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Monday, June 13, 2011

Colmar Calamity

Let's discuss my birthday weekend in Colmar, France.

We began the trip at 7am on Friday, and with two connecting trains and a hotel stay about 10 miles outside of town, we figured our weekend would be a smidge eventful, but nothing too severe. Oh that I was so young and naïve.  
We arrived at our first train stop in Feldkirch, Austria with just three minutes to connect. I was never very good at thoroughly following directions in elementary school, so naturally, I read our travel itinerary wrong. Instead of departing from platform 3, we were supposed to be at 4A, which sounds close but was actually across a set of treacherous-looking tracks. We scramble to get there only to find no train in sight. We still have a minute before it takes off, where could it be? That can't possibly be it all the way down the platform at 4D, can it? That can't possibly be the conductor sounding the whistle, can it? That can't possibly be our train pulling away from the station, can it? Oh, it be. Remaining calm is the name of the game, so after finding a new connector and sitting around for a while, we were back in motion.

After a smooth transfer in Zurich, we arrived in Colmar. First order of business was finding a place to eat and pee – in no particular order, but for sanitary reasons, preferably not simultaneously. Now I obviously assumed that people in a small French town wouldn't speak much English, but the train station info center girl? She should reconsider the occupational skills section of her resume. French people like to tell you “yes” to your questions even when they really mean “I have no idea but this will probably get you to go away faster,” so after a good 10 minute discussion that achieved nothing but absolute confusion, we finally just lied and said we completely understood and headed out in the general aimless area which she had described.
Wandering through the upscale suburban neighborhoods of town was a lovely experience, but at this point we were starving, and considering we only had an address and a prayer to lead us to our hotel, we decided it would be smart to find it before it got dark and the creeps came out to play. We stopped at a random bus stop to reevaluate our lives when a cute old woman dressed in all white (helloooo symbolism) took pity on us and tried to help. She barely spoke English, so after a lively exchange of pointing at maps, nodding, and pronouncing things in all kinds of wrong ways, we ended up following her along the bus route until we ended up at a point where we assured her "We can take it from here." Wish it were that easy.

Our hotel was named Fasthotel Colmar-Houssen, so logically, taking the bus into Houssen and getting off at the stop named Houssen Centre made us feel like masters of the French public transportation system. Unfortunately, this was incorrect. Albeit adorable, this place was a ghost town, and there wasn’t a sign for our hotel (or anything else, for that matter) anywhere in sight. Minor anxiety mixed with fatigue began to set in. It was at this point that I asked myself “What would Bear Grylls do?” but then I realized he’s a jack of all trades and probably spoke French, so that was a bust. We moseyed around, we used our go-to phrase "Parlez vous anglais?", we almost got attacked by a lumber yard watchdog, we were summoned by a cute yet suspicious character in a black BMW, we trekked through a corn field, and after nearly 4 hours and 10 miles almost entirely on foot, we arrived. Cue immediate pass-out.

The next morning (BIRTHDAY MORNING WOOO), we woke up and showered in our cruise line-sized bathroom, ate our complimentary breakfast of yogurt, chocolate-filled croissants, and orange juice, and bussed it all the way to Colmar. Things were looking good. I’m finally 21! The excitement built up so much that when I hastily jumped off the bus, my shoe strap snapped. Awesome. Walking more than 5 steps proved to be impossible, so I decided to show the French how fashion-forward I can truly be and went barefoot. We quickly found a store and I dropped 50 euro (about 75 American dollars) on a pair of cute gladiator-esque sandals because it was my birthday and I can be broke if I want to.
The rest of the day consisted of gallivanting through the charming streets of Colmar – shopping, eating, people watching, and last but absolutely not least, taking a gondola ride through the canal which earned the town the nickname Petite Venise. It was exactly like the pictures I had Googled, which is very important to me because after a few missteps with misleading hotel reservations, I had become accustomed to the idea that what you see is definitely not what you get. We had been drinking wine throughout the day and decided to switch it up with a few Happy Birthday Heinekens, along with a surprise Happy Birthday Waffle brought out by the waiter. A little off the beaten path in terms of birthday traditions, but I love me some free dessert. Finally, we headed back to our humblest of abodes to watch our five channels of TV and sleep.

Might need to make this a regular thing...
 If you ever need a place to visit that is NOT Paris, I would highly suggest Colmar as a firm option. It's the quintessential storybook town and it took everything in me not to burst into a Beauty and the Beast sing-a-long on every corner. Of course that could’ve been the wine peeking through, but I heard that when you join the Legal Drinker’s Club of America, behavior like that is customary and in most parts of the world, encouraged. Joyeux Anniversaire à moi!

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