14 December 2009

A Christmas Adventure in Strasbourg

Elli, Liz and I fell in love with the Strasbourg today!  The capital of the Alsace region of France, Strasbourg is situated on the Ill River, which becomes the Rhine as it flows into Germany. The German influence is undeniable, especially in the medieval Rhineland timber-framed architecture.  At one point, the three of us burst into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast, because the atmosphere is just as picturesque and charming as a fairy tale. 

We arrived before dawn, and watched as the city came to life.  We wandered the city center, delighting in the quaint and beautiful architecture, munching on delicious food and drinking chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and jus d'orange chaud avec miel (hot orange juice with honey) Strasbourg boasts the largest Christmas markets in France (Metz comes in second!) and they did not disappoint.  I enjoyed these markets immensely more than those of Metz or Saarbrücken, because they seemed much more authentic, and much less commercial. Alsatian pottery, cuckoo clocks, hand dipped candles, and hand spun cloth were just a few of the delightful gifts being peddled.  Naturally, the vin chaud (hot mulled wine) permeated the air, as well as sausages, cheeses, and pain d'épices (gingerbread.)

The highlight of the trip was definitely the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which at one point in time was the tallest building in the world, and is today the sixth largest church in the world.  Talk about gothic splendor.  I was in art history heaven. I was thrilled to see the world-famous astronomical clock which predicts the positions of the sun and moon, leap years, the date for Easter on the Christian calendar, and many other astronomical events. To think that this could be accomplished before the time of computers is simply awe inspiring. This mathematical marvel moves each day at 12:30pm, retracing the steps of Christ and the Apostles.  Legend has it that the clock's creator had his eyes gouged out to prevent him from duplicating the masterpiece for anyone else.  If my math genius of a boyfriend visits Strasbourg, I can guarantee his favorite attraction!

Despite temperatures dipping below freezing, we managed to stay warm as we ducked into several shops and restaurants in between sightseeing and wandering around the markets. Elli and I donned a Santa hat and reindeer antlers, the latter of which attracted an enormous amount of attraction from passers-by, children, shop keepers, and even controllers on the the train home!  The Christmas spirit was definitely in the air, visible on the faces of every child and wanderer throughout the Christmas markets.  There is something about this season, no matter if you're in France or the US, that just makes people open up and become more approachable.  People smile more, defenses are lowered, doors are held open, and hearts are opened.  I couldn't help but notice this as an elderly stranger raised his glass of vin chaud and winked at me across the crowded market.  Maybe it was prompted by my antlers, maybe it was the wine, but I like to think it was the Christmas spirit coming alive. 
Liz and I in the Petite France district

Typical Rhineland black and white timber framed buildings in the Petite France district

Petite France 

Place du Marché aux Cochons de Lait, with the cathedral in the distance

Breakfast! Bonhommes au chocolat and café au lait!

Elli in the Petite France district

Notre Dame cathedral of Strasbourg 

Hustle and bustle in the city center

Elli is from Australia... even the sight of fake snow got her excited!

"Little town, it's a quiet village. Every day like the one before. Little town, full of little people, waking up to say... BONJOUR! BONJOUR! BONJOUR BONJOUR BONJOUR!" Where's Belle?

Hmm, where are we? 

Spectacular Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame interior

Awestruck in the cathedral

Notre Dame interior

Notre Dame interior

Famous astronomical clock inside Notre Dame catheral. It displays the positions of the sun and moon, as well as solar and lunar eclipses. I love the idea of this high tech gadget in a church.  Science and religion can coexist in harmony.

Another view of the astronomical clock

View from the top of Notre Dame cathedral. Notice the ice skating rink!

View from the top of Notre Dame

We made it! View from the top of Notre Dame

View from the top of Notre Dame

View from the top of Notre Dame

Christmas markets (Marchés de Noël)

Christmas markets (Marchés de Noël)

Charlie Brown trees!

Christmas markets (Marchés de Noël)

Elli and I at the Christmas markets (Marchés de Noël)

Place Kléber

Sleeping on the train back to Metz

Yes, I wore antlers all day!


  1. Gorgeous! I so want to go to Strasbourg (my first choice for académie...) Where does all my money go? Keep reading all these other assistants' blogs and they're all spending days here and there but moi? Non... Lol :)

  2. Must have been fun to share the experience with such nice friends! Mom

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  4. Wonder how many Notre Dame cathedrals are there in France? I thought Notre Dame is in Paris, the one that I visited. But it seems that there are many others as well. Anyway, I like and endorse your view that science and religion can coexist in harmony. Yeah, they certainly does!
    Again, a well written blog.

    1. Notre Dame simply means "our lady." Since the Virgin Mary is a major part of the Catholic faith, you will see her in the starring role of cathedral names all over France... Thanks so very much for reading! :)


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