Let’s begin where I left off in my last post; we had flown from Paris to Vancouver, Canada to attend the wedding of Anna’s cousin, as well as explore the city in general. That had been a treat, but now it was time to return to France, first Colmar, then back to Paris.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
I know, a bit of an ominous date for air travel, but it was when we were scheduled to fly back to France and we did so completely hassle-free. Our nine-hour flight departed in the early afternoon and when you add in the additional nine-hour time difference between Paris and Vancouver, it was Thursday morning when we arrived and it became immediately clear that jet-lag was going to be a bitch on this leg of the trip.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Once we had touched down again in Paris we went through immigration and then headed straight to the train station so we could make the two-and-a-half-hour train journey to Colmar in the northeast of France. But why Colmar? Well, because in September 2011, Anna and I had our wedding reception in Colmar Tropicale, a replica French village in Berjaya Hills, Malaysia. Don’t get me wrong, Colmar Tropicale was pretty cool, but I would describe it with the phrase, “Good from afar, far from good.” In typical Malaysian fashion, the place was obviously beautiful when it was first conceived, but could have been better maintained since; at the afterparty in the bridal suite the guests managed to block all four toilets and one other guest complained of a menstruation stain on the sheet in her bed when she arrived! It also seems that not everyone involved in the conception had a lot of knowledge about France, because, despite being modelled on a French village, Colmar Tropicale has a Japanese garden, and the ceiling of the main ballroom has a replica of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, a painting that adorns the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It was well done, but it would be even better if it weren’t for the fact that the Sistine Chapel is in Vatican City, not France.
Because of our ties to the Malaysian version, we had always wanted to see the real Colmar and now the opportunity was here so we jumped on the train and after a brief stop in Strasbourg, we were in Colmar before too long. A bit about the place:
Colmar is a city and commune in the Haut-Rhin department and Grand Est region of north-eastern France. The third-largest commune in Alsace (after Strasbourg and Mulhouse), it is the seat of the prefecture of the Haut-Rhin department and of the subprefecture of the Colmar-Ribeauvillé arrondissement.
The city is renowned for its well-preserved old town, its numerous architectural landmarks, and its museums, among which is the Unterlinden Museum, which houses the Isenheim Altarpiece.
Colmar is situated on the Alsatian Wine Route and considers itself to be the “capital of Alsatian wine” (capitale des vins d’Alsace).
In 2013, the city had a population of 67,956, and the metropolitan area of Colmar had a population of 126,957 in 2009. Colmar is the center of the arrondissement of Colmar-Ribeauvillé, which had 199,182 inhabitants in 2013.
Mostly spared from the destructions of the French Revolution and the wars of 1870–1871, 1914–1918 and 1939–1945, the cityscape of old-town Colmar is homogenous and renowned among tourists. An area that is crossed by canals of the river Lauch (which formerly served as the butcher’s, tanner’s and fishmonger’s quarter) is now called “little Venice” (la Petite Venise).
Colmar’s secular and religious architectural landmarks reflect eight centuries of Germanic and French architecture and the adaptation of their respective stylistic language to the local customs and building materials (pink and yellow Vosges sandstone, timber framing).
We couldn’t check into our hotel until mid-afternoon so we left our luggage there and went to get some lunch and check out the town. A lot of the food in this part of France is German influenced, dishes such as pork knuckle, sauerkraut, and flammkuchen, but we lived in Germany for three months a few years back, yet have never been to this area of France so we wanted French food. We got some escargot among other things and then just strolled around this beautiful village, but at around 1:30pm I began to fade. We thought grabbing a coffee would help, but I just fell asleep at the table in the cafe with my head in my hands, I genuinely couldn’t keep my eyes open. We had traveled between four continents — Asia to Europe, Europe to North America, North America back to Europe — in just eight days and now I was paying the price for it. That extreme jet-lag I was anticipating had just kicked in, but fortunately it would pass after about an hour or two. At 3:00pm we checked into our hotel, took our luggage up to the room, showered, and that’s when Anna got her taste of it. At 4:00pm she was out like a light and wouldn’t wake up for another couple of hours, despite the fact that we had both slept well on the flight, albeit with the help of some sleeping pills.
After a three-hour power nap we were back on the street! Earlier in the day we had seen a restaurant that looked like it had a bit of potential called L’Arpège so that was the plan for dinner. We walked through the main restaurant to take a seat in the garden, where we would both eat from their degustation menu before heading out to a bar for the night.
