Five Days in the Magical City Of Strasbourg, France
The last year has been a good travel year for me. I visited a few wonderful places that I thought I would never see. The trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia was the highlight of my travels last year. This year, it is so far our trip to Strasbourg in France.
Our trip to the Alsace Region was unplanned. It was in fact an almost last minute trip. It was only confirmed that J was attending a conference on a Thursday and we were to leave on a Sunday. Luckily, I already had most of the week off as I planned to go to a sunflower field on my birthday (which fell on that week). All I needed to do was ask for an extra two days off which was granted instantly.
So on a Sunday morning, we headed to St Pancras International to take the Eurostar to Paris. It was busier than I expected because we left later that morning and it was the school holidays- so plenty of children and children-at-heart with their Minnie Mouse ears headbands, excited to head to Disneyland Paris.
We arrived in Paris before 2pm (after 2 hours and 20 mins) and took another train from Paris Est (about 8 minutes walk from Paris Gare Du Nord) to Strasbourg ( just over 2 hours). We didn't get assigned seats to Strasbourg which was a bit inconvenient as we were asked to give up our seats a few times. There was no reserved or unreserved sign on the seats so we just sat wherever- only to be asked to move. We didn't realise that we had to verify our tickets from the ticket office for Strasbourg to get our seats. Anyway, the small inconvenience was truly worth it because Strasbourg is a magical place, and I was just happy to be there.
Everyday for five days, I left our hotel room early in the morning just as the sun was starting to rise (and whilst J was still fast asleep) to explore and enjoy the serenity of the otherwise touristy city. Yes, as soon as the clock hits 0930, all tourists in groups emerge in Grande Ile, the historic centre of Strasbourg.
Speaking of Grande Ile, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is where most of the tourist attractions in Strasbourg are found. I really enjoyed going back to this large island, just to wander around in my own pace. Strasbourg is a place that is easy to fall in love with, and I have a few reasons why I fell in love at first sight with this medieval city.
This was the first thing that I did on my own in Strasbourg, and you should too if you are visiting Strasbourg. This towering, intricately designed gothic cathedral is over one thousand years old. It is so tall that I had to really tilt my head up to see the end of the spire. With its spire at 142 metres, you can see it anywhere in Strasbourg.
I went inside the church twice and I made sure that I went there before it opened at 0800, because otherwise I would be queueing up. The interior of the church is equally majestic as its exterior. The rose window is one of the most beautiful stained-glass windows I have ever seen. The organ, which is suspended on the wall, is a sight to behold. Then there is the impressive astronomical clock which dates back from 1842. Everyday at 1230, the clock displays a parade of the apostles. The church is closed around this time and only ticket holders are allowed inside. Entrance is very cheap at €1 or free with a Strasbourg pass. Unfortunately, the church platform which apparently offers magnificent views of Strasbourg was closed.
La Petit France is about 15 minutes walk from Hotel Beaucour where we were staying. It was a pleasant walk along the Ill river one cloudy morning. There are ways to enjoy the beauty of Petit France- get on a tram or a boat or just simply walk. I preferred to explore the area on foot to fully appreciate the beauty of the area, which was once home to butchers. Petit France is very picturesque with its colourful half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and charming little cafes. To get a panoramic view of Petit France and the Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), I went on the rooftop of Barrage Vauban.
We stayed in an area just across Grande Ile called Krutenau. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and decided to have a drink in Au Quai De L'Ill and chose a table under the tree. The ambience was relaxing and people were seem to be genuinely happy just hanging out in the little square, singing and dancing to jazz music played by street performers.
Krutenau is quieter than Grande Ile but it has its own unique beauty. Most days, I walked J to the University of Strasbourg where his conference was. I would explore the area afterwards and find little treasures, like a pink house in the middle of the street with balcony adorned with lovely flowers. Rue Des Orphelins was my favourite street in Krutenau because of its typical French houses with wooden shutters.
I explored alleys alone in the mornings and with J in the early evenings. There was something special about the calmness of those narrow streets, during those times when not many tourists were out and about. I don't think narrow streets are included in anyone's itinerary. I guess it's a personal preference as to whether you would like to go the other way and take the road that is less travelled (as they say). Historically, we have always taken the quieter routes, whether on foot or by car.
The Beauty Everywhere
I mean, I had five days of nothing but magnificent views of Strasbourg whichever way I looked at it. I didn't have to use any public transport to see wonderful things. Most of the attractions are walking distance (if you are staying in the old town), and anything beyond that is simply a treat.
Strasbourg is a magnificent city and I was in awe of everything that I saw. From the intricate Strasbourg Cathedral, to beautiful bridges adorned with hanging flower baskets, to charming cobblestone streets, to quaint and romantic alleys, to colourful half-timbered houses, to cheap but delicious food (which I will be writing about separately). It is indeed one of those places that one must see at least once in their lifetime.