Mark and I were still waking up early in the morning on the Viking Tor, allowing us to see the sun rise in Germany over the Rhine River.
We arrived in Kehl, Germany, across the river from Strasbourg, Alsace, France at 8:00 a.m. and we were on our buses, headed across the Rhine by 8:30.
Our shore excursion in Strasbourg consisted of a guided bus tour of the European Parliament and a walking tour of the old town that included the Petite France area and the Strasbourg Cathedral. But first we drove down a street to see the storks.
This was actually my second trip to Strasbourg. We stopped there for a couple of nights on the WWII tour I took with my daughter and her high school in 2004. On that trip we stayed in a bed and breakfast near Petite France and were able to explore the old town’s canals, shops, and cafes at our leisure for a few days. Anna and I rented bikes one morning and rode around the old town, stopping for a memorable breakfast croissant in Petite France. It was my favorite place we visited on that trip.
This time around we had a tour guide on our bus who explained the European Council to us. Our guide was a French woman from Strasbourg which made the whole tour more interesting as she spoke in English, but with a French accent or cadence, yes? She explained to us how the council worked and it felt a little bit like a lesson in American democracy. It was fascinating to hear the pride and enthusiasm in her voice as she spoke about how all the different countries came together to work on common issues through the council, that was located in her hometown of Strasbourg.
In some ways, I suppose, this is the Washington D.C. of Europe.
Because of its central location on the Rhine between France and Germany, Strasbourg and Alsace in general have had a rocky past. Initially settled by Rome in 12 B.C., Strasbourg was bounced back and forth between Germany and France many times through the years primarily as a result of the wars that intervened. As our guide explained, because of this the Alsatians have their own language that incorporates both French and German words.
It always feels a bit incongruous to me to see a modern streetcar zooming past historic buildings. But it’s a regular site in many parts of Europe where the citizens keep up with the modern world against a backdrop of medieval structures and fascinating architecture.
After our tour of the European Quarter we got off the bus and walked a short distance to get to the canal district near the old town.
Like Colmar, Strasbourg is a town made up of many half-timbered buildings, and looks a little like it belongs on a giant Christmas Village display.
A remnant from an embattled medieval past, this square tower is one of over 80 towers that used to form a chain of fortifications. Four towers remain today. Using a guidebook Mark bought in the afternoon, I think we must have been at Pont Couverts where the river Ill branches into an oval that surrounds the center of Strasbourg before joining back together on the other side. This might make more sense to you if you take a minute to view the map of Strasbourg I found online. I’m now wishing I had studied the map of Strasbourg before we began our tour. It might have all made more sense to me too.
Right after the Ill splits, it further branches into four (if I can trust my map) smaller canals that run through Petite France. (More on Petite France later.)
Canal boat tours are a good way to see the town. On my first trip to Strasbourg, we took a ride on one. This time we didn’t. We were going to spend a couple nights in Amsterdam at the end of our trip and decided to ride in a canal boat there. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the canals in Strasbourg were a lot less crowded and more amenable to sightseeing than those in Amsterdam. But we missed the boat on that opportunity.
We stopped at a park across the canal from Petite France, formerly the tanner’s quarter, and a place in the town interwoven with canals. The area was named Petite France because of a hospital located there that treated patients who had syphilis or the “French disease.”
If you click to enlarge the above photo you can see the large opening in the roof of the pink building. Rooftops such as this in the tanning quarter, aided the airing of the attics or the drying-out of the skins.
When Anna and I visited Strasbourg, we spent a lot of time in Petite France with its shops, cafes, and general charm. But on this tour, we continued forward. We would have time afterwards to wander around on our own if we desired.
Our ultimate destination was the Strasbourg Cathedral, but we passed through the Place Kleber to get there. The square at Place Kleber is a main public entertainment location. The building you see above is the Aubette originally designed to house the Corps de Garde. It was later converted into an academy of music.
Medallions commemorating famouse musicians decorate the exterior walls. This is Mozart’s. I also got quick photos of Beethoven’s and Haendel’s as we passed by.
I regret that you can’t see this very well, although clicking to enlarge helps. I was trying to show you how narrow some of the buildings are. The third building from the left that is a darker pink or peach is only two narrow windows wide. The variation in width is just one of the features of Strasbourg’s buildings that make it such a beautiful and charming town.
