Strasbourg, France (December 22, 2019)

We woke up on the German side of the Rhine which is right across the water from France. After breaking our fast with the lightest of meals Dan and I joined our tour group, crossed the bridge into France, and drove to Strasbourg. It was Sunday, so traffic was light.

Our guide was fabulous and did a wonderful job of explaining how it is that this area known as Alsace is so unique. Short story: Between 1648 and 1945 the area flip flopped between Germany and France six times. The people were not relocated, just the national affiliation. Our guide’s grandparents were born when Alsace was part of France, so they studied French, ate French, and followed French customs. Her parents were born when Alsace was part of Germany, so they spoke French at home, studied in German at school, and followed German customs. Our guide was born after World War II when the area was once again French, so she spoke French with her grandparents, German and French with her parents, and studied in French at school. In Alsace beer and wine are equally popular as are sauerkraut and foie gras. The locals are very comfortable being a mix of the two and happily enjoy the longest peacetime in Europe’s history. A poignant reminder of the past is the Monument aux Morts de Strasbourg which is a mourning mother, symbolizing Strasbourg, holding her two sons. One of them died as a French soldier, the other one a German soldier. In death they are holding hands for reconciliation.

Strasbourg is home to the Council of Europe with its 47 member states. This organization dates back to 1949 and has as its charter overseeing peace, human rights, and democracy. We couldn’t help but notice its Court of Human Rights looks like the front of a huge cruise ship. The official seat of the European Parliament is also in Strasbourg. Add a brand new Russian Orthodox Church, 1,000 breeding pairs of storks, a sophisticated tram system that runs on tracks laid for the most part in grassy plots (to muffle the noise), lots of bikes, and an old city center closed to cars in the afternoon, and you have quite an impressive place. Spared heavy bombing during World War II, it has more original old German buildings than large swaths of Germany.

Our tour took us mainly to the ultra-charming old town and its six (or was it seven) Christmas markets with stall after stall of local arts, handicrafts, and popular Christmas treats. Even the rain and cold did not dampen our delight with the charm of the old city center with it cobblestone streets, wooden houses, and picturesque canals. We strolled between the markets, in and out of shops, through the large squares, into the churches, and up and down small alleys with impeccably maintained half timber homes and businesses. Elaborate Christmas decorations were everywhere.

Not keen on getting up early and having been to Strasbourg before, Walter and Cleone grabbed a cab and went into town later with the sole mission of buying nutcrackers. We were all back on the Viking Mani in time for a late lunch. Dan dozed away the afternoon while Walter, Cleone, a new acquaintance from Arizona (Barbara), and I enjoyed tea and cookies. Barbara and I even stayed on to watch the lebkuchen (gingerbread) making demonstration complete with warm samples fresh from the oven and a quick tour of the galley where food for the 175 guests and 50 crew is prepared and stored.

With a late lunch, tea and cookies, and the promise of a sumptuous buffet supper I decided to take a brisk stroll along the water’s edge before dinner. The air was crisp and the rain had stopped. The walkway, bridges in front of and behind the ship, and our ship were lit up, so everywhere I looked was cheerful.

Tonight’s German buffet with its 60+ items did not disappoint. Bavarian table decorations, German wine and beer, giant pretzels, and staff decked out in traditional Bavarian clothing added a bit of flair to the meal. I am not a big fan of German food but found the pork and spaetzle worth a second visit to the buffet line.

Our day ended with Cleone and me going back to our rooms to prep for tomorrow and our guys staying in the common area (the lounge) where they decorated an ornament for the tree, enjoyed refreshments (say what?), and participated in a singalong with the crew. Yes, their participation was a surprise to us too!

... Strasbourg Trivia …

Strasbourg is known as the birthplace of foie gras, invented in 1780.

For 227 years (until 1874) the city’s sandstone cathedral
was the tallest building in the world.

The symbol of the city is the stork.

In 1988, UNESCO recognized the oldest portion of the city (where we were today),
Strasbourg-Grand-Ill, as a World Heritage Site.
This was the first time an entire city center was designated.

Like elsewhere in France, school is mandatory and free from ages three to sixteen.
For those who qualify, college is also free.


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