Sept. 12: A whole day to explore the treasures of Strasbourg. What luxury. Today was my day to visit the cathedral, an edifice begun in then 1000s and completed over the next 500 years. When you see the intricate stone carvings covering every inch of the exterior, you can see why it took so long. Generations after generations of stone carvers handed down the rights to continue working on the cathedral. It towers over the city, always letting one know which direction one is heading relative to the giant spire—second in height only to the cathedrals in Ulm and Cologne. The biggest draw inside is a huge side altar which is a working astronomical clock. Given the Catholic Church’s disdain for science in the 1500s, it is amazing that this clock was allowed to be built. But the Strasbourgeois have always been known for their independence.
Strasbourg was a progressive and free city, not controlled by either French or German kings until 1681. I first became interested in the city after reading about how it was the only place in Europe that didn’t persecute the Mennonites when they were driven out of Switzerland, and I wondered how that could be when Frances was so Catholic and Germany was so Lutheran. Strasbourg is right on the border, but is was heavily fortified with walls and the 2 rivers, so they persevered till the French finally laid siege and obtained the city as a garrison. Since then, then city has passed back and forth between French and German hands with each war and armistice, resulting in a unique blended French/German culture, language and food. The city was heavily bombed by both the Americans and the Nazis in WWII, destroying most of the walls and towers, but luckily, the cathedral was spared. Most of the city was rebuilt to look just like it looked before the war, so it still feels very medieval. Half-timbered houses are everywhere, all with windowsills overflowing with flowers. Although I have murdered the French language all over town, people have been very patient and friendly. Almost every sign is in French, German and English. I try to read the French first, but almost always have to resort to reading the English before I fully understand. Nonetheless, I ordered caffe latte to sip in the courtyard of the cathedral, an Alsatian cheese recommended by the fromagier in Place Gutenberg (yeah, that Gutenberg. He invented the printing press here.), and the famous Alsatian tarte flambée in Petite France (a part of the island once quarantined for the thousands of French army personnel who returned from a campaign in Italy with syphillis, not that that has anything to do with the tarte flambée). So I’m getting by.
My favorite thing today: a large banner on the side of the Opera House saying (in French):
I promised her that I never cry.
She understood that sometimes I lie.
I’ll have to find out which opera that is from.
After some shopping for a small wedding gift for my nephew Mitch and his fiancée, I took a one-hour boat trip on the rivers surrounding the island, being raised by locks from the Rhine to the Rhone, and then back down again. Headphones provided narration in any language imaginable. Although cars are discouraged and mopeds are forbidden in the city, the boat was a more peaceful way to see everything, and it saved my poor feet enough that I could make the walk back across town to my bed, from which I have not moved since. Fortunately, tomorrow is a tour bus day. Gonna see “The Pearls of Alsace,” which has nothing to do with actual pearls and more to do with wine and countryside. Bon nuit!