Strasbourg – the formal seat of the EU

Words cannot express how lovely it was not to get up at 3am and drive 500 miles!

Today, we cycled Strasbourg, not the entire city just the river around the old city. We will try not to bore you with too much history but Strasbourg does have more than it’s fair share.

Our hotel was on cycle route which took us directly onto Route 1, a circular cycle way encompassing the central historic city. Directions were a mix of signposts and coloured markers set in tarmac which took some getting used to. However, after a lovely local came to our aid, we were off on a clockwise circuit.

Our first stop was the European Parliament building, gleaming in the sun, with flags flying. It took us a while to remember why a Union Jack wasn’t included and we almost stormed in, brandishing our burgundy EU passports demanding the UK be reinstated as part of Europe once more. We did however return the hand of friendship to a couple of lost french men. In her best French, Kim was able to direct them to the Exposition Centre. She has been smug about that all day.

Next was the Parc de l’Orangerie, Strasbourg’s oldest park originally laid out in 1692. The early 19th century saw the addition of a pavilion to house 140 orange trees, confiscated from a chateau in Bouxwiller during the revolution. Only 3 survive and can be seen on specific days, today was not one of them!

After a caffeine boost, we rejoined our route and cycled into the historic quarter of Petite France, at this point the River Ill splits and runs through the city creating a need for lots of bridges. Petite France dates back to the Middle Ages and was once home to tanners, millers and fisherman. Today, at the western end of Strasbourg’s Grand Ile, it is a main tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To sum it up, it’s very pretty with many half timbered buildings and lots of cobbled streets.

We stopped for lunch at a little pavement cafe, it seemed rude not to go ‘full tourist’, and sampled a Tarte Flambée which is a local specialty. In its simplest terms, it’s like a very, very thin slightly burnt crispy pizza with fromage blanc instead of mozzarella. A great thing to share in the middle of the day with an obligatory beer.

We were keen to see the Cathedral and had glimpsed it’s spire many times on our route, but trying to find it on foot was far from simple. It has a very distinctive colour, built of reddish brown sandstone from the nearby Vosges Mountains. Quite how something that tall could disappear from view remains a mystery but we persevered and it was worth it.

Construction started in the 11th century and finally finished in the 15th. From 1647 to 1874 it was the world’s tallest building and remains the highest standing structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. Strasbourg, and all of Alsace, has a chequered, violent history and it’s amazing that it remains standing. The beautiful stained glass windows, of which there are many, were removed for safekeeping during WWII and it’s restoration was not completed until 1990.

We have asked ourselves how something built from sandstone is standing after 800+ years and our wall at home is disintegrating before our eyes.

The cathedral also houses the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock. We were too late for it’s party piece. At noon there is a procession of 18” figures of Christ together with his apostles while a life sized cockerel crows three times. It’s worth a trip back just to see that! Despite missing its main attraction it’s a beautifully complex and decorative piece of machinery

Musee Alsacien was our final stop and real trip back in time. Housed in several timber framed houses, it was set up in 1907 to underpin the area’s identity against germanisation. Whole rooms reconstruct life in the Alsace, both in terms of living and working. Alsacien houses and furniture were built in such a way that they could be taken apart and re-constructed if needed. Real thought was given to how space was used and heated to help inhabitants get through bitterly cold winters. It was the best €3.50 we’ve spent in a long time.

We cycled to a local restaurant for dinner, drawn in by a menu of local delights and the fact that there’s not much on offer around the hotel. We’d booked before reading dire tripadvisor reviews so expectations were low. We were pleasantly surprised by pleasant service and a perfectly acceptable main meal. It did all fall apart when, after waiting 20 minutes for a dessert menu, we gave up paid the bill and called it a night

Finally, you have to admire the honesty and lack of effort!

2 thoughts on “Strasbourg – the formal seat of the EU”

  1. Argh! I think I’d prefer 2 weeks in Strasbourg to 2 in Mallorca!!!!! What to do? Thank you for a fantastic post. Maybe a job for you with the tourist board? Oh, of course, BIG problems around that one for non-EUers. Our son-in-Law, John, was born in Alsace, incidentally. The comparison with Hitchin doesn’t hold up well.


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