Travel Tuesday: Strasbourg, France

On my Europe trip in 2010, we ended up going to Strasbourg on a bit of a whim. We were on a road trip from Cannes to Paris, with no real road map in mind and kind of just ended up there. I am so happy we did, I only wish that we had had more time to visit, as the city was so beautiful and unique.

Strasbourg is the capital city of the Alsace region in eastern France, located very close to the German border. A lot happens in this city. It is the official seat of the European Parliament, and the seat of several European institutions, such as the Council of Europe (with its European Court of Human Rights, its European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and its European Audiovisual Observatory) and the Eurocorps, as well as the European Ombudsman of the European Union. Busy place hey!

Strasbourg, to me, seems to be an amalgamation of so many things. Old and new. Work and play. History and progress. French and German. You see this represented in the language, the food, the drinks, the architecture and the colours. It’s just such a unique city.

Strasbourg’s historic city centre, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre. It is fused into the Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a bridge of unity between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the University of Strasbourg, currently the largest in France, and the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture.

Strasbourg is situated on the Île River, where it flows into the Rhine on the border with Germany. A boat trip is, in my opinion, the best way to get to see Strasbourg because of the perfect view it gives you of Strasbourg`s main attractions: European Parliament, the German Quarter, the Middle Age Petite France, among many others. One thing I found really cool on the boat ride was that you have to pass through the locks I had never experienced this before. The boat goes through a canal which is a very tight fit and the lock gates raise it more than one meter to the upper level. It takes 5 minutes for enough water to be release to raise the boat. It’s interesting to watch the water level rise under the boat by seeing how different markings on the concrete wall beside the boat disappear under the water.

On the boat tour, seeing the architecture of the buildings and listening to the guide tell you about the history, you realize just how old this city is. Coming from a country that’s fairly young like Canada, it is incredible to think that you are in a place that is hundreds of thousands of years old. Maybe I’m just a nerd like that, but I find history so fascinating. The first traces of human occupation in Strasbourg go back 600,000 years.  Neolithic, bronze age and iron age artifacts have been uncovered by archeological excavations. It was permanently settled by proto-Celts around 1300 BC. That’s really old you guys!

The city is primarily known for its sandstone Gothic Cathedral with its famous astronomical clock, and for its medieval cityscape of Rhineland black and white timber-framed buildings, particularly in the Petite-France district or Gerberviertel (“tanners’ district”) alongside the Île and in the streets and squares surrounding the cathedral, where the renowned Maison Kammerzell stands out.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is incredible to stare up at all the carvings and stonework, and to realize that people actually created that by hand. It is so detailed and intricate. A true piece of art. Although considerable parts of it are still in Romanesque architecture, it is widely considered to be among the finest examples of high, or late, Gothic architecture. Erwin von Steinbach is credited for major contributions from 1277 to his death in 1318.

At 466 feet, it was the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874, when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai’s Church, Hamburg. Today it is the sixth-tallest church in the world.

Victor Hugo had described the Cathédrale as a “gigantic and delicate marvel,” Goethe described it as a “sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God.” And widespread it is! It is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges Mountains or the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine.

The Strasbourg astronomical clock is located in the Cathédrale. I found it so odd to see science and religion together like this. Like I said, Strasbourg is nothing if not unique. The clocks main features, besides the automata, are a perpetual calendar (including a computus), an orrery (planetary dial), a display of the real position of the Sun and the Moon, and solar and lunar eclipses. The main attraction is the procession of the 18 inch high figures of Christ and the Apostles which occurs every day at half past midday while the life-size cock crows thrice.

Like I mentioned earlier, this city has so much to offer visitors, you should all go and experience it yourselves. I’m fairly certain that I will be back again one day…at least I hope so!


Travel Tuesday: Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Bonjour mon amis! Happy Travel Tuesday. As I mentioned in a previous post, Paris has far too many wonderful aspects to fit everything into one blog post so I am slowing breaking down my three trips there into multiple posts. Today I am going to tell you about the Jardin du Luxembourg. The Jardin du Luxembourg is the second largest public park in Paris and is located in the 6th arrondissement. It is a beautiful park, which makes you feel like you are no longer in the heart of Paris, rather, that you are on a French estate, in the countryside. I am assuming that that is precisely what Marie de Medici intended when she commisoned it in 1611. Marie was the widow of Henry IV and the regent for the King Louis XIII. She decided that she wanted to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence.

She commissioned Salomon de Brosse to build the palace and a fountain, which still exists (the the photo of the Medici Fountain below). In 1612 she planted 2,000 elm trees, and directed a series of gardeners, most notably Tommaso Francini, to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence.

Today the palace in home to the French Senate and the park is open to the public. Children can often be found racing motor sailboats in the fountains, or running around in the grass. People come to sunbathe in the chairs surrounding the water, or to picnic in the grass amongst the statues. It’s a wonderful retreat after being immersed in the city all day. We stopped by a little shop on our way in and bought a box of decadent macaroons and a bottle of champagne to enjoy as the late afternoon sun shone down on us. It was a perfect Parisian moment, the kind that you need to savour so you can remember it when you’re back in your office, typing away at home. If only everyday consisted of macaroons and champagne in a Parisian park.

Travel Tuesday: Père Lachaise Cemetery

Happy Travel Tuesday all! I think these are probably my favourite posts to do. Travelling is my passion and I love to relive my trips through photos. I was going to do a post on Paris today and then I realized how ridiculous that was…I mean, I could devote a whole blog to Paris alone, how could I sum it up in one post. So, I decided that I would do pieces of Paris as individual posts and today I am going to show you some photos I took in the Père Lachaise Cemetery (or Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in French) during my trip in 2010 (I’ve been to Paris four times).

Père Lachaise is a popular tourist destination in Paris, as many famous people such as Honoré de Balzac, Claude Bernard, Frédéric Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde and Richard Wright are buried there. If you just go there to see Jim Morrison;s grave you will be missing out on a wonderful experience. The architecture in this cemetery is incredible. So many of the tombstones are like works of art, I could have spent a few days looking at everything rather than just a few hours. The history is incredible, the first grave dates all the way back to 1804!

Also not to be missed while you are there is the eerily beautiful Communards’ Wall (Mur des Fédérés) where, on May 28, 1871, one-hundred forty-seven fédérés, combatants of the Paris Commune, were shot and thrown in an open trench at the foot of the wall. To the French left, especially socialists and communists, the wall became the symbol of the people’s struggle for their liberty and ideals. Many leaders of the French Communist Party, especially those involved in the French resistance, are buried nearby. Sculptor, Paul Moreau-Vauthier created the monument to serve as a memory of those Communards shot and killed. I have no idea how he made this wall, you’ll see what I mean in the photos below, it looks like the Communards are coming out at you…like I said eerie but beautiful.

Travel Tuesday: Burgundy, France

I love wine and I love France. Put the two together and you have my kind of vacation. During one leg of my trip to Europe in 2010 we rented a car and drove from the south of France to Paris. Along the way we stopped for a few nights in the heart of the Burgundy region (my favourite region for red wine). It was fantastic! We drove to several different vineyards and wineries for tours and tastings, and the drives to each location were nearly as good as the destinations themselves. It is a beautiful region, I fully intend on visiting again, but for a longer duration, I would love to spend about a week there, gorging myself with delicious meals and indulging in, in my opinion, the best wine out there. Below are some pictures I took while in the Beaune, France area.