A day in StrasbourgApril 18 in France ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C
Between our campsite in Kehl, Germany and Strasbourg city centre, France, there is an excellent network of cycle paths so we decided to cover the 7km distance on the tandem. The clear skies and warm weather forecast for Easter had arrived and we looked forward to a day exploring. It wasn't long before we reached a park running along both sides of the River Rhine. The Garden of the Two Banks is linked by a striking white suspension pedestrian and bike bridge (The Bridge of the Two Banks). On the German bank it is known as Der Garten der Zwei Ufer and Jardin des Deux Rives on the French bank.
With Vicky using the Maps.Me app and Will steering, we followed a series of dedicated bike lanes, sometimes running between two tram routes, to arrive at Strasbourg's magnificent red sandstone, Notre Dame Cathedral. Sitting on the sunny side of the square, we relaxed and spent time taking in the many details of the towering gothic architecture; the stained glass, the statues of knights and the decorative stone openwork on the windows and spires that added a delicacy to the structure.
Despite the fact that it was easter, there was a relaxed atmosphere in the city. Sure, we saw a few large tourist groups, but there were never so many people as to stiffle. A queue began to form to view the astronomical clock but the rest of the cathedral, including the tower, was closed so we wheeled the tandem around the square, admiring prodigious half timbered buildings, their steep rooves dotted with dormer windows.
Moving on to La Place Gutenberg we found a fast food stall selling sustenance from a wide range of nations; sauerkraut, sausages, churros, donuts, frites... The high spirited server conversed in what we took to be a mix of French and German, although looking back we may well have been hearing the local Alsation language. Will used an adaptive 'Freutch' to order and five minutes later we were sitting at a long table with red gingham plastic cloth, tucking into our veggie pizza and Tarte Flambée; a speciality of the region. The square also held an easter stall, selling crafted eggs, bunnies, chicks and storks. We've noticed a number of these large birds since arriving in Alsace. Seen as a symbol of fertility and said to bring good luck, they are an important element of Alsatian culture and featured in many of the souvenirs on offer around the city. Another thing that stood out was the number of small tablecloths for sale. Shops were making the most of the reputation of locally produced Beauvillé linen, something we were happy about because it meant there were a range of tea towels available, one of which we chose to represent France in our collection.
Moving on, we admired the easter displays. The ones above shop windows were particularly impressive. Soon we arrived at the cobbled lanes of La Petite France, an incredibly beautiful quarter of Strasbourg, steeped in history and populated by quaint half timbered, waterside houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. The area is centered on three short sections of canalised river. They lay adjacent to one another and their flow drove water mills that were the main source of power for the flour industry that thrived here alonside tanners and fishers. We hopped back and forth accross sweet stone bridges spanning the canals, then used the comparatively long, covered bridge, Barage Vauban, to cross the River Ill a short way downstream. Inside, the light coloured stone, dark wood and way the light fell, gave the effect of waking through a small church nave, with space off to either side separated into rectangular rooms. These could easily have been used to house retail outlets such as on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, but we liked that most had been left empty, with some used to store large stone statues. We liked it even more that the bridge allowed access to its rooftop walkway, from where you could peer over the sedum moss for great views of fairytale Petite France.
Cycling along a leafy riverside track, it wasn't long before we arrived at the final place Vicky had highlighted on the map; the Grande Mosquée de Strasbourg, France's largest. After 20 years of political negotiations, the place of worship was completed in 2012 with a distinctive flower petal design. To many it represents a new age of religious tolerance. This was supported to some extent by a large poster on the outskirts of Petite France proclaiming Strasbourg's rejection of intolerance, encouraging people to coexist. We are both atheists, but find it interesting to explore different ways of thinking. We will often admire the architecture on a cathedral and thought it important to see the Grande Mosquée too. We liked its design, but were struck by how small it seemed and the noticeable absence of a minaret. Birmingham Central Mosque, that we are used to passing when back in the West Midlands, can accommodate more than ten times the number of worshippers.
After cycling back over the Bridge of Two Banks, we were glad to sit and rest. We both really enjoyed our visit to Strasbourg, a beautiful city that seems to have found a good balance, providing well for locals and tourists without destroying its central character. We'll remember it fondly.Read more