Entries tagged with “travel notes in France”.


Wrapping-up my vacation notes from Paris, here are a few photos taken on the streets, in the metro, restaurants (other than the ones I wrote about) – some funny, some interesting, some charming as is this city with no equal.

 

 

This shop can be found on rue de Seine, I liked the firm (which was actually built-up from pieces of mosaic) and I wondered how this translates to Romanian.

 

 

A gallery I did not write about also on rue de Seine was exposing (quite expensive) art about dogs.

 

 

Rue des Lombards in the area of Beaubourg is a place where I wish to get back as soon as I can, a lot of music clubs and terraces open from late afternoon through the night.

 

 

Here is how the theater hall of the Comedie des Champs Elysees looks inside.

 

 

Did Salvador Dali like chocolat? This is what maybe the owner of this coffee shop in the Marais area thinks. Or maybe the artists’s moustache could be seen here once?

 

 

Place de la Bastille and Opera Bastille on a rainy midnight.

 

 

Inside Kapoor’s Leviathan at Grand Palais.

 

 

Cafe de l’Olympia near the famous music theater hall.

 

 

An exhibition about the Eichman trial took place at the Memorial de la Shoah. We did not succeed to get to visit it. Here is a poster in a metro station, with an antisemitic commentary scribbled on it. Helas!

 

 

The short time did not allow us to attend any of the concerts in the cycle ‘Baroque Nights’ – we just could have a glimpse at the entry halls and the beautiful gate of the Palais Behague where many of the activities of the Institute for Romanian Culture are being organized.

 

 

A classical postcard – The Eiffel tower at night.

 

 

The two photos above are not for people on diets.

 

 

The Gibert Joseph bookshop – a mandatory stop in any of my stops in Paris.

 

 

Some of my French-challenged friends may chose the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, on the quai accross the Notre-Dame cathedral.

 

 

Le Caveau des Oubliettes is a music place located behind the Saint Julien Le Pauvre church (one of the oldest in Paris). We remembered a beautiful concert of chansonettes we attended here twenty years ago, now it seems to have changed profile into becoming a jazz and blues club.

 

The metro was in this trip our principal mean of transport. Here is one a station on one of the most modern lines in Paris.

 

 

Inside the Au Pied de Cochon restaurant.

 

 

This may be the place where God gets a haircut. Hebrew speakers will understand what I mean.

 

 

And here it is – to end with a sweat taste – this was our last desert on this trip in Paris (at a place in the Hippopotamus chain, otherwise a good recommendation for the meat lovers).

 

 

 

 

Motto: One does not live for eating (A Friend)

Really? Even in Paris? or in France in general?

Maybe so. However, culinary experiences makes part of the Paris or France experience. The story of my trip to Paris would not be complete without writing something about some of the meals we had. We actually had quite a busy schedule with almost daily museum visits, meeting with friends and evening theater shows – so we visited less restaurants than usual. Yet I will write about four of them. The surprise may be for the reader of this blog entry that only one of them was French. International cuisine and ethnic food is stronger in Paris than it ever was.

 

 

The first restaurant I will talk about is a … Middle Eastern restaurant. Going to Paris and eating in an Israeli-style restaurant? Yes, you do it if you have a Parisian friend who is nostalgic about Israeli food. So here we went on Sunday afternoon on rue des Rosiers, in the middle of one of the areas in Paris with a high percentage of Jewish population, a street where the number of restaurants, street food stops, butcher and delicacies stores with kosher signs and Hebrew inscriptions is as large as in Netanya in Israel.

 

 

We skipped other options and we sat on the terrace of Chez Marianne, a place which our friends had previously visited. From what I heard and read from other sources this place knew better days. For people trying to understand what Israeli or Middle Eastern food is about this is the wrong place to go. Having already eaten in Arabic and Jewish restaurants in different other places than Israel my impression is that the Arabic restaurants are on average much better than the Jewish ones. Portions at Chez Marianne were small, pita bread which comes first and hot at any restaurant in Israel was late and cold and had to be ordered separately, houmous and tehinah were not fresh and tasted fade, only the felafel were somehow OK. Just one sort of Israeli beer (Maccabi of course) was available. We ended by regretting not having taken the street food option, but at least we spent a nice time on the terrace chatting with our friends on a late sunny afternoon.

 

 

The next experience was a dinner with the same friends at what I was remembering as the best Romanian cooking experience I ever had out of Romania – the Doina restaurant. Splendidly located by the Champs de Mars, close to the Eiffel Tower and on the same street as the Romanian embassy and the Romanian Cultural Institute the restaurant may be the only place of its kind in the city. In 1991, during our first visit in Paris we ate there and the culinary experience was memorable, although the waiters seemed to have problems with translating the menu items to the French-speaking customers.

