sight: pastel colored homes, criss-crossing wooden beams, medieval shop signs
sound: gong of the cathedral bell, gentle sputtering of the canal, sweet nothings in French
smell: cinnamon, melted cheese, rich chocolate
taste: cheesy tarte flambe, roasted pork knuckle, refreshing Alsacian beer
touch: cobblestone streets, hand-painted ceramic, weeping willows
Strasbourg was like stepping right into the enchanted mirror from Beauty & the Beast. Sometimes I get a bit carried away with my descriptions of places, but this is not one of those occasions. Every inch of this Alsacian village takes your breath away, and it has switched custody between France and Germany so many times that it’s hard to tell which it resembles more. The result is a truly astonishing fusion of storybook cultures, and you can hardly complain when you have both flaky croissants and loopy pretzels at the ready.
The smell of cinnamon wafts through the air and the routine gong from the towering Cathedral reverberates in your very bones. We began our exploration at this very spot in the city center and came across a small albeit colorful souvenir shop filled with decades-old bric-a-brac and watercolor sketches from the owner herself. Snagged a few of these treasures for my future gallery wall, and had the sweetest conversation with this lady who’s lived in Strasbourg her whole life.
Seeing the full city was an absolute must, but walking on foot was not. Thankfully we discovered the Batorama tour, which takes you through the canals and lochs to get a glimpse at every corner of the town. We sailed through La Petit France with friendly waves from restaurant patrons, bobbed in place as the lock lowered us to a different water level and drifted towards weeping willows dancing in the wind. I can’t make this up.
It was a bit toasty, so I’d recommend taking this tour first thing in the morning so you can watch the city stir to life, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The buildings are decorated with pastel brushstrokes juxtaposed against thick, oaky beams. Every alleyway is its own Rainbow Row, and you get a sense you’re in a Christmas diorama no matter what time of year.
My favorite pocket of this town was easily La Petit France, where red-checkered table cloths, potted wax flowers and half-timbered shops converged in the most picturesque setting. Webbed with the most photogenic bridges, this spot was a must for our lunch break. We selected Le Baeckeoffe d’Alsace based on the decorative ceramics it boasted and were rewarded with a cheesy tart flambé that had us saying au revoir to American pizza. The table opposite was filled with a group from Belgium who spoke not a single lick of English. Naturally, we played charades to communicate and before we knew it, the older gentleman was standing up to imitate the Pissing Boy Statue of Brussels faster than I could say, “DON’T WORRY WE’VE SEEN IT!” The ladies at his table were in hysterics, and we didn’t quite no what to say except oui?
Since we’re being honest, Lex and I made a vital mistake of thinking our departure time was 2 hours later than it actually was. Thankfully we realized our error before the last bus of the night left, but we were NOT about to depart on a 3 hour journey without dinner. So instead of the full Alsacian feast we had planned, we ran like Forrest Gump towards Bistrot et Chocolat in the city center. This cozy little cafe sells fluffy waffles, 20 types of hot chocolate and many more desserts. As soon as we sat down, we realized food was our Achilles’ heel and that we really should have skipped dinner – we only had 13 minutes to order, eat and pay before running to the bus 20 minutes away. It was probably a savage sight to behold, as Alexis and I inhaled 2 whole waffles in a period of 1.5 minutes, threw our money on the table and ran out of there like our lives depended on it.
All in all, Strasbourg was a dream. Gingerbread art, hand-painted wall illustrations and cheery town squares with a processional of coiffed-wearing women on their way to church. I would love to come back during the Christmas markets one day, as I imagine no place can possibly feel more like Santa’s snow-capped village than this. Until then, I’ll be dreaming through pictures.