This beautiful city sits on the Rhein river, on the French-German border. It is yet another picturesque European city containing half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, canals, and a cathedral – complete with an astronomical clock.
Although the name Strasbourg is decidedly German, it has a section called La Petit France; perhaps over the centuries Strasbourg found itself part of various empires and therefore needed to establish its identity as French. Strasbourg is a short two-hour drive from my house; the perfect day trip and a favorite destination when we have house-guests.
We visited the week before Christmas and experienced the Christmas market as well as the shops festively decorated for the season. What a treat! Not only were the front window displays decorated, but also the front of the buildings and the rooftops!
An hour-and-a-half canal boat tour is offered and since the boats are enclosed with glass walls and ceiling, it provides protection from the elements of Mother Nature. There is no bad seat for viewing…unless there is some thoughtless soul taking a video with their iPad held above their head for the entirety of the tour! But I digress… Each person wears headphones and tunes into the channel of their mother tongue to listen to a commentary of the history and architecture of the buildings as we pass them. At times it can be difficult to know exactly which buildings are being referenced, but on the other hand, it is fun to view the city from the boat. The tour passes through two locks; it is interesting to watch the level of the water rise and fall while seated in the boat.
On a recent visit, we happened upon three canoes carrying people and a dog. Perhaps they were out on a fishing expedition. They were at the lock apparently hoping to cross to the other side once the canal boat activated the lock. However, they only served to block the lock and despite the captain of the canal boat blaring his horn numerous times, the canoeists weren’t going to leave their position at the gate of the lock. Reinforcements (in the form of someone on a bicycle – not wearing a uniform but apparently with some level of authority) had to be called in. It provided additional entertainment for the passengers on the tour. 😉
While Strasbourg can feel touristy, it also has a very authentic atmosphere. Sure the cathedral and the square around it are full of tourists, but just beyond that perimeter are city citizens trying to go about their day. Many are biking as a mode of transportation and become understandably frustrated when tourists are strolling along in the bike lane which is immediately adjacent to the sidewalk. The bikers will ring their bells constantly warning of their approach and alerting tourists who are wrongfully in their lane. Often the tourists are blissfully unaware that the ringing bell is intended for them, earning a glare from the passing biker.
Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament which has new glass and steel buildings situated a short distance out of the city center, on the canal. This architecture seems incongruous with the historical half-timbered and brick architecture. According to Wikipedia, all votes of the European Parliament must take place in Strasbourg. One early spring day while strolling along the canal, we were treated to people rowing in the long flat boats used for Crew.
Choosing to drive to/in a European city is an adventure in itself because these cities aren’t automobile-friendly and parking is not only expensive but can also be difficult to find. We have discovered an excellent parking garage on the edge of Strasbourg called Rotonde. Not only are the parking spaces diagonal but they are a bit larger than normal and more easily accommodate our large American vehicle! (Most European parking spaces seem to be straight-in which allows for more cars to fit in the allotted space but this family finds it more difficult to park – and exit for that matter.) Additionally, at Rotonde we pay a small fee to park (4 Euro in 2014) and that allows us to ride the tram into the city center for free! A word of caution, however. The tram ticket that comes with parking at Rotonde doesn’t cover public transportation throughout the entire city of Strasbourg.
Half-timbered architecture, cobblestone streets, canals, a cathedral, glass and steel buildings – overall a visit to Strasbourg is a lovely way to spend a day.