Strasbourg: A Couple Abroad

“C’est qui, cette touriste?!” my first words to Alex after a month apart as I approached her, a rose in my hand, in the rain at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Who’s this tourist? And then we embraced, and kissed. Two awkward turtles with our heavy backpacks, laden with all our gear. Our first port of call was the consignes downstairs – baggage lockers. We had a few hours before our train to Strasbourg and I was determined to show Alex what little of Paris I’d discovered my first time around. This basically amounted to a quick walk down to Place de la Bastille, but we stumbled upon a market on our way back towards the station, and were able to buy a sack (300g) of delicious roasted potatoes. These were a thing we had read about while preparing our trip, and for Alex represented a sort of ideal food. The blog in which we’d heard of them described them as follows:

[T]hey are impossibly delicious, heady with rich, succulent chicken fat, and greasy in the best possible way.  These potatoes are utter perfection when hot and fresh, but make sure you’ve got a napkin – or, better yet, a sink – handy when you eat them.

Well, what can I say? The potatoes were impossibly delicious and formidably messy. We ate them in the classy way appropriate to being in a city like Paris; out of a sack, sitting on the dirty floor in the train station, with our hands. Ladies and gentlemen, elegance personified. Once the potatoes were vanquished, we took the métro to Gare de l’Est for our TGV to Strasbourg. Since we booked so early, we received an extremely cheap upgrade to first class, and ended up with the best seats on our carriage – facing oneanother, so we could talk and have tables. Nice.

Upon arriving in Strasbourg we easily located our hotel – which is conveniently very close to the station – and deposited our baggage in our room, before setting off for a walk around the city. Strasbourg is almost offensively beautiful at Christmas time – every surface drips with wreaths, lights and other decorations, and every public square is given over to markets vending every imaginable type of product, from handmade wooden toys to various types of robots and umbrellas that fold into the shapes of animals.  After a dinner of tartes flambées from a street vendor, we returned to the hotel for Alex’s post-flight sleep.

Our hotel breakfast on Sunday was both surprisingly good – despite what the TripAdvisor reviews said – and free – again, despite what they said. Because everything is closed in France on Sundays, we decided to spend the day taking a good, long walk around Strasbourg. It was a good choice – this is a city that seems as though someone took amazing-building-firing artillery and subjected Strasbourg to a particularly long bombardment. I particularly liked Place de la République, which is surrounded on all sides by grand buildings – palaces, libraries, that sort of thing – and contains a beautiful war memorial.

Palace in Place de la Republique.

After our lengthy walk, we stopped in at the tourism office and bought some postcards and other paraphernalia. I was severely tempted by an umbrella which had the logo of the European Union (of which Strasbourg is the capital) on it, but I already had an umbrella, and my back still hurts from hauling the gear I already own. Our next port of call was a bakery we’d heard a lot about – Au Pain de mon Grand-Père – a number of people had told us it was one of the best boulangeries in Strasbourg. However, on the way there, we noticed the restaurant across the way – the Bistrot du Boulanger – which is owned and run by the same people. We stopped in there instead and both opted for the brunch formule, which was astonishingly generous – two drinks each (freshly squeezed orange juice and a hot chocolate/coffee), a generous plate of fruit each, which also included a pot of yoghurt, a plate of assorted viennoiseries (pain au chocolat, croissant, etc), a serve each of scrambled eggs with bacon and a basket of bread. Yum! Each and every bite was delicious and we returned to the bakery a few days later to buy bread for our Christmas ‘feast’.

Our lunch was followed by a trip to the Palais Rohan, which is actually three different museums; two types of art gallery (Fine Arts and Decorative Arts) and an Archaeology museum – on the three different levels of the building. The building itself is absolutely breathtaking and well worth a visit even if you are disgusted to the point of vomiting by fine arts and treasures from antiquity. The price for admission to all three museums was only ten euros, and that also included two temporary exhibitions that were running. We got around to the Archaeology museum and the Fine Arts museum, but we ran out of steam before Decorative Arts and decided to head back to the hotel for a nap – hey, don’t look at me like that, we walked the whole city about five times! I broke a shoe!

The Palais Rohan.

The archaeology museum showcases a huge amount of historical artefacts all the way from very earliest civilisation to the Roman conquest of Gaul and beyond, with a focus on the Alsation region specifically. I have a keen amateur interest in Roman history and so this was a delight for me, particularly seeing some the huge displays of recovered Roman artefacts, such as swords and razors. The Fine Arts section is also very well organised thematically and although neither of us are particularly well-informed about the sorts of paintings displayed, ample information was provided that allowed us to appreciate them a bit more deeply. Honestly, I normally find these museums a bit boring, because a lot of paintings without context sort of blend together, so this was very welcome. It was sort of a pity to miss the third museum, but we were very tired and felt like we wouldn’t really be paying attention.

Grand'Rue.

As the evening set in, we continued our walk by going along Grand’Rue, which – as the name suggests – is very long. It’s also very pretty and at the moment is host to a number of buskers of various types. About half-way down, we encountered a lady playing the accordion and stopped to listen for a while. I adore the accordion, the sound of it fills me with whimsy, and once she was done with the song she was playing, I dumped all my remaining change in her sack. I also had a decent conversation with her, and she turned out to be extremely nice as well. I hope to see her again, and buy a CD from her, but if not, she wished Alex and I a good life together, and a Merry Christmas.

Upon our return to the hotel, I dropped by reception and asked them about a particular type of calendar I’d been looking for as a souvenir – it’s a postman’s almanac, only sold by the postmen and apparently well-known to all French people. I’d been trying to find one for ages without success. To my intense delight, they offered to ask the postman for me the next day when he stopped by. They did so as planned, and I received my calendrier de La Poste the next morning. I was already very pleased with this hotel, but I thought that was super good service.

Whew! That was a busy day. To view a gallery of images relevant to this post, click here. To view an irrelevant, but enjoyable image of a Dora the Explorer colouring-in page that you can print and colour in at home, click here.

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