Day 79: Ile du Rhin to Colmar - Grampies Go By The Books - CycleBlaze

July 17, 2014

Day 79: Ile du Rhin to Colmar

Leaving our island in the Rhine, we entered France proper, our first time back since we left and went to Luxembourg, on Day 9. Almost immediately, we noticed marked differences with Germany. The houses and properties, though still lovely and with lots of flowers, had a crumbling, tumble down feel. The house shapes were more square than rectangular, and the roofs were older and made from different tile. It's a more casual atmosphere, to be sure. But we have grown accustomed to large, clean, perfection. There will be a brief adjustment period necessary.

The next difference was the lack of those great green on white bicycle direction signs, found in Germany in addition to radweg markers. Instead, we were once again back on quiet country roads, following car direction signs to the next town. To be fair, the French did come up with some "Route Verte" bicycle signs for the way to Colmar, however this did not (always) mean that there was a separate bicycle way.

Colmar was close, but on the way was one other major place: Neuf Brisach. Neuf Brisach has a unique defensive wall, in the shape of a multi-sided star. It looks great on maps. But we cycled through one side and out the other, noting the wall but not able to see the pattern. I think we had a pamphlet with a lot of things to note in Neuf Brisach, but it was lost on as as we breezed through.

Our route passed through corn fields and rutabaga fields, through shady forest, and along quiet roadway. It was pleasant, normal cycling. Last night we had fired up Rick Steves' book on France, in the tablet, and Dodie had a look at it briefly. She noted that Steves seemed to rant on an on about the sights of Colmar, and that he also commented that you will always get lost there.

When we got to Colmar, we passed quickly from new (under 100 years old) buildings to a highly attractive old city, with narrow streets, alleys, canals, and tons of tourists.

We are, of course, in the Alsace region. This is a place that has changed hands repeatedly between France and Germany. Germany certainly had it before 1900, lost it in WWI, grabbed it back in WWII (that is, annexed it, rather than simply getting military control), and of course, lost it again. French is the language here, but there are lots of people of German background, and I think, for example, that the architecture is a mix.

So Colmar presented us with a lot of fachwerk (half timbered) buildings, mixed with four story ones with nice window treatments, and other beautiful buildings - hard to say what style (how about - Alsatian?) We immediately realized that while we could just try pushing the bikes through it, that would not do it justice, nor would it be totally easy, with much to see and lots of people to dodge.

So we headed for Tourist Information, with the idea of possibly finding a guest house where we could stash the bikes, and then be free to walk around the city. Tourist Information handed us a book of hotel descriptions, with 95 percent being too costly. We did see two possibilities, but as we pondered them we began to chat with two other (Swiss) cyclists who were nearby. Their approach was to have stashed their gear at the fairly nearby camping, and to have ridden back into town on the unloaded bikes. Now they would lock them and walk around.

This seemed a bit risky, but taking courage from the Swiss, we set out to do the same thing. When we got to the camping, we found that the reception was closed, because this is France. So we pitched our tent near some other tents, put a note on it (we'll be back!) and beetled off into town.

Our first order of business was actually business. We needed to drop in and have a word with our kooky bank, HSBC France. Their 132 euro per year service charge debit card had refused our withdrawal attempt last week, at an ATM in Germany. The reason is that there is a weekly withdrawal limit, of about one third what is common in Canada. Once we all agreed that this was indeed the glitch, I issued the natural (Canadian) remedy request: "Raise the limit". Not so fast, while some change to the limit might be possible for a limited time, this humble branch could not implement it. They would have to write a letter to Paris. So, we wrote to Paris, and in the meantime I had them give me an extra dollop of our own money. If anyone now wants to rob us of all that cash - we are in Camping de l'Ill, spot 01.

Charging out of HSBC on Rue du Clef - the main street of the old town - we were geared up to follow a tour plan around the 42 points of interest listed in our Colmar pamphlet. However, before we could begin that we tripped on the little green tourist train that takes you around the sights with a recorded commentary. Recorded tours like this are never as good as live ones, but the English track was very clear and easy to understand.

