to enchanting Strasbourg, a city full of surprises.
Anticipating a charming city awash in gingerbread houses and
picturesque canal walkways, we got that -- and a whole lot more.
Strasbourg is like a 4-scoop ice cream cone, each flavor melting into the other.
You get a taste of France, Germany, Medieval, and Modern in a fairly compact,
easy-to-navigate town chock-full of savory pleasures.
bartered back and forth from France to Germany and back.
It's no wonder.
The region is jam-packed with riches, surrounded by vineyards
heaping with precious fruit that produce some of the best white wines in France.
The Vosges mountains are nearby as well as an abundance of storybook villages
on the wine road and across the river butting up to Germany's Black Forest.
The city is unexpectedly cosmopolitan.
You won't find Hansel & Gretel here --- but perhaps a Prince Charming or two.
Folks here went out of their way to be helpful.
Whether scooping up our luggage or offering insight into a particular city
pleasure, the people of Strasbourg swept us off our feet.
We felt like princesses in a fairytale province.
It's in the middle of a tightly clustered square, surrounded by shops
and restaurants --- so tall, it's tough to capture a good photo without working at it.
Cathédrale de Notre Dame is Gothic, initiated in the 11th century and completed around 1439.
Its pink sandstone glows at night but you'll want to see the stained glass during the day. Intricate carvings, a super-tall spire and monstrous gargoyles monopolize
the lacy facade -- but that's just the promising beginning.
Never one to miss lunch, I broke my golden rule and stayed
to see the "show" that starts half past midday inside the glorious church.
Here, the astronomical clock comes to life, showing off
its mechanical genius to all who are willing to stand and wait.
Just when you think you can't stand the crowds one minute longer, the chimes begin to ring,
a life-size cock crows, and the pageant begins --- an 18-inch tall figure of Jesus Christ
stands to greet his 12 apostles as they march across the mantelpiece and your imagination.
I didn't even mind being late for lunch that day.
On a prior visit to the cathedral, my husband and I were treated to a
different type of theater -- on the square just outside.
We were drawn in by the voice of an angel, notes that ranged from the top
of the music scale to a deeper tenor.
Imagine our surprise when we got a look at him - expecting to see a woman because
until that moment, he was only singing the high notes -
The guy, all buff and tough in boots and chains, looked like someone you might not
like to run into in a deserted alley -- but as soon as he opened his mouth --- with
a voice so sweet, he melted our hearts in less than five seconds.
Since then, I have discovered much of France has been treated to his amazing
talent on the French version of the popular tv series "The Voice".
Another Prince Charming in Strasbourg.
(named The Grande Île, a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Like so many cities in France, the city is carved up into distinct neighborhoods,
so it's both easy and pleasing to walk from one clear-cut quarter
to another, equally winning but unmistakably diverse.
It's not like changing horses on a merry-go-round; it's more like getting on
a completely different carousel.
You'll want to take a spin where-ever you go.
There's even a fairytale village within the city, the deservedly
famous neighborhood known as Petite France.
Located just a few short blocks away from the cathedral, you're suddenly drawn into
a fairytale world where geraniums spill over nearly every turn you make.
Half-timbered homes drip with whimsical character.
Canals and footbridges force you to stop every 30 seconds to capture a
ridiculously adorable photograph for your memory book.
It's almost unreal.
Restaurants, hotels and knickknack shops are in overabundance
but it's so pretty that even the most chintzy novelties don't ruin the mood.
art galleries and even their own philharmonic orchestra.
The Palais Rohan with it's double-feature museums -- the Musée des Beaux-Arts
and Musée des Arts Decoratifs, are very popular along with the more low-key Musée Alsacien. You'll discover museums dedicated to archeology, contemporary art and print
(honoring, of course, the famous achievement of local legend Johan Gutenberg),
if you can tear yourself away from the wondrous temptations of the outdoors.
As a university city, you'll sense a youthful exuberance everywhere you walk.
Between the cyclists and the canals, you might think you're in Amsterdam for a second or two. But then you'll turn around and find something so utterly French - or German,
depending on the neighborhood, and you'll come back to your senses.
You can even walk over a bridge and into Germany -- two for the price of one!
