When we announced that we would be moving to Basel one of Mark’s co-workers sent us an email begging us to go to Colmar, France while we lived here. He said it was a charming city with a huge Olde Towne area. They loved it so much his family visited it at least 6 times in an 18 month period.
We had been planning on going to Colmar in the spring. Because who doesn’t love spring in France? We certainly weren’t planning on it for Christmas. Basel has its own very enchanting Christmas markets and I was set to be contented with that. And we were taking a month off of traveling. We’d done 4 days in Bern and the children had begged us to just stay put for a few weeks. They wanted to “rest.” It became clear on day 1 of Christmas break that “resting” included a regimented schedule of Darwinian tests between the two of them.
So, we baked. We decorated. We read books. We make origami cranes. (Because what says Merry Christmas like origami cranes?)
And then on Thursday my beloved came to me and said, “I’d really like to go to Colmar this weekend.” And I replied, “Yes! Anything! Get them out of the house and walk them like the dogs they are!!” Or I might have said, “Okay. That sounds fine.” Mommy-brain makes things a little hazy sometimes.
So, Mark got the train tickets and we whisked away to Colmar on a short day-trip. Colmar is only 45 minutes away and so it makes a great place to visit on short notice. And, bonus, we didn’t have to show our passports or anything to get in or get out. We promised the kids new Christmas ornaments so even they were excited to go. And it wasn’t raining! It’s been damp and rainy lately. We weren’t able to go ice skating like I’d planned and the friends that have been over have had to find indoor activities instead of going to park as usual.
First let me tell you a little bit about Colmar. Colmar is old. Really, really old. Like formed in 884 when Charles the Fat (otherwise known as Charles III, the great-grandson of Charlemagne, but really “the fat” is easier to remember) set up a legislative body there. In 1226, it was declared to be an imperial free city by Emperor Frederick II (see? number mean nothing), meaning that the city could report directly to him and not to any other lord.
Colmar has ping-ponged back and forth between Germany and France thanks to various wars. Germany got Colmar after the Franco-Prussian war. Then France snatched it back after WWI thanks to the Treaty of Versailles. When Hitler was on the move in 1940, he annexed Colmar back, but France had the last laugh at the end of the WWII when it won Colmar back in 1945 after the Battle of the Colmar Pocket; a 3 week long battle between the Nazi forces led by Himmler and US and Free France forces led by no one you’ve ever heard of (except for possibly Lt. Audie Murphy, who fought in that battle and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism). An estimated 58,000 soldiers died.
None of that seems to have touched the picturesque Olde Towne area, however. It’s just as lovely as it was back in 1200. Cobblestoned streets snake around an impressively sized historic area for a town of only 65,000. Basel has a lot more people and our Olde Towne feels much smaller. Or perhaps Basel hasn’t done as good a job of preserving historic buildings. Anyway….
The Lauch River flows through carefully sculpted canals around the Olde Towne. Houses have been built right up to the banks of the canal giving those neighborhoods a distinctly Venetian feel. Back in the day, tanners, butchers, and fishmongers had their stalls and businesses right up on the canals, too. That must have been an incredible mixture of smells for those residents.
Tons of people go to Colmar for the Winter Markets. The train was packed with people going there. And it was easy to find our way to the Markets – we just followed the herds of people. All the Winter Markets have these little wooden shed/booth houses. There are handmade goods to be bought. Lots of ornaments, some knitted caps and mittens, foie gras in various containers, preserves and honey, Alsatian wine, fresh breads, wooden toys, and various other foods and gifts.
The streets are beautifully decorated and there are even small rides for the children and an ice rink!
And of course there is a Cathedral. This one, however, stayed Catholic during the reformation. You can see subtle differences – candles to light and more ornate pieces are still intact.
We looked all around the church. The children lit candles and then we headed back out for more shopping! Because that’s what Jesus would want.
We wandered into a MarktHalle and bought some actual made-in-France French Bread. We also got some French pears, French salami, and French wines. Look how cute they package it up here.
Christmas is a huge deal here. It’s like an excuse to get out of your house and embrace the cold. I think Mark and I had at least 2 hot wines each. And the boys were treated to hot chocolate and hot apple cider. We had at least 5 different types of crepes, because it’s France and it’s the law. Mark and I decided that we will need to see what Spring is like in Colmar. Keep an eye out for that in a few months. I think our next adventure will be surviving Christmas Eve and Day. We hope you survive it, too.