 

 

Some things have changed – the waiters seem nowadays to speak better French. The Web site shows photos of quite a bunch of Romanian celebrities having visited the place. We started with pike roe salad (icre de stiuca) which was excellent, but the traditional meatball soup (ciorba de perisoare) disappointed, not being sour enough. Most of us had as main course the traditional  mititei which are the equivalent of the Israeli kebabs - kind of spicy minced meat sausages. They were good but not as fantastic as we remembered them, but probably it was the fact that we had as term of reference the real stuff we ate in Romania many times in the last years that interfered. We ended with papanasi a traditional cheese dumplings desert, which were quite tasty but not as big as their cousins in Bucharest. The wine choice was really disappointing, as the wine industry in Romania developed immensely in the last few years and you would expect to find at least a few of the good Romanian wines and not only the ubiquitous Murfatlar brand. We had the Merlot, it was OK, but then the choice was really disappointing.

 

 

The third place we visited was Leon de Bruxelles which is a chain cloning the original mussels place Chez Leon located at 18, rue des Bouchers in Bruxelles, maybe the best mussels restaurant in the world. In Paris they got several places and we chose to have lunch in the one that was closest to our hotel, on Boulevard Sain Germain des Pres.

 

 

I personally learned to have nothing else when eating at any Leon restaurant but a large bowled of steamed mussels, des frittes, and Belgian beer. There are many other options and combinations, Liliana picked a different one with a special white wine and garlic sauce. It was great, it’s a standard that is always at best level, and for whoever is in love with mussels it’s the place to go.

 

 

Here we got the really French, better said Parisian experience. Au Pied de Cochon is located near Les Halles and is a restaurant-brasserie specialized in any French specific recipes. I had however a friends recommendation in mind already so I had no hesitation in ordering the onion soup and the flag meal that gives the name of the restaurant.

 

 

The onion soup was great, one of the best I had ever had, with a generous cheese thick crust over the edge of the bowl and with hot and aromatic onion that somehow succeeded to remain slightly crispy.

 

 

The pork leg was however disappointing. It’s the first and probably the last time I am trying it. It’s simply too much work of cutting, separating meat from cartilage and bones, and the ratio is 10-15% edible stuff out of the whole portion you get on the plate. I was expecting something close to the Czech pork knuckle specialty that I ate in Prague which I liked very much, but this was far from it, and having it prepared very well in a schnitzel style was not enough to make it attractive for me to try it a second time.  At least I know that I tried.

To a large extent the history of Europe is built and carved in the stone and marbles of its churches. Visiting churches, old and new, conserved and renovated takes the visitors in the past times of the men who lived in these places and of their spiritual lives. Churches were the center of spirituality and the power, the places of gathering and the heart of the social life. From a certain point of view it is a paradox that in the country that defined better than any other in the democratic world the separation of powers between state and religion it is still the churches that seem to focus in their enclosures and than radiate outside the voices of the past and the spirit of the French history and culture. There are many such places in Paris, here are three of them we have visited in our most recent trips.

Eglise de la Madeleine is located in the very heart of Paris, but somehow we did not visit it in any of our previous trips here, maybe because it was for many year under renovation. The first projects date from the 18th century but they were interrupted by the French Revolution. Napoleon decided to build on the place a temple to the glory of its army and the classical temple design of architect Pierre-Alexandre Vignon was used after the Restauration to complete the building. Its purpose changed again, at some point it was targeted as a monument of repentence for the Revolution and of national reconciliation, until it was finally consecrated as a church dedicated to Mary-Magdalene in 1842.

 

 

I confess that I was never overwhelmed by the exterior (and now having learned more about the history I understand the reasons of the hybrid feeling the building gives) and now having visited the interior I was not enthusiastic either. The arched structure and the altar dominated by Charles Marochetti’s sculpture of Mary from Migdal lifted by the angels have charm and harmony and are the most remarkable aspects in the church. There is surprisingly little documentation about the church inside (and I had left my DK guide home), so I could not discover the tomb of Chopin.

 

 

I owe the visit to the Basilique de Saint-Denis to a friend that I met on this occasion for the first time. I know Jean for a few years from the Internet lists, I have read and written recently about his travel book in his birth region of Ardeal, and I was eager to meet him on the occasion of our trip to Paris. He was so kind to come to Paris from his Normandy place of living and we spent a very pleasant afternoon visiting this place of importance in the history of France which he also was seeing for the first time.

 

 

If England has Westminster Abbey as place or coronation and burial for most of its kings and queens, the French monarchy had historically divided the roles. Kinds were crowned in the cathedral of Reims, and most of them (all but three) were buried in the Abbey (or Royal Cathedral) of Saint-Denis, a Northern suburb of Paris. Most of the tombs were desecrated during the French revolution, but the burial monuments survived and they are a testimony in stone for the royal history of France.

 

 

Saint Denis is a patron saint of France, and the church is built on his burial place. The first church was raised by king Dagobert in the 7th century. The current structure is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles and its building started in the 11th century. As in many other monuments of its kind in France or in the rest of Europe later constructions and renovations were added in the centuries that passed.

