The EU Capital

One of the four, that is. I only learnt, very recently, that the EU has 4 capitals, and that Strasbourg is one of them. The others include Frankfurt, Brussels and Luxembourg. What a noob! Considering this, Strasbourg is an exceedingly important city indeed! Which would explain why we saw soldiers in full gear on petrol throughout the 4 days we were walking about in the city (this was just a couple of months after the coordinated attacks in Paris)!  The sight of them made me nervous and uneasy but the mister managed to put things in perspective for me – I should feel very safe instead!

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We arrived in Strasbourg on a rainy afternoon, and hailed a cab to get to our hotel. To my surprise, the cab came with a sunroof! Hastily I took a snapshot of the multitude of flags on flagpoles just outside Gare de Strasbourg. Now I know why I saw so many flags…. because Strasbourg is one of the 4 EU capitals of course!

Prior to the trip, the mister and I vexed over our stay in Strasbourg; I’ll admit I was a little fussy and wanted to stay near Ill River in the La Petit France historical district. Yet simultaneously I also wanted to stay near Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. I vacillated several times over, and the mister had to come to my aid. He did some research of his own and decided we should put up at a relatively new hotel – Pavillon Regent Petit France.

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One of the best decisions, ever. I loved our Privilege Double Room on Level 2. There were windows all over, giving me plentiful opportunities to open the window and set up my tripod to take some pictures while freezing up the whole room. The mister shouted at me more than several times while he was taking a long dump in the toilet because the room was getting too frigid for comfort. The perils of being my travel partner. 😆

This pavillon is a side building within striking distance of the main hotel building. It was very quiet when we stayed there; I reckon there are in total less than 8 rooms in the whole building. Since it was next to the drawbridge leading to La Petit France, many travellers curiously looked into the pavillon wondering what it was. Because there wasn’t any staff at a non-existent lobby (just a dining area), no one could really tell what the building was for. I appreciated the hotel for being discreet, otherwise curious onlookers might have attempted to barge in. Not that it would be easy, since it was a pass-only door entrance.

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You’ll get what I mean about being discreet to the point of understated when you compare the facade of the main hotel building and the pavillon. There was just the name of the building painted in muted colours on the building; nothing more to indicate that it is a side building to a rather prestigious boutique hotel…

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…with a beautiful lobby, to boot! The main building had more occupants walking about. In contrast I much preferred the tranquility our side building offered although i’d admit I was worried about security. Well… I have to live up to my reputation as a worrywart somehow, I guess. 😆

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Strasbourg, being a major city in France, has a Galeries Lafayette. However, do not expect it to be the same scale as the one in Paris, because it isn’t. I was looking for a classic Chanel long white pearl necklace to add to my miserable collection of accessories. Long story short, I didn’t manage to find it in our previous cities and was hoping to get one in Strasbourg. While Galeries Lafayette in Strasbourg does have a Chanel counter, it sells only eyewear. And there isn’t a Chanel boutique in the city, so if you are looking to buy Chanel bags or necklaces, be forewarned.

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After a simple dinner at a middle-eastern eatery while watching a live soccer game on TV, we walked on to Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, largely acknowledged to be built in a classic example of high Gothic architecture. Victor Hugo once described the cathedral as a ‘gigantic and delicate marvel’, and the description cannot be more apt. Night was falling as we walked to the square. We didn’t even have to walk far before the tall cathedral could be sighted in the distance. Even at that distance, I could make out the interesting spire and was looking forward to seeing the cathedral at close quarters.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is an especially imposing sight at night, standing at a height of 142 metres and casting a shadow on the square. Since we wanted to visit the cathedral during the mid-day Astronomical Clock performance, it was just a short stop to take some pictures before we headed elsewhere to explore more of the city.

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The next morning we left early for the train station to Colmar. It was a quiet Sunday morning as we walked from our hotel to the station. Picture-taking opportunity again. 🙂

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I finally saw Gare de Strasbourg in its entirety because we arrived on a rainy day. Wow! Such an interesting exterior! I have no idea how penguins and the Antarctica are related to Strasbourg but I loved the design. And the design of Region Alsace trains too! It gives a very good indication of how affluent the region is, actually. The trains are sparkling new and come complete with painted pictures of Alsace’s scenic rolling hills and small villages.

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Our walkabout continued after our visit to Colmar. We walked to Place Kléber, the central and largest square in Strasbourg situated right in the centre of the commercial district, which was also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Seeing a large Christmas tree told us it was also the location of the city’s main Christmas Market, we thought. We read up a little and realised it was not the case – the tree was set up every year at the same location so the residents could deposit gifts for the poor. Such a meaningful gesture, and better still, this got the whole community to come together to contribute. We happened to be there when workers were dismantling the Nativity scene built around the Christmas Tree but didn’t manage to see how they were going to fell the tall tree. Should have been an interesting sight.
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On our last full day in Strasbourg, we booked a private tour to see more of the Alsace Wine Route in the afternoon after our visit to Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg to see the interior, and of course, the tall astronomical clock that is purported to be extremely accurate at tracking astrological events. We started queuing outside the cathedral a little before 11.30am when it started drizzling. I was miserable, as I always am when it starts raining. Fortunately, the line started moving as the ticket office (actually just a desk) opened and allowed visitors in.

The cathedral was closed to the public when we were admitted in. I’m not certain if that was because of the paid entrance to see the Astronomical Clock presentation. Nevertheless, the group waiting to see the clock ‘perform’ was the only group roaming about inside the cathedral and we were given more than sufficient time to enjoy the serenity and shelter offered. I wanted to purchase a couple of decade rosaries but the little stalls were not manned, and we could not find anyone for assistance. A real pity, since I really wanted to purchase them as gifts for friends.

As with all very aged cathedrals built in the Middles Ages, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg was very dark when Mass was not going on, with what natural light streaming through ornated stained glass windows. As I was walking down the main aisle, I thought this cathedral reminded me a lot of another cathedral I’d the privilege of sitting through a Mass at –  its namesake in Paris. I wonder if I’m the only one who feels the same vibes about both cathedrals.

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The Nativity Scene was also remarkable, and a very large project. Not unlike the one I saw at its namesake in the French capital in 2011 too. Except this one is much large in scale, spanning the width of 8 stained glass windows. I loved the vibes this cathedral gave me, and I’d wished I’d attended Mass there.

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At 12.30pm sharp, a short movie on the history of this impressive piece of art was screened by the side. The current clock sitting in the cathedral is the 3rd. As lifted from http://www.strasbourg.info, the ‘astronomical clock offers you a view of different stages of life, which are personified by a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man, who pass before Death. Above this are the apostles who walk before Christ. Their passage is punctuated by the beatings of wings and the song of a large rooster. In front of the clock is the marvellous Pillar of Angels, which, in a very original manner, represents the Last Judgment’.

I was in awe. The sheer extent of mankind intelligence truly cannot be fathomed. This current clock’s mechanisms dates way back to 1842, close to a good 2 centuries ago. And it still runs, accurately, till today. I know the theme of Christianity on this astronomical clock can hardly be ignored but if you are in the vicinity, this short tour of the clock should not be missed, regardless of your religion.

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