Three Days in Strasbourg
We arrived in Strasbourg on a Sunday. Sundays are special days in France. Everything is closed. Restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies…everything. So, it was no surprise that when we arrived in Strasbourg, everything was closed. We were planning on going to our hotel (because we stayed in a hotel in Strasbourg since it was essentially the same price as the hostel), but we couldn’t find it. We walked around, but we were clearly lost. Out of desperation, we returned to the train station and asked the information office for help and they gave us the bus stop, which we already knew. We tried to get a map, but the lady informed us that the information office was not the tourism office, which we knew, but the tourism office was closed because it was Sunday! Very frustrating.
We asked the bus driver for help and he just gave us the name of the stop, which we already knew. We thought we were never going to find it, but when we got off, the bus driver actually got off the bus and pointed us in the right direction. “Be careful. It is very, very hidden,” he warned.
He wasn’t kidding. We had to take another road which turned into the road we were looking for and there were no signs for the hotel. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have found it. After we checked into the hotel, we went to several museums because it was the first Sunday of the month and the first Sunday of the month in France is free museum day.
We went to the modern art museum which was interesting. There was a dress made out of dried cow intestines which was a little odd for me. After that, we went to the Alsace museum, which was much bigger than it appeared to be! The Strasbourg history museum was interesting, but small and it didn’t include more modern history, which would have been cool to learn about.
The second day, we visited Notre Dame, which has an astrological clock. If you are ever in Strasbourg, I highly recommend it. It’s really, really cool because it’s old, but it still is extremely accurate. It is also finely crafted, each piece moves exactly how it is supposed to. We went to the Palais Rohan, but couldn’t get in because it was closed in the morning. So, we decided to go on a boat ride! Since we were students, the historical boat tour only cost five euros! I was happy about that and we got to see most of the important areas of Strasbourg along the Ill River. After the boat ride, we explored Petite France, which is an old district of Strasbourg which is well-preserved.
The third day of Strasbourg was arguably one of the most interesting days of the trip, if not my life. It started out by going to the wine cellar of an old hospital. I may not drink wine, but I can recognize its cultural significance and I’m a little fascinated by the creation of wine. In this wine cellar, there were many large barrels of wine.
On our way to lunch, we saw lots of book sellers on the streets. And we also saw some protest, perhaps by the Communist party? We weren’t sure.
If you didn’t know, the Strasbourg is essentially the capital of Europe. Strasbourg houses the European Parliament and other European Union establishments. Kacy and I went to the European Parliament, but you can only get in if you are with a group, so we admired the building from the outside. I also saw this weird beaver/otter/rat thing, which wanted to be friends with me, but it had big teeth, so I thought it would be best to walk away.
Now, here’s the interesting part of my trip. It’s important to remember that Strasbourg is right next to Germany (and, during its long history, it has been part of France, Germany, France, Germany…etc…until it now belongs to France). It has a huge German influence, from the architecture to the language (everything was in French and German). So, I wanted to find the Rhine River because I wanted to wave to Germany so we climbed on a bus and we dropped off near the river. The Rhine has several inlets and we saw a bridge so we thought we could cross it to get a better look at Germany. As we were crossing the river, we saw a building that had a German flag, but it also had a French flag. “That isn’t Germany, is it?” I asked, “No, no. Wait, I see the French flag. This is just an inlet. Besides, if that was Germany, there would be more signs and border security.”
Where I live in Maine, I’m about a five minutes drive to the Canadian border. Believe me. It is clearly labeled. You know if you’re going across the border. So, Kacy and I didn’t think anything as we crossed the river. We arrived on the other side…and then everything was in German first, then French.
“Is this Germany?” one of us asked.
“No. It can’t be. There weren’t any…”
But then I saw a sign welcoming us to Kehl. In my mind, I remembered that Kehl was in Germany. Which meant. “We’re in Germany,” I said at last.
We were in shock. We were in Germany. Another country. And there weren’t any signs or security! Looking back, it makes since because Germany is part of the Schengen Area, which allows free movement between borders of participating members. But it was slightly problematic for Kacy and me.
Until I complete my application and medical exam for my visa, I cannot leave France and return (although my study abroad coordinator told me this and I never received any official warning from the French government). I may have broken the law or I may not have. I’m not sure, but I do know that we were aware that we probably shouldn’t be in Germany. We stayed long enough to walk to the main square, look inside a German supermarket and buy postcards because no one was going to believe that we really walked to Germany!
We went back to France, amazed. It was certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me. You don’t walk to Germany every day, do you?
After that, we visited the botanical gardens and the university, but it couldn’t compare to our walk to Germany. At night, we saw the bridges of the Petite France lit up. I will admit. Strasbourg is one of my favorite cities in France. It is so beautiful! I had a milkshake at an American diner and went to bed, wondering what my time in Lyon would bring…