. We stopped at the Tourist Information Office just inside the town gate and picked up a walking tour map. As we walked the town perimeter, we came across a box of organic grapes on a doorstep with a sign that welcomed passersby to take some. Delicious! For lunch we had an Alsatian specialty, Flammekueche, with beer at an outdoor table at the Caveau la Forge restaurant. The other patrons seemed to be German visitors.
  • Next stop was not a village, but a panoramic viewpoint with a memorial to the American and French military units that had liberated Alsace in WW2. A short but nice stop.
  • Kilstett. Not on the Wine Route, not in the Rick Steves guidebook, and very different from Eguisheim and Turckheim because the village of Kilstett had been largely destroyed during WW2 as it was the site of several battles and changed hands several times. Thus, most of the buildings are post-war style. The people we met were gracious. We visited because while we were in Alsace I learned from a relative back in the US that Kilstett was the origin of our family’s Alsatian roots; she urged us to visit the mayor as he had been very helpful in our family’s genealogical research. Though I would not normally visit someone—much less a mayor—without pre-arrangement, my wife and I decided to go. We asked some folks on the street where we could find the Town Hall, and they reported it was closed, but volunteered to guide us to the mayor’s house. I replied that I’d rather not bother the mayor at home, upon which one woman asked, “Why not?” with a smile. I couldn’t help but agree, and she hopped on her bicycle and led our car to his house. We were warmly welcomed and had a truly special 30-minute conversation with the Mayor and his Wife, before he had to depart for a late evening meeting.

My only regret in Alsace was not accepting the invitation from the kind gentleman who approached us in the Marché Couvert and offered us a free boat ride as part of the market’s anniversary celebration. We should have adjusted our schedule and accepted.

Tue Sep 5, we left by train for two nights in Bacharach, Germany. Due to a damaged tunnel in Germany, our TGV to Frankfurt was cancelled, and the SNCF (France rail company) kindly explained an alternate route to Frankfurt.

We had an unpleasant experience in Germany when we changed trains at Frankfurt to reach Bacharach. (Our TGV ticket was good to Frankfurt, but not to Bacharach.) This is where I learned the one item I was unable to verify before we left Seattle: in Germany one must buy a ticket BEFORE boarding the train – regardless of quick turn-arounds, even if caused by a German railway issue that caused a delay and the consequent quick turn-around. (A German passenger did try to intervene for us, and also apologized for what he witnessed.) My advice would be to be especially careful if the train’s next stop after leaving Frankfurt is the Frankfurt airport, and to not ride the first car (where the conductor commences his walk-through to check tickets). I am curious to know if anyone else has had their tickets checked on the Frankfurt-to-Frankfurt Airport stretch, as I couldn’t help but wonder if the foreigners who fail to buy a ticket and need to catch a flight are a good source of revenue. Our tickets were not checked on any other train we rode in Germany.

[CONTINUED on PART 3]

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PART 3 of 3

Once in Bacharach, we had a nice stay on the top floor of Hotel zur Post, which we learned of through the Rick Steves guidebook.

Top experiences in Bacharach:

  • Doing the Rick Steves walk along the town walls up through Burg Stahleck Castle, including climbing up the Tower located in vineyards for a great view of the town and the Rhine River.
  • Dinner at Alte Haus, the oldest building in town. The house aperitif was exquisite, consisting of Riesling wine with a peach liqueur added. We found the food to be better than the other restaurant we dined at, which was the most expensive in town. The waitress provided us a book of historical photos of Bacharach to leaf through as we waited for our food. The photos were fascinating, including seeing Nazi-era flags in the streets in a couple of shots from the 1930s and 40s.
  • Riding the “Goethe” sidewheeler boat up the Rhine from Boppard to Bacharach. We sat down at a table with a solitary man. He turned out to be from Munich and was returning home from a wedding. Nice conversation.

We departed Bacharach Tue Sep 5, flying out of Frankfurt for Seattle. (We made darn sure to purchase our train ticket to Frankfurt airport in advance. Sounds simple, but we were really concerned and thus were very, very careful to get it right.)

