This past weekend Sweet Briar (the program I’m studying abroad with) organized a trip to Strasbourg, a city to the west in the country’s famed region of Alsace. I say famed because said territory was a point of deep seated contention between Germany and France, as it continually switched back and forth between the two countries over the last few centuries. One day you were German, the next day you were French, then a few years later you were German again! So it would make sense that such a region (15 minutes away from the border to Germany) would have a blended culture. The buildings look like they belong in a small German town and the German language is heavily present alongside the French.
Strasbourg is also called the capital of Christmas as their December Christmas markets are world renowned. Since it’s only October, I had to settle for buying their famous pain d’épices and visiting the one Christmas shop in Old Town Strasbourg.
Pain d’épices translated loosely is gingerbread, but gingerbread with a whole lot more flavor containing a wide variety of spices including honey, anise, cinnamon, and even orange.
Upon arriving in Strasbourg, we took a guided tour of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, the striking Gothic cathedral that towers over the town.
Next year they will be celebrating 1000 years since the foundation of the cathedral was laid. The cathedral was completed in 1439 and is the highest structure built entirely in the middle ages.
On the inside, aside from the many glittering stained glass windows, there is an astronomical clock that calculates not only time, but also equinoxes, the lunar calendar, and other astronomical information. Every 15 minutes the clock comes to life and a figure representing a stage of life moves in front of death, a scary skeleton figure, and baby cherubs strike bells.
Despite all of the cool astronomical references and the general ancient feeling of the town, my favorite part of the whole trip was definitely the food. Sweet Briar took us to a restaurant that specialized in Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian tradition. Baeckeoffe is essentially a giant, slow cooked hot pot comprised of potatoes, vegetables, and meat marinated in wine.
It was delicious and I don’t think I have ever left a restaurant feeling so stuffed. My table couldn’t even finish the pot, but I still made sure to eat all of my dessert!
Then the next day for lunch I tried another Alsatian specialty called Flammekueche or Tarte flambée depending on your language. It’s basically a pizza with an extremely thin crust. I had the original which contains fromage blanc, onions and bacon.
Then Sunday we took a day trip to Colmar, another city in Alsace.
We took a guided tour of the Unterlinden Museum to see the Isenheim altarpiece, a series of painted panels from the Middle Ages. The symbology and detail of each panel is absolutely stunning.
They display everything from the crucifixion and resurrection to fantastical scenes of good versus evil. The tour guide actually compared the monsters on this panel to Pokemon!
Then we returned to Strasbourg for a few hours of free time and I decided to stick to the spirit of old town France and sat at a cafe, milking a glass of raspberry Sirop à l’eau for 2 hours in good French fashion.
That concludes my weekend in Strasbourg! What’s next on the list? Athens, Rome, Florence, and Venice! Fall break is just around the corner and I’ll be indulging in as much gelato as possible!
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