“Rising above the high-pitched roofs with multi-storied dormer windows, several churches stand out on the skyline. The cathedral, whose single spire dominates the Alsatian plain, and the four old churches … fit coherently into an old quarter that exemplifies medieval cities.” UNESCO
We parked the car in an underground car park close to a part called Petite France which is a popular corner of the city where the full flowing river splits up into a number of canals, and cascades through bridges in a small area of attractive half-timbered houses and cobbled streets and we walked through crooked lanes and alleys that followed the southern loop of the river that surrounds the old city.
As we walked the rain followed us across the border from Germany but it was only light and it wasn’t cold so it was quite pleasant walking around the little streets making progress towards the main square and the Cathedral.
The historic centre, the Grande Île, was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, and this was the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city center. There were some grand buildings here with lots of medieval half timbered houses that had avoided destruction during the two world wars but the best building of all was the mighty sandstone cathedral which dominates the whole of the city.
At one hundred and forty two metres, it was the world’s tallest building from 1625 to 1874 and it remained the tallest church in the world until 1880, when it was surpassed firstly by Cologne Cathedral and then Ulm Münster. Today it remains the sixth tallest church in the world and was described by Victor Hugo as a “gigantic and delicate marvel“, the cathedral is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges mountains in France and the Black Forest in Germany.
There was a very typical French café next to the river where we enjoyed a very gallic snack of croque monsieur that was in total contrast to the Teutonic hospitality that we had become used to over the last few days and it felt strange to be trying to communicate in basic French rather than the basic German that I had been finding so difficult, vin rouge and bier grande seemed much more natural than rot wein and bier vom fass.
While we sat in the Café Montmartre the weather started to improve and the sky started to lighten so we stepped back out into the street and revisited the Cathedral and the surrounding streets and for just a brief moment there was a break in the cloud and a pool of blue sky opened up over the city. It didn’t last long however and the clouds closed in again as quickly as they had parted and with no real prospect of improvement we walked back to the car park and left the city.
I liked Strasbourg very much but one thing that did let it down was quite a lot of dog waste because the French don’t seem to have a problem with, or a conscience about, letting their precious animals take a poo on the pavements. It is essential to be very careful when walking in France!
The French authorities are trying to tackle the problem but are making little progress and even heavy fines (€440 for a first offence) have had little impact. In Paris it is estimated that there are sixteen tonnes of dog do every day, which causes four thousand five hundred accidents a week. Removing it costs €15m a year! And let’s not forget that that is €15m of tax payers money that is spent on clearing up for selfish dog owners who have abandoned their own social conscience.
Leaving Strasbourg by a different route from the way we came in was a lot more straightforward than I had imagined except that if there were to be a traffic light count and city league table I wouldn’t be surprised if Strasbourg came top of the list for having the most. We crossed the Rhine at the industrial town of Kehl and back in Germany there was an easy drive back to Offenburg where before returning to the Rammersweeir Hoff we needed some room supplies.
It was Sunday and we were startled to find that the supermarkets and the convenience stores were all closed and there was a near moment of panic until we tried a garage which thankfully had a fridge full of German beer and some screw cap wines to choose from.
We were back at the hotel quite early again today but this time there was no rugby on the television so we had to channel hop through the German stations and rely on BBC World for an English speaking option.
In contrast to the previous night the dining room was practically empty when we went down for dinner and as this was the last night we treated ourselves from the expensive end of the menu and Kim had a larger than necessary fillet steak and I had a veal cordon bleu which proved to be a real struggle to finish. This was our final meal at the hotel and the quality of the food had certainly matched what we had enjoyed the previous year.