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!

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We Lost Our Heads At The Tower Of London

The Tower of London is an impressive set of buildings with a storied history.

They also have a lot of interesting stuff in there like the crown jewels (including the world’s two largest diamonds).  Here are some of the more things we found interesting…

Kings and queens put their names on everything…including drainpipes.
A catapult.  Cool.
They have a changing of the guard, in other words you can watch the shift change.

They have ravens because of a “legend” that the tower will stand as long as they are there.  Ironically, the legend appeared when the tourists did.

We were surprised that we got to see spots (plural as there was more than one) where kings were murdered.

 

We laughed because Henry VIII’s armor got progressively larger over the years.  The first set was made for a fit man.  The second set was clearly larger.  The next set was Shreck-sized.  He, um, made other parts of the armor larger too.  I know, it’s more than a little disturbing.
Deeply disturbing, no question about it

Some of the armor was tiny.  This one was made for a three-year old.   They must have been more coordinated than I was at three.

He found the loo.

Bedazzled guns.  The sign says it was ordered from a jeweler and never picked up.  The jeweler turned it in.

There was also a gold plated revolver that was used in an infamous murder and a gold plated sub machine gun.  Was the orderer killed?  Incarcerated?  Deported?

There was a dragon made from weapons.  Check out the claws… they are made from old guns with wooden handles.

In the gift shop, they had a mug that when filled with hot liquid, Henry VIII’s wives disappeared.  Creative.

This marks the spot where Henry VIII’s wives were executed (Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey).

I got into trouble with the beefeaters.
Name someone else who else has a Yeoman Gaoler these days?

I’m still not sure why this hand is in the wall.  Please send me a note if you do.

 

London’s Museums

We left London a whole lot smarter (don’t get me wrong, we are still as dumb as two boxes of rocks).  We went to a few great museums: the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tower of London and the National Gallery.  The Rosetta Stone (below) is one the British Museum’s most famous objects.  It has same inscription written in three different scripts (Greek, hieroglyphs and demotic Egyptian) and allowed modern scholars to begin to decipher hieroglyphs for the first time.

From the statue of Ramses II to the egyptian mummies to statues from Easter Island and more. The British Museum was awesome.  If you rule 1/4 of the world’s population and have the money and the means to bring back treasures, you can amass an amazing collection.

 

 

King’s Library
Winged Lions (with human heads) from Assyria
This used to hang in the Parthenon.
The Elgin Marbles were amazing, his favorite part.
No wonder Greece wants them back.

The Imperial War Museum is in Bedlam.  Yep, that’s right Bedlam, the mental hospital that was so chaotic that it’s name became synonymous with it.  It was a fantastic museum.  They have tons of old bombs, tanks, vans, planes, etc., but there are also great exhibits.  Some of the highlights include: British spying in the 20th century, WWI (including a simulated trench warfare experience) and WWII (with a disorienting air raid experience).

The most astounding part of the museum was the Holocaust exhibit, the most complete in Europe.  They have an immense amount of materials and it is well presented.  Part of the way through, we found ourselves becoming a bit numb.  The content was so disturbing that it was the only way we could continue to the end without falling apart.  I cannot recommend seeing this highly enough.

The National Gallery (one of the world’s best art museums) has an unprecedented and immensely popular exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci.  It just opened and they have already sold out of tickets online.  To see it, I waited in the cold rain for an hour and a half!  It was well worth it.  Da Vinci painted less than 20 paintings over the course of his life and they never had so many together.  Ironically, a lot of the drawings belonged to her majesty the queen!

We were exited for the opportunity to move here, in part, because we knew that we would learn and grow.  This weekend, it started to dawn on us just how much learning is so much more accessible.  We resolved to try to take full advantage.

Movies Filmed In London

Avi:                     Eighty-six carats.
Rosebud:           Where?
Avi:                     London.

Rosebud:           London?
Avi:                     London.
Avi’s Colleague: London?
Avi:                     Yes, London.  You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse
                           weather, Mary ____ Poppins… LONDON. (from Snatch)
Willis Group Building Trinity Square was in Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. It was the mansion of villainous Manfred Powell.
Westminster Bridge was eerily deserted in 28 Days Later.
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Whitehall from Trafalgar to Parliament appeared in V for Vendetta.
The stunning Millennium Bridge has been featured in tons of movies including: Harry Potter And The Half Blood PriceBridget Jones Diary, and Love Actually.
Tower Bridge is easily recognizable in:  Sweeney Todd,  Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and from about ten million other things.
The London Eye was seen in Run Fatboy RunWimbledonFantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Love Actually.
The Silver Surfer rides the London Eye
30 St. Mary Axe (dubbed The Gherkin for its resemblance to a pickle) was in Match Point and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
The Admiralty Arch (situated close to Trafalgar Square) was the heavily guarded checkpoint passed by Clive Owen in Children Of Men.
You saw Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in Love Actually.
Of course, the Tower of London was featured in The Tudors.
The Royal Court’s of Justice were in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Usually, I like to watch movies set in the destination before a trip.  Given that our tech system is not fully functional, we didn’t do that this time.  Before we go back to London, we will definitely rewatch some of the above films.