MAGNIFICENT, SPLENDID, UNIQUE, UNFORGETTABLE STRASBOURG!
Strasbourg! One of my very favourite destinations any time in Europe. Magnificent, prosperous Strasbourg, historically craved over is located at the far eastern reaches of France with Germany sitting across the mighty Rhine strategically astride a pathway for invading armies since recorded time. The Strabourgois are hard-working, clever and adaptable to the vagaries of historic situations including decades under German rule. In fact, the local dialect is very much a blend of German and is still often spoken by the older generation among themselves. Strasbourg’s solid infrastructure and strategic location, a hub of transportation to and from the eastern countries of Europe, has made it a logical choice to become the future capital of a united Europe, and it is already the seat of many international pan-European organizations. Strasbourg’s future is as rosy as the superb stained glass rose (above) gracing their much beloved cathedral.
Construction on Our Lady of Strasbourg started in 1176 and continued for the next three centuries. The magnificent Gothic cathedral boasts of the tallest spire in all of Europe, in fact from 1647 to 1874 it was the tallest man-made structure in the world.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
The cathedral described by Victor Hugo as “A gigantic and delicate marvel” is at the core of the pride of the Alsacian people. Twin towers were planned but unfortunately the second spire was never started. In moments of idle dreaming I have wondered why couldn’t it be constructed now? There are more than enough billionaires on this planet with more than enough loose change to gather together a ‘dream team’ of historians, architects, stone masons, artisans, sculptors, creators of stained glass windows and all of the educated ‘hands’ required to create a splendid monument to glorify the past and bring hope to the present. I wonder why there isn’t a single one out there with the imagination to donate such a gift to the world? Forlorn hope, in a world where making and piling up money is single-mindedly pursued such an inspired, noble mind doesn’t draw breath. A sublime imagination or a philanthropic love of culture is a non-starter. Quel domage – too bad!
Just imagine the second tower to celebrate the new millenia (a decade or so already down the road but still early in relative terms) when mankind starts to finally get it! What’s ‘it’ you may rightfully wonder – ‘it’ in this case is respect of what’s best in mankind’s cultural and artistic creativity accompanied by human nobility of spirit.
A medieval building, an iconic landmark in great repair, a stone’s throw from the cathedral, also a good eatery where to sample the regional ‘choucroute garni’. Not making a point of sitting down to a copious plate of this traditional sauerkraut and pork sausages and/or ribs, washed down with excellent Alsatian beer is unthinkable.
When I was a child I’d been told about the ‘cigogne‘ (stork) that ferried new-born babies to their new homes; I’d even seen lots of illustrations so it had to be true, right? Imagine my excitement the first time I saw a couple of real honest to goodness ‘cigognes’ in a lush meadow spearing frogs for breakfast (no bad jokes, please) just a few kilometres from Strasbourg. I spotted them from the corner of my eye and by the time I was able to make a u-turn a couple kliks down the road to take photos much to my chagrin they’d flown off. Welcomed as harbingers of good fortune, the magnificent bird had traditionally nested atop chimneys throughout Alsace but they’d almost disappeared until dedicated hard work and loving care rescued them from the edge of extinction. From a choice perch on the cathedral, here for centuries one is seen dispensing good luck to its citizenry.
It’s easy to get around Strasbourg as it’s an eminently walkable city but if you’re feeling lazy a modern transportation system will whisk you to destination. Notice the bicycle paths along side the tram tracks.
Arriving in Strasbourg I was following the signs indicating the cathedral, thus the old town and as usual I had no idea where to spend the night. Judging I was getting close I grabbed the first available parking spot and as luck would have it, the car stayed put for the next three days. Better still a few steps away I notice a hotel and before you know it I’d also found fine lodgings at a reasonable price, a good view from the window and within walking distance of ‘La Petite France’ and the cathedral. I’ll admit to almost never (except when traveling for working purposes) book accommodations ahead of time when I’m on the road. Why is that? I trust on my good star to lead me to a great place within my budget and with some special amenity or perhaps great location to offer. On occasion I’ve had to work hard to find just what would smile at me, but I have no problem checking out four, five or even more hotels before making a decision. I also have no embarrassment about returning to one I passed on earlier. I deem finding the right place is worth almost any effort, furthermore if I really am happy I can stay longer and that’s a bonus. Okay, I’ll tell you there have been times when I couldn’t find anything at any price because there was a convention going on or some popular event and I’ve even had to move on to another town, but that’s not happened too often and in fact sometimes worked out even better by exploring an unplanned destination.
This method of finding a bed to lay your head on is not recommended for those who like to travel on a fixed schedule and agenda but that’s not for me as I have at times (often) found myself not only in a different town but also in a different country. Oh, it’s not a big deal if you’re free and have the fanciful notion of going where the wind (figuratively) blows you and Europe is the place to do such for the distances are rather smallish if you come from Canada. One particular time (I was younger and I love driving) I left San Marino early when the sun was peering over the horizon, drove through northern Italy, across a slice of Switzerland, through a bit of Germany, dashed through northwest France, sped across Luxembourg and found myself watching a great game of football (soccer) at my hotel’s lobby with friendly companions in Knokke in Belgium. Let’s see that’s seven countries in one day, not bad!
The view from my bedroom, notice the cathedral’s spire about a pleasant 15 minute’s walk with interesting buildings and sights on the way.
A rather banal pic but notice the bidet, a fixture found in any half-decent hotel in Europe. Have North America’s hoteliers heard of its convenient hygienic properties? I was introduced to the ‘bidet’ in an hilarious episode in Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’. Already living in Canada I had to wait for my first trip to France to actually discover it in a modest one star hotel in Paris. I was thrilled and sat there laughing my head off remembering the discomfiture of the man who mistook it for a proper toilet and found out it simply wouldn’t flush as he’d expected. The entire novel is worth reading for that alone although it was the book that made me realize an extensive vocabulary as well as being an indispensable communication tool is a thing of beauty.
Another view from the hotel room – lucky me.
At night it was so beautifully illuminated as most architecturally important and striking buildings are throughout Europe.
To the right of my wide open window the view was also splendidly illuminated – a dream land that charmed my eyes while awaiting slumber after a long, happy day.
One of the best activities a visitor can indulge in is to savour a fine Alsatian beer in one of the many outdoor cafes in ‘La Petite France’, a beautiful slice of historic Strasbourg. In the evening there are dozens of fine restaurants from which to choose, wisely I opted for one that featured sauerkraut, roast potatoes and smoked sausages nicely eased down with a stein (maybe two) of cold local blonde beer.
Strasbourg’s historic city centre, the ‘Grande Isle’ was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre. Strasbourg is fused into the Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a bridge of unity between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the ‘Université de Strasbourg‘ presently the largest in France, and the peaceful coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture.
A boatman speeds home after a day ferrying tourists around the delightful waterways that crisscross the city. It was time for me to reluctantly leave behind enchanting Strasbourg. Until we meet again, aurevoir!