Saturday, November 8, 2014


Basel in early morning.
    Traveling, at least this semester, means traveling on a budget and that usually means sleeping in hostels. In a Basel, a city somehow devoid of conveniently placed hostels, the three of us shared a triple room in a budget hotel instead. European hotels generally offer a wider selection of room options, so a triple actually cost the same as splitting a double would have cost. But the triple had a bunk bed, so it was the infinitely more fun option! I got the top bunk, while the other two shared the double bunk below. There wasn't nearly enough time to enjoy our room, however, as we had to be on a train less than six hours after checking in. When the morning came we were awoken by one friend's barking dog alarm (she swears it's the only thing that will wake her up) and groggily headed out to catch our train.

     Arriving at the station, we immediately ran into a cluster of kiosks for buying tickets. How lucky, we thought, there is even an option for English. We hit the button, excited, only to find our hopes dashed. There was some English - the banner welcoming us had indeed been translated - but the remainder of the instructions were still in German. Since none of us read German particularly well, we headed off in search of a ticket counter. The woman behind the desk was infinitely more helpful than the machine had been and we soon found ourselves aboard the correct train and on our way to Strasbourg. I fell asleep almost immediately, but I was told later we enjoyed a stunning trip through fog-filled valleys. I came to a few minutes before we pulled into the station at Strasbourg with a two-hour nap under my belt, ready to face the day.

     Our friend met us in the station and took us to a very cute French cafe for breakfast. The French and Irish have a very different understanding of breakfast. An Irish breakfast contains almost nothing that hasn't been fried and usually includes at least two different meats. Our breakfast that morning was a crescent, a chocolate-filled pastry, orange juice, hot chocolate, and yogurt. Equally good and equally filling. Very happy after all the pastries, we headed to our friend's apartment to drop off our things. She is doing a home-stay this semester, so we got to meet her 'sister' when we stopped in. Unburdened, we set off to explore the city. 
Flying buttresses flying?
     Strasbourg sits in the border between France and Germany in a region that was disputed for centuries. As such, it has a rich mix of German and French influences. The National Theatre, for example, is housed in a former German palace. Follow our obligatory "theatre kids standing in front of a theatre" picture, we walked into the medieval part of the city. The medieval quarter is dominated by the imposing gothic cathedral on the main square. Towering more than 225 feet above the square and fashioned out of rich burgundy stone, it is truly an amazing sight. We spent a good amount of time exploring the interior. The stained glass along the naive is full of red glass, a sign of the immense expense involved in building the cathedral. (Red glass is the most expensive color of glass to produce, according to our glassblowing friend.) In the front of the cathedral, just off the altar, sits a huge celestial clock. Not only does it tell the time, but it also gives the position of every planet (even Pluto) in their orbit around the sun. After we finished exploring the inside, we really wanted to explore the top! The cathedral has a large viewing platform beneath the bell tower and there was no way we were going to miss the chance to go up. The 330 step climb takes you up right next to the flying buttresses - so close you can even see the stone puppy carved into one of them. The view from the top was simply stunning. You can see the EU Parliament buildings on the far side of the city, as well as Germany across the river.
The river: pre-wine.
     Having enjoyed some traditional French milkshakes, none of us felt the need for much lunch, so we simply wandered through the city. We strolled past the park that the city had built for Josephine, Napoleon's consort. Apparently she only visited once and never set foot in it again, despite a return visit to the city a few years later. A brief stroll through the EU district finished out our tour. We transferred our stuff from apartment to hostel and then headed out for dinner. We went to a place that specializes in Alsatian pizza. Effectively white pizza on flat bread, there were a bewildering array of options that somehow all seemed to involve bacon. They're the perfect food after a long day of walking, especially when matched with sparkling lemonade (or lemonade-beer for the more adventurous among us). By the time we finished up our meal, it wasn't even 7:30 pm. Not content to end our night so early, but certainly not prepared or qualified to go clubbing in France, we hatched a plan. First stop was as supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine. (The difference between Ireland and France is astounding: a good, moderately priced bottle in Dublin runs about €14, while in Strasbourg the same quality bottle goes sells for €4). Very pleased with that difference, we bought a bottle to split and found a spot by the river to sit and drink. We could not think of a more French way to end the day. 

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