And finally, Paris. The reason the whole idea of a solo trip idea began. The last time I was there with Sandi, we hit the Louvre, Versailles, the Orsay, all the hot spots. After six days, we’d barely scratched the surface of the City of Light, yet this time around I didn’t want to visit museums and galleries. This time, I wanted to stroll the streets, explore the Marais, get acquainted with Saint-Germain-Des-Pres. I wanted to peek behind doors, take the bateau bus along the Seine and sit at the cafes sipping wine or coffee, letting the journey take me where it may. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? A perfect plan to just ‘be’ in Paris. But I have always been easily distracted.
A shiny object, a bar of music, anything can be the squirrel that has me wandering off in a new direction. This time the squirrel with the fluffiest tail turned out to be Colmar. A medieval town in the Alsace region with cobblestone streets, houses dating back to the 14th century and a canal that gives it the nickname, Venice of France.
The pictures alone had me at hello, but with only 5 days in Paris, a side trip was out of the question. I tried ignoring the siren song of those pictures to no avail. As I lingered over them yet again, the squirrel whispered, “Isn’t distraction the very essence of letting the journey take you where it will?” Who knew squirrels were so wise?
So I tossed my plan and booked a seat on a train to Colmar before I left Toronto. On a whim, I also threw in a one night stay in an Airbnb, only to discover later that I’d be heading to Colmar in the middle of May Day protests and celebrations. Proving once again that squirrels are not to be trusted!
When I booked an apartment on the fourth floor of a grand old building near the Arc de Triomphe way back in early November, the location had seemed ideal. Close to the Champs Elysees, the metro, grocery store, bakeries. What more could I want? Then came the first Yellow Vest Protest on November 17 followed by another and another.
Being not only easily distracted but ridiculously optimistic, I assured myself that things would calm down by the time I arrived. And I kept repeating that mantra over and over even as shop windows were being smashed on a weekly basis. Macron was changing the laws, after all. The people were winning. Still the protests continued and based on the military presence in the city and the blockades already in place the day I arrived in Paris, May Day was going to be madness. What better time to get out of the city, the optimist hollered? Colmar, here we come!
I’d been warned in advance that Gare de Lyon train station can be daunting, which is why I wisely had an Uber pick me up an hour before I needed to be at the station. But even at 6:30 a.m., long before the protesters arrived, the closures and diversions meant that my 20 minute ride took close to an hour. The driver was wonderful, hurrying as much as possible to get me to the station on time, but according to my GPS, with luck, we’d arrive 7 minutes before my train departed.
Desperate for information, I did a search to see if the station posted Departure information online and Voila! Everything I needed to know was right there. My train to Colmar would leave on time from Hall C on track 11.
The driver was a hero, letting me off near an escalator that took me up to Hall C. Once at the top, the track numbers were easy to spot. Naturally, Track 11 was at the very end. I made it to the turnstile with 1 minute to spare.
My ticket showed what car I was in and the seat number, and since every car had a sign indicating what number it was, finding my spot was easy. I hoisted my backpack into the overhead rack, took a breath and ordered coffee from the man pushing the hospitality cart down the aisle. Gotta’ love civilized train travel.
Arriving at Colmar two hours later, I dropped my pack at the Airbnb and headed down to the canal that connects the town to the Danube and gives rise to the title of Little Venice. Built in 1864, the canal gave business owners and farmers a way to get their goods to market. Today, small boats or barques take tourists up and down the canal, past homes and shops and the market where vendors still bring fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses and of course pastries, every day except Monday.
If you’re lucky, your driver will be the friendly Russian guy who will regale you with anecdotes of local history and lore in at least 4 languages. Thanks to him, I now know that in the Middle Ages, houses weren’t painted ice cream colours to be cute. Those colours were code for a population that couldn’t read. Blue meant fishmonger, green meant produce, yellow was for bakers and pink for public houses. I like to think there was a lot of pink back in the day.
The ride takes you under low bridges which means a lot of ducking and boat wobbling. I can’t imagine anywhere in North America taking this kind of insurance risk, especially without supplying life jackets as you climb aboard. But in Europe there’s a certain assumption that you take some responsibility for your own safety and if the guy says “duck,” you duck. More importantly, you don’t worry that you’re leaning on someone, and someone else is leaning on you. It’s a small boat, after all. If you fall out you must have leaned too far. You can’t swim? Then why did you get in? But don’t worry, help will come. Just hold onto the paddle. And watch out for the swans.
After the boat ride, I walked the narrow, cobbled streets where overhead signs and flower boxes abound, cafes offer prix fixe menus of two or three courses, and fairy tale shops tempt you with gelato, chocolates and pastries. The gelato won out twice that day, justified by all the walking I’d done, right?
I was told by a local that the villages in the area compete with each other for the title of Most Beautiful Town. Next morning the squirrel and I rented a car and drove twisting roads through hills lined with vineyards that have been around longer than I have and will likely be there long after I’m gone.
Everywhere I stopped, the spirit of that competition between towns was evident and I wished I could stay longer, drive farther. But my return ticket was already booked and later that day I was on the train again, heading back to Paris. Was the side trip worth sacrificing a day and a half in the city? Absolutely. The squirrel and I have already decided there will be a next time. 😊
Next up, Paris. For real.
Because I usually forget to take pictures, I sometimes use fabulous ones taken by others. In this post you’ll find Colmar: Adisa ; Train: Alexey Novikov ; Gare de Lyon: Jan Kranendonk ; Squirrel: Gale Verhague. All from Dreamstime.com