Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A short side-trip to France? Don't mind if I do: Colmar and Strasbourg

After Big R gave me the best birthday surprise ever, we were all packed up with my mom in tow with no particular place to go (and that rhyme was completely accidental - promise!).  We easily could have just taken my mom back to our place in our pretty little corner of Germany, but we were already on the western end of the country and so close to many things that are typically a tad out of reach for a quick weekend drive.

We decided to head into France.  Big R had done some research, and although the Christmas market season was well over here in Germany, several areas of France kept their markets open through the new year.  We decided that it was time we finally saw Strasbourg, which is a French town many of our friends (and family, my dad and stepmom spent some time there this summer as well) constantly rave about.  It has certainly been on our list, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to go exploring.  We also thought we'd take a stop in the small town of Colmar.  It's a place I had never heard of before, but it easily became one of my favorite European towns.

My usual approach of planning well in advance for hotels, transportation, and sightseeing was out the window on this particular trip.  While Big R drove us into France, I frantically searched for lodging for all four of us for the night.  Strasbourg was not presenting anything promising on the hotel front, so I found us a great hotel right in the heart of Colmar.  It was a little more money than we usually preferred spending, but for a last minute reservation, it was a gem of a find!

Little did we know that this unexpected excursion into France would fill our camera up with unforgettable memories.  I'll be honest, it was tough to pick photos to share because there were SO many incredible pictures taken.  I'm sure that both Colmar and Strasbourg are full of attractions including museums and churches and "must-see" places.  I have no idea if we saw all or any of those places because we simply took each of these beautiful French locations in and absorbed them as much as we possibly could.

It was already dark when we reached our hotel in Colmar.  The hotel was quite literally in the heart of town - such a perfect location for a quick overnight stay.  After getting the car parked and checking into our hotel, we wasted no time and set off to explore the French Christmas market that surrounded us.  The markets in both Colmar and Strasbourg had similarities to what we've experienced at German Weinachtsmarkts, but there were subtle differences that made the trip exciting, especially for little r.  What we didn't expect was how much we would fall in love with Colmar.  There was so  much French and medieval charm in this town that you could practically envision what the town must have been like hundreds of years ago.

We enjoyed wandering the decorated and lighted streets of Colmar, we took little r on a few different rides, drank some mulled wine, and enjoyed a French dinner at a sweet little creperie in town before making our way back to our hotel for the night.

Beautiful two-story carousel in Colmar, France
this is one happy pilot!
one of them any lit up streets throughout Colmar's old city
window shopping
wish it were open - this store looks great!
mom and I were happy - little r was done with the pictures

Cathedral in Comar - beautiful lit up at night
Big R's talented eye captures perfect lighting 
The next morning, little r blessed us by sleeping in. We casually made it downstairs to enjoy breakfast offered by the hotel, then we packed our things, checked out, and put everything in the car so we could enjoy Colmar by daylight.  It felt like a completely different town by day.  The buildings exploded with color including the roof tops.  We also truly enjoyed the Christmas market from devouring doughnut pretzels and drinking delicious hot cider to admiring the pretty handicrafts, buying French chocolate and toffee, and letting little r have fun on the carnival rides.  It was a perfect morning.

Good morning, Colmar - view from our hotel window
Charming residence off the main street
Views of the Cathedral by day
The lighting during the day was just as stunning.
One last shot for properity
Cafe along the streets of Colmar
We were having too much fun!
Colorful rooftops were seen all throughout Colmar's old town
He waited several turns just to drive the train
Family photo in beautiful Colmar, France
Easily little r's favorite ride EVER!
doughnut pretzels - so delicious, as little r would say
Hang on, little r!
that is one happy kid - he had to ride it again :) 
roller coaster ride with daddy!
looks like a postcard, doesn't it?
so many buildings had intricate detail
We wrapped things up in Colmar and headed to Strasbourg, which was only a 45 minute drive away.  Parking was exciting, but we ended up finding a perfect garage for our adventure into the city.  It was now Saturday and the city was packed with people.  I wasn't the least bit surprised that all the hotels were booked. Strasbourg was so different than the little town we had just left behind.  It was also beautiful but in a completely different way.

We weren't in Strasbourg very long, but the city is compact in such a way that makes all of the sights easily walkable.  We strolled along the river and made our way to the great cathedral - what an amazing structure! Then wound our way through the main square, saw the largest Christmas tree we had ever seen, and found a cozy restaurant for dinner. The sun went down while we ate, so the stroll back to the car was of a different view lit by streetlights and holidays decorations from the Christmas markets.

View across the river from the old stone bridge
Another view across the river
little r taking it all in
this picture captures the character of much of Strasbourg
we loved the views
this is a silly bunch!
the restaurant with the porch along the water is where we had dinner
common look of the structures in Strasbourg - so beautiful
The Cathedral!
we really wanted to go to the top, but the line was incredibly long
so we explored inside the cathedral instead
Astronomical clock inside the Cathedral
Easily the biggest Christmas tree I have EVER seen!
Having my mom with us was so special
just beautiful
final views across the river as we walked to our car
We thought about doing some more exploring, perhaps heading down to Switzerland or over to Austria, but we decided to take the tired crew home.  Little r was a trooper, but he was definitely worn out.  What an amazing trip this was especially since it was only one night away. Something tells me we will be seeing both of these beautiful places in the Alsace region of France again...

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