I believe that life is a journey which will be enriched by small adventures exploring the world full of color and diversity. This series of my blog posts are observations, stories and learnings that I have encountered through each adventure, with the desire for recording impressions, experience and memories. This time, it’s about Alsace through my lens…
My 3 last days of 2017 were perfectly and peacefully spent in Strasbourg and Colmar as part of my Christmas retreat after finishing the first semester in Paris. These two lovely cities located in the Alsace region to the North East of France and on the Rhine River plain brought me so much unforgettable memories and experiences that I have to record my impression and feelings immediately.
Alsace is the smallest yet a cultural and historical rich region of France. That’s the prestigious heritage this region has from its border with Germany and Switzerland, and that it was alternated between German and French control over the centuries leading to the reflect of a mix of those cultures. Its capital, Strasbourg, is centered on the Ill River’s Grand Île island, bordered by canals and home to the Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame with the Astronomical clock. This European-well-known Cathedral impressed me by its towering height which offers the full view to Alsace plain, its delicate sculptured marvel and its ancient color thanks to its age of over 500 years. The church is placed among ancient houses with the signature half-timbered architecture of the Alsace region. I arrived Strasbourg after Christmas, so most of Noel markets here (which make Strasbourg become Capital of Christmas) were close. Fortunately, there’s one market surrounding the Cathedral area still opened then, giving me the chance to somehow enjoy the atmosphere of Strasbourg’s Noel.
As said, unique ancient houses with half-timbered architecture influenced by German style is a heritage of Alsace region and can be found as collection along riversides in Petite France quarter in Strasbourg & Petite Venise quarter in Colmar. Half-timbered house is formed by timber carcass making a solid bone structure and then walls are filled in the spaces between wooden frame. Walls are made of mortar consisting of mud and straw. Roofs are designed to be steeply sloping and made of brown clay tile which is somehow common to Northern Vietnam traditional house’s roof. Each house with facade facing the street has its own color and slightly different in decorating but still integrates harmoniously with the whole village. I had a feeling of living in fairy-tale stories when entering these vividly and colorfully decorated villages.
For understanding in details how Alsacien houses are decorated and arranged traditionally and how people there used to live, it is highly recommended to go through the lively exhibition of clothing and household artifacts in the Alsacien Museum (Musée Alsacien) in Strasbourg. During Christmas time, the museum also featured how local people used to decorate their house to celebrate Christmas, which makes it more lively and interactive to visitors.
Wonderful Noel market in Colmar is annually opened quite long, until early January, so I could enjoy the whole things there during my trip. Noel market in Colmar has been voted to be in top 5 European Christmas Markets twice. It was set up both outdoor and indoor with various booths selling lots of stuffs like gifts, ceramic, souvenirs, decorations, etc., along with areas of games for kids, cakes and cuisine. Hot wine is a must-try drink in any Christmas market, especially when it was super cold in late December. And with a glass of hot wine in hands, we can be entirely warmed up for the whole market visiting. Another must-try stuff here is candied grapefruit which tastes not too sweet and a bit sour and is perfect to have with a cup of hot tea. Besides Christmas market, the whole town of Colmar is beautifully decorated to light up the mood of magical Christmas here.
It’s also amazing to see the small sister of Statue of Liberty right after entering Colmar, hometown of her father, sculptor Auguste Batholdi. This 12-meter high statue was made of resin sculpted to commemorate the 100th death anniversary of the sculptor Auguste Batholdi, the most prestigious artist of Colmar and acknowledge the work of art which is worldwide famous.
Yummy Tarte Flambée is one of the most well-known speciality of the Alsace region and definitely a should-not-miss when traveling here. Tarte Flambée is composed of bread dough rolled out super thin in rectangle or circle shape with thinly sliced onion, lardoons, jambon and white cheese on top. Nowadays, people can customize it with salmon or beef, chicken toppings. There’s also sweet version of tart flambée.
There are 3 big cities in Alsace region namely Strasbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse, the last of which I have not visited yet. I will absolutely return to this beautiful and friendly region in summer to be able to see the same scenes under sunshine and blue sky, visit Mulhouse, the Alsace forest and complete my discovery of this cultural-rich region.
Transportation either by TGV or by bus to Strasbourg from any cities of France is very convenient. The former is super time-saving with total amount of traveling time just 2.5 hours and at value-to-money cost, just around 70 euro/ way. Early reservation or owning TGV max card (for under 26-year-old travelers) or Card weekend (for above 26-year-old travelers) can benefit from much discount. The latter way of transportation takes much more time, from 6 to 8 hours seating in coach from Paris, but is definitely offered on more affordable price, suitable for students.