June 30, 2009

Travel Log: Strasbourg, France (June 2009)

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Our stop in the Black Forest village of Gengenbach was just an hour train ride from Strasbourg, France - I heard good things about Strasbourg and it looked intriguing based on the brief research I did before we hit the road. Having finally mastered a handful of German words and phrases, why not mix it up with a day in France? We caught a morning train on Monday (June 29) and were there by 11:00. The Strasbourg train station was unique, the entire outside facade of the old station was wrapped in a huge modern glass bubble (protecting it & travelers from the elements, I guess).

Speaking of the elements, based on the forecasts posted on weather.com before I left Raleigh, the outlook was perfect - highs in the 70s, low's in the 50s, a few clouds, very little rain. Hence, I packed accordingly. Checking again before I left Heidelberg, lots of rain was in the forecast. Well, weather.com was way off. We saw virtually no rain (yay!), but it was hot - flirting with 90° in the afternoons. No lodging on our trip had A/C (which seems common in this part of Europe) which made sleeping a little uncomfortable (no fans in rooms either) and there was a lot of hand washing of shorts & t-shirts in the shower - I could have packed less. C'est la vie!

So Strasbourg was sunny & hot. Exiting the train station, one of my first sights (after the obligatory McDonald's) was a dude walking a poodle. Affirmative - we are in France.

The entire core of the historic and touristy section is wrapped inside canals criss-crossed with bridges of varying age, all of which added to the charm. Of course I wanted to take a boat ride through the canals and we heading into the heart of the city looking for the boat docks. I usually have an excellent sense of direction, but apparently not in France. There were too many twists and turns in the old city streets and the canal itself, so the search for boats was trumped by the need for food - which we found in large open square, at a place that served up panni-like sandwiches and Ben & Jerry's!

Ahhh, a little cone of heaven in France. Recharged with food, T started getting the itch to check out the shops. We meandered into the large & majestic Strasbourg Cathedral (construction started in 1176, completed in 1439 - and remained at 142m high "the tallest edifice in Christendom" until the 19th century). Aside from stained glass windows leading up to the huge vaulted ceilings, the church contained a unique Astronomical Clock, built by the Swiss (who else?) around 1547. It stands about 2 stories high.

Like a medieval contraption out of Walt Disney's It's A Small World, at 12:30 each day apostle "action figures" pop out of clock and one by one rotate past Jesus. We were there around 2pm.

But we did find some awesome french desserts and the boats! This turned out to be the highlight of the day. For about 90 minutes we were taken through the canals and out to the new/modern European Union buildings. Strasbourg is the home of "The Council of Europe" which today includes the EU Parliament, International Institute for Human Rights, European Science Foundation, and more. We passed numerous neat old buildings, I'll let pictures do the talking.

Before wrapping up the day, T wanted to do a little more browsing in the shops then the plan was to grab dinner and an 8pm train. On any trip, something always goes wacky. Last year in Venice I briefly lost my wallet. This time the department store stop ran long, dinner at a cafe near the train station was cut short, the waitress didn't realize we had to leave by a certain time, the train ticket machine didn't take cash or my credit cards and then I was looking for track 29 with 2 minutes to spare - which didn't exist!

From a distance, we watched our train pull out of the station. Headed in to customer service to catch the next train (which was leaving in ~15 minutes). Line was long, by the time we figured out how to catch the next train, it was pulling out of the station without us! Fortunately there was another train around 9:30pm. We wisely invested the extra time in a round of beers by the canal (okay, 2 rounds). It was a long dark walk back up to our hotel in Gengenbach, but made it around 11pm. We crashed hard with the sounds of running water lulling us to sleep.

Needless to say, we slept in the next day.

Next up... exploring the Black Forest.

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