Travel: Strasbourg

Last week on a particularly hot day in Karlsruhe Paul and I went for a swim at our local outdoor pool. Giddy from going down the slides one too many times after lunch, we decided at the weekend we would finally cross the border and explore the French city and capital of Alsace: Strasbourg.

We set off a day later without having done any prior research and in the spirit of adventure (read: keeping the boyfriend occupied) we drove from Karlsruhe to France, parked in a small village and cycled an hour along the winding canal to Strasbourg. 

We meandered along past golden fields and teeny villages which looked fresh out of a Brothers Grimm storybook, before arriving in Strasbourg where we parked our bikes, ready to head into the centre on foot.

Straight away we found ourselves in amongst those infamous wooden clad buildings Strasbourg is known for. I know a lot of people head to Strasbourg for the Christmas Markets and I can't even begin to imagine how magical that would be in these surroundings.

Ravenous from our bike ride we decided to stop at the first place that served lunch to grab a tarte flambée which originates from the Alsace region of France - essentially a pizza-like concept, only a pastry base rather than dough and with a cream cheese and quark sauce instead of tomato, commonly topped with white onion and meat. Okay, so quite different to a pizza, but utterly delicious. They are also very popular in Southern Germany (known as flammkuchen). As I have recently turned pescetarian we went for the smoked salmon option. 

Unfortunately the tarte flambée was pretty average and the chips were crap despite it all being pretty expensive but we kind of knew that would be the case, as we had dumped ourselves at the nearest thing in the most touristy part rather than exploring. I would definitely recommend having an explore along the alleyways to find some local treasures.

The best part about Strasbourg is that there are beautiful things in every direction. I honestly walked round mouth agape and pointing hand working overtime as we discovered new nooks and crannies and beautiful building after beautiful building. 

The gothic Notre Dam Cathedral took four centuries to build and is stunning both inside and out. It is, however, a huge tourist trap full of coin stamping machines and gift shop stops within which I found pretty tasteless and inappropriate. Apparently you can climb to the top and it is a fabulous vantage point for a sunset - something I would love to do when I have a bit more time.

I wore a simple playsuit because it was so. Darn. Hot. with my beloved Birkenstock Arizona sandal - these hardly leave my feet in the summer months. We walked around all day and my feet barely hurt at all.

The place becomes rammed with tourists from about 1pm onwards so I would get there early to avoid the crowds.

I always like to have a peruse of the back streets in French cities as this is totally where you escape the tourist stampede and discover the real gems. Expect family owned artisan bakeries, gorgeous little macaroon stores, as well as an entire boutique dedicated to French jam. Heavenly.

Our next stop was Petit France just outside the city centre. Whilst the centre is very cosmopolitan and positively brimming with great retail stores (I may have accidentally stumbled, wallet first into Sephora...), a few minutes out you will discover the most delicious little island of medieval French houses.

Strasbourg has a peculiar sartorial diversity. There are the tourists in their polo necks and sandal calamities at every corner, then there are the French women. Never have sundresses looked so chic, I wanted to tear up to them and demand they tell me where they bought them, only my French is now tinged with German so nothing I say en francais makes sense anymore. I truly believe we British have coined the term je ne sais quoi to describe French women alone.

Note: In my oversized babygro get up I fear I am a member of the former group rather than the latter. Weep.

Of course it would be a cardinal sin to visit France and not have a quick glass of vin. So we sat for the remainder of our mini visit on the side of the canal surrounded by people loudly babbling away, next to a couple snogging each others' faces off, served by a surly waiter. Ahh France, je t'aime.


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