Eastern France Part I: Paris, Reims, Colmar & Verdun

This fall I was fortunate enough to get to visit Eastern France with my parents and my delightful, sister-in-law, Lauren. Eastern France has been a dream of my mother’s for ages, and we saw a good chunk by doing a tour. We used Rick Steve’s and while touring isn’t my ideal mode of travel, it does allow you to see lots. I met my family in Paris, where I spent just over 24 sleep-deprived hours. From Paris we caught the train to Reims for the start of the tour. The tour began in the Champagne region–delicious. From there we spent two delightful weeks working our way south through Alsace, Burgundy, the Alps, and finishing in Provence. I’m keeping these write ups brief on words–there’s no way to fully capture the experience of two weeks in a few blog posts–but heavy on photos!

Besides the obvious excitement of getting to visit many new places, I was excited for the challenge of non-portrait based photography. As a photographer, people and animals are my passion, so I’m not often excited about taking pictures of things. If I’m being candid this is mostly because it doesn’t come as naturally to me–hello growth opportunity! It was great to spend a few weeks pushing myself to re-calibrate the way I literally view the world. I tried to push myself to find compelling ways of framing the many beautiful sights I encountered.

One of the places in Paris I wanted to visit in my very limited time was the Jardin de Luxembourg. As far as I can tell it’s basically the Parisian equivalent of Central Park! It features, of course, beautiful gardens complete with statuary and of course, pigeons. 

I walked about 9-10 miles that first day after getting off the plane! We meandered all over Paris and finished our sightseeing for the day on the left bank. Our major stops were Notre Dame at dusk and Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. I’d wanted to visit both since I was very young. Unfortunately the bookstore doesn’t allow photos and it was so crowded and claustrophobic that I ended up leaving almost immediately, but the Left Bank overall was enchanting.

We spent the morning before catching the train on the crooked streets of hilly Montmartre. Sadly it was also very crowded, and  I’m not much of a city person. I left the group and spent most of the morning at the small, but excellent Dalí Museum. I learned a ton about Dalí and surrealism. With its soft lights, and quiet atmosphere, it was the perfect place for me to recalibrate.

In Reims we met up with our tour group! Lauren and I were, not surprisingly, the youngest on the tour, but we met plenty of excellent folks over the two weeks. Most especially our tour guides, Virginie and Karen, were fantastic and engaging. 

Unsurprisingly we visited many beautiful churches and cathedrals over the course of the tour. Of all of them though, Notré Dame de Reims was the most spectacular. It featured some incredible stained glass, including several windows by Chagall. France also has an excellent summer tradition of doing elaborate light shows on public buildings at night! We saw several over the course of the tour, and the light show on the cathedral in Reims was absolutely stunning.

After Reims we travelled to Alsace, spending a few hours at Verdun. To say that experience was moving would be to do it a great injustice. At Verdun the scars of WWI on the land are still wholly visible. There was very little forest or field that was not pocked and wavy from mortar blasts. The weather was extremely uncooperative at Verdun, and in many areas photos weren’t allowed, but the photo below is from inside one of the maze-like bunkers.

Colmar, a town with strong Germanic influences in the heart of Alsace, delighted and surprised me. Colmar is a cobble-lined city, full of slightly-askew, brightly colored, half-timbered houses and shops. Tiny canals and charming squares add to the charm. You’ll also find plenty of cheese, German beer, and trendy shopping. Colmar holds an extra special place in my heart as the location of my fastest-ever mile time! Needless to say, I enjoyed the several days we spent in Colmar very much, despite a failed attempt to visit Germany.

From Colmar we headed south into serious wine country! If you enjoy wine tune into my next post– expect plenty of vineyard photos. I plan to write three more posts on my trip to France, each centering around the major regions we visited! Hopefully these photos offer a small taste of the delights of Eastern France.

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