 

 

Liliana, Jean and myself spend a few hours walking through the church, stopping near many of the monuments, recalling and remembering the stories of the kings and queens which we had learned in school, and from the readings of the classical French historical novels. Here is for example the monument of Philippe Le Beau, the king who reigned at the beginning of the 14th century during the period which saw the end of the order of the Templars, described in Maurice Druon’s cycle Les Rois Maudits.  It is interesting that many of the statues represented the royalties lying nude.

 

 

Here is the impressing monument of Francois Ier, the king that was educated and then hosted Leonardo da Vinci, and who turned France into an European power.

 

 

Henri the IInd and Catherine de Medicis lye and pray into eternity.

 

 

Le Roi Soleil - Louis XIV has only a bust, frankly of more modest dimensions than I expected.

 

 

Here are the monuments of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette sculptured by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot.

 

 

Actually they were lucky if so it can be said, as after their execution they were buried in a place that was known and when the Restoration came they were properly buried with all honors – two of the only six French royals who enjoy the privilege of having their mortal remains recognized.

 

 

The glass works in the church, many dating as far as from the 12th century are exquisite.

 

 

A few more interesting details – here are fragments from the original marble dales that covers the floor of the church.

 

 

Many statues of kings have a lion carved at their feet – symbol of force.

 

 

Many statues of queens have dogs carved at their feet, symbols of fidelity.

 

 

Here is a couple of friars reading and commenting the holy books for the enjoyment of the royals buried around them.

 

 

The third church I will write about is L’Eglise des Halles dedicated to Saint-Eustache. It is located in the center of Paris, in the area of the Halles. A chapel existed here since the end of the 12th century, and the current structure dates from the 15th and 16th century combining Gothic elements with the Renaissance style.

 

 

The first impression in the interior is the abrupt vertical dimensions, impression created by the relative small surface and the 33 meters ceiling.

 

 

There are a few remarkable paintings inside. Here is a Descent from the Cross by Luca Giordano.

 

 

The Disciples of Emaus by Rubens is considered the most valuable work in the church.

 

 

The French politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert is buried here and his funerary monument is one of the most beautiful in the church.

 

 

I also like some of the glass work, unfortunately I could not find details about it.

 

 

Outside the church in the Rene Cassin square we admired the sculpture L’Ecoute belonging to Henri de Miller. You can relate it also to the proportions of the church, here photographed from one of the sides.

 

The heroes in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris about which I wrote about a few days ago dream to a ‘golden age’ of their own in the past which they idealize and would like to live in rather then in their disturbed presents. I am quite happy with my present, but if I were to chose a time and a place I would love to visit depending on availability of tickets on a time machine this would be Paris in the 50s and especially the jazz clubs of the period. I would not mind crossing steps and listening to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis or Boris Vian. Some of the jazz clubs in Paris keep the resonance of their sounds in their walls and especially the spirit. That is why we chose to spend our first night in Paris listening to jazz.

Sunset-Sunside has actually a shorter history and was started only in 1983, but became soon one of the best known jazz clubs in Paris. It is located on Rue des Lombards, close to the Pompidou Center, one of the areas to go if you want to listen to good live music. Name an important jazz musician, French, American or from any other part of the world who created during this period from Miles Davies and Herbie Hancock to Wynton Marsalis or Didier Lockwood and good chances will be that he played at Sunset. Since 2001 there are two halls in the same complex – the unserground Sunset dedicated to electric jazz, magnet jazz and world music and the ground level Sunside where mostly acoustic jazz is played. Performances are being hold in both halls every evening, seven days a week, all over the year. A restaurant and a bar is open most of the day, and especially before and after the shows.

The performer of the night was guitarist David Reinhardt, the younger performer in a dynasty of jazz manouche guitarists that starts with Django Reinhardt, his grandfather whose centenary was celebrated last year and continues with Babik Reinhardt, Dango’s son and David’s father to whom the performance at Sunset was dedicated. For the occasion David changed his usual trio or quintet formats to a trio that included organist Emmanuel Bex, the longtime partner of his father.

(video source harmonik9)

Despite being only in his mid 20s David Reinhardt is an accomplished artist, with a great technique, sensibility and understanding of the genre he grew in. While the three sets of the evening were mostly structured around compositions of his father or around the genre that he practiced, it will be interesting to follow the development of his talents, which have the potential to spread much beyond the borders of the family tradition.

(video source ivelane64)

Emmanuel Bex is in exceptional musician by himself, and his role in the evening was equal to David’s and even shading the young guitarist at certain moments. Bex not only makes great music, he is living it in a style and with an intensity great musicians do. The music the two played was both respectful for the tradition and innovative in its details and precise in execution, a truthful homage to the jazz manouche style which they proved is alive and vibrating.

 

Enjoying art is one of my preferred activities during a vacation, and Colmar is really the place to be for such delights. Although it’s a relatively small city it has a remarkable concentration of old churches and museums hosting beautiful pieces of art from the medieval period to the principal currents of art in the 20th century. We dedicated almost the full 8th day of our vacation to visiting the art places in Colmar, with one short jump to the city of St. Louis for visiting another art exhibition we heard about in Strasbourg and which seemed interesting.

