Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Strasbourg. City or Fairy Tale? Part 2.

(The beginning of the story is here.)
Not only culinary delights attract thousands of  tourists. The city itself is unique and its world wide known Cathedral is the jewel in the crown. Though during the WWII the historic core suffered extensive damages from Allies air raids it survived and slowly was restored.
Look at this woodwork at Maison Kammerzell. It's 500 years old
Recently the whole city was unprecedently proclaimed World’s Heritage Site by UNESCO because it persevered as unique urban ensemble since early Middle ages.

I admire those honeycomb windows often covered with lush vines

As Amsterdam already claimed the name of Northern Venice it leaves Strasbourg which is exactly half way in between, what, Semi Northern Venice?  The historical medieval part of Strasbourg is an island surrounded by picturesque canal, that makes it a half-brother to Italian beauty. Otherwise they are completely different but beautiful all the same.
Half-timber colorful houses, maisons de bois, up to 7 stories  the skyscrapers of medieval times with high, golden/red/dark steep rooftops and tiniest mansards, bright flowers overflowing from every window,  many facades covered with elaborate wood carvings. Elegant Baroque hotels particuliers, Art Deco houses and Renaissance villas, beautifully laid out squares,  giant lush weeping willows  dropping their branches into water of busy canal  bubbling with tourist boats running back and forth via narrow lock with revolting bridge, the swans floating in lazy slow motion oblivious to all this hubbub, beautiful quais mostly overtaken with cute restaurants  and huge centuries old trees still enjoying their glorious reflections.
The remnants of fortifications, towers, bridges, spires and churches.

22 years old Mozart was playing in this city in 1778, with its well known university and flourishing culture one of the main centers of the European Enlightenment / Aufklarung…….
Goethe at the same young age a few years earlier was studying there and walking these streets. He loved Strasbourg but couldn’t foresee his own statue on Place de l’Universite at that time of course.

There are cities glorious and glamorous. One simply can’t call Paris or London or NY with all their grandeur cute.  Strasbourg with its elaborate doll houses is fabulously idyllic and cute. Add to that relaxed pace and slow down rhythm and you’ll get a perfect vocation spot not to mention dozens of delicious pastry shops which were endlessly tempting with their sweet offerings and ice-creams of uncounted flavors, each window a masterpiece of Choco-berry-vanilla-cinnamon perfection.
Cobble streets and narrow passages of a medieval city, quiet late walks and peaceful river splashes, far away laughs and a glow in the night reflected in twinkling water.

To be continued.
See you soon.

All images © Natalie Rapoport

Friday, February 8, 2013

Strasbourg. City or Fairy Tale illustration? Part 1.

Welcome to Strasbourg, the heart of Alsace. 
Strasbourg is famous for its maisons de bois, half timber houses, Fachwerkhous

Like  maybe all cities on the border between two countries, whose history was torn apart so many times and the identity war-fully and peacefully disputed over the centuries, they have the best advantages of both worlds as well.

Tested by time, distilled to the very best, only the most beautiful, delicious and admirable stays: architecture, cuisine, customs are so tightly entwined, better to say absorbed and dissolved.
If there’s a word Spanglish, there should be Franc-Deutsch or something to reflect this duality of two sided coin.
That is certainly the case with Strasbourg the central city of the French province of Alsace. Even judging from the names one can easily know it was originally German  mentioned as Strazburg (fortress at the crossroads) since 9th century, proudly independent city  since 13th century, later a prosperous independent republic in  14th with city government and guilds long time before Louis XIV decided that it should be His foreign province retaining its independent status and Protestant majority. Since then it’s French, though the Germans weren’t particularly happy about it and tried to get it back on several occasions including two World Wars.

Nevertheless this is the status quo and today citizens and visitors can freely walk across the bridge from one country to another without even noticing it and German language is far much more spoken here than French, at least in the tourist crowd.

Not to mention that this is an ideal place for several European institutions like
Council of Europe, European Parliament, International Institute of Human Rights and several other significant seats.
There are many instances when different cultures friendly co-exist sharing the area but not mixing, like water and oil. But in this case it looks and feels like everything was shaken and stirred in one homogeneous solution to bring to life a unique creation: Alsatian 50/50 split. It shows everywhere like in the name Maison Kammerzell, one of the most beautiful ornate medieval houses well preserved on Cathedral square since early 15th century. It’s unique and typical for Strasbourg to have La/Le+French word+German last name of the founder or vice versa. Such a great example of mutual adaptation.
The woodcarving is so elaborate 
(Unlike something I experienced in Belgium where beautiful Bruxelles is totally French speaking,  in and out French, when no less wonderful Brugge (Bruges) is only 30 min away and completely Flemish and deaf to French, but very friendly to English. But actually it’s the same thing going on with Quebec and the rest of Canada and I’m still wondering why the differences should be emphasized in unfriendly manner if they could be celebrated to benefit. But of course it’s a rhetoric question.)

Back to Strasbourg.
The fruitful fusion is proudly reflected in Alsatian cuisine predominantly German with its staple recipes of choucroute (French for  Sauerkraut, sour cabbage with variety of meats and sausages) and baeckeoffe , baked potato-meat casserole) and  flammekueche (tarte flambee, flame cake, sort of a very thin crusty pizza savory or sweet with fruits topping). The portions are famously uber generous so one casserole is a plenty for two. And when you lift that  heavy ceramic cover and breathe in  those delicious aroma – you’re already in love with Alsace even if you still haven’t seen Strasbourg…
Alsatian vines light and semi dry (or semi sweet) Rieslings I grew  to be a huge fan of sanc doute….
And after such a happy meal and a glass of chilled local white the city appeared to be even more beautiful, but it is indeed.
This restaurant looked so inviting and tables were set so nicely
Stay tuned my friends.
To be continued...

All images © Natalie Rapoport