Day 6 (morning): Our ship berthed close to the German town of Kehl, on the opposite side of the Rhine to the French city of Strasbourg. The latter is best known these days as the seat of the European Parliament, which is reflected in a large number of modern public and commercial buildings. However, our excursion was all about the historical heart of the city, with its canals, medieval houses and gothic cathedral. Strasbourg is also the traditional home of the famous Schlupfkapp, the cap with the giant bow which has become a symbol of Alsace, mimicked in sculptures dotted around the old city.
It was all very interesting and attractive but the undoubted highlight was the cathedral, predominantly Gothic in design but with a large Romanesque apse (I won’t repeat any more of the voluminous information that you can find readily online).
Compared to the Cologne cathedral, we found Strasbourg’s to be more attractive in both design and atmosphere, from the intricate front facade, to the organ and the astronomical clock which, conveniently, struck the hour just after we reached it.
Another striking feature was the stained glass rose window above the main entrance. As you might notice, the colours in this rose are decidedly atypical and there is no overt religious imagery. Our guide explained to us that the window had been commissioned some centuries ago by the business community to mark a denouement in their power struggle with the archbishop of the time; the colours were inspired by the agricultural base of the town’s economy. (Alas, I can find no confirmation of this online.)
Day 6 (afternoon): The first of the optional excursions that we had booked was a drive into the heart of Alsace , including a visit to one of its numerous family-owned wineries. The youngish member of the family who hosted our visit was informative and hospitable, which helped to generate plenty of sales to our group! However, the rest of the outing was let down by the long drive through somewhat plain countryside and the fact that our guide seemed to lack the experience or presence of mind to bring the scenery to life with facts and insights.
Before returning to our ship, we stopped for a pleasant exploration of the small town of Obernai, on the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains
Day 7 (morning): Like most of our fellow passengers, we had been counting down to the excursion into the Black Forest; not that we had any idea what it would be like!
It didn’t disappoint. The trip took us through constantly changing scenes of dense forest (difficult to capture on camera while moving), farms and rolling green pastures, tiny villages, remote chapels and clear views to distant ranges. And the air was lovely and cool!
Just before 10am, we reached the small and mostly charming commercial and tourist complex of Hofgut Sternen, just in time to experience the clock chime and associated gadgetry. Here, we had several options: a guided walk into the forest; demonstrations of glass blowing and Black Forest Cake making; and a large shop specialising in cuckoo clocks. We headed to the last of these, where a brief demonstration of how the clocks are assembled put some of us in the mood for a purchase; I had not anticipated that this would include Maggie!
So, I took a deep breath and joined her in browsing, then chatting about what might suit, more browsing, comparing prices, etc, until we found a clock that had sufficient charm and practical features – battery powered and a light sensor to keep the cuckoo asleep at night – at an affordable price. That’s it, in the second line of photos. It arrived safely, just a couple of days before we returned to Melbourne and, I have to admit, it has proven to be a welcome addition to our home.
Day 7 (afternoon): Our final excursion was to the delightful and quaint town of Colmar. It is difficult to do justice, visually, to how attractive Colmar is, although it would have been easier if we had taken more photos. Unfortunately, I took the option of an extensive guided walking tour, while Maggie took a more limited option out of concern for her durability; and my tour was so engrossing and enjoyable that I didn’t stop to take any photos. So, here is a small collection that we gathered after we were reunited, as well as a link that will help you appreciate Colmar’s virtues as a place to visit.
As well as Colmar’s medieval buildings and canals, it has the distinction of being the birthplace of Bartholdi, the sculptor responsible for New York’s Statue of Liberty. One of several genuine replicas of the original has been erected on the outskirts of the town and the house in which he lived as a young child is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.
The final photo is just a case of me indulging Maggie’s affection for dogs. This lucky dog spends its days accompanying its owner as he takes visitors around Colmar in his horse-drawn carriage. A magic wand in Maggie’s hand would have transported it to our place!