…A Few of My Favorite Things – Part 3: France?!

First glimpse of Strasbourg:  A carnival in a town square
First glimpse of Strasbourg: A carnival in a town square

A little late on writing this up, but I couldn’t leave it out… The last daytrip from a few weeks ago was to Strasbourg, France, about two hours away. After eating crêpes and drinking wine at an outdoor café, we followed a guy with a big “Free Tour” sign for a pretty decent two-hour circuit of the city. Here are the things that stood out the most to me:

Approaching the huge Old Town square (cathedral on the left):  people and bikes everywhere
Approaching the huge Old Town square (cathedral on the left): people and bikes everywhere
  • A culture of being outdoors: Unsurprisingly (only because I had seen a handful of French foreign language films in elementary school), the spacious town squares and parks were full of people enjoying the beautiful spring weather. Pedaling by on bikes, chatting at outdoor cafés, passionately arguing in the street, and lazing in the grass – I would say the people here definitely know how to live. Surprisingly, smoking was not as common compared to what I’ve seen in Germany.

    Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
    Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
  • Adaptable people: Some of the older Strasbourg residents have had their nationality changed four times in their lifetime. Once upon a time Strasbourg was a German city, then became French, then German again, and then ultimately French again. This, of course, necessitated many changes, including the language people were required to use. Today, the people of Strasbourg mainly speak French but, fortunately for us, many also speak German. I ordered three rolls in French (pointing, with “Trois, s’il vous plaît”) at a bakery and was then immediately lost when asked a follow-up question in French (which turned out, naturally, to be “For here or to go?”). At the epitome of the French and German cultures colliding, I saw a lady eating a pretzel and drinking a glass of wine.

    Gutenberg square
    Gutenberg square
  • Controversy over Gutenberg: Johannes Gutenberg, a native of Mainz, Germany, had lived in Strasbourg for a period of his adult life. A gap in the records of his life occurs around the time that he created his world-famous printing press. Of course, this also coincides with the time that he moved back from Strasbourg to Mainz, so both cities claim to be the birthplace of the printing press. Our tour guide pointed out, however, the fact remains that the press was invented in Germany either way, as Strasbourg was then a German city.

    Petite-France
    Petite-France
  • Charming neighborhood with an obscene history: Petite-France is a small area of Strasbourg of narrow streets winding between old wooden lattice-beamed houses alongside a canal. The delightfulness of the quiet neighborhood, once a center for tanneries, is marred only by how it received its seemingly innocent name (literally, “Little France”). In the days of Napoleon, many French soldiers returned home with syphilis, which they termed “the madness from Naples” but which the rest of the world called “the madness from France.” This area of Strasbourg was home to a hospital specializing in syphilis treatment, for which it was not-so-charmingly named Petite-France.

All in all, Strasbourg exceeded all my expectations for what I thought a French city would be like. As it turns out, I think Strasbourg is well worth visiting again, particularly now that spring seems to be here to stay.

The Covered Bridges (still called this although they have been uncovered since the 18th century)
The Covered Bridges (still called this although they have been uncovered since the 18th century)
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…A Few of My Favorite Things – Part 2

And the travels with family continued the other week! So here are the continued highlights – one more post to sum up this set of adventures coming soon.

Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden faces the Rhein River
Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden faces the Rhein River
  • Wiesbaden: Featuring an unexpected medieval festival

A short distance from downtown Wiesbaden stands the illustrious Schloss Biebrich with a tidy park area that flows out behind it. With long pedestrian trails and a small lake, the Schlosspark makes the enormous palace look small by comparison. Today the castle itself contains a restaurant and hotel and is used for events. The park is enjoyed by many, and we even saw a few people practicing tightrope walking between two sturdy trees.

Spring festival in Kochbrunnenplatz
Spring festival in Kochbrunnenplatz

Our visit to the Kochbrunnen (thermal springs) in a downtown square, happened to coincide with a Historical Spring Festival. In this case, “historical” translated to “medieval,” so the festival featured many people in medieval costumes, dolls and other crafts made out of brooms, archery games, and mead and dried meats.

 

Residenz palace in Würzburg
Residenz palace in Würzburg
  • Würzburg: Amazingly reconstructed palace and quaint college town

Würzburg was so enjoyable, we ended up visiting it twice during the week. About an hour and a half southeast of us, this small city is a true blend of history and modern-day. The most impressive sights are the Residenz palace and the Festung (fortress) Marienberg, both originally homes of the prince-bishops of Würzburg. During World War II, the furnishings of the Residenz were moved to the fortress high above the town for safekeeping. The Residenz, as predicted, was then severely damaged but has been entirely rebuilt. Even the showy mirror room, a spectacle of foreign-themed paintings on glass covering mirrors on all four walls and the ceiling, was reconstructed based on slides of the room taken before the damage.

Old Bridge in Würzburg
Old Bridge in Würzburg

Würzburg is home to a university of the same name, and the town reflects the university life. The old bridge leading over the Rhein from the Altstadt (old town) to the Marienberg fortress, is lined with small bars and restaurants. We enjoyed a riverside lunch on the patio of an old mill at the Gasthaus Alte Mainmühle.

 

Luxembourg City with the Casemates along the right
Luxembourg City with the Casemates along the right
  • Luxembourg City, Luxembourg: Two-hour drive to a new country

Much of Luxembourg City sits in a bowl surrounded by the Bock Casemates, a defensive wall with passageways built into the cliffs. This provided storage areas for cannons and other equipment, soldier barracks, and escape routes both over and under the bridges.

