21 September 2012

Out and about in Strasbourg

My one full day in Strasbourg was an opportunity to explore further afield and that mean starting with a tram.

My hotel was next to the station, as usual, and so was convenient for trams too. I bought a 24 hour ticket and was off.

The plan was to head towards the European Parliament and then meander back. That meant changing trams at Republique where I swapped a B for an E.

All of the stops had maps, live tram information and ticket machines so getting around was easy.

The European Parliament sits on a wide bend on one of the many canals that circle the town. On the other bank is the European Court of Human Rights doing its best to look like an alien spacecraft.

The two iconic buildings apart, the European Parliament quarter lacks, well, everything. I am not sure what I was expecting, these are just offices after all and they are fairly exciting ones in a good location.

So having quickly satisfied my curiosity about the seat of European democracy I moved on, this time on foot.

Crossing the water took me to a large park that looked very inviting for somebody looking for somewhere to walk, somebody like me.

It started formally with flower beds and seating but soon I was among trees that had no stricture of their own and hid any structure deeper in the park. Not knowing what was ahead only made the walk more interesting.

There were more flower beds and more seats and then the first big surprise.

I was not expecting a Children's Zoo.

It was small with around twenty smallish pens with a mix of animals and birds, including a few vociferous apes and some colourful parakeets.

Storks are an emblem of Strasbourg so they get to appear here.

The pens were arranged so that all the animals can be seen from the park as you walk past, i.e. there is no zoo as such to go in to and, because of that, no entry fee.

A little further on and the park opened out and became formal again with a lake, a fountain, more flower beds, an artificial island and, thankfully, a cafe. It was time for a beer.

Rested and watered I took the small bridge on to the island. Looking back towards the cafe the scene was calm and peaceful, even the fountain seemed subdued. On the other side of the hill a waterfall ran noisily down some steps to a long pond.

Beyond the pond the garden had a final flourish with neatly trimmed lawns and a classic folly, an open temple of sorts, before giving way to roads, houses and shops.

With no trams going down that road it was time to give the buses ago.

And where better to go than another park.

This green water is in Parc de La Citadelle. The park was busy with people setting up a local community fair - it looked good.

In the centre of the park was a triangle of land, surrounded by water, that rose above the rest of the park offering views and tranquillity as it did so.

The combined effect of the two parks and the gentle strolling through them made for a peaceful morning and early afternoon, and the discoveries and few surprises made it an interesting one too.

Another tram took me back to the edge of the old town where I wanted to resume my explorations from the previous day with the added advantage of some good daylight.

This time I approached Petite France from the suburban south and first crossed the long bridge across the three artificial islands to the south-west tip of Grande Ile.

The buildings at the entrance to the town show signs of old conflicts with sturdy towers and thick walls. There is a long barrier across the water too but I do not know if it is there to deter marauders or rising water or both.

Turning away from the battlements Petite France shows off its comely side.

The shuttered buildings squeeze against each other to make the most of the limited access to the waterway that curves peacefully past them. The bridge built for trade is now strewn with flowers, as they all are in the town.

The houses leave no room for pedestrians, they must pass on the cobbled street behind, and a lone duck is all that breaks the stillness.

Under the trees, more flowers give hope of a beer garden.

The charm of Petite France is almost oppressive, in a good way. It is there wherever you look and there is no easy escape from it. Walking on just shows you even more of the same that seems even prettier than that just left behind.

It is only some time later that the walking does lead to escape and you can pause to catch your breath and to marvel at what you have just witnessed.

It is no coincidence that water features so much in this story of a day pootling around in Strasbourg. Water shapes the town and everywhere the town pays homage to it. And that gives the town its scale, charm and personality.

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