Take a tour of Colmar, as well as a look at our superb dinner:
Also, we thought it would be fun to try and recreate some of our wedding photos from Colmar Tropicale during our stay in the real Colmar eight years later. The first attempt came at about midnight that night as we were walking home from the pub and I gave my phone to a random guy to try and capture the moment, completely unrehearsed. I think he pretty much nailed it:
Friday, September 13, 2019
Another reasonably condemned date on this trip within a matter of days, but so far everything excluding the jet-lag had been great! For Friday 13th, Anna had organised a tour of wineries around the region. Now, I don’t drink wine and I know nothing about it, besides that the ones that come in a foil bag with a tap inside a box, in Australia referred to as ‘goon‘, are generally considered to be shite, yet were also once the drop of choice for rebellious Australian teenagers. Anyway, our tour was through a company called L’Alsaciette and we’d be spending the day traveling around on L’Alsaciette’s ‘Alsatian specialties along the Wine Route’ Food & Wine Tour with our guide, Arnaud, and a retired wine-making couple from California joining us as well:
This refers to the Food & Wine Tour “on the Wine Route”: in our 9-seater minibuses, enjoy a day to get a taste of Alsace and its culinary and gourmet traditions!
One-day getaway in 7 stops (9:15am – 6:30pm)
1° stop : Meeting point in the historic heart of Colmar for a traditional breakfast
2° stop : Head to Eguisheim (favourite village of the French people – France2) for a first wine tasting sharing a tarte flambée at a winemaker’s site and enjoy a walk around the village.
3° stop : In another village, you will enjoy the main course, set in the middle of a vineyard, with 1 matching glass of Blanc d’Alsace or Pinot noir!
4° stop : Discover the “favorite village of the french people” (2017 – TV show on France 2) : Kaysersberg
5° stop : Wine tasting with cheeses from Alsace at one of our excellent partners
6° stop : Visit of a wonderful village on the wine route : Riquewihr
7° stop : Return to Colmar towards the Little Venice, to enjoy a desert on a terrasse along the waterfront!
We would make a few extra stops along the way and even though the description says that Kayserberg was supposed to be the fourth stop, due to traffic it was moved up the list a bit and pushed Eguisheim down the itinerary. A little background information about Kayserberg, the first port of call after breakfast:
Kaysersberg is a former commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Alsace in Northeastern France. On 1 January 2016, it was merged into the new commune Kaysersberg-Vignoble.
The inhabitants are called Kaysersbergeois. The name is German for Emperor’s Mountain.
The high fortress that dominates the city serves as a reminder of both its strategic importance and its warlike past. Together with the rest of Alsace-Lorraine, Kaysersberg was annexed by Germany during a period of 48 years, between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.
Kaysersberg is one of the finest wine-growing areas in Alsace. The first vines were brought there in the 16th century from Hungary, and wine production is still an important aspect of the town’s economy today. Wine produced from the pinot gris variety is a local specialty.
This village was significantly smaller than Colmar, but just as beautiful so naturally we enjoyed just exploring the place. It was also the town where chef and travel writer Anthony Bourdain took his life inside his room at Le Chambard hotel in June 2018.
With many of the buildings in these villages we would be visiting, there are a few things worth noting about their appearance, especially of the wooden beams:
- The Mann: Composed of vertical and slanting beams, the Mann takes the shape of two Ks opposed one to another. Evoking the silhouette of a man, the shape is a sign for virility and physical force.
- The St. Andrew’s cross (croix de Saint-André): Very common in Alsace and in Germany, the St Andrews cross forms an X shape that is found in headlight windows or at the top of gables. It can be seen in the decoration of panels or on the balustrades of balconies. The cross is a sign of multiplication and fecundity, for men as well as for animals. When it is doubled, it signifies the union of two beings.
- The diamond-shape (losange): Also very common in Alsace in headlight window, the diamond-shape is the sign of femininity and motherhood.
- The combination of the diamond-shape and the St. Andrew’s cross is often seen in Alsace, in houses and in stables. It signifies multiplication and fecundity, which means a large family and a significant livestock size.
- The curule seat (chaise curule): It is comprised of the two curved arms of the S, an exaggerated shape of the St. Andrew’s cross, and is often found in headlight windows. However, it significance differs: it refers to the home of a “chief” or an important character of the village. In Ancient Times, the curule seat was the chair upon which Roman dignitaries were entitled to sit.
