Short Stay in Strasbourg
Snuggled up to the German border in northeastern France and seated on the Rhine River is the charming city of Strasbourg. As it is a combination of my two favorite European cultures, a stop here on our way to Paris was a must.
We arrived to our accommodations just outside of the city in the early evening and were greeted by our host. A short walk from the house through the lovely neighborhood, we found an ATM-type machine which doled out fresh, warm baguettes on request. It was too unique and inexpensive an opportunity to pass up, so we got one for ourselves and enjoyed it while making our way back.
Our only full day in the area was completely devoted to exploring the city of Strasbourg. Besides being one of the three seats of the European Union, Strasbourg houses the Grand Île, a picturesque city center that is the epitome of Alsatian culture. If I hadn’t known I would love this place already, along the walk to the Grand Île we passed some street art commemorating one of my favorite quotes from my hero, Nelson Mandela.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Our photo theme for the day turned out to be flowers in the foreground and lovely half-timbered buildings in the background. The many canals throughout the city center are crisscrossed with pretty pedestrian bridges and the flowers and trees along the banks are well-cared for. It was absolutely darling.
Before I go much further gushing about this lovely city, it’s important to note the personal significance of this day for us. The day we spent in Strasbourg was our baby puppy Maggie’s 5th birthday. She was celebrating in Las Vegas along with her brother and her doting uncle, Jeff. We are so grateful and lucky to have a friend like him who doesn’t just watch our pup while we’re away but loves and cares for her as much as we do. He treated her to a fried egg for breakfast. You can tell how much she wanted it because she put up with wearing a birthday hat! (Maggie is in the blue; her brother, Sterling, is in red.)
In the Place Kléber stands the Strasbourg cathedral, which is the 4th tallest cathedral in the world. It is absolutely striking. The stone looks like copper and set against the overcast sky that we were dealt, it almost didn’t look real. The cathedral dwarfs all the buildings which surround it and constantly draws your eyes up and up to look at all of its ornate details. We arrived during mass, so the cathedral wasn’t open to the non-worshipping public. We made a slow circle around the massive structure and listened to an interesting street musician. (Side note: if I photograph or record street performers, I always leave them a tip.)
Have you ever seen the cartoon Gargoyles? My family was obsessed with it. This guy reminds me of Brooklyn.
The famous and fairytale-esque half-timbered buildings in Strasbourg are historical to the Alsace region. And, damn, are they pretty. There’s something about the lack of exactitude that gives them a jaunty, welcoming feel. Like a blushingly tipsy (but well-meaning) aunt who pulls you in for a sloppy hug or offers you a sip of her wine when your parents aren’t looking. The half-timbered homes are a testament that something doesn’t need to be perfect to be good and sometimes the beauty is in the mistakes. Maybe that’s reading too much into homes built using the materials and technologies available at the time, but that’s the romance of hindsight, isn’t it?
After some wandering, we decided to tuck in somewhere for lunch. We walked into a restaurant at random and had a lovely French-German meal. I had duck confit with piles of sauerkraut while Kody had a plate of mixed meats. The portions were German and the flavorful finesse was French.
We walked along the canals to the most famous part of Strasbourg, La Petite France. The water is serene and there are blooming flowers all along the bridges and on every windowsill. The river Ill separates here and in the middle are lovely half-timbered homes and restaurants. It’s photogenic and charming and really what you expect when you come to Strasbourg. In fact, it was a picture of this small section of the city that made me want to visit it. I just wanted to see it for myself. Unfortunately, the sunny skies we had started the day with had shifted to a stubborn overcast which made taking photos a little more difficult.
A few minutes from La Petite France, we walked through an antique market on the outskirts of the Grand Île. Everything was so delicate and interesting! There were stalls filled with jewelry and books and trinkets. I wandered through selections of furniture and art that made me wish I had an apartment nearby to furnish.
We turned a corner after this, both literally and figuratively. During our visit, Kody and I had the first simmerings of an argument that would bubble away in Paris before boiling over on our way to London but which, ultimately, changed our travel attitudes for the better. (More on that in a future post.) We took a couple of right turns from the antique market and stumbled upon a youth percussion performance in a small square. Luckily, this helped remedy our moods. It didn’t hurt that there was a beer tent as well.
The percussion group played themes from movies and pop music hits. It was so fun to watch! They switched instruments between each song and they ranged in age from about yay-big to teenager. We listened for an hour or so, dropped a donation in their collection box, and left feeling more grateful for each other and for Strasbourg than we had been feeling.
We ended our short stay in Strasbourg with a lazy stroll up and down the Grand Île streets and a little almond cookie tasting. It was not a very long visit, but it was nearly perfect.