Virgin of the Rose Bower - source superstock.com

The first stop was in the Dominican Church – Eglise des Dominicains. Once a cathedral the impressive church hosts one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance local master Martin Schongauer – The Virgin of the Rose Bower (la Vierge au Buisson de Roses), a work which despite its dimensions has an air of delicacy and intimacy. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the church, so I need to use a photo which I found on the Internet and I cannot expand more on the stained glass windows or on a series of paintings representing the Stations of the Cross belonging to a German artist at the end of the 19th century.

cloisters yard at Musee d'Unterlinden

We then spent a few hours in the most important museum in Colmar – Musee d’Unterlinden.. It was open in 1849 on a location which was a convent for five centuries, and some of the collections are actually hosted by the former cloisters rooms. The collections range from antiquities, medieval and Renaissance art, history and local crafts, up to 20th century paintings plus exhibitions of contemporary art. We had a pick of almost everything during our visit.

Holbein - Portrait de femme

Here are a few of the many splendid works that drew our attention. Portrait of a Woman by Holbein to start with.

Cranach - La crucifixion

A simple but so expressive composition of the Crucifixion by Cranach the Elder.

Martin Schongauer - St Michel

The local master Schongauer is an artist of choice in the museum. Here is a lytography representing St Michael …

Martin Schongauer - L'Annonciation

… and a fragment of a piece of altar imagining The Annunciation.

restauration

A special section of the museum in the former chapel of the convent is dedicated to the masterpiece of Matthias Grunewald at the beginning of the 16th century for the altar of the monastery at Issenheim. Restoration work is ongoing on parts of the altarpiece as well as on other works belonging to painters from the school of Martin Schongauer.

the altarpiece in the chappel

The chapel itself is a beautiful piece of architecture, extremely well lit in natural light, which is quite rare for such Gothic style enclosures. The altarpiece was brought here in 1793, probably after the closure of the monastery in Issenheim during the revolutionary period.

(video source pietro68bleu)

I found a youTube film that presents the polyptych (14 pieces of painting and a few sculptures).

le retable d'Issenheim - 2

Here are a couple of more photos of details. A temptation of Saint Antoine (patron of the monastery at Isenheim) brings up an imagery that reminds Bosch.

le retable d'Issenheim - 3

The painted wood sculptures complete and complement the painted panels in a masterful style that bridges between the medieval religious sculpture and the baroque compositions.

Joe Downing - Totem

An abrupt change of styles and period dictated by our order of visiting of the museum took us next to a temporary exhibition of an artist which I knew nothing before. The name is Joe Downing, and he was an American who lived and painted in France for a big part of his life. Discovered by Picasso after the second world war his work in different periods combines an abstract style with sophisticated composition and colors that reminded me Gustav Klimt. Above is one of the later works (he died in 2007) – a beautiful construction from multiple panels of wood recreating a totem from an unknown civilization venerating arts.

Victor Brauner - Hommage a Marcel Duchamps

It was not the last discovery in the modern art section of the museum. A Homage to Marcel Duchamps belonging to Romanian-born Jewish French painter Victor Brauner drew my attention with the integrated Jewish symbols.

Jeanne Coppel - Sans titre

The next discovery was a couple of collage works of another Jewish painter born in Romania in the town of Galatzi – Jeanne Coppel, also promoted by Picasso around the same period as Downing.

Picasso - Buste de femme assise

And then Picasso himself is present with a very typical Bust of a Sitting Woman.

Declaration des droits

One of the pieces on the corridors that I thought to be worth being captured in a photo is the declaration of human rights of the French Revolution which together with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States form until today the cornerstones of the democratic and human rights respecting countries and political regimes.

Michel Hertrich - Vues de Colmar 1874-1876

Then in the section of local artists and locally inspired works I found paintings made in the city 140 years ago during the German rule. As always it is interesting to notice the conservation of the core style and atmosphere of the city, and look for the differences and similitude.

Here are more images from the museum found on youTube:



(video source mccoy1975)

The Web site of the museum at http://www.musee-unterlinden.com/ includes a lot of interesting information.

espace Fernet-Branco

With a few hours left in the afternoon we decided to take the car and drive a few tens of kilometers to the city of Saint Louis (France, not Missouri). We had seen in Strasbourg in the window of a gallery a poster of an exhibition of the collection of Jean Planque at the Espace Fernet Branca. The title of the exhibition ‘From Degas to Picasso’ was promising.

Jean Planque was a minor artist but a major expert and art collector. Working as an advisor for rich collectors and galleries he earned and then gathered enough funds to allow him to form a collection that includes many works of important artists from impressionists until Picasso’s works in the 60s. Again, helas, photography was not allowed in the exhibition, but the Web page provides some information – http://www.museefernetbranca.fr/page000100c9.html

Découvrez La collection "Jean Planque" à l’Espace Fernet-Branca sur Culturebox !


video source culturebox.france3.fr

The video above gives some more information about the collection, the collector and the exhibition in Sain Louis.