Arnaud also told us that even the colour of some buildings had religious meaning for those who had once lived there; red was protestant, blue was catholic, and yellow was Jewish.
You might be able to spot some of the symbolism in these photos from Kaysersberg, as well as pictures from the other villages we would visit throughout the day:
Now it was time to make our first drinking stop of our tour, A winery in Ammerschwihr by the name of Domaine Léon Heitzmann, one that specialises in “biodynamic” beverages, which is in no way as scientific as it sounds. Sure, they use cow manure instead of fertilisers, shun pesticides, and handpick all of the grapes, but their website tells the absurd, yet true, basis of the Heitzmann winemaking process (translated):
The estate is fully managed biodynamically since 2008. The biodynamic is a cultural practice called biological, ecological. These practices use only natural fertilizers and “fighting methods”. In 1924, Rudolf Steiner inaugurated the biodynamic approach to agriculture during a course for farmers.
He had then introduced the idea of reconciling agricultural work with certain phases of the moon. Subsequently, several farmers have participated in various experiments which allows us today to scientifically affirm certain correlations between the movement of celestial bodies and the development of plants.
Principles of biodynamics:
Two tools are used in biodynamics: the preparations and the lunar calendar. The preparations are made of mineral, vegetable or animal specific materials. Used in dilution, they are for the earth and the cultures a homeopathic balm.
The calendar, meanwhile, contains a wealth of information on the different rhythms of the moon, planetary positions and so on to allow the work of the vine at the most opportune moment.
Yeah, that sounds to me like the type of thing that white people with dreadlocks do, but if you believe in it and think it works for you, so be it. Again, I know nothing about wine and can’t even appreciate it in the slightest, but our American counterpart commented that the French grand cru just tastes weird compared to that from California and that the Californian variety is far superior. I’m fairly certain our guide, the winery host, and even Anna beg to differ. I did enjoy the cheese, though.
After the winery it was time for lunch, this time at a traditional family-owned restaurant in Niedermorschwihr called Caveau Morakopf, which serves as a reminder of France’s awful history of slavery. Hell, even Niedermorschwihr’s coat of arms is of an African slave!
A look around Domaine Léon Heitzmann, including some posters they had in the winery about the finer points of biodynamics, as well as our lunch:
We then had a look around the village of Kientzheim before visiting a vineyard, but there was one major problem; it was now after 1:30pm and that jet-lag was kicking in again like clockwork. While we were looking around Kientzheim we were given the background of a classic statue in a fountain in the town centre of a boy holding a bunch of grapes and maybe I was just delirious as a result of how tired I was, but the statue kept conjuring up the same image every time I looked at it:
Even as I now sit here clear-headed, I can’t help but believe that statue in Kientzheim was of a very young Michael Jordan.
We continued exploring Kientzheim, but I was fading fast. We were soon back in the bus and on our way to the vineyard, but it was almost impossible to keep my eyes open again, even once we were there and walking around, and it wasn’t because of the insane amount of insects there, either. Seriously, there were clouds of insects flying around everywhere, some areas so thick that they made everything look hazy! The American couple were a little put off by all the bugs, the woman seeming a little intimidated, but Anna and I live in the tropics so it was no big deal for us. The scenery was breathtaking, but all I wanted to do was sleep, walking like a zombie as we were led through the rows and rows of grapevines.
Once inside the winery, Dopff au Moulin, we were greeted by the manager who was getting around with a walking stick, due to breaking her leg several months earlier in an accident on a Vespa, occurring only about a month after she had bought it. Unlike the previous winery, Dopff au Moulin didn’t rely on the cycles of the moon to help the vines grow, they just did things the normal way. The wine tasting was soon underway, but I didn’t want a part of it, I just wanted to close my eyes for a bit, all the information and tasting notes were going in one ear and out the other, not that it would’ve meant much to me had I been fully-conscious. It’s not that I’m ignorant, it’s just that when they tell me something about the wine, it’s flavour and aroma, etc., and then I taste the wine I just don’t get any of it. I guess I’m just meant to drink beer, that’s one I do enjoy and can appreciate the finer points. Now, because I was completely out of it I just wanted to zone out, I didn’t want a glass of wine, I just want to shut my eyes, but I kept getting offered more and more drinks, despite constantly saying “no,” not an acceptable answer in this situation. Rather, that just means I prefer a different drop, not the one being presented, leading Arnaud to kept suggesting different options, explaining that I can just spit it in a bucket, but unable to accept a “no” and me getting a little more irritated each time, until he came to what would be an obvious conclusion under ordinary circumstances — I must be hungover from the previous night. Anna backed me up, explained about how much we had traveled in little over a week, and that I was just extremely jet-lagged, because the exact same thing happened at the same time the day before. That’s when everyone finally understood and let me fade for a bit.
