The bloody fickle internet connection is perhaps the only failing of Chez Leslie – a quiet pension on a residential street off Colmar’s train station – since we’ve arrived 4 days ago. I’ve been relegated to sitting by the door in a lonesome chair like a errant child being punished just to get 1 small bar of connection. There’s even Fluffy, the house cat for occasional entertainment. Beyond that, Colmar has thus far, defied all expectations.
Visiting Alsace is like getting an insider’s tip to travelling in France; there are many Europeans here (most are German it seems, and even more from the other parts of France) and I’ve hardly seen anyone with a face resembling mine. Perhaps the unfair complaint that I have is the lack of the sun-dappled fields which have so ensnared me in the brochure in last year’s wine fair, which is in any case, unfounded because I’m here in winter where vines are brown, twiggy and skies are perpetually grey and foggy. But coming into this narrow strip of Northeastern France is nevertheless, like a step back into autumn’s red hues after Iceland’s brutal winter.
We plonked ourselves in Colmar for the next 3 days, a village with a brilliantly medieval core built within a canal system that gives it the name “Petite Venice” – just as many tight-knit villages along La Route des Vins typically are – minus the canals.
After a brief embarrassing incident along Champs du Mars involving TC’s failed attempt on a bike on our first day, we abandoned the thought of visiting Eguisheim and settled for a tamer stroll around the old city centre. Little did we realise that every meal turns into the stuff feasts are made of not just due to the constant presence of the wines (the signature Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris/Blanc varieties that made TC run mad) but also the portions of the Alsatian specialties that are roll-out-of-the-country-worthy.
We made quick visits to the cute town of Ribeauvillé on line 106 and hiked 5km along bicycle trails through the wines and forests to pretty Riquewihr after a Munster Tarte Flambée and some Onion soup. Passing several aged people slowly making their way down the meandering slope en route like they’ve been doing it all their lives, I wondered how just much these people had just seen or experienced since Alsace had been a highly volatile space in the World Wars.
Kaysersberg was next on the list on Line 145 and like most medieval clusters in this entire stretch of the Haut-Rhin, is just as picturesque and surrounded by miles of hilly vineyards as far as the eye can see. It was, all things considered, incredibly interesting to see how often the tiny towns in Alsace had changed hands over millennia and this is reflected in the hybrid language (and parts still read like Middle German), the hybrid cuisine and quite possibly the hybrid behaviour of its inhabitants.
Christmas markets abound and they are the draw for most tourists from around the region, but seeing any more of those just now might perhaps be a case of familiarity breeding contempt. But as those storekeepers hawk their wares on the heavily -lit streets, for some strange reason, my mind constantly drifts back to the lit-stillness of Reykjavik; I see on that gentle uphill road the path to the foreboding tip of Reykjavik Hallsgrimkirkja, the empty streets and the constant companion that’s snow and ice.