The country of Luxembourg has its own language, Luxembourgish, though French and German are also commonly spoken here. The food served in the cafes leans more toward French cuisine, with quiches being popular lunch fare. We did, however, see a band of chefs with the typical tall white hats carrying baskets of pretzels to a town square. Luxembourg City has an extensive American cemetery, mainly the resting place of World War II soldiers, and is the headquarters of many European Union offices.

Symbol of Luxembourg City:  the red lion
Symbol of Luxembourg City: the red lion

A visit to the Luxembourg City History Museum provided some artistic insights into societal changes in the city (languages, politics, household appliances, commercialism, etc.). The museum also has a multimedia exhibit featuring a Luxembourg City legend of the mermaid or siren Melusina. A count had supposedly fallen in love with Melusina in human form and, when he discovered her true identify, she disappeared forever. The elusive mermaid is said to still be hidden somewhere along the Alzette River.

 

Frankfurt
Frankfurt
  • Frankfurt: Birdseye view

This trip to the modern city of Frankfurt consisted of a walking tour with sights such as the Altstadt reconstruction project, Goethe’s house, and the Alte Brücke (old bridge). The tour culminated with a visit to the top of the Main Tower, providing a view of the whole city.

 

Hohenzollern from afar
Hohenzollern from afar
  • Hohenzollern: Prussian kings’ castle, still family-owned

Atop a hill about two and a half hours south of here, near Stuttgart, sits Burg Hohenzollern. This castle still belongs to the family of the former Prussian kings. The current “Prince of Prussia” is Georg Friedrich, who studied economics and works for a marketing company. He and his wife Princess Sophie have twin sons, but only the oldest son will succeed him in the family’s nominal title.

Hohenzollern from the inner courtyard
Hohenzollern from the inner courtyard
Statues on the surrounding wall
Statues on the surrounding wall

…A Few of My Favorite Things – Part 1

With relatives in town, James and I have gotten to show off some of our favorite places, visit places we’ve been wanting to see, and search for new sites to explore. Here are some highlights of week 1:

Chagall window in St. Stephan's, Mainz
Chagall window in St. Stephan’s, Mainz

• Mainz: Some things old, something new
No trip to Mainz would be complete without a walk around town, an exploration of the Dom (cathedral), and beer and pretzels with Spundekas’ (a local soft cheese dip). We also finally got to see St. Stephan’s, a church famous for its windows, in the daylight. These stained glass windows are a creation of the artist Marc Chagall. Although they consist of simple shapes and are painted entirely in shades of blue, the windows appear very striking and complex. Their appearance changes throughout the day according to the natural light outside.

Marksburg overlooking the Rhein
Marksburg overlooking the Rhein

• Marksburg Castle: Great local riverside castle
For details on this castle, see my original visit: Marksburg. The main difference this time was that we went on a Wednesday afternoon instead of a weekend, which meant there were fewer visitors. We basically got a private tour of the castle after enjoying the sunny weather from the castle café terrace.

Schloss Heidelberg close-up
Schloss Heidelberg close-up
River Neckar in Heidelberg
River Neckar in Heidelberg

• Heidelberg: Fantastic third visit, this time with castle close-up
Perfect spring weather set the backdrop for our most recent visit to Heidelberg.  Music to set the mood:  “Memories of Heidelberg.”  This time we maneuvered by car along a narrow, switchback road up a steep hill to Schloss (Castle) Heidelberg. Previously I had only seen it from the quaint Altstadt (old city area) below. Once we had wandered through the Altstadt as far as the old bridge, we saw many people enjoying the spring afternoon on the River Neckar in rowboats and atop stand-up paddle boats.

Düsseldorf ship museum
Düsseldorf ship museum
Rainy view of the Rhein from the top of the museum tower
Rainy view of the Rhein from the top of the museum tower

• Düsseldorf: Of ships, churches, and market stands
That sums the trip up in a nutshell. About two hours northwest of here, we made a brief stop in Düsseldorf on a rainy day on the way to visit other relatives. In short, we visited a ship museum, St. Lambertus Church, and the town’s open air market.

First glimpse up at Köln Dom
First glimpse up at Köln Dom
Main aisle of the Köln Dom
Main aisle of the Köln Dom

• Köln: New favorite German city?
The visit to Köln was unreal: Most of the day consisted of intermittent drizzle but ended with a rainbow. This city is in the same direction as Düsseldorf but about twenty minutes closer. We spent most of the trip exploring the Köln Dom, and most of that time in a spiral staircase climbing its 520 stairs for an amazing view of Köln from a height of about 157 meters (515 feet). I should note that the Ulm Münster, also constructed in the middle ages and completed hundreds of years later, is an even taller church.

One of the walls of bones in St. Ursula's
One of the walls of bones in St. Ursula’s

A more eccentric highlight of our trip was a visit to St. Ursula’s Basilika, home to a chamber walled on all four sides with displays of human bones. The bones are said to be associated with a legend of St. Ursula, whose traveling companions were killed in battle when they arrived in Köln. The bones are artistically arranged into patterns and letters as though they were simply pieces of wood. After this macabre sight, the sun came out in time for us to see the Köln Dom adorned with a rainbow. And before heading home, we stopped into a small carry-out place for currywurst and fries.

Silver lining to a rainy day at Köln Dom
Silver lining to a rainy day at Köln Dom