O-Kayersberg

Kayersburg has experienced countless conflicts.  Kayersberg (in Alsace, France near Colmar) was badly damaged during the second world war.  Wandering through the streets today, you’d never suspect the previous damage and turmoil.  Like Eguisheim, it is one of the prettiest towns in France (Les Plus Beau Villages de la France).

Located on the famous wine route, this beautifully preserved village is packed with history and traditions.  Kaysersberg‘s half-timbered buildings, rivers (the Sambach and the Bogenbach) and wonderful flowers make it one of the prettiest towns in France.  It’s location in a valley surrounded by vineyards doesn’t hurt either.

We strolled through the streets.  After eating our 600th pretzel of the trip, he checked out the church Saint-Croix ( and the neighboring Chapelle Saint-Michel).  I walked around the exterior, admiring the architecture.  I saw a sign that said “Ossuarie” (ossuary in English, a chest, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains) and was intrigued.   Although it was locked, you could clearly see inside.  For us, it was a foreign, unfamiliar sight.  Bones were piled meters high all around the  building.

The quote translates from German to “that’s it because the master is enslaving by his 1463.” The rest has been lost.

The ossuary was built in 1514.   The bones are from the old cemetery which was moved outside the town walls in 1511.  The full German inscription on the ossuary has been lost.   It is believed to say someone about the master resting next to the servant.

We climbed up to ruins of a medieval castle.  Our eyes were immediately drawn down to the town and the tower of its 12th century church.  The surrounding countryside and vineyards were stunning.

Like the rest of Alsace, Kayersberg has a Christmas Market.  Theirs is reputed to be one of the most traditional and authentically Alsatian.  In a setting like this, would you expect anything less?

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Streaking Through Strasbourg

I’m a huge fan of stopping by to see something while en route somewhere else.  On our way from Colmar to Bad Kreuznach, we stopped by Strasbourg.  While we only had an hour to walk around the town, we managed to catch some of the touristic highlights.

Strasbourg is known for its river.  As we walked along the water, we studied the canals.  Le Barrage Vauban (Vauban Dam) was built in 1681.  The flood gates could be closed and the southern edge of the city flooded, in the event of an attack.  They do boat tours that looked pretty cool.  When we found the landing, a tour bus full of people moving none too quickly was boarding the boat.  We didn’t wait around for the next one.

Le Petite France is an appealing neighborhood situated on islands.  The half-timbered houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries.  It was impossible to miss the flavor of German culture that permeated the area.  This area gets decked out during the holidays for the annual Christmas Market.

Strasbourg’s gigantic gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, was built in the 11th and 12th centuries (although the 142 meter high spire was not finished until 1439).  It is the sixth-tallest church in the world!  I felt ant-sized next to it.

It is impressive.  Describing the exterior as ornate is an understatement.  The stone is so elaborate that it is almost lace-like.  Its stained glass windows (the Rose window in particular) are considered showstoppers.  Aficionados of churches are impressed by the giant organ, Gothic pulpit and astronomical clock.  We didn’t have time to climb the steps to the top of the bell tower to enjoy the view.  Zut Alors!

Strasbourg has long been a capital of the region.  It was bitterly fought over and changed hands between France and Germany five times between 1870 and 1945.  The Council of Europe is also located here.  For these reasons and its convenient central location) it was chosen as the location for the European Parliament.   This is as close as we got.  Again, sorry.

Colorful Colmar

I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair amount in Europe, but never to Alsace (France) and always wanted to see it.  On the way to visit some friends in Germany, we stopped for a night.  We chose to stay the night in Colmar because it is a Rick Steves’ pick.  If it’s good enough for Rick, it’s good enough for me.  As usual, he didn’t let me down.

Alsatian towns are known for cobblestone streets, restored half-timbered buildings painted a myriad of colors and decorated with flowers.  Colmar is no exception.   Colmar is a larger than most with several distinct neighborhoods.  The Petit Venise quarter doesn’t look much like Venice (its canals don’t look much like Brugges either).  Regardless, you still want to stroll the streets and take pictures.

The “Fishermen’s quarter” is where fishermen and merchants sold fish and seafood here until mid 20th century.

