Strasbourg - France's Prom Queen of a City

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
Trip End Oct 08, 2009

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Flag of France  , Alsace,
Monday, August 24, 2009

Strasbourg may be the most attractive city we’ve ever personally seen. Brugge was cute, but Strasbourg is gorgeous and charming. On any future trip we will plan to spend more time here. The buildings, the canals, the spatzle – it is all just too endearing. The same couldn’t be said of our hotel stay.

We booked two nights at the Petite France Regent Hotel because it was smack middle of the most quaint and beautiful part of Strasbourg (which is called "Petite France".) It is an upscale hotel with a champagne bar and a small terrace that is prime real estate for watching the boats float by while being undisturbed by the crowds on the other side of the canal. After you sign in they activate a small light that is in the ceiling above your room’s front door that displays the room number down on the floor. Tres chic. The room itself was huge and had an excellent view over the front canal. It was all very nice until we attempted to reserve a spot for dinner at the restaurant so we could eat on the terrace. It was really the sole reason we chose this place because we figured we would spend a romantic evening at the hotel and really use all their facilities and forego checking out the town until the next day. We were told by the front desk that the restaurant, bar and terrace were off limits due to a wedding party. The restaurant also wasn’t open on Sundays, so we’d have no access at all to it during our stay. It appeared to us that they were doing construction in what probably was normally their banquet room, so they simply shut down all the facilities (we came to use) to all guests outside the wedding party. Marisa was having none of it. She had the desk send out the manager and she read him the riot act over the situation. This was easily the most expensive place we booked for our trip thus far and to not be able to use the facilities or even be notified of the situation was unacceptable. At first he wanted to send us a bottle of champagne to our room, but we had just spent the previous days drinking in Champagne, so no, thank you. I think what made Marisa livid is that he refused to acknowledge that this situation was out of the ordinary and that he was in the wrong by not notifying us previous to arriving so that we could book elsewhere if necessary. I’m fairly certain we weren’t the only guests who were pissed.  They tried to grab some big, quick money while hoping the other guests would put up with the inconvenience. In the end Marisa got him to comp us the Saturday night since we couldn’t use their facilities. I’m pretty sure he just wanted us out of the lobby before the wedding party arrived.

We crossed the canal and through picture perfect streets of cobblestone and 500 year old buildings and sat across from our hotel at an eatery specializing in local Alsatian food. Alsace is an odd region because of the even influence of French and German culture – especially Bavarian. We both had spatzle, the boiled noodle concoction with a spongy texture. I wanted the duck confit with pinot noir on mine, but they brought me the meatball version instead, so I just went with it and it was delicious. Marisa’s came with sautéed mushrooms and garlic herb butter and was equally delicious. Spatzle is probably tasty with just about anything on it. The Alsatian beers settle mostly into blonde, amber and white varieties.   We noticed that most of the restaurants don’t have the beer maker’s name on their menus, just the type of beer. It’s a shame because one of the seasonal whites I had was outstanding, maybe the best beer I’ve had on this trip thus far (sorry, Belgium) and I have no idea who brewed it.

After eating we walked down to the river/canal’s edge and followed the walking path along it while the sun set. No cars or bikes are present, mostly just couples taking in the surrounding atmosphere and romantic feel as it got dark and tour boats putted on by. There are no guard rails or impediments at the river’s edge which may be the reason we didn’t see any little kids on the path. It was nice – it made you feel more connected to the river and we’d find ourselves keeping pace with its slow flow. Small groups of people congregate on the water’s edge throughout Strasbourg for night time picnics – it is really endearing and makes walking anywhere a long the river seem really safe. We randomly left the path and climbed onto an uber quaint street of restaurants that just happened to lead to the city’s biggest church and a very busy social center for tourists and nearby locals. We took pictures of the church at night because the architecture is amazing and stands out even more with the shadows of night time on it. From 10 pm until 12:30 am they had a lighting show on the church that had been going on everyday all summer and this was the last weekend, so the crowd was too big for us to want to stick around. We preferred wandering through the small streets and finding tucked away neighborhoods. I’m sure it was a nice light show, but we’d already caught one in Brussels.

We’re sort of glad we got out Saturday night because, as in most of Europe, not a lot was open on Sunday. The usual tourist shops were open and the tourist area restaurants and bars, but most everything else was shut down. From what I understand more places are normally open here on Sunday, but in August a good portion of the city is gone. This is due to Strasbourg being the seat of a large portion of European Community institutions and they shut down for the month of August, taking with them much of the community. Some neighborhoods were complete ghost towns, but we felt like we had them all to ourselves, so we could explore without impediment.

We returned to our room to find the door left unlocked by the cleaning staff and then our key cards hadn’t been programmed for our second day and didn’t work. This hotel was having an off weekend.

We took our third canal boat tour on this trip and we waited for night time because the city had such a romantic appeal after dark and that was the theme for the stay here. While the Petite France portion is indeed excellent at night, much of the rest should be seen in the day. It was difficult to make much out at night. This tour has a prerecorded commentary and headphones for each person and much of what was discussed we couldn’t really make out in the dark. The exception was a gigantic modern building near the end of the tour that had an amphitheater built inside a huge glass structure. It was stunning at night with hundreds of tiny lights that looked like stars floating in a glass ball.

We also had the poor luck to be seated right in front of an unruly Spanish family (they literally ran onto the boat at the very last moment) that could neither shut up nor sit still. This included the adults (and I’m really using the term loosely) who’s behavior was indistinguishable from their many headed brood. So much for the romantic part.

We’d spent much of the day walking around and in motion, so we ditched our dinner plans and went with room service for the first time because our hotel had 24 hour room service. I repeatedly tried calling from our room, but nobody at reception answered. I went to the front desk and they looked none too happy either about the situation and quickly took my order.

I had fried veal with mushroom risotto; Marisa had the Muenster omelet (of note: so far all omelets have come with salad regardless of when ordered) and we shared a cheese plate. It was delicious. And I’m pretty sure it was the first thing they’d gotten right during our stay.

Local gastronomic items tried:

Spatzle! (Traditional, not the potato kind.)

Tart Flambee, sort of a regional version of pizza. A thin, crisp dough with cheese and ham or bacon. There are various versions of toppings, but that is the classic version.

Breaded, fried cheese: didn’t really catch the true name, but Muenster and Camembert cheese breaded up and fried and served with fried potatoes and sautéed onions.

One I wanted to try, but didn’t because I didn’t want my colon to die a slow painful death: the ubiquitous "Meat Plate". Seriously, this thing had several types of sausages, huge cuts of ham and beef/lamb and other various meat based products. It was a meat mountain. I wanted to climb it, but thought better of my health. 
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Where I stayed
Petite France Regents Hotel
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