A Visit to Strasbourg by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
Just across the Rhine River from Germany, in the northeast corner of France, lies the capital of the Grand Est (East) Region. It is the largest metropolitan area in Alsace and home to the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union. Because of its central location in Europe and proximity to Switzerland and Luxembourg, as well as “Allemand” (Germany), it is a major confluence of architecture, culture and cuisine.
Whether you arrive by train from Paris or other city or town around France, or come via the Lufthansa bus from Frankfurt, Germany, your first stop will be at Gare de Strasbourg (or Strasbourg railway station). You can get a nonstop train from Paris, but you may find it easier to fly to Frankfurt and take the bus direct from Frankfurt airport. Having made this trip many times, my preferred route is via Frankfurt. While the French have made it easier in recent years with a direct train from Charles De Gaulle airport, rather than having to go into the city to Gare de L’Est, you are likely to find the air fares from USA TO Frankfurt to be cheaper than going to Paris.
Like most European cities, there is no need to rent a car. Public transportation will get you around town and around the region. Strasbourg is a great walking city and small enough to reach most of the sites on foot. Tram and foot power will take you where you want to go. Of course, a local friend with an automobile is a plus, but not necessary in the city proper.
From the train station there are many reasonably priced hotels within a short distance, even if you are toting luggage. Straight ahead from the station is the Rue du Vingt-Deux Novembre. The picturesque street will take you past shops, restaurants, a large and very old church (of course), as well as hotels. From this area you will enjoy many lovely trips around town. If you do not have phone service outside the country, download a city map to your phone or tablet and use it as your guide. If you are lucky, your hotel or other tourist stop will have a map that is actually printed on paper. Strange, I know.
Of course, it you forgot your iPhone or whatever electronic device you can not live without, you can always make your way to the large public square known as Place Kléber to visit the Apple Store. I guess the techies will know by this stop that city is up to date and not just filled with ancient churches and quaint restaurants. I will just sit by the fountain as you go in and gaze at all things Apple.
The large convention center is home to many events. We were lucky on one trip to make it to the wine producers convention. Here the wine makers try to interest stores and restaurants in their latest wines. Of course we could not stop at all of the many hundred booths to sample all of the products. Fortunately, my friend was familiar with the wine producers of the region and was able to point me in the direction of the best ones.
If you appreciate a good stroll through town, you will find grand architecture and important historic sites. There are cozy restaurants and side-walk cafes. You can walk east and see the Rhine and another country across the way, or amble past the rivers and canals. Going by on a car or tram means you may miss the beauty of the ancient city. If you can, take a walk with friends.
Almost any walk around Strasbourg will bring you to the spectacular Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. The height of its tower makes it visible from almost anywhere in the city. It is 466 feet and it was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874. At present it is the 6th tallest church, and the tallest building surviving since the Middle Ages. Other structures were on the site previously, but this cathedral was begun in 1015 and celebrated its thousand-year anniversary in 2015. Much of the first structure burned to the ground in 1176 because of the wooden framework. Construction began again on the current structure and was not finished until 1439. This remarkable edifice was 424 years in the making. It is the pride and joy of this region and a must stop for your travel itinerary of Alsace.
The complex west façade, or front of the building, is decorated with thousands of figures. Do any of them represent actual people of that era? The Gothic style of the front of the building is considered a masterpiece. Some see the design as random, perhaps it is not. The north tower rises to a great height, but the south tower was never built. The result is a uniquely shaped building.
When I see these old structures, I truly wonder how they built them without modern construction equipment. On the other hand, only craftsmen of that era could have built this. Nothing like it is built in modern times. During World War II the stained glass windows were removed and stored in a salt mine in Germany. They were recovered and returned after the war by the American Military. Seeing these windows today, you have to wonder how they got them in originally, as well as removing them to safeguard them. The church suffered damage during air raids by British and American military. It was not until the 1990s that the repairs were complete.
I have seen the structure often and been inside a few times. There can be lines of tourists outside, and they now employ a level of security that was not there the first time we visited. If you encounter a line, be patient. The trip inside is worth the wait.
Source: Strasbourg Cathedral, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg_Cathedral
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