Super-fun-snap-happy-tourist-day (first attempt)
My first real day in Strasbourg with nothing planned; no appointments at the school, no viewings to see colocations in search of another tennant, no need to go hunting for a bank that can change travellers’ cheques without a €4 free, no need to go to British-owned mobile phone store to compare British-owned mobile phone networks against each other. So it was time to do my usual James-in-a-foreign country thing, and explore Strasbourg.
As it is, I’m staying temporarily in a postcard of an apartment… a small half timbered building by a bridge over the river, with a little restaurant downstairs. I only have to descend the stairs in the morning to find hoards of winter tourists peering at the menu, or worse, hoards of French school kids (the worst kind) being dragged around the city as part of their history field trip. The tight little cobbled streets of Petit France are all around, and their charms are beginning to wash over me. The advantage of living in a historic town centre is that there is no traffic noise to disturb me: in fact the river outside makes more noise, the sort of comforting background rushing sound that might remind you of a strong persistent wind blowing through a forest.
Near the apartment is the Barage Vauban, a large enclosed bridge designed to protect Strasbourg against any nasty folk who might have tried to invade the city by boat. It’s original purpose is now largely obsolescent (although I suspect the Strasbourgians have got their eye on those sneaky Germans, who are just a few kilometers away) but its rooftop is now open to the public and serves as a rather convenient viewing point onto the river and the edge of Petit France (see the photo above). Just behind the Barage is the large and well curated Musée d’art moderne et contemporaine; which I suspect was named after a particularly stormy committee meeting at which it was finally decided that modern art and contemporary art are two different things. Showing my newly printed student card from the Strasbourg école d’architecture I expected a modest discount, but instead I got in free, as do all local students. This incentive to return more often will no doubt come in very handy: art galleries are much more appealing when you don’t feel obliged by the price of your ticket to try and see everything in one visit.
After an hour in the art gallery (like I said, no need to cram it all in) I headed north, skipping across tram lines and between super-futuristic street-cars. Whoever sold Sheffield our trams obviously cut down on the price; we got the ugly ones (equivilent to a one litre Ford Fiesta, if you will) while Strasbourg got the super sleak nightclubs on wheels.
By the Pont Kuss (Kuss Bridge), a couple of blocks east from the railway station, rue du Maire Kuss crosses the River Ill. Five streets fan out from this bridge on the station side of the bridge, and between two of them is the Café Rive Gauche. I had already decided that I had found my favourite café in Strasbourg, but I think my number one has been supplanted. The Café Rive Gauche is exactly how I remember the Parisian cafés of past holidays. Three rows of cream and red wicker chairs face out from the café onto the busy junction, with little circular tables in between them. People don’t come here to socialise, they come here on their own to smoke a cigarette or two and read the newspaper. It’s a delightful spot to watch the world go by, and to let the world watch you as it goes by. In coming to Strasbourg I follow in the footsteps of generations of Englishmen who have fallen in love with the French way of life. This perfect combination of intersecting pathways and perfectly positioned chairs is how I like my personal interpretation of France to be. I sat and wrote a letter, drank a sweet, strong and dense espresso, and I felt relaxed. Half way through the day, and I had barely achieved my aim of being a meandering tourist.
I’m sure there’ll be time for that later…