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©2019 Shawn Basey | Tbilisi | Prague | Travel blog and tips

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the fast lane to a misty city

March 20, 2017

Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg

 

The autobahn seemed to be entirely under construction as we drove through Germany. Normally I enjoy cruising down the highway at maximum speed, zipping past cars as though I were piloting an X-wing making my way past TIE fighters and cannons as I narrow in to destroy the Death Star. But this time, our speed was kept to a minimum most of the time, which wasn't a problem as we had decided to veer off and hit many a country road. But it seems to me I now know the dark truth as to why Merkel wanted so many refugees: she was simply hungry to fix up Germany's highways with cheap labor. Americans should take note as our highways and bridges crumble into something resembling a scene from Mad Max. 

Finally, though, w
e were exiting Germany and crossing the Rhine River. It was already dark and we could only see the vague moonlight and street lamps shimmering on the great expanse of water below. The Rhine was one of the most strategic rivers in Europe, holding a range of fortresses since the Roman times, protecting (or not) civilization from Germans in one century or another. Now it’s a peaceful and scenic place, lined with vineyards, forests, and foothills on either side. 

circles...

 

Strasbourg cathedral square

 

We were finally entering Strasbourg, but the highway seemed to make endless concentric circles around the city, winding us closer and closer to our hotel, which was on the edge of the old town. Strasbourg now exists as one of the capitals of Europe - it's the seat of the European Parliament - though far from being a major city in and of itself with less than a million residents. The old town area is the Grand Island (Grand Ile), a huge island created by a network of canals off of the River Ill. Few cities can compare with Strasbourg’s beauty and it is by far one of the most inspiring cities of Europe, with its meandering waterways, weeping willows hanging over narrow streets, riverside walks, charming cafes in hidden courtyards everywhere. And for a city its size, it’s brimming with cultural monuments, from the second tallest Catholic cathedral – Notre Dame de Strasbourg – to a Gothic revivalist Lutheran church, to even the largest mosque in France, something for everyone really.

When I first visited Strasbourg, it was after a visit to Paris. I had spent a week in Paris trying to fit everything I could, knowing that I probably would never return. And to be honest, I haven’t looked back since. The city drained me dry of money as though I were a drunk on the Reeperbahn. But after that long week, I had taken the high-speed train to the European capital and looked at France with a new-found respect and wonder. I was happy to go back a second time and this time with my wife, getting to relive the beauties of all the scenes again through her wide-eyed amazement. 

We were staying at the City Residence, one of the cheaper places in town that was near the train station and a 10-minute walk to the Grand Ile. The hotel was clean enough and each room had a refrigerator and a sink, but we had to unplug the refrigerator due to the noise it made, which sounded like a freight truck was driving through the flat at three in the morning - not an overly pleasant experience after an evening of drinking cheap wine while sitting on the canal. The neighborhood seemed safe enough and had a few Turkish pizza/kebab restaurants to make for cheap eating. I found some of the best pide in my life in that area, hands down better than anything in Turkey. 

A short walking tour

 

Place du Marche Gayot

 

From the hotel, we went down to thePlace Kleber. In summer months it’s home to fountains and in winter, a giant Christmas tree. In mid-Spring though, it was cold and barren with a nice view of Notre Dame’s single tower rising above the short skyline, a feminist obsession in a city of low rise structures. So we used that phallic beacon as a guide and followed it through the winding streets and alleys, until we got to the 12th century Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Until the 18th century, it was the tallest building in the world and is today the sixth tallest church in the world. From its topping, it shone like a gem all the way up and down the Rhine. On a clear day, it can be seen from the Vosges Mountains to the south and from the Black Forest to the north, standing like a great red rose, tall above the city. The interior is equally stunning, with an alter filled with medieval paintings of the apostles joining in the ceremonies. The church is decorated with some truly remarkable stained glass windows as well, which were thankfully removed by the Germans during WWII and thus weren’t hurt by the Allied bombings. 

The next site we saw was the Place du Marche Gayot, a ridiculously beautiful square surrounded by half-timbered houses and filled with outdoor cafes. This is a good place for lunch, dinner, and drinks and the drinks were surprisingly in the normal price range, not like the areas in directly in front of the cathedral, though this was an infinitely more beautiful and peaceful spot. We came back later that night to visit the tiny bar l’Alchimiste, featuring a tree in the middle of the bar and large cocktails lit with glowsticks. The place could have been better had they been playing more appropriate music than 80s hip-hop, but we all fall short somewhere. 

 

the Lycee International des Pontonniers

 

We continued our walk past the architecturally stunning Lycee International des Pontonniers and on over to the huge St. Paul Lutheran Church, which stands between two canals as though the plotters were trying to make it at least as visible as their Catholic rival of Notre Dame. From there we walked up the river and chose one of the random boats to have a rest and a coffee, sitting on a shaded bank. There were many inexpensive places moored to the bank and were all ideal rest stops for the budget and non-budget traveler alike. 

 

Le Petite France

 

We walked up the river stopping to wonder about several small side streets until we finally arrived at the crowning glory of any visit to Strasbourg – Le Petite France. It’s the corner of the city that has truly been frozen in time, filled with huge, white, half-timbered houses, huddling in the early morning mist. The quarter is filled with bridges, restaurants, walkways, and parks, and one could easily spend all day there soaking in the atmosphere. The restaurants cater to travelers of all ilk – you can easily find some pricey French fair, as well as the much cheaper flambees – which are basically huge pizzas made on Armenian lavash.

 

Ponts Couverts

 

The last bit of the day we spent at the Museum of Modern Art, which was across from the three towered Ponts Couverts and the covered bridge Barrage Vauban. The museum had a decent collection, which was most notable for my future bathroom tile design by Kandinsky. The best work and most representative artwork though was outside in the shape of a giant, bronze man of shit, as though making the great proclamation that modern art and the rich people who deal in it are shit. The joke’s on someone, indeed.

 

 

the value of modern art 

 

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