Still enroute to the cathedral we passed through narrow streets that reminded me of the medieval towns we visited in Italy.
Then all of a sudden the narrow walkway opened into a wider path or square and the cathedral rose in majesty above the shops and homes.
Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral stands on the foundations of a Romanesque basilica built in 1015 by a member of the Hapsburg family. When it was destroyed by fire, the new cathedral was built in its place in 1176, taking nearly four centuries to complete. The height of the spire made it the highest building in Christendom until the 19th century.
We entered the cathedral just in time to witness the famous astronomical clock‘s automated figures parade before Christ.
I can’t recall why we weren’t able to see more of the interior at the time. I don’t remember if there was a Mass being celebrated, or whether we were just running out of time on our tour. I thought perhaps Mark and I might be able to return during the afternoon that we planned to spend in Strasbourg, but that never happened.
The first time I went to Strasbourg we visited the Musee de l’ Oeuvre Notre Dame that housed statues from the cathedral as well as all types of art. That was a highlight of my first trip and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Strasbourg with a few hours to spend. Mark and I had neither the time nor the energy to do so.
I just wanted to show you one of the bustling streets with the many signs and banners, again reminding me of medieval towns in Italy. Our tour guide walked us to a main street with lots of shops and then directed us to where our bus would be waiting for us at the predesignated times between 2:00 and 5:30. Following that, we gave her a Euro or two for a tip, as we had been advised by our Viking Tour materials, and wandered off alone to enjoy the sights and tastes of Strasbourg.
Our first order of business was food, drink, and rest for my weary legs. We stopped at a restaurant or cafe in Petite France beside a canal. And I am not, as you might suspect, checking my email while we sat in this enchanting place. I was frantically trying to find my camera’s manual that I had uploaded to my phone. Here’s a word to the wise—don’t buy a new camera shortly before a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I had inadvertently flipped one of many dials and switches on my new Olympus OMD Em-1, a mirrorless digital camera. The camera was changing the ISO every time I tried to change the f-stop, which I use often. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it with the camera alone, and then I remembered I had the manual on my phone. Isn’t technology grand? I fixed the problem, breathed a big sigh of relief, and proceeded to enjoy the meat, cheese, bread and wine we had ordered for lunch. A perfect French picnic.
After lunch we walked around without any particular goal or destination in mind, which might have been our shortcoming. We came upon this carousel, which I remembered from not only photographs, but from my previous visit. I can’t tell you of its significance or lack thereof. Update—One of my kind readers named Rob has left the following comment below: “Strasbourg is my home town. The carrousel is on Place Gutenberg, and the guy on the statue is Gutenberg, aka Johann Gensfleisch. He invented printing in Strasbourg.” Thanks, Rob, for clearing that up for us.
I had to put this picture in here because I absolutely love this feature of architecture where a bay window of sorts juts out from the upper floors of the corner of a building. We would see a lot more of this later in Cologne.
and stopped at a restaurant for a bit of something sweet. And this is one of the disadvantages of going it alone. Sometimes you just don’t know where to find what it is you want. We sat for a few minutes, looked at the menu and decided this particular cafe wasn’t what we had in mind, so we left. It happens.
Mark and I headed to where we could catch our bus back to the boat some time in the middle of the afternoon.
The optional excursions for this day that we did not take advantage of were a wine-tasting tour and Mercedes factory visit. We had no regrets. We wanted to be able to experience Strasbourg a little longer. I suppose my criticism would be that with only an extra couple of hours, there’s really not a lot you can do, especially if you are not well prepared like us.
Back on board the Viking Tor, live music was scheduled for the cocktail hour in the lounge from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. and a demonstration of how to make the flammkuchen was presented on the Aquavit Terrace at 5:30. I don’t remember exactly how Mark and I spent our time, but I suspect we retired to our cabin for a nap as we were still adjusting to the time change and were both rather exhausted from the touring.
That evening in lieu of entertainment, at 9:15 p.m. the program director Sharon talked about different Viking cruises. I suspect she had a lovely slide show. We didn’t choose to go to that. We may have called it an early night. We cast off at 11:00 p.m. for Worms.
Next up: Tuesday, Day 4- Heidelberg