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Published: March 11th 2007
A city view and the River Ill.
Our last trip of 2006 is a journey motivated by the need to put miles on my new car. She drove out of the showroom with 14 miles on her and needs 1200 before we can find out what she can really do. To be fair, though, Strasbourg has long been high on my list of places to visit.
We left Heidelberg about 10am and headed south on A5. This particular Autobahn drive was especially interesting. For those first 1200 miles, we cannot go over 105mph (and when I asked the BMW employee to specify 105 miles per hour or 105 kilometers per hour, he laughed and said “105 miles per hour - this is a BMW”) and so we set the limit at 103 on the computer. It beeped at me a few times and I was actually surprised every time. I eventually started using the cruise control, which was a lot of fun, but it was sad to be cruising along at 100mph and have people constantly passing me on the left like I was standing still. Soon… soon…
Enough about the car.
We arrived in Strasbourg at 1130, crossing the River Rhine while simultaneously crossing
St. Paul's Church on the River Ill. This Neo-Gothic church rests upon the Ilse Saint Hélène and was built in the late 19th century. It was originally a Protestant church attended by German soldiers.
the border into France. My first impression of the city was that of a dirty and industrial place, but then, that’s nothing new. It was a bit of a drive into the city center and a few minutes before we sighted the cathedral’s spire and followed that. As I was hectically trying not to get lost or run-into by a French driver, Seth pointed out that this was the first time I had ever driven in a foreign country - not to include the two in which I’ve resided, namely Germany and the U.S. I had to think about it for a while, but then I realized he was right, and how much public transportation I'd utilized over the past few years. It was a big moment for me.
We park on the Rue de Bains, a side street near the River Ill, and take off in a windy 43ºF for the Cathedral, weaving our way through the streets of town as we go. The Gothic Cathedral of Strasbourg was built over a span of four centuries, its spire finished in 1439. This spire is 466 feet / 142 meters high, making it the highest in Europe until the
The Strasbourg Cathedral
Seth by the Cathedral. Built upon the burned ruins of a Romanesque basilica, this Cathedral, Strasbourg's Notre-Dame, was completed in 1439, after four centuries of construction. It's Spire was the highest in Europe for three hundred years. It has a single spire which reaches 466 feet / 142 meters into the sky.
19th century. The Cathedral is beautiful, but much too closed-in by the surrounding buildings. The spiderweb effects of the stonework were absolutely amazing. A bit gaudy, but I was impressed. The interior of the Notre-Dame Strasbourg was closed, apparently due to church service. It appeared they were selling tickets for the viewing platform, but it was cold, crowded and noisy, so we vowed to return another day. We explored the Christmas market still open in the cathedral square before following the river out to Petite France.
We passed by quite a few restaurants, and were searching for a place to eat, but aside from the incredibly high prices (possibly caused by our location near Petite France), there was nothing we could understand on their menus which appealed to us. And, of course, the winter weather had chased all the possible outside cafes inside, except one or two, which had no outside patrons. We did find a place called “Marco Polo Grill-Pizzeria” on the banks of the Ill right in Petite France. We had pizzas here, La Quatre Fromages and La Reine. My four cheese was a little overpowering, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have four French cheeses
The Strasbourg Cathedral
Looking up at the front of the Cathedral.
at once, and Seth’s mushroom and ham was alright. Actually, the pizzas were pretty good, especially since I’ve not yet found any food in France I’ve been especially fond of - aside from pastries, but seeing as how we’d just returned from Rome… well, and since in Rome we ate some of the best food we’d ever had and certainly the best pizza we’d ever, ever had… yeah, in comparison, these pizzas just didn’t hold up. But it was a quaint little place with a nice atmosphere, and we had a window table looking right out onto the river (and the Maserati), so we did enjoy the meal. Except for the rather large chunks of garlic I kept accidentally finding in my pizza.
The Petite France area was, to our surprise, not named for any romantic ideals, but, in fact, for a hospital once located there to treated syphilis. Syphilis was apparently quite the epidemic in the end of the 15th century… those darn soldiers. Also, there were many tanners in this area, which leads to high roofed homes reflecting this trade, as the skins were dried in the attics. The history may not be glamorous, but the area
The Strasbourg Cathedral
Detail of a gargoyle on the Cathedral.
is quite beautiful today.
There are four medieval towers in the midst of several canals of the River Ill. These four towers in Petite France are the only remaining towers of the original 80 towers built in the mid-twelfth century. They served to protect this small part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. When Strasbourg became a part of France in 1681, the Barrage Vauban was built. The Vauban dam was constructed for military purposes, but now has a viewing platform on the roof for tourists.
As we walk back through town, we stop at another Christmas market and I get a pretzel-shaped doughnut, partially because it was neat but mostly in an attempt to neutralize the garlic. We find the car where we left it and leave Strasbourg at 1500, our fingers and ears de-thawing in the car. We get back to Heidelberg at 1700 and it’s 43ºF here too. It’s never going to snow.
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