Strasbourg: Leaving France Without Crossing The Border

I’m not going to lie. I’m a bit sick of our little part of France (you can start playing your tiny violins now). Paris is beautiful, magical, blah blah blah. We’re still finding interesting things to do/see. Recent travels, however, have led us to similar looking and tasting cities. Enter Strasbourg.

The capital of Alsace (That part of Eastern France that switched between French and German control several times in the last few centuries. It was always hard to keep track of in history class.), Strasbourg looks and feels a world away from Paris (even if the weather was pretty much the same, unfortunately). As a region caught between two distinct cultures, Strasbourg captures interesting elements of both.

 

 

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France? Germany? Who cares!?

With plenty of time to kill and train tickets being (always) expensive, we steeled ourselves for a 7-hour bus ride. An aside: The trip there was fine. We were two of less than 10 passengers total. The way back was PACKED. It was made worse by the fact that halfway through the ride, half of the passengers had to get off and smoke. There’s that European efficiency at work again.

Anyways, we were able to score a great (tiny) studio in the heart of Strasbourg’s Grande Îlewhich is pretty much where you want to be. While greater Strasbourg is a modern hub of manufacturing and engineering, the center remains a quaint time capsule for tourists like us.

The highlight of Strasbourg is the Petite France neighborhood, which was home to many of the city’s working class in centuries past. It contains a heavy concentration of the type of homes that make one think of Germany. The area is ringed by the Ill River and its associated canals, which were very high due to heavy rains (and prevented us from taking a boat ride).

Owing to Alsace’s colorful Franco-German history and Strasbourg’s special status as a European capital (EU parliament meets here occasionally), the city is the seat of the Strasbourg-Ortenau Eurodistrict, which basically means its easier to cross the border. We decided that it was necessary to check another country off of my list, so we walked across the Rhine via the Passerelle Mimram into Kehl, Germany. Unfortunately, Kehl is a sleepy, boring suburb and not very quaint. But, hey, at least we could drink a German beer while we were there. (That means I’ve officially been in Germany.)

Of course, the most important thing to me everywhere I go is what I’m going to be eating. After eating a lot of classic French fare, Strasbourg and Alsace provide a nice change of pace. Oh it’s still heavy and will make you feel like death, just a different kind of death. Here you can never get enough sauerkraut (choucroute to the French). There is also plenty of Alsatian wine (closer to German riesling than any other French wines) and actual, honest-to-goodness-I’m-not-just-kidding-myself good beer.

I’ll end with an aside: Before the move, I assumed on arrival that I’d be able to happily indulge in all of Europe’s culinary and alcoholic delights on a whim. I underestimated just how zealously every country here wants to protect its individual heritage. I miss walking into The Bulldog and being able to drink beers from all over. So getting a little bit of Germany while staying within France made this trip extra memorable, and I’d say it’s my favorite part of the country so far.

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