We had ended our art day in Colmar and around. We had one last amusing experience in road orientation, when accidentally and before the GPS synchronized we lost our way and we entered … Switzerland, actually the city of Basel. Saint Louis could be considered a suburb of the much bigger Swiss city, it’s just that it’s located in France. The next day we will be back here and Basel will be our principal stop on the way to the French area of Switzerland.

Colmar is one of the more beautiful and interesting places in Alsace. It’s not big in size, but the location on the Route des Vins, the beautiful buildings, and the splendid art it hosts make of it a place to spend some time in for any tourist in the area. This is exactly what we did, with one full day dedicated to the city.

Maison des Tetes

As we went out for dinner at the end of quite an exhausting day on the Route des Vins which I described in the previous episode I had two principal objectives. A good dinner (as we had practically skipped lunch eating a sandwich in a cafeteria at the Mount Odile convent) and a good bottle of Alsace wine after a dry day on the road of the wine. A friend from the Internet lists had recommended us the Maison des Tetes and we were happy to discover that the hotel and restaurant that is hosted is also one of the famous buildings of the city, built in 1609 and beautifully ornate with carved heads on its facade.

une tete a la Maison des Tetes

I will be bluntly honest, after looking at the menu at the Maison des Tetes we were intimidated by the prices and by the relative small number of choices that I understood what they were about, so we decided to skip this restaurant and look for something else.

restaurant Bartholdi

The place we chose was the Bartholdi which is named after the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty who was born in the city. The decision proved to be perfect, with a good selection balancing local food and French cuisine, and a magnificent choice of wines.

lamb chops a l'Alsace

I went for the escargots which I must have at least once while in France and for lamb chops a l’Alsace because I was too hungry to risk not having what promised to be a consistent meat choice. The portion proved not to be too big, but tasty beyond expected (and expectation were high).

Gewurztraminer of Faller

Did I mention that our waiter seemed to be around 80? She however was moving with a speed and precision that could be envied by many of her colleagues in their 20s. Her recommendation for a good Gewurtztraminer (Liliana’s preferred white wine) was excellent.

Colmar at night

The good wine created the premises of a nice walk in a city which is even more beautiful at night than in daylight. Although located a few tens of kilometers south of Strasbourg, Colmar has a definite Nordic appearance in the style of the streets and of the houses, reminding me strongly Maastricht which I had visited a couple of months ago.

eglise des Dominicains at night

On our way we passed l’eglise des Dominicains whose building started in the 13th century and continued and was completed in the 14th and the 15th century.

Eglise des Dominicains

This is where we started our track the following day. We saw a lot of art during that day, and the next episode will be dedicated to it. The imposing church lets itself be nicely photographed both at night as during the day.

Petite Venise

By the end of the Colmar day we were of course hungry again and we chose to walk to another district of Colmar called Petite Venise (Little Venice) because of the canals that cross it. To me the association with the Pays-Bas rather than Venice was the one that came to my mind.

Le Petit Gourmand

The restaurant that we chose for dinner that evening was Le Petit Gourmand which has a beautiful wooden terrace just by the canal.  The choice was excellent again, and we indulged in the Alsatian specialties for our last night in Alsace, by having le baeckaoffae alsacien au 3 viandes marinees – so I did have baeckaoffae in Alsace after all.

Muscat of Antoine Erhart

I remember the wine because it was an excellent dry muscat, which may sound strange to some of my Romanian or Israeli friends who are used with the sweet variants of this kind of wine. It needs not be sweet, and it’s great.

swans at night

On our way back we enjoyed a last sight of the beautiful area in this so pleasant town, and photographed swans that were also enjoying the evening on the canals.

This episode is less about the wonderful Alsatian wines than one would expect. I surely would have liked to write more and especially to taste more wine during the driving tour we made in the 7th day of our vacation from Strasbourg to Colmar, but I was the designated driver and I am imposing on myself zero alcohol tolerance when driving. I’ll talk more about wine in the next episode when I will talk about the dinners in Colmar. The itinerary that we took that day avoided the highway and took the picturesque route among the vineyards, flanked at West by the Vosges mountains, from Marlenheim in the North to Tann in the South. We drove about two thirds of the route.

a market day in Obernai

Our point of entrance in the Route des Vins was in the small town of Obernai. We were lucky to find parking place not far from the central Place de Marche, as it was a market day. The market square is dominated by the 60 meter high 16th century Gothic tower.

inside the Saint Pierre and Saint Paul church in Obernai

We entered to visit the beautiful neo-Gothic church of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul. Although built in the 19th century the altar dates back from the 15th century.

crucifixion stained glass window in the church in Obernai

Beautiful stained glass windows filter the light in the church. Here is one of them representing the crucifixion under a rosary that reminds in shape the Star of David.

