On our last day of the Rhine River Cruise, Laura and I toured the Old Town of the city of Colmar in France and the Black Forest in Germany. Colmar is a lot like Strasbourg – it was not bombed during the Second World War and features relatively intact medieval architecture. In fact, at first I thought it might be a little TOO much like Strasbourg, and that we’d be seeing essentially the same thing two days in a row. I know, this is a bit of a first world problem.
The tour of Colmar was on a Monday, and many French stores are closed or open later on Mondays in an apparent effort to extend the weekend. The place in the picture below was open bright and early though.It was a nice and cool morning, which is always a good thing because Europeans rarely use air conditioning. Even in wealthier areas like Cologne in Germany almost no apartments or stores were air conditioned. We lucked out because it was relatively cool the whole time we were in Europe, but earlier in the summer there were days where the temperature was around 100. In Europe, finding a public restroom can often be a challenge. In European restaurants, restrooms can be hidden away in basements, sub-basements, attics, or in a room off of the kitchen. In Colmar, the public restroom (which was miraculously free of charge) was hidden… We crossed into Old Town Colmar, which had some interesting features that distinguished this city from Strasbourg. After the German annexation of Alsace in 1871, one artist in Colmar offered to make signs for German shop-owners. These signs were subversive, containing hidden pro-French or anti-German messages. The color schemes for the signs typically included the colors of the French tricolor, red, white, and blue.
In addition, the artist who designed the statue of liberty, Bartholdi, lived in Colmar. He is something of a big deal in this city. We didn’t have a chance to go in the museum dedicated to him, but we did get to see one of his statues right outside the museum.
As we moved along the Rhine from city to city, I was struck by the particular elements of culture in each place. Each of these cities has its own beer, it’s own style of headgear and clothing, its own particular foods, and more. After the Second World War, when the gap between American and European wealth was especially pronounced, there was a fear of what became known as Coca-Colonization, the displacement of regional foods and clothing by American foods and clothing. Seeing just how important regional cultural traits are made it easier to understand the European uneasiness with the rise of American consumer goods. However, the French claim after World War II that American freezers were useless except for making ice to put in whiskey is a little over the top. They could have used the ice in the Coca-Cola.
At about lunch time, we completed our tour of Colmar, and, after lunch on the boat, left for a tour of the Black Forest.
We wound through the mountain roads to the town of St. Peter in the Black Forest, which was a bit less touristy than the areas right along the Rhine. But only a bit, as waitresses at the cafes were still dressed as if they were working at an American Oktoberfest celebration.
One of the main attractions of this town was the Abbey of Saint Peter. Touring church after church in Europe can lead to a kind of church burnout, and the tour guides must be aware of this, because they assured us that THIS church was different.They were absolutely correct. While we had seen a number of Gothic cathedrals on this trip, and while we had visited the baroque St. Peter’s Basilica last year, Laura and I had never toured a church decorated in the rococo style of this one.
Rococo churches tend to be less “heavy” than Gothic or even Baroque buildings. The Rococo style is “showy” and tends to employ a lot of whites, golds, and reds/pinks.
After taking in the rococo awesomeness, we grabbed some coffee from one of the Oktoberfest waitresses and then walked around the town.We hopped on the bus and wound through the mountains to the Cuckoo’s Nest, a shop that specializes in cuckoo clocks. These clocks, as our guides stressed, were invented by Germans in the Black Forest and NOT IN SWITZERLAND. The Swiss have apparently engaged in a centuries-long campaign of misinformation designed to convince tourists that THEY invented these clocks. I had no idea that this was even a debate, and being dropped into the middle of the cuckoo clock debate with no prior knowledge of this dispute is comparable to someone who knows nothing about GIFs being dropped into the middle of the GIF pronunciation controversy.
There was a hiking trail by the shop that went a short ways into the Black Forest, and after all of our visits to cities, a little nature walk was a welcome change.“cherry flavored water.” We also got to see authentic cuckoo clocks. Appropriately, there was a giant cuckoo clock on one of the store walls. At 5 pm, we were there to see the cuckoo emerge.
Relive the excitement!
Since nothing could top the cuckoo clock exposition, made our way out of the Black Forest and back to the ship, passing through the “Valley of Hell,” the part of the forest that connected the Black Forest villages to the towns on the Rhine. Since almost all goods and money going to and from this part of the black forest had to run through this valley, thieves just camped out here waiting. Now that the theivery is a thing of the past, it’s time to apply the “Valley of Hell” label to the valley stretches of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.The boat was a bit late to pick us up after some delays in the Rhine locks, but that’s the price we all pay for straightening a major river.
Since the boat had been delayed, Laura and I were worried we might be late for the farewell message up in the boat’s lounge. How would we ever be able to tell if the gathering in the lounge had started without walking up one entire flight of steps?Next – the exciting trip finale in Zurich and our departure back to the U.S.