Settling into Our First Evening in Strasbourg France

Settling into Our First Evening in Strasbourg France

It was quite the journey just getting to Strasbourg, France from Charleston, South Carolina.  First there were the flights from Charleston to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Paris Charles de Gaulle.  Then there was the taxi ride through the worst rain storm Paris has ever seen, then a few hours to kill at Gare de l’Est train station, and the comfortable high speed train to Strasbourg.  From there, it was just a short taxi ride to our hotel, the Strasbourg Hilton, which is not far from the historic center (just a couple of tram stops to the north).  Once we got there, we could finally relax, and settle into our first evening in Strasbourg.

After setting things up in the hotel room a bit – you know, hanging up shirts in the closet and putting the tooth brush in the bathroom, et cetera – we were ready to head into “town.”  That is, we were going to take our first stab at taking Strasbourg’s tram to the Grand Ile, the rather compact island where life in Strasbourg began, and where most of the historic things in the city are concentrated (the cathedral, museums, and so on).  We later discovered that you can buy individual tram tickets (with exact change) at most of the stops, but to be sure, we got some from the concierge desk of the hotel (they were happy to just add them to our hotel bill – how nice is that?).  And once we oriented ourselves upon leaving the hotel, we found the three block walk to the Lycée Kléber tram stop very short indeed.

Four stops, and maybe fifteen minutes later, we were in the heart of the Grand Ile.  And good thing too, because we were hungry, and it was in fact dinner time, and we found a restaurant nearby – called Kohler-Rehm, it sits right on the eastern edge of one of the city’s main squares, Place Kléber.  We sat down, and I ordered a typical Alsatian dish, Choucroute garnie – pork products like sausage and boiled potatoes stewed with sauerkraut (that’s the “choucroute” part of the name).  Above you see a photo of my dinner.  Gets me hungry all over again just looking at it!

Once we had some dinner, the gravity of all we had done that day just in getting to Strasbourg started weighing on us.  So we put off further exploration for the next day, and hopped back onto the tram, and fell right into bed once we were back at the Hilton.  A long exhausting day, but with a very satisfying finish.

Posted in Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, France, German Food, Restaurants, Sausage, Strasbourg, Train travel, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Overview of Three Weeks in Rome and Venice Italy

Overview of Three Weeks in Rome and Venice Italy

After our month-long trip in July of 2016, we decided that we wanted to do another long trip like that.  This time, for the last three weeks of October, we visited Italy – one week staying at a Hilton Garden Inn Hotel to the northeast of Rome’s historic center, and two weeks in an apartment in Venice’s quiet hamlet of Cannaregio.  And it was just as magical and incredible as you might imagine.

I had read lots of travelogues of Rome and Venice while I was planning our itinerary, and in Rome especially, there were lots of people who expressed disappointment in the food.  So I was a little wary, first of all about how much good food without dairy I might be able to find, and secondly, how much good food of any sort we might encounter.  The good news is we did great, and I did great.  I would say that in three weeks, we had maybe two meals that were not great.  The rest?  Lots of good food, and some of the best meals we found in unexpected places!

Now Italy is full of historic sights on a scale that even France doesn’t reach, I don’t think.  And of course both Rome and Venice have sights that are incredible, almost sickeningly popular.  Let’s start with the latter – many cruise ships stop at Venice, and untold numbers make a bee-line for the Piazza San Marco, with St. Mark’s Basilica and the Campanile and the Doge’s Palace (as well as Harry’s Bar and Caffe Florio).  We did our best to schedule our visits to that part of the city on day’s when no cruise ships were docked on Venice (I will share with you at least one website that gives you that information); and even then, things were busy, but not so much so that it made it impossible to enjoy the majestic square.

Therese in Front of St. Peter’s Dome in Rome

Then there was Rome and its juggernaut of popular sights – the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Forum and the accursed Trevi Fountain (give me any other Bernini fountain but that one, please!).  We did spend time at the first two (as you can see from the photo above), but did our best to limit the damage to our souls from being crammed in with a million of our closest friends paying homage to the thing we are programmed to believe is culture.  I will tell you more about how well we did avoiding the crowds, which to me were insane even though we were there in October, far from the height of the tourist season (God bless the poor folks who do a trip like ours in the middle of June!).

Anyway, so as usual, keep checking back – as I get more and more of the stories posted, you can check here to link to them.  The three weeks went something like this:

1. Friday, October 6 to Saturday, October 7: traveling to Italy.

2. Saturday, October 7: first day in Rome.

3. Sunday, October 8: Braving the crowds at the Colosseum.  Also visiting San Pietro in Vincoli, and San Clemente.

4. Monday, October 9: Early morning at the Sistine Chapel.  Gelato at Frigidarium and shopping at the Traveler’s Bookstore.