So first we whizzed around on the little train, and then set off to look at all the same stuff on foot. You have to be on foot, or at least on bike, to have any chance of really seeing and photographing things.

The whole enterprise was coloured by the fact that it was hot, hot, hot. So we trudged slowly, keeping to the shade as much as possible. It proved just barely possible to find our way around, since there were so many little streets, at odd angles, and with street names not so easy to spot. We dutifully looked at all the buildings and little districts of the old town, mainly trying to absorb the feel and look of the place, rather than to understand its history or economics.

One aspect of current economics did stand out for us, though, and that was the price of ice cream. In Germany, the standard price for ice cream in a sugar cone is 1 euro per scoop. This varies, and we have seen prices as low as .70 and as high as 1.20. But here? The lowest was 1.40 and the highest 2.20. On such a hot day, pricing like this is brutal. There are no doubt 20 ice cream shops and sellers in town, and as we walked we looked at their prices. No way were we going to pay a 40 to 80 percent premium. No matter how darn hot it got! We held to this until we ran into the Swiss guys again. They each had a double - yes double. This cracked our resolve, and soon we too each sported an approximately $4.50 ice cream cone. Good thing we had straightened out those HSBC people!

Eventually we had trudged through enough of the town to feel we had seen it, though you (and I) will have to rely on the photos (when uploaded) to get an idea of just what we did see. We are glad we stopped, though, and we are hoping for an easy ride up to Strasbourg. Maybe tonight we will check Rick Steves and see what awaits us there. Or maybe, as is more normal for us, we will just blunder through it.

Postscript: When we got back to the camping, we went to register, since the office was now open. We told the young woman that we had already put our tent with the rest, and just wanted to pay.

"Not possible", she said. The tent meadow is now "full", as there is only a specified number of tents permitted. So we would have to move to a designated individual spot, which of course, would not be full. "But", we protested "our tent is already there, and it is not near any others - everything is fine". "No" she said "my computer will not allow me to put you in the meadow, you have to go in the designated spot. If you do not, when we come around to check the spots, that one will be vacant even though assigned and ... (presumably the world would come to a swift end)" "Do you understand?" "No", we replied.

Exasperated by these ignorant old English people, the girl printed out a permit for a designated spot , but then hand wrote "grand berge" (big meadow) on it. So far, the world has not ended, but we think the fabric of French society is a little strained tonight.

A look back at the silouette of the Breisach munster
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Houses on the French side look crumbly.
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Part of the wall around Neuf Brisach
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A typical street in Neuf Brisach
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Route verte!
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A typical on road view for us
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Looks like a WWII bunker along the road
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WWII memorial.
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Part of our ride was through cool forest
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Colmar - we need to learn more about it
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Albert Schweizer was born near here
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Colmar Little Venice district
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Little Venice
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The river has lots of fish - that look like this
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Fachwerk in Colmar
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The catherdral
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The "head house"
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Examples of heads on the Head House
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Lots of tourists in Colmar
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Typical window style
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The price of ice cream!
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Storks are big in this region. There are storks living atop the cathedral, for instance
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Guidebooks are 10 euros each - more than other places. So we remain rairly ignorant!
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Stained glass in the cathedral
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Antique priest's robe
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Every cathedral needs at least one reliquary!
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Lots of "used church equipment" lying around. New carvings in a nearby store show that this stuff would not be cheap to replace.
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Cathedral exterior
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This lady sold us macaroons. There are several biscuit shops in this town
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More Colmar images
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Look Michel - the moules are coming!
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The store sign of a delicatessen (or butcher)
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Our little green train
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Dodie and the fairly rigid camping girl
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Our tent (left) in the "overcrowded" meadow.
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Today's ride: 37 km (23 miles)
Total: 3,910 km (2,428 miles)

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