Mother Mary statue in the church in Obernai

The statuary works in the church are also remarkable. Here is a fine painted statue of Mother Mary.

the convent at Mont Sainte Odile

Part of the road was blocked by roadworks, so the detour almost forcibly took us towards the picks of the Vosges to Mont (Mount) Sainte Odile. Odile is kind of a patron saint of Alsace, a blind-born princess daughter of duke Etichon who is said to have regained eye-sight when baptized in the year 700. The convent built on the place where the castle of the duke once laid is a place of pilgrimage for the believers from all over Alsace. The current building and church dates from the end of the 17th century, but it is the beautiful chapels around the main building that give the unique character and beauty to this place.

view from Mont Sainte Odile

The location of the convent is magnificent, at 763 meters it allows a splendid view towards the Rhine valley, Strasbourg, Obernai and the smaller towns and villages around.

Chapelles des Larmes at Mont Sainte Odile

Chapelles des Larmes is located on the site of the ancient cemetery from the Merovingian period and is ornate with golden mosaic dating from the 12th century reminding the Byzantine style.

Chapelles des Anges at Mont Sainte Odille

Chapelles des Anges has similarly beautiful mosaics composition inside, but the dominant tones are darker blue and red, in a palet that reminds the monasteries of Sucevitza and Moldovitza in Bucovina, Northern Romania.

cave vinicole

Back to the road we passed near numerous wineries and restaurants offering the liquors of the area. Some of the famous names producing the Riesling, Gewurztraminer and other sorts that make Alsace one of the most popular regions producing wine in France.

winery on the Route des Vins

Helas, I was the designated driver!

entrance at Haut Koenigsbourg

The spectacular castle at Haut Koenigsbourg was our next stop.

view from Haut Koenigsbourg

Also located at more than 700 meters and offering another splendid view to the valley, the first mention of the castle is from the 12th century, but under its current form the castle was built in the 15th century by the Habsburgs to be sieged and destroyed in the 17th century, during the 30 years war.

ceiling in the main dinner room

We enjoyed a tour guided visit at haut Koenigsbourg, and much of it was dedicated to the impressive renovation work performed here between 1900 and 1908, during the German rule of the region. The works directed by builder Bodo Ebhardt were a beautiful example of German engineering. The interior decoration try to reinforce the link between the castle, the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollern family of the Geman kaiser Wilhelm I for whom the castle was built by the city of Selestat who owned it.

room in Haut Koenigsbourg

I could not stop myself to compare the building with the Peles castle in Romania built at Sinaia in the Carpathian mountains during the same period when Haut Koenigsbourg was renovated for the first king of Romania, Carol I who was also of German origin (actually family related with Wilhelm). While the setting of the Alsatian castle is much more impressing, the internal decoration of the Romanian palace exceeds by far in beauty and refinement the one in France. To complete the history, after the first world war the castle as the whole area returned to French control and in 1937 Jean Renoir filmed here La Grande Illusion.

Riquewihr

The last stop on the Route des Vins was in the little town of Riquewihr, for many years the property of the dukes of Wurtenberg, and a three stars objective in the Michelin guide. Unfortunately we got there too late to be able to visit the castle, and we could just see that the picturesque streets full of boutiques, wineries and restaurants would have been a place to spend a few pleasant hours.

vineyards near Riquewihr

We gave up, took some more photos of the vineyards around and decided to head to Colmar. The Mercure on Champs de Mars in Colmar was our comfortable and well located residence for the following two nights. How we spent our time in the city and around will be the subject of the next episodes.

Alsace is a special place from a culinary perspective. Some say that French and German influences combine to create une cuisine which at best is refined as the French know to make it and solid as the German like it. Other disregard it and consider it to be rough and neither French not German. Liliana and me love it.

auberge-restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

Out first encounter with the Alsacian cuisine in this trip was in fifth day of the trip, when lunch time caught us hungry on the road. We could not resist the view of an auberge nicely decorated with flowers and sculptures in the picturesque village of Imbsheim which is kind of a suburb of Bouxviller where we were heading to, and stopped there for lunch.

the bar at restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

It proved to be one of the most beautiful restaurants we have ever seen. It’s a family place on the road combining a restaurant and a small hotel, and it must be pretty famous in the area as the owners were taking reservations by phone during all our lunch there.

witches on the walls at Restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

The decoration inside included flowers, and rustic paintings and comic posters in German or Alsatian dialect and witches puppets which reminded us immediately about one of our preferred restaurants in Israel – the Witches Casserole and The Milkman near the Nimrod fortress on the Golan Heights.

menu fix au Restaurant S'bastberger-stuewel

What about the food? Well, we were quite late for lunch so the owners suggested that we have the fix menu. Three course, soup, chicken with potatoes prepared in a rustic style and a tasty cream to end – pretty simple but inexpensive and tasty. The full menu included many local specialties that we would have loved to try, but these had to be left for another occasion.

