We docked this morning in Kehl and strolled along a gorgeous (but gusty) walkway to catch our guided tour of Strasbourg (the capital and largest city of the Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine (ACAL) region in eastern France.)
The spring flowers were just coming out, despite the gray skies and cold breezes from the river. We passed over and under the beautiful bridges. The lawns were green and fresh.
We ran to catch the the tour, up the steps to the warm bus, and jumped in, settling in for a drive through the modern city. It was rainy and cold, but the city was busy, lively, filled with diplomats and spies and other exotic types (we told ourselves.)
We rolled by the European Parliament (in session at the time)
Parc de l'Orangerie is full of flowering trees, even this early in March, and we hear about the famous white storks of Alsace,
Storks have been part of Alsace for centuries, appearing in various legends and folk tales from the region. Traditionally the storks migrate from Africa, where they spent the winter, and come to Alsace in the spring. In 1983 France started a program to repopulate the storks in Alsace, and it has been very successful. In Strasbourg, the Parc de l'Orangerie has a center for wintering. Storks are mute, but they communicate by clattering their bills. Alsace is not the only area that protects its storks. The small town of Selçuk Turkey, near the famous Roman site of Ephesus, is also known for its storks.
We eventually tumble out of our warm bus and begin eandering around Petite France, a historic quarter at the western end of the Grande Île (the historical centre of the city.) At Petite France, the River Ill splits up into a number of channels that cascade through an area that was, in the Middle Ages, home to the city's tanners, millers and fishermen, The sidewalks are beautiful, full of spring flowers and delicious treats for Easter.
We wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets near the Cathedral, admiring the glowing shop windows. And here is the Nicolas wine emporium, where we ended up buying a bottle of last years harvest apple cider to take back to the ship for dinner.
Suddenly, at the end of a particularly narrow alleyway - we see the Cathedral:
"Although considerable parts of it are still in Romanesque architecture, it is widely considered to be among the finest examples of high, or late, Gothic architecture. It was built from 1277 and finished in 1318. At 142 metres (466 feet), it was the world's tallest building from 1647 to 1874 (227 years), when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai's Church, Hamburg. Today it isthe highest extant structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. The cathedral is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine. Sandstone used in construction gives the cathedral its characteristic pink hue.
The 2011 Sherlock Holmes movie "Game of Shadows" has a tremendous explosion scene at the gigantic Strasbourg Cathedral [ clip here and here:]
The cathedral's south transept houses an 18-metre astronomical clock, one of the largest in the world.
The astronomical part is unusually accurate; it indicates leap years and equinoxes, and was always much more a complex calculating machine than a clock. Often the complicated functioning of the Strasbourg Clock made specialized mathematical knowledge necessary (not just technical knowledge). The clock was able to determine the computus (date of Easter in the Christian calendar) at a time when computers did not yet exist.
Of course, we stayed to watch the clock do it's amazing mechanical movement, and I bought a golden coin pressed by the mechanical tool at the foot of the clock, with the cathedral pressed on one side.
The afternoon is almost over now, so we stroll across the river bridges once more, heading back to the ship. The rain still patters down but the clouds are lighter. We laugh and walk faster.
Strasbourg is immersed in the Franco-German culture and although violently disputed throughout history, has been a bridge of unity between France and Germany for centuries This Alsatian city’s blend of French and German cultures, resplendent churches, medieval covered bridges, verdant parks and handsome Art Nouveau and modernist architecture is like a storybook. TIme passed us in a different way here. We were inside the magic of the place. And it was spring .