More of Kientzheim, the vineyards, and inside the winery:
When we had finished with the winery we were back in the van and I probably nodded off for a bit, but we were making our way to the village of Riquewihr:
Riquewihr is a commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Grand Est in north-eastern France.
A popular tourist attraction for its historical architecture, Riquewihr is also known for the Riesling and other great wines produced in the village. Riquewihr looks today more or less as it did in the 16th century. It is officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, or Les plus beaux villages de France. It is located on the Route des Vins (The Wines Road), close to Colmar.
Riquewihr was one of the few towns in the area not to be badly damaged during World War II. The town is surrounded by its medieval fortificationsand is overlooked by a castle from the same period that is today a museum.
There is a museum about Alsace during World War II and a torture chamber (La salle de torture).
The village is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) association.
Riquewihr was yet another stunningly beautiful place, here’s how we saw it as soon as we entered:
There was more to this village that would also make it a significant stop for us — We had shown Arnaud photos of Colmar Tropicale and he had noticed that one of the buildings was a reasonably close replica of one of the most famous buildings in Riquewihr, Dolder Tower. Of course we had to get a reproduction photo, but it was almost impossible to get one without a ton of people in it and holding up countless more so we just settled for the building alone:
After Riquewihr we ended up at what was supposed to be one of the first stops on the tour and the highlight for me; another small village, this time called Eguisheim and I was beginning to wake up again. If you didn’t click that link, in 2013 Eguisheim was voted was the Village préféré des Français, or the Favourite French Village, and it looks to me like it deserved that distinction, despite the fact that I’ve only seen a handful of French Villages, all of which are located in the same region. One thing you’ll notice when you look through the photos of Eguisheim are the enormous stork nests on the roofs of a lot of the major buildings. I know storks are rather large birds, but these nests can be over two metres (6’7″) wide!
Enough of me trying to describe it, take a look at Eguisheim for yourself:
After we had finished in Eguisheim, Arnaud dropped us back at our hotel so Anna could deal with her very own jet lag, but he gave us a good tip; he would later be drinking at a bar called Les 3 Singes, which he said could get pretty lively on a Friday night.
Another former-colleague of mine, Tanya Procyshyn, informed me that the last restaurant in which Anthony Bourdain was documented as eating, Wistub La Petite Venise, was in Colmar and when we went we had no problem getting a seat. It was a simple restaurant, nothing particularly special, but the food was still good and it was merely a coincidence that I ordered the pork knuckle, the same dish Bourdain dined on and one they are planning on naming after him. Anna just spent most of her time laughing at the fact that there was a guy sitting behind me in the restaurant wearing an almost identical shirt to a really strange limited edition one I had bought in Spain several years earlier.
After dinner we went to Les 3 Singes and met up with Arnaud, as well as making a ton of new friends on a really fun night. I’m still not sure if it was the best idea, but the first time we were in France we realised that the French had never heard of Pepe Le Pew so some people were amused, others probably a little offended, when I showed them an old Pepe Le Pew cartoon on Youtube. We still had a great time having a laugh, as well as some deep and meaningful conversations with Arnaud and everybody else that night, despite their first viewing of the slightly rapey skunk, and it was the perfect end to a great day.
Now let’s view Wistub La Petite Venise and Les 3 Singes:
Saturday, September 14, 2019
It was the day we were to return to Paris, but we wanted to make the most of our remaining time in Colmar by have one last walk through the town and getting lunch in a local food market. For me the market was all new, I thought I had just stumbled upon it that day, but apparently we went to the very same market just two days prior, but I was so out of it due to jet-lag that I had no recollection of it whatsoever. This time was different, however, because it was before 1:30pm and I could still function like a regular human being. After the market we jumped back on the train to Paris and this time it was extremely crowded with almost no room for our luggage so we had to spread it in different areas of the carriage. Add to this the continuing jet-lag for us both and the stench of body odour and aftershave on the train, making it a ride we’d rather forget, but we made it to our destination safe and sound. We caught a taxi to our new hotel and as soon as Anna took her suitcase out of the car and started to walk I had to warn her that she was about to wheel it through a pile of dog shit. She then pivoted to check and almost stepped in another load. Yep, we were definitely back in Paris, but this time it was a far nicer area.
