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June 23rd 2019
Published: June 23rd 2019
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Saturday 22nd June

The TGV was a direct service from Rennes to Strasbourg. It went via Paris, where it made two stops in the suburbs, and this was the slowest part of the trip. The train sat on 320 km/h for long periods on the run east from Paris. I arrived in Strasbourg at 7pm and checked in to the hotel which was close to the station. Then I headed out to find some dinner, crossing the river onto the Grand Île of Strasbourg, which is the old city. Google directed me to a completely gluten-free restaurant, which was a great find! I was able to have a more normal meal with confidence that it would be GF. I am a bit sick of galettes. I followed up with a piece of fabulous berry meringue pie for dessert.

I then headed off into the historic and picturesque part of Strasbourg known as La Petite France. The canals, parks, squares and medieval streets were beautiful as evening was falling. Being so close to Germany, and in fact having been part of Germany several times, this region has a German flavour in many ways, seen in the architecture especially. Strasbourg, being a popular tourism destination, and the seat of the European Parliament, is also very multilingual, and a lot of people were speaking German or English.

I made my way to see the cathedral – Notre Dame de Strasbourg. Really impossible to describe in words, looming in splendid enormity over the city, its towering form richly decorated and incredibly tall – the bell tower reaches 134 metres. One has to crane one's neck to gaze up its flanks of soaring stone. An extraordinary building. There was a cellist busking outside the cathedral, which added to the atmosphere.

After a while I made my way back through the nighttime streets to my hotel.

Sunday 23rd June

I checked out and put my suitcase in the luggage room at the hotel, and headed off for the 20 minutes walk to go to Mass at the cathedral. The interior is as extraordinary as the exterior – just the vast height of the nave and choir is incredible. The Mass was superb, concelebrated by nine priests, with attendant historical guard armed with mace and pike. The celebrants looked like midgets on the vast area of the choir, set about 3 metres higher than the congregation. The grand organ was accompanied by a mens choir who had come from Nuremberg – the music was sublime. The wonderful stained glass let in light through the high walls, and the church bells outside rang out at various times through the celebration. It was quite a privilege to experience.

After Mass I had a chance for a quick look around the cathedral, before we tourists were ushered out before the next Mass – the cathedral is closed to non-Mass-goers on Sunday morning. Unfortunately the ubiquitous works going on meant that the famous astronomical clock could not be viewed – quel dommage. The clock was working though, one could hear its chimes every 15 minutes during the Mass. I will have to download a photo of it – I was just able to glimpse it through the hoardings.

I then had a long walk along the river to see the European parliament buildings, and then took the tram back to town and explored La Petite France some more, before a picnic lunch beside the river. It was a beautiful warm day, and in the shade with a gentle breeze it was very pleasant, so I had a half-hour snooze as well. Then a walk through the city back to the hotel, and to the station for the TER train to Mulhouse. This was quite a large train, locomotive hauled. As I am a bit of a railway enthusiast, I have noted a few things about the railways in this area of France: a lot of the infrastructure, most notably the overhead catenary, is of German type. In most of France, the trains run on the left-hand track when it's a double line (like in Australia), but the train south from Strasbourg ran on the right-hand side, like in Germany. Of course, this region has been German a few times, and line runs close to the Rhine (the border) but I was surprised the train would run on the right side while still in France.

I am now ensconced in my hotel in Mulhouse – an attractive art deco building, which is why I chose it. Luckily the room has air conditioning, as it is hot, and the forecast is for a bit of a heatwave this coming week.

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