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Alsace, 2014

Keewi and I went on a one-week trip to Alsace, in France, in June 2014. Although we were beset by railway strikes at both the beginning and the end of the trip, it was nevertheless delightful. Keewi will put up a post about it on her blog,, but it isn't up yet so I can't link to it directly.

The "original" photos linked to in this set are reduced size, in fact, so contact me if you want a true original. Also, I would note that almost all of the photos posted here have been digitally manipulated, but mostly not in any major way; except for a few photos that I did alter more extensively, the modifications are just adjustments to brightness and contrast, because my new camera doesn't do a very good job of choosing the exposure, and the bracketing I usually use got turned off somehow.
So, Dijon. Not in Alsace, you say. That is true. We stopped there on the way up from Montpellier, though, because we were curious, and it was a nice stopover. We were supposed to have two nights there, but because of the railway strike, we ended up having just one. That was sufficient, though; there was not a great deal to do there. The architecture in Dijon was interesting, though, with a wide variety of styles and a great many towers. Indeed, my photos of Dijon seem to be almost entirely of towers. So be it.
Strasbourg, part I
After Dijon we took the train up to Strasbourg and stayed there for the rest of our trip. It's a really lovely city. Beautiful houses with the traditional wooden-beam construction are everywhere, canals are plentiful, the beer is better than southern France (but the wine is still good too), the public transit is good, the people are friendly... it's one of the nicest experiences we've had in France. Highly recommended.
One remarkable thing about Strasbourg is its cathedral. It's staggeringly large, and thus quite difficult to photograph; you have to get so far away from it that other buildings inevitably get in the way. It is, in fact, the sixth-tallest church in the world, and the tallest structure still standing that was built entirely in the Middle Ages, according to Wikipedia. It's the tallest church I've ever been in (not counting La Sagrada Familia, which will be the tallest church in the world once it is completed.) Strasbourg Cathedral is so big that when you're inside it, things in the distance (but still inside the cathedral) look hazy. (There was some incense smoke in the air, admittedly, but not a lot!) The interior of it is quite beautiful, too.
Route des vins d'Alsace
Beyond its many other virtues, Strasbourg is also perfectly positioned as a launching pad for driving the route des vins d'Alsace, a little road that winds, often with confusing or missing signs, through the many tiny little wine-making villages of Alsace. We spent three days driving different parts of the wine route.

On the first day, we discovered a cherry-growing region just west of Strasbourg. We ate a couple of cherries straight off the tree, which were beyond delicious, so then we hunted down the farmer, who was harvesting his cherries a half mile or so away, and we bought a very large box of cherries from him for €10, and ate cherries to our hearts content for the rest of our trip. We even had enough surplus to give away a whole ton of them to a big group of bicyclists we encountered way out in the countryside!
These next photos are from a very nice castle on the wine route, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. It's one of the best castles we've toured (and we've toured a lot of castles!), up there with Carcasonne but very different. A lot of it was basically unphotographable without a tripod because the rooms were so dark; there were some amazing details in the rooms, much more intricate than what is shown here.
Finally, we went on a hike around a lake called Lac Vert. It was a fun hike, but not exceptional and not very long, so it's not worth going out of your way for. There are doubtless better hikes in Alsace. Still, it was fun to see a llama wandering around on its own!
Strasbourg, part II
At the end we had a final day in Strasbourg, which we spent visiting a few specific things. First up: the Musée Alsacien, a museum about Alsatian culture. It was bigger than I expected, housed in a sprawling old Alsatian mansion, and it had quite a variety of displays. The room shown is a sort of diorama of an apothecary's shop, as I recall. The carved wood is the end of an old wine barrel, down in the wine cellar of the house. Worth the visit.
Next was the Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg. Although I am not always a fan of modern art, this museum had quite a bit of interesting stuff that I liked a lot. The first photo is from a walk-in installation by Daniel Buren that was very strange; although this photo doesn't really show them, much of it was a shining, immaculate white that made me feel like Mike Teavee in the TV room in the original Willy Wonka movie. After that in this row, we've got Paul Signac and then my favorite painting in the museum, by Charles Louis Maurice Eliot (still one less name than my nephew, Charles, but thanks for playing).
In this row: Charles Spindler (that's inlaid wood; perhaps the finest inlaid wood artwork I have ever seen), then Frantisek Kupka (one of my absolute favorite artists, but they only had two of his paintings here; to see the good stuff, go to the modern art museum in Prague, or more economically, check out my old blog post about my visit to that museum), and finally Vassily Kandinsky.
In this row: Max Ernst, then Victor Brauner (I feel like I've seen this painting before, somehow), and finally a sculpture by Jean Arp.
And then last row of our museum tour: a stained glass piece by Sophie Taeuber-Arp, then a painting by Jörg Immendorff, and finally, a photograph by Jean-Luc Moulene (but although the photograph is nice enough, it is the dress in the photograph that really caught my eye; wow).
After the museum, we went to the Parc de l'Orangerie, a very nice park northeast of the old city. It was a nice park, but the main reason we went there was to see some cigones up close. The cigone, called simply the White Stork in English, is a rather large stork that was once very common in the upper Rhine Valley, but was nearly driven (locally) extinct until conservation efforts brought it back from the brink. You now see them all over Alsace, nesting on platforms built on top of roofs (there is one in a photo up above, in fact), but it's a bit hard to see them up close since their nests are very high. The park has a zoo area with many nests that are lower than usual, and the storks also fly around overhead and walk around freely inside the park. Quite special. They're the emblematic bird of Alsace, and so you see their image on signs and in stores and everywhere you go in Alsace, just like the cicada in Provence.
Finally, I will end with a few more photos of the Strasbourg Cathedral. During the day, the sandstone it is made of has a pinkish tone; near sunset, though, it becomes luminously orange. The colors in these photos were not boosted digitally; this is what it looked like! Also notice the little sandstone cigone in the façade, silhouetted against the sky in the second photo.

These images copyright © 2014 Ben Haller. All rights reserved.