Another famous neighborhood, the Quartier des Tanneurs contains tall houses with rooftop porches where Tanners dried their hides.  These tiny neighborhoods look wonderful in the summer, but are apparently also popular in the winter.  Colmar (and nearby Strasbourg) are known for their Christmas market and festive decorations.

Colmar has several unique old buildings.  The Ancienne Douane (Old Customs’s House), La Maison des Têtes (its intricate façade is ornamented with 106 heads, têtes in French), and the gothic Cathédrale Saint-Martin.

Colmar’s Museum of Unterlinden houses Matthias Grünewald‘s Issenheim Alterpiece.  Acclaimed as one of the most dramatic and moving pieces of art, it is unique and filled with iconography.   While I’m not one for most religious art, it was impressive.  The story behind it is interesting.   The religious community of Issenheim cared for the sick and terminally ill.  Depicting realistic pain, misery, Christ’s death and resurrection, analogized their suffering.

Although it might not be immediately obvious, many consider this one of the most exciting works in the history of German art!

We spent another couple of hours examining the museum’s other art, weapons, gold beer steins and other everyday objects from Alsace’s history.  From masterpieces to the everyday, it is one of the better museums we’ve seen.  Even on one of the first sunny summer days it merits a visit.  For us, the 10 most interesting things were:

  1. We saw people performing restoration work on a painting in the middle of the museum.  It was fascinating to watch them work.  I don’t think my eyesight or hand-eye coordination is good enough for that job.
  2. I stumbled into a room with a series of woodcut prints by Albrecht Durer.  I’m a fan of his and excited to see them up close.  They were pretty sweet.
  3. He liked the collection of old wine making equipment.  If you need to hide some bodies, you could definitely do in their giant wood casks.
  4. I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the suits of armor.  Just like the suits we saw at the Tower of London, there were excessively large codpieces that made me giggle and suits large enough to fit Pavarotti.
  5. He liked the old guns, swords helmets and instruments of punishment/torture.
  6. It was fun to compare the old paintings of Colmar to what we saw strolling the streets.  Some of the areas above were instantly recognizable!
  7. How could you not want to drink out of the gold and silver beer steins?
  8. Populated since the Neolithic era, the museum had archaeological finds in the basement, including burial sites replete with skeletons from Alsace.
  9. The museum itself is pretty sweet.  Housed in a former convent from the 13th century, it remains calm, orderly and detailed.
  10. Cheeky sculptures

Someone should have gone easy on the tartes

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statute of Liberty is from Colmar.  The town is justifiably proud of its hometown boy made good.  His sculptures (above) and tributes to his work decorate the town…and the traffic circles.  They are clearly proud of their hometown boy who made it to the big time.   Thanks for Lady Liberty Freddie!

Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

He declared Euguisheim, France the cutest town in the world.  We’ve seen a lot of cute towns recently (we even have two cute towns categories on the blog).  He made a bold statement and declared Euguisheim the cutest.  While I wasn’t ready to declare it the winner, I couldn’t name anything cuter.

France has 32,000 villages that dot its countryside.  The association “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages of France), they are dedicated to sharing French history and culture.  Its 156 member towns try to make their towns as beautiful, charming and flower-filled as possible.  If you want to see stereotypical and picture perfect French towns on your vacation, check them out (you can search by name, region or on the map).

Euguisheim is one of “The Most Beautiful Villages of France.”  The words “picturesque” and “pleasant don’t begin to do it justice.  The cheery flowers decorate the colorful timber framed houses.  The cobblestoned streets add authenticity and its pedestrian center is peaceful.  Captivating storks nest on the church spires and soar overhead.

Euguisheim is easy to navigate.  Its streets form concentric circles around its central chateau.  It’s not that large.  You might want to get lost here, but you won’t.

If the enchanting atmosphere isn’t enough, you can always enjoy the wine.  Euguisheim is proud of its moniker “the cradle of Alsatian wine.”  People have grown grapes for wine around Euguisheim since Roman times.  Surrounded by vineyards, there are several tasting rooms in town.

Although Euguisheim is cute, I think this little guy might be cuter.   I spent almost as much time petting this four-month old Bernese Mountain Dog/Border Collie mix as I did taking pictures.  I fell in love.

His owner sold me one of these pretzels.  Le Yum!  What a great day!