Strasbourg - La corde a linge

We were not very hungry that evening, but we could not avoid a good beer and a bite on a terrace in the Petite France area of Strasbourg. We chose La corde a linge by the river Ill.

music by the Ill

Although the pick tourist season was over the place was quite crowded because of the location, the perfect weather and the music band which was playing on the pedestrian street in front of the restaurant for the customers of the restaurants around.

spaetzle keltch and salade Corset

The bite ended by not being that small, as the restaurant has generously sized portions. We especially enjoyed the spaetzle keltch which is kind of a consistent and tasty pudding of German egg noodles with cheese and ham. Diets start the day after the vacation – did you know that?

gateaux chez Christian

The next day was the full day that we spent in Strasbourg. We had one very specific recommendation from our friend Erica for Christianpatisserie and chocolatier near the cathedral. We found it late in the afternoon after we had already eaten a fast street food lunch so we just tried the cakes and acknowledged that the recommendation was completely in place.

Maison des Tanneurs

We could not leave Strasbourg before having the best of the local specialty – la choucroute. The place that we chose – also located in the Petite France area – was La Maison des Tanneurs. The building is one of the oldest typical and beautiful buildings in place in the area, built in 1572, and renovated in 1972 for the four centuries anniversary. It was a tannery for most of its history and became a restaurant in 1949.

Maison des Tanneurs - interior

After enjoying the stylish interior we met our waiter who had a look and accent that were not at all local, but rather Mediterranean. Soon we learned that he is a Turkish Kurd, and we became friends after he identified the language we were speaking as Romanian and we found the common subject of discussion between almost any Romanian and any Turk – Gheorghe Hagi.

choucroute - the real thing

The specialty we came there for was at the level of the expectations.

choucroute au poissons

We tried also a variant of choucroute with fish – it proved to be very different than what we expected. Good but different.

yes, we are in Alsace!

The wine we chose was a Riesling Grand Cru from Domaine Klipfel. We such started the preparations for the Route des Vins which we were planning to travel the next day.

I will start by mentioning the museum that we did not get to see, although we very much wanted to. It’s the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain which was recommended to us by knowledgeable friends.  Unfortunately the time was too short, we just had one full day to spend in Strasbourg, and we had to give up to this one and a few other in a city which has a lot of fine institutions of art, trying to match its pretensions to be more than the bureaucratic capital of Europe.

Palais Rohan

So we decided to limit ourselves to two of the museums located close to the Cathedral. The First was the Musee des Beaux-Arts, located in the beautiful Palais Rohan built at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, in the period of consolidation of the French rue on Alsace. The history of the museum starts a century later, at a time when after the French revolutions palaces belonging to the aristocracy of the vieux regime were turned into museums and the national collections (including the one at the Louvre) were founded. The collection of the city of Strasbourg was then established and in time its evolution led to one of the finest collection of classical painting that can be found in France.

Raphael - Portrait of a Young Woman

The most interesting section belongs to the period of the Renaissance. A few remarkable portraits are to be found, among which Raphael’s portrait of a young woman, full of freshness, nobility and delicacy.

El Greco - Mater Dolorosa

El Greco’s Mater Dolorosa has a poignant look of a woman who questions the burden of destiny fallen upon her.Having just read Petru Popescu’s Girl Mary I can imagine this woman being the character described by the writer years after the events in the book.

Salvator Rosa - Selfportrait

Salvator Rosa’s self-portrait with its slightly daemonic stare is a remarkable combination of character and mythology painting. The position and angle of observation remind Caravaggio.

Flemish Anonymous - Nightmare

Leaving the Italian painting section, here is one striking and macabre Nightmare belonging to a Flemish anonymous painter and dated around 1530.

Melchior Blocksberger - The Creation

Discovering local artists may be many times rewarding in museums that are out of the very beaten track. A complex composition representing the Creation belongs to a local artist who lived in the 16th century named Melchior Blocksberger.

Quentin Metsys - Portrait of a Humanist

An interesting temporary exhibition was hosted in the last room of the collection. It included 11 paintings that belonged to the Oppenheimer family, one of the richest Jewish family of the city at the beginning of the 20th century. Associated with the German-speaking high classes they were obliged to leave the city after the first world war to find refuge in Berlin.  As the Nazis came to power another exile started, and the family resettled in the United States. Their descendants now returned to Strasbourg with part of the art collection presented in this exhibition among which the Portrait of a Humanist by Flemish 15th century painter Quentin Metsys.

Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame

Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame which we visited later in the afternoon is located in an adjoining less impressive building, but its collection matches the value and the beauty of the Fine Arts Museum. The collection is made of donations made for the cathedral, and it includes many treasures related to the cathedral itself, and objects which have once been part of the internal decoration, but also a splendid and probably unique collection of Medieval and Renaissance Alsatian art.

12-13th century stained glass windows

Some of the original 12-13th stained glass windows are exposed in one of the rooms, here is one representing the Jews of the time.

a damned figure

figure d'homme tirant la langue

Sculptured decorations from the Gothic period are characteristic to the French cathedrals. Here are two of them.

