Last weekend was a long weekend here in Würzburg with the Monday being a holiday. I think it was technically a religious holiday of some sort, but as with many of the “religious” holidays here in Germany nowadays, that connection is mostly in name only. So the Mr. and I decided it was time for a short mini-break somewhere.
We decided to take the train to Strasbourg, France. Strasbourg is just over the border from Germany into northeastern France, in the Alsace region. It was historically a German-speaking city and area, so you find signs in both French and the historic version of the German language that was once spoken there. It makes for an interesting mix as it “feels” like a German city to me in many ways; the architecture looks German, they offer flammkuechen in many of the restaurants (which apparently originated in this region, but I know it only from Germany) and it’s full of German tourists. In terms of language, however, it’s most definitely French these days. Many of the shopkeepers and restaurant staff did seem to know a bit (or maybe even more than a bit) of German, but French is the primary language today. Still, knowing some German came in handy. I had a moment of triumph when I went into a Nespresso shop and wanted to ask whether they had a limited edition coffee I had ordered off of the website a few months ago. I asked the woman if she spoke English, and she said no. Before I had taken my intensive language course, I would have probably left the shop defeated. Instead I asked if she spoke German….bingo! I then proceeded to ask her in my (albeit rather crappy) German if they had this coffee I was searching for, and she understood – double bingo! Understanding her was a little tricky, but finally I got the gist of what she was saying. I felt pretty darned good at that moment, like maybe the intensive language course isn’t such a bad idea! 🙂
According to Wikipedia, Strasbourg’s city center, known as the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, apparently the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre. Walking around, it’s not hard to see why it was the first city to be awarded this status; it’s a bit like stepping back in time. Today, Strasbourg is also the seat of several European institutions, such as the Council of Europe (with its European Court of Human Rights, its European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and its European Audiovisual Observatory) and the Eurocorps, as well as the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of the European Union.
Apart from just taking in the atmosphere of the city, what I loved most about Strasbourg was how it really catered to its tourists with live performances of all sorts taking place from the morning until late at night, giving the city a festive feel. One of the best was a light and sound show that happened every night on the facade of the cathedral. It was dramatic and beautiful, and it didn’t hurt that there was a gelato shop right there that served up the best ice cream the Mr. and I have ever tasted.
What I also loved about Strasbourg was the great shopping. Or, at least I think it would have been great shopping had I actually been able to go shopping. You see, I have class on Fridays until 2.15 pm, so the Mr. and I debated whether we should leave immediately after my class on Friday and come home late Sunday afternoon, or leave on Saturday morning and come home late Monday afternoon. I was in favor of leaving Friday as it would guarantee a whole day that the shops would be open, but the Mr. thought it was better to wait until Saturday morning so that we’d have a little more time altogether in the city. He reasoned that I’d have at least a couple of hours on Saturday evening after we had arrived, and then all of Monday morning. On Saturday, I made a mad rush to try to hit at least a few places (bought some amazing macaroons and chocolate), and was super excited about the all the other places I would check out on Monday morning. Well, come Monday morning, I realized that the small boutique shops I had been eagerly anticipating browsing were still closed. I had a closer look at the signs and discovered that some weren’t going to open at all on a Monday (hello! seriously?!), while most would open at 2pm. Well, better late than never, I figured. Then I started noticing signs for shops that said they should have been open by 9am on a Monday. Uh-oh….suddenly, it became clear to us that it was pretty likely nothing was going to open that day because apparently, it was a holiday there, too. Goody. The Mr. swore up and down he hadn’t planned this all out so I couldn’t go shopping and spend money, but I’m still pretty suspicious of how it all turned out….If we ever make it back to Strasbourg, I will first of all check that there are no public holidays, and secondly, I’ll make sure we avoid the tail end of a weekend. On a side note, I have to say that shops being closed on Sundays in Europe is one of my biggest pet peeves living here. I’ve heard the argument that it keeps at least one day when families can spend time together, but that doesn’t entirely hold up because restaurants and cafes are still open which means the staff working there aren’t spending time with their families. And given that much of Europe isn’t terribly religious these days, the argument of “keeping the Sabbath Day holy” also doesn’t really hold up. From my point of view, considering that most people work a 9-5 weekday job, it makes no sense to take away an entire day on the weekend where people can go shopping if they need or want to. But I doubt the system is going to change just because one cranky American doesn’t like it….
Anyway, back to Strasbourg, I think we most definitely will go again. We’ve discovered that we have a real advantage with where we live here in Germany in that we’re in the state of Bavaria, but we’re also very close to the border of another state called Baden-Württemberg. That means that we can take advantage of cheap travel tickets in BOTH states, meaning we can go all the way to Munich, for example, for 28 euros one way (with the Bavaria ticket), or all the way to Strasbourg in France (with the Baden-Württemberg ticket) for only 28 euros. Our entire trip to Strasbourg – an almost six-hour journey – cost us only 56 euros both ways. If we had driven a car the petrol alone would have costed more than that. And actually, up to three more people could have travelled with us for that same price. It’s cheap, dependable and far-reaching public transportation that’s pretty darn awesome. And you’ll never hear me complain about that! 😉