Our hotel was 1K Paris, a Peruvian-themed hotel with a restaurant called Inka and La Mezcaleria, a mescal bar upstairs. We loved our time in Peru a few years back, especially the food, so we knew we were going to have fun in this place.
After the obligatory afternoon nap we were back downstairs to have dinner at Inka, making the most of their ceviche bar, as well as ordering some mains to share. Once dinner was done, Anna looked up some bars in the area and it turned out that just down the road there was a speakeasy in the back of a taco shop, one of several taco shops in this part of Paris. When we arrived at the shop the line was out the door and you could hear that most of the customers were from the US, the majority of whom looked like they were probably studying in Paris. The place was packed, but we made our way through the crowd to an unmarked white door at the back of the restaurant. We went through the door and down a flight of stairs, finding ourselves in this great little bar that had only had a small group of people when we first arrived, but expanded to being standing room only as the night progressed. We were later joined in the bar by one of our friends and Anna’s colleague, Shamira Perera, but once it became too crowded we decided to take him back to show him how cool our hotel was by bringing him to the mescal bar. We stuck around for a couple more drinks in La Mezcaleria, but it was getting kind of late so the three of us decided to go upstairs to hang out in our room for a bit, a woman from the neighbouring room coming out to scream at us for being too noisy in the process. Time for Shamira to go back to his hotel room and for us to go to bed, I think.
Some photos from our first night back in Paris:
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Anna had to give a short talk at a conference later that afternoon, but we still had time to have a look around our new area of Paris, the 3rd arrondissement, and it was the nicest district we had visited in either of our previous trips. Our first stop was lunch at yet another market, we walked around and looked at all of the incredible-looking food, but we ultimately settled upon a stall called Les Enfants du Marché, this particular outlet having some really good seafood. We ordered some clams and a grilled octopus, before going to a nearby cafe for a coffee and some cake, and then looking around another part of the city. Anna loved the shopping there, but I was more interested in a strangely dressed man who kind of resembled a court jester and his extremely weird bicycle. I know that in the first post in this story when we initially went to Paris I thought I saw the most bizarre bike I had ever seen, but it had nothing on this thing. I guess the only way to describe this man is that, if this were a video game, I’m fairly certain he would be selling something I’d need for a later mission.
We walked around for another hour or so and then Anna needed to head back to the hotel to collect her stuff and go to the conference at which she was speaking, but I continued to stroll around the city until she was done. It was our last night in Paris so we had to do dinner properly, leading us to have five-courses from a degustation menu at a place called Korus. Our meal consisted of cuttlefish and shiitake mushrooms, white tuna and green beans, Simmental beef fillet, and several other dishes plus dessert, served with a beer or wine pairing. Definitely a great conclusion to fantastic couple of weeks away.
After dinner we went home to pack for our flight the following day and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I had forgotten my pickles that I bought in Vancouver on the previous leg of our expedition, because Anna had purchased so much wine after we had got back to France, particularly on the winery tour in Colmar. Combined we were allowed four litres (one gallon) of alcohol upon return to Singapore and Anna asked me to put it all in my luggage, however, it made my suitcase incredibly difficult to close and almost impossible to lift, as well as definitely exceeding the airline’s weight limit. Instead, Anna made room for it in her far emptier suitcase and I got stuck carrying a bunch of her shoes in my hand luggage.
Our last day in Paris:
We made it back to Singapore fine, Anna giving another talk in the Philippines two days later before a weekend away in Bali with some friends. Our jet-lag lasted at least two weeks after we returned and I had an appointment with my neurologist soon after who recommended I don’t go on any trips quite this hectic in the future. My first visit to Canada was brilliant and we loved Vancouver. Colmar was absolutely beautiful, the people were so much fun, and on our return to Paris we learnt that where you stay can make a huge difference. Still, before anyone takes their dream vacation in Paris, I think this article is essential reading.
Also, in keeping with a recent trend, although not a disaster of the same magnitude, there was still a newsworthy event in the immediate aftermath of this trip; four people were killed in a knife attack in a police headquarters in Paris. Let’s hope everything is fine in South Korea after our visit to Seoul this week!