5.  Tuesday, October 10: MACRO (modern art museum); the Borghese Gallery; dinner at Il Viaggio.

6.  Wednesday, October 11: Our self-guided walking tour of Bernini’s masterpieces in Rome – Santa Maria della Vittoria; Fontana della Api; lunch at Pane e Salame; Pantheon and its Fountain; Elephant and Obelisk Bernini Sculpture; Bibliothe for healing snacks; Piazza Navona; dinner at Mastro Ciccia.

7. Thursday, October 12: Villa Farnesina; Tonnarello for lunch; Santa Maria della Trastevere; Piazza Venezia; Piazza del Campidoglio; Capitoline Museums; dinner at the Hotel Forum.

8. Friday, October 13: Our day of exploring Rome’s Mosaics.  Santa Maria Maggiore; Lunch at Antico Caffe Santamaria; Santa Pudenziana; Santa Prassede; San Giovanni in Laterano; healthy sweets at Oliva Dolci.

Okay, this is only what we did in Rome.  Unbelievable how much we accomplished during this trip.  We know well that it is going to be hard, maybe impossible, to ever plan a trip that will be more excellent than this one.  Onward to Venice/Venezia.

Day 9, Saturday October 14. Taking the train to Venezia; taking a water taxi from the train station to our incredible apartment; exploring the Cannaregio neighborhood.

10.  Sunday, October 15.  Madonna dell’orto; getting a peek at the Lagoon; Lunch at Ristorante Diana; making chicken with 40 cloves of garlic.

11.  Monday, October 16: Piazza San Marco – getting a Museum pass at Museo Correr; the Doge’s Palace; Lunch at Ristorante Trovatore; San Zaccario; Gelato Fantasy.

12.  Tuesday, October 17: The Accademia Gallery; Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti; Gelato Fantasy again!

13.  Wednesday, October 18: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari; lunch at Trattoria dona onesta; Scuola Grande di San Rocco; Band concert in the square; Gelato Il Doge.

14.  Thursday, October 19: Day trip to Verona – Piazza Bra and the Arena; Piazza delle Erbe; Piazza dei Signori; Basilica of Sant’ Anastasia; Castel San Pietro Hill; lunch at Re Teodorico; the Baptistery; the Duomo; L’arte di Gelato.

15.  Friday, October 20: Peggy Guggenheim Collection; Punta della Dogana.

At around this point, we realized we hardly had to extend ourselves to seeing too many sights, to just have an absolutely fabulous time.  The mass of incredible experiences we’d already had was such that we were riding the wave of enjoying ourselves.  Each new thing just delighted us that much more.

16.  Saturday, October 21: Boat ride to Torcello; lunch at Villa 600 (Go risotto!); Burano with its Lace Museum; Gelato Dai Fradei; Esse cookies; Mea Libera Tutti Sas.

17.  Sunday, October 22: Palazzo Grassi; Gelateria Paolin.

18.  Monday, October 23: Trattoria da Denis; Scuola Grande San Giorgio degli Sciavoni; Santi Giovanni e Paolo; Rosa Salva Gelato.

19.  Tuesday, October 24: Rialto Fish Market; Lunch at Osteria Banco Giro; Palazzo Museum Mocenigo; Fontega delle Dolcezze; Ca’ Pesaro.

20.  Wednesday, October 25: Day trip to Padova – Scrovegni Chapel; Palazzo della Ragione; Piazza dei Signore; Baptistery to the Duomo; University of Padova tour; Gelato from Ciokkolate; Prato della Valle; Basilica of Sant Antonio.

21.  Thursday, October 26: Isola San Giorgio; San Giorgio Maggiore; shopping for the violin mask; Suso Gelatoteca.

22.  Friday, October 27: Lunch at Bistrot de Venise; Museo Correr; Biblioteca Marciana; Suso Gelatoteca once again.

23.  Saturday, October 28 – Monday, October 30: returning home.  Staying at the Rome Airport Hilton, and the JFK Airport Hilton.

So much.  It will take me a while to get all these posts written.  Bear with me.


Posted in Cafes, Churches, Countries, Dairy Free, Food, Italian food, Italy, Markets, Museums, Padova, Restaurants, Rome, Train Stations, Travel, Venice, Verona | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flying from Charleston to Paris through Atlanta

Flying from Charleston to Paris through Atlanta

Normally I don’t take much time to consider how I get from one place to another – I just look forward to getting there, and starting my vacation!  But of course the how of traveling is something many travelers put a lot of effort into.  For our trip to Strasbourg, France last July, for example, there were a few steps – from Charleston to Atlanta, then from Atlanta on to Paris, and lastly, a train ride to Strasbourg.

Artwork in Atlanta Hartsfield Airport