Twelve Hours in Strasbourg

Here is the first episode on Travel Tuesdays. Last summer (painfully close to a full year ago), I visited Strasbourg, France. For a day. This was my first big day trip, outside of short jaunts to German cities near me. I was excited.

In 2015, during my three month stint, I went somewhere every weekend. And I was still very much in the airplane-adjacent travel perspective of the US. I hadn't figured out that trains are a totally different breed of travel - there isn't a bunch of security beforehand and delays or cancellations are not that common and layover times of five minutes are really okay. So, those three months, most of the time I got in Friday night, just in time to check in to the hotel and crash. I would leave late Sunday afternoon, getting back to my long-term stay hotel just in time to go to bed and repeat it the next week. It was a long, exhausting three months. Sure, I got so much amazing travel in. But I didn't know it could be better!

I improved a bit last year. I realized going Friday night is bullshit. You don't get any site-seeing in and it's just another night in a bed you paid a hundred Euros for. I realized you could just leave early Saturday morning and accomplish the same things. I'm saving myself a night in a hotel! And that was great. I would get up early Saturday morning, find a place to stow my bag, either at the hotel or at the train station, go explore all day, then sleep somewhere Saturday night and leave Sunday afternoon.

It can be better still. There are so many places within five hours of my current German city. Why not just do day trips? Get up early Saturday, get back late Saturday night. Sure, it's a tired and sluggish Sunday but at least I'm not paying for a hotel. More of a pain in the ass - I'm not packing and unpacking, dealing with a suitcase or a backpack and luggage storage. Sure, there are going to be things I miss, less time to explore. And there are places it's really going to be worth the one hundred dollar hotel, the sixty Euro Airbnb, the fifteen Euro hostel. But for now, I'm excited to give this day trip thing a try. And Strasbourg was a great way to start!

In the middle of the city, a very helpful map! I'm not being sarcastic. This was in the middle of the touristy bits and it was a nice chance to align yourself. One problem with my 'travel a day' philosophy' - orienting yourself to the city takes some time. Luckily, Strasbourg is a mostly compact city and all of the touristy stuff stuck mostly to one area.

There are a couple of churches that really took my breath away. And they're mainly the ones that sneak up on you. I was prepared to be wowed by Notre Dame and the Vatican and Sagrada Familia. I was not prepared for the breath-taking cathedral of Strasbourg (another Notre-Dame). Sorry to disappoint, but you honestly have to see the thing in person. The thing is massive and yet the detailed artwork is intricate. I was blown away. This was one of the first places I visited when I arrived in Strasbourg and I kept coming back to it. My friend recently visited and she said the same thing - the city overall was fine, but that cathedral was worth the price of the train ticket alone.

My favorite view of the cathedral. I know really, truly know what buttresses are. There is a somewhat large open square on this side of the cathedral, so you can just sit and eyeball it for awhile. There are also two museums nearby, so you can get all your tourist fix in at once.

The view of the city from the top of the spiral staircase. Side story - I discovered the Book of Mormon soundtrack that weekend, having just booked tickets to see it in London later that year. And I distinctly remember listening to "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" on the quite long walk up and feeling guilty enough to turn it off. So this song always reminds me a bit of Strasbourg.

Also, despite a long list of places I wanted to visit, I was only able to see two cities in France - Paris and Strasbourg (and Versailles). And wow, what a difference! This is, obviously, the German side...

Inside the church is the famous astronomical clock, the third to sit in this space and still dating back to the 1800's. I wasn't able to see it actually go off (the time tables were confusing, there was a line, and I had only twelve hours!) but it was still exquisite to see, really a masterpiece. If you have more time in the city, it might be worth trying to finagle a seat to the big event.

Part Amsterdam and Hamburg, the city was lined with colorful houses up against canals. I took so many pictures like this. And yet the timber framing is unique, so I can always tell which pictures are Strasbourg.

I'm on a boat. On a whim, I did a boat tour of Strasbourg. It included a different vantage point to the gorgeous canals and a chance to enjoy both a modern and antique levee. I learned so much!

This guy is the actual reason why I took the boat tour. As I mentioned earlier, most of the tourist stuff is in one area, near the cathedral and not far from the train station. Except France's EU headquarters. The boat tour took us by these examples of modern architecture. It was almost shocking, to step out of a Grimm fairy tale and enter a mass of modern steel and glass. The next several pictures are various EU buildings. The guide wasn't clear on which buildings were which but it was well worth the tour to see this other, very different side of Strasbourg. I apologize for the glare - I wasn't able to score an outdoor seat.

The Palais Rohan, from the boat. Do you see the Versailles resemblance? It was built in the 1700s and today contains several museums.

Part of the museums? Dedicated to old clocks. Here are the innards of one. Apt, considering the famous one at the cathedral next door.

Today, almost a year since my visit, when I think of Strasbourg, this is what I think of. Nearby is the old-school levee I experience on my boat tour. Just to the right of the camera is where I had lunch, a great French restaurant where I fell in love with Alsace wine (seriously, go grab a bottle of Riesling from the region and thank me later). But those buildings! Colorful and picture-perfect examples of the timber framing.

Strasbourg's MoMA. The art gallery had the biggies - Kandinsky and Picasso and Monet. The space was open and the location perfect. It's not on my list of 'must see museums' but it was a welcome break in Strasbourg.

When walking from the train station to the old city center, I crossed these two tiny islands. And got rather turned around, to be honest. 

For the return trip, I walked from the old city to the train station, passing through this open square. Strasbourg is very much a college town and the walk reminded me. Lots of cafes and restaurants and bookstores. 

And my first big day trip was a total success. I went to Strasbourg armed only with a stuffed purse and a sweater, just in case. Six hours on the train in one day but I got a chance to see a lovely city, hit the main spots, take in a must-see church, and then got to sleep in my own bed back in Germany. No Airbnb reservations needed.