I have been looking forward to visiting Strasbourg for some time now. This city has always been on my ‘Places to Visit’ list, though I’m not sure why. Throughout my Pinterest-stalking in preparation for this trip, Strasbourg kept popping up as a place definitely worth visiting. This was the first place Devon and I were going to be staying in an AirBnb flat as well. I was looking forward to trading in hostel dorm rooms for a private studio flat, but new territory is always a little scary.
Thankfully, the flat was amazing. It was only a ten minute walk in the bright French sun from the train station to the apartment. It was a small studio just the right size for the two of us. We arrived in the evening, so after a brief power-nap on the bed, we headed out in the city in search of a grocery store to stock up on food. That is the benefit of having your own kitchen. You can cook whatever you want, and there is plenty of room to store snacks!
After stocking up for our four-day stay, Dev and I retreated back into the apartment and camped out watching our new favourite Korean drama (Scarlet Heart Ryeo) until bedtime. We had been traveling for almost two weeks at this point (Devon had actually been travelling for longer), so we were both in need of a serious vegging out session. And it was bliss.
Now unlike some of the other destinations on this trip, I didn’t want to visit Strasbourg to see the sights necessarily. My main intention was to spend time in the city. To try to feel like I was really living there for a few days. I had no itinerary of activities or list of places to check off. I was perfectly content to go with the flow and live like I would have normally in Edinburgh.There is plenty to see in Strasbourg, but we were content to take it easy for a few days.
Every morning/early afternoon we went to a different café for lunch before wandering around the city for a short while. Strasbourg is an amazing city to get lost in. I would highly recommend it. It reminds me a great deal of Edinburgh with its old buildings seamlessly blended in with more modern shop-fronts. In some cities, like Brussels, the combination can feel a bit more jarring. There was a bright open square only a few seconds from our front door, and every day there was a different flea market. One day there were books and antiques, the next there was food. I suppose that is the bonus of being in a European city over the weekend.
One of the highlights of wandering about Strasbourg is meandering through the streets of Petite France (Little France). I once read this neighbourhood described as the village from Beauty and the Beast come to life, and I wholeheartedly agree. Aside from being in the centre of a city, the cobblestone streets are lined with houses complete with exposed beams and crooked walls. There were even little flags depicting the crests of various guilds displayed over the streets. Consisting of three islands, Petite France is connected by a series of bridges, one of which was a cute little rotating drawbridge. We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants, and I was able to sample some spätzle, a local dish somewhere between pasta and a dumpling.
My absolute favourite site in the whole city had to be the cathedral. Almost every major city in Europe has a cathedral, and many of them look very similar to my untrained eye. They can easily begin to blur together. The cathedral in Strasbourg, however, has to be one of the most unusual cathedrals I have ever seen. It looked so intricate and delicate despite being an enormous stone construction. There were so many small details along each column and archway. The stone itself appeared reddish in colour, and the stained glass windows were breathtaking from the inside.
We popped into the cathedral museum as well to learn more about the city’s history. The collections were amazing and included everything from the original gothic statues from the cathedral to gold and silver artefacts crafted by Strasbourg’s master artisans. I was slightly underwhelmed with the presentation though. It felt more like walking through someone’s private collection of artefacts than a cohesive story about the city and the cathedral’s history. I’m afraid Luxembourg still takes the cake for that one. There was one room that I fell in love with though. On the top floor, there was a room dedicated to the design and construction of the cathedral. It was full of blueprints, interactive diagrams, and old plans. Watching the recreation of the cathedral construction blew my mind.
Our final night in Strasbourg, I dragged Dev outside to walk around the city at night. I figured the river would be lit up, and the streets of Petite France would look even more like they were taken from a storybook. It only takes 15 or 20 minutes to walk through Petite France, so we decided to head back towards the cathedral to see it at night. I remembered seeing a sign about a light show on the cathedral when we went to the museum, and I figured it would be worth checking if there was one on soon.
We wove our way across town through various side streets and hidden squares filled with restaurants, cafés, and bars. As it was Sunday, the town had been pretty sleepy that morning. Not even the grocery store was open. As soon as the sun started to set, all of the restaurants and bars sprang into action. No matter what day of the week, Strasbourg seems to come alive at night. Dev thought I was going to get us lost, but I had complete faith in my sense of direction.
As we rounded the final corner to the cathedral, we were met with quite the spectacle. The cathedral had gone purple. I kid you not, there were lights casting an eerie purple glow over the whole façade, complete with little flickering candles in all of the nooks. If you ignored the small crowd jostling to take a photo, it was quite creepy looking. I loved it.
Turns out the crowd was gathered because there was a light show starting in 15 minutes. Dev and I turned to each other and nodded – we wanted to see what was up. The best part was it was free. So we walked around to the side of the cathedral and picked a nice spot to occupy. We were surrounded by families, teenagers, older tourists, and one particularly yappy dog. Nearly everyone under the age of 30 was on their phone trying to catch Pokemon to pass the time. I quickly forgot my desire to catch a Poliwag as soon as the show began.
While we were waiting, the side of the cathedral was bathed in light. It appeared to be covered in fire. Music began to play, the crowd quieted down, and suddenly a giant hand descended from nowhere and pulled a cloth away from the cathedral, uncovering the building itself beneath. Now I am no stranger to these Lumière shows, but this one was incredible. The various illusions and stories they projected onto the side of the building were incredible. I think the theme was time, and we were able to see the evolution of technology, the four seasons, and even a futuristic rave-esque light display to EDM music. It was amazing. At the end, the cathedral was rebuilt from fire, and I had this sudden realization that after all this time, after all this cathedral had seen, it was still standing here.
It was a roaring success, and Devon and I both walked out of there starry-eyed. Dev had even come up with a new story idea from the light show. It was the perfect way to cap off our stay. We headed back to the apartment to prepare for our departure the next day. I was very sad to be leaving Strasbourg so soon. I would love to go back and stay for a few weeks. Living in the AirBnb made me feel like we were actually living in the city rather than just passing through, but the show must go on.