[FIN]

Posted by
1034 posts

Thank you, Jeff, for a lovely trip report. My husband and I visited Colmar on the now-defunct RS Village Europe tour and found it to be as lovely and charming as you reported. Sorry for your train experience, but not surprised. It’s all about following the rules in Germany, even if your situation was occasioned by an unexpected change in train route. Glad your time in Germany was otherwise pleasant. I love the little villages along the Rhein.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you for sharing. As a novice traveler (not even novice..... a novice has at least started and I'm still just planning) it's helpful. I'm putting together an itinerary for early 2019 summer in Alsace, the Rhine, Black Forrest and Bavaria, so this was very insightful to me. Much appreciated

Posted by
187 posts

Abby: if you are going to Munich you might consider a side trip to Regensburg. A local colleague took me there when I was in Munich on business a few years ago. Very old and pretty. He also took me to Walhalla, a Greco-style monument overlooking the Danube.

Posted by
12887 posts

Thanks for a detailed and interesting report. On the ticket checking....when I landed at FRA in 2016, the ride I took from FRA to Frankfurt Hbf was checked. That stretch from Frankfurt Hbf to FRA should be checked.

On the liberation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1944 by US troops, keep in mind that the first town in that region to be liberated saw the Japanese-Americans of the 442 RCT, the Nisei unit, as their liberators. That was the town of Bruyere, which is more in Lorraine than in Alsace.

Bacharach is known in Prussian-German history as the site where in Jan. 1814 the Prussians, that part of the Allied armies invading France against Napoleon. crossed the Rhine. There is a memorial plaque indicating that event, ie, that of Blücher and his crossing of the Rhine (Rheinübergang). You might have seen that since it is attached to a rock.

Posted by
1103 posts

Nice report. I was in Colmar two years ago and very much enjoyed the Marché Couvert as well.

Posted by
681 posts

I enjoyed reading your report. I was there a few years ago and enjoyed revisiting it though your eyes.

Posted by
1350 posts

Hi Jeff,

We followed you into My Sweet Homes, staying in their Bartholdi apartment for three nights starting September 5th. Ours didn't have outside space, which was missed, but overall a terrific place for the pricepoint.

We set out everyday for the surrounding villages, returning to enjoy Colmar from the mid-to-late afternoon each day.

I read your regret about not accepting the boat ride with recognition, having let opportunities go in the past. Not this time. We met two fellows in the pub and the one encouraged us to go to his friend's winery in Wettolsheim. He wrote the name, and address, and "from Denis" on a beer mat. We made sure to go the next day. We were treated very well; not sure if it was because of Denis's recommendation, or just because they are wonderful with their customers.

Your trip report got me thinking about the whole experience again. Thanks!

Posted by
131 posts

Thank you for your report. 6 years ago we visited Eguisheim. We bicycles out of Colmar on our way to the Wine Road and stopped in Eguisheim. We were disappointed to find out we would miss the annual Stork Festival. While gathering our picnic lunch and looking for a place to eat, I noticed a stork nest atop the palace. And it had mated storks in it! After that, we found storks and nests everywhere in Alsace; all one had to do was look up.

Posted by
282 posts

Thank you, Jeff, for that wonderful trip report. We're thinking of visiting Colmar and the Rhine next summer and your recommendations will help me plan. Thanks to Fred, too, for the historical info - and also Leonard for the info about the Stork Festival. Looking forward to it all!

Posted by
8113 posts

Yes, they do frequently check tickets on that train between Frankfurt and the airport. I get checked all the time, they just go from seat to seat and groups of controllers get in all of the cars at once since this ride only takes 11 min. This is just a subway with no possibility to buy tickets. If you miss a train, you can get the next one in 15 min.
I get asked all the time by tourists at the airport if the trains are free.

Another fan of Colmar. Such a pretty little town. Their Christmas market is fantastic!

Posted by
187 posts

Ms. Jo: Thanks for that info. Have a great day.
Jeff

Posted by
10053 posts

Thanks, Jeff. We are in Colmar for a week in late April. Really looking forward to it, especially after your report!

Edited to add my thanks for the link to My Sweet Homes. I just booked one of their apartments!

Posted by
31 posts

If you are interested in WWII history, Colmar has a nice WWII museum, Musee du Memorial des Combat de la Poche de Colmar, about the Colmar Pocket Campaign. It’s a good little museum with probably one of the more haunting displays of helmets with holes in them. Not far from Colmar is a memorial to Audie Murphy at Holzwihr-read up on his heroics before you go.

Posted by
187 posts

The museum "Musee du Memorial des Combat de la Poche de Colmar" is actually in Turckheim. It was closed when we were visiting that village.