December 10, 2014

Weekend Getaway: Strasbourg

With limitless things to see and do, Paris certainly is a wonderful city. However, from time to time, it’s nice to have a little change of scenery.

France’s impressive railway system and TGVs (high speed trains) connect the country’s major cities in only a few hours, making it simple and convenient to slip out of town for a weekend. And when booked well in advance, or with a flexible schedule, many great deals on tickets can be found.

Friday night, we made our way to Strasbourg. A direct train from Gare de l’Est had us there in only 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Strasbourg, France

Having never visited before, we got up early on Saturday morning to begin exploring. The weather was cold, rainy and miserable (as evident in my photos), but we didn’t let it put a damper on our mini-vacation.

In December, Strasbourg transforms into the “Capital of Christmas”. It becomes a magical place, unlike any other, with decorations, lights and traditional Christmas markets on practically every corner. Although anxious to get to the markets, we decided to wait until later, and see a few sights first.

Christmas decorations in Strasbourg, France

Au Vieux Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France

Our first stop was the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg to view the beautiful gothic architecture and famous astronomical clock housed within.

Strasbourg Cathedral
Strasbourg Cathedral entrance

The cathedral’s first astronomical clock dates back to 1352 - 1354 (the current clock, now the third version, dates from 1842).  It is a masterpiece imagined by various artists, mathematicians, technicians, Swiss watchmakers, sculptors, painters and creators of automatons.

Every 15 minutes, the clock moves to show the different stages of life, which are represented by figures of a child, a teenager, an adult, an old man, and finally, death.  At 12:30pm each day, a mechanical rooster crows, and the clock is once again animated, with a procession of the 12 apostles walking before Christ.

The cathedral is closed to the general public during the procession of the apostles, but tickets to view the event can be purchased. The ticket window (located on the right-hand side of the cathedral) opens at 11:30am. Tickets cost 2€, and discounts are available for large groups, students, young children and seniors. At 12pm, a short film in French, English and German, presents the history of the clock, and at 12:30pm the procession begins. 

Astronomical clock in the Strasbourg Cathedral

Once finished, we stayed for a little while to marvel at the architecture, stained glass windows and magnificent crèche that was in place for Christmas.

Nativity in the Strasbourg Cathedral

At lunch time, we found a small restaurant, and eagerly ordered one of the Alsace region’s most notable foods, Flammekueche, or “flam” for short. This thin flatbread smothered in crème fraiche, onions and bacon, is a must-taste if you ever get the chance.

Flammekueche in Strasbourg, France

After getting warmed up a bit, we ventured back outside to continue our tour. Walking through the winding cobbled streets and German style buildings, we entered La Petite France, an adorable quarter full of cozy restaurants and charming gift shops. We then continued onward to the Place Kléber to gaze upon the most enormous Christmas tree I have ever seen. 

Restaurant in La Petite France, Strasbourg, France

Christmas shop in La Petite France, Strasbourg, France

Christmas tree in the Place Kléber, Strasbourg, France

As the sun was beginning to set, it was time to hit the Christmas markets and take in all of the holiday lights. The crowds were a bit overwhelming, but the excitement and scents of hot wine and gingerbread, made it well worth the effort.

Christmas market in Strasbourg, France
Sweets at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France

Christmas lights in Strasbourg, France

Both of us were enchanted by this lovely city, and hope to return again in the summer months to enjoy more of its fairy-tale streets and rich history.

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