We took a mini-excursion over the border to Baden-Baden,
a deservedly famous German spa town.
It was a quick hop on the train and back off again --- into the welcoming embrace of
the local baths, a worthwhile novelty on a trip designed to capture the essence of the region.
My sister and I especially enjoyed a leisurely walk to the Parc de l'Orangerie.
We passed drop dead gorgeous manor-houses belonging to embassies and the
well-to-do, vowing to buy one or two when we win the lotto.
The park is stunning, drawn up by Versailles' famous designer André Le Nôtre.
Peaceful, green and happy, it's a perfect break from city life.
We got a charge out of our slow stroll, watching the kids at play and gardeners at work
while an elderly couple pushed a dog in a fancy baby carriage.
Just a day in the life....
There's a small zoo with an amazing variety of animal life as well
as a lake and other entertainments.
Don't miss this one.
There are many gratifying sights to see, too many in fact, to list here.
Strasbourg is incredibly famous for its Christmas Market (Marché de Noel),
a virtual wonderland of holiday festivities.
They're particularly proud of their Christmas traditions, claiming it was right here
where locals developed the custom of Christmas tree decorating.
The Barrage Vauban is well worth a look as is the whole modern side of the city
where the European Parliament and the Council of Europe reside.
Talk about contrasting images!
The mirrored buildings strike a progressive chord in the city,
reminding us that this Strasbourg is no museum relic.
It definitely an urban oasis that lives, evolves and continues to ripen.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, the entire municipality was evacuated.
For ten months, the city was empty, minus a few unlucky soldiers left to stand guard.
After France fell in June of 1940, all of Alsace was surrendered to Germany.
Only residents of Alsatian origin were permitted to return.
The Jews were immediately deported to camps and the
exalted historical Synagogue burned to the ground.
During the war, the Alsatian resistance, called La Main Noire (the black hand),
was active but not too fruitful in their efforts, suffering both during and after the struggle.
Much of the old town was heavily damaged, mostly by Allied bombing,
some of it erroneously targeted.
Fortunately, the German occupiers had removed the precious stained glass in the cathedral,
presumably because Hitler had admired it, hoping to turn it into one of his own monuments.
Lucky for us but too hard to imagine in today's peaceful burg.
As terrified as we all are over the carnage brought on by today's Ebola virus,
can you imagine a plague so terrible, to this day, no one is sure of its cause or
its resolution -- but the one sure thing we know is that
THE KILLER was DANCING MANIA.
This is no joke; people literally danced themselves to death.
Was is caused by stress & poverty -- or a curse -- or by poison, perhaps in the local rye?
Physical or psychological, this Dancing Mania - sometimes called St.Vitus'
Dance Phenomenon, literally killed thousands of people throughout Europe.
In 1518, over 400 people in Strasbourg alone had heart attacks and died.
They would dance for days, screaming, laughing and crying.
Their hallucinations were likely called visions back then, but either way, it was a killer.
Chaos, dancing and death --- truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
A bold cuisine, it's revered world-wide, actually laying claim to dozens
of Michelin-starred restaurants in the region.
In its capitol city, you're in for a real treat.
A few standouts include choucroute (in many forms),
baeckoffe (many meats stewed for many hours), coq au Reisling,
eel stew, oie aux choux rouges (goose & red cabbage)
along with foie gras, kugelhopf, and tarte flambée.
Don't be shy, try as many tastes as you can.
The Route des Vins may not be as famous as that of neighboring Burgundy,
but it has stature and tradition -- as well as enduring fans.
There's more to celebrate in October than beer --- of course, famous brewer Kronenbourg
is not much more than a mile outside of town -- and beer is deservedly popular here.
October is wine month, too, as the region celebrates the grape harvest
with festivals and much merry-making.
Like so much of France, the cuisine and the wine pair up perfectly.
Gewurztraminer, Reisling, Sylvaner, Tokay (not the same as Hungarian Tokay)
and muscat are just a few familiar names.
The area is also valued for its eau de vie such as Kirsch and Framboise.
Eat Drink & Be Merry.
Strasbourg is a heavenly destination for lovers of good food and drink.
And it's perfectly acceptable to offer a toast in either French or German.
Prince Charming will probably reciprocate in kind.