Christ and Saint John

Polychrome painted sculptures in wood were a very popular form in the Middle Ages. When the Renaissance shows up as in this sculpture dated around 1430 the genre flourishes for a short time to disappear shortly after. I still love the genre which in its best works combines simplicity and elegance, sincerity and beauty.

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The Adoration

Here is another example, a more complex work representing the Adoration, part of a triptych realized around 1470.

Nicolas de Hugenau - busts of reclined men

bust of monk

Around the year 1500 the altar of the cathedral was decorated with busts of holy monks and saints realized by local masters. Some of these are proofs of an exquisite mastering of the art of portraits, expressive and hauntingly realistic.

altar of Saint Sebastian

As trade developed in the Renaissance period portable altars carried by rich merchants were at high demand. Here is one dedicated to Saint Sebastian combining polychrome sculpture and painting.

Saint Mathew and Saint George

Last here are two splendid paintings on wood representing saint Mathew and saint George. They belong to a local master named Hans Baldung Grien, who was born in Grun but lived and created in Strasbourg. Although painted around 1530 they carry a medieval style and symbolism that give them elegance and an atemporal aura of beauty.

The Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg is one of the two poles of attraction of the city of Strasbourg. Beyond being one of the most beautiful religious monuments in Europe its history is deeply related as in the case of many other cathedrals in the French cities with the history of the city. A Roman temple was originally located in this place, to be replaced by a church and cathedral built during the reign of Charlemagne. When a fire consumed it at the edge of the millennium a new Romanesque church started to be built in 1015. Its construction will continue for more than 250 years.

Portail de L'Horloge

The oldest part of the Romanesque building is located on the Southern extremity, and it includes the Portail de L’Horloge, the gate located closest to the Astronomical Clock that I will describe later. The material used for the building from its inception and then in a consequent manner during the centuries is pink sandstone from the Vosges, which gives the whole building an original look and appeal.

The West front

Another singular treat is the fact that the Cathedral has only one tower, which is actually a relatively late (15th century) addition to the West front with its magnificent gates and statues dated in majority from the 13th and 14th centuries.

central gate on the West front

The creation of the central gate is dated 1277 to 1290. The Gothic style took over by that time and replaced the Romanesque style of the first sections.

the kings of the Old Testament

Scores of beautiful statues ornate the Western front. Here are the saints and kings of the Old Testament.

Notre Dame

The cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary – Our Lady, Notre Dame. In 1521 when the Reformation extended on this area the interior of the cathedral was deprived of much of its original decoration. Catholicism was restored during the reign of Louis XIV but one century later during the revolution another wave of iconoclasm led to the irremediable loss of more than 300 statues in the wave of militant anti-Catholicism that followed the French revolution.

inside the cathedral - the nave

Entering the church the feeling is of space, to a larger extent than in many other similar buildings.

stained-glass windows

Some of the stained glass windows date from the 13th century, one of them above representing portraits of the kings of France.

the pulpit

More than 50 statuettes decorate the pulpit designed in Gothic style by Hans Hammer, one of the few valuable parts of the church created during the Reform period (16th century).

the organ

An organ in a beautiful polychrome case dates from the 14th and 15th century.

statuary in the Saint Laurent chapel

There are several beautiful side chapels. One of them is consecrated to Saint Laurent and includes an impressive and complex statuary group representing the crucifixion belonging to the period of the last major renovation of the church in the 19th century.

the choir and the transept

The choir and the transept belong the oldest part of the interior of the church that survived the times. Created around 1200 and perfectly conserved (and probably also renovated) it has a flagrant resemblance to the Byzantine churches in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

the Western rose stained-glass window

The Western wall rose-shaped stained-glass window is of an exquisite, abstract beauty. It was created in the second quarter of the 14th century.

the pillar of the Last Judgment

Another spectacular and original structure is the sculpted pillar representing the Last Judgment created around 1230.

the Astronomical Clock

The visit in the cathedral ends with the Astronomical Clock,  a Renaissance masterpiece combining the crafts of clocks building and some the most advanced scientific elements of these times in fields like mathematics and astronomy. A previous clock named the Clock of the Three Kings existed in the cathedral in the 14th and 15th centuries, but got broken and a new one started to be built in the mid of the 16th century. The sculptures and paintings on the front of the clock already show Baroque influences.

the ecclesiastic clock

The clock is a very complex mechanism build by Swiss masters (many of them from Schaffhausen) and it measures time, keeps a calendar, and makes astronomical computations. The ecclesiastic is activated once a year, in the night of December 31st and performs the astronomic computation according to the rules known at the time to determine the date of Easter.

the aparent time

The apparent time indicates the solar time the relative positions of Earth, Sun and Moon.

solar and moon equations

It is the solar and moon equations mechanical machinery that makes the corrections and determines the correct alignment on the display of the planets positions.

day of the week

Each day of the week has its own symbol.

Overall the astronomic clock is an amazing and complex piece of art and engineering in a period when churches were the center of the spiritual, social and cultural life of the city.