I finally got myself the weekend travel I'd been talking about for two months and went as far east as I could go on the TGV and still be in France. This took me to Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament and principal city of the Alsace region.
As the pictures show, it's a beautiful place. In fact, Strasbourg's historic city center, the Grand Ile, was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center.
It's a quick and very comfortable (reserved seats) two-hour TGV high-speed train ride from Paris, and is a couple of kilometers from the German border. This time of year is the time to be there, with the Christmas markets set up and open (I was a week too soon, and only got to see the markets being built, but enjoyed plenty of Christmas lighting and decoration).
Pastry shops and chocolate shops were scattered throughout the many pedestrian streets, featuring the local delicacy, kougelhopf.
Strasbourg is a major college city; so of course pubs, live music and local beer like Kronenbourg were also easily found. And along the many shopping streets were traditional cafés featuring chocolat chaud and vin chaud (the aroma alone could cure a head cold, sore feet from walking, or tourist brain from history acousti-guide overload).
I enjoyed the Cathedral, which was in the middle of Sunday mass when I went (that's really the way to see a cathedral, if you ask me, even if it's not your religion of choice, because you get to experience the building the way it was intended - sounds, scents, organ, voices, and in this case, a full orchestra "backing up" the voices and organ; it was a "take your breath away" moment). And let's not forget climbing up the much-exposed spiral staircase that leads to an upper level outdoor terrace of the Cathedral for stellar photo-ops and a good chance of contracting acrophobia.
In a back corner of the Cathedral as well is the third astronomical clock that has been on this spot since 1681, which is a must-see at 12:30pm each day at it sounds the noon hour (don't ask) and the 18-inch high figures of Jesus and the Apostles proceed through openings located above the clock face.
Also good is the boat ride that circles the Ile on the Ill (that's the river on which Strasbourg is situated). The Rohan Palace (really) houses three museums, the Archeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Fine Arts Museum. There's also a museum of the city of Strasbourg, which is kid-friendly and interactive and does a pretty good job of reinforcing the powerful place which the city and the region hold in the history of France, even through this century.
|The Rohan Palace|
It's a perfect two-day visit from Paris, or from anywhere in Europe. There's enough going on here, as a tourist spot and as a living, breathing city, to be a destination for anyone seeking a charming, friendly, warm spot to visit and explore. PS - if you bike, bring! It's hard to find a rental on Saturday and Sunday, but bike lanes are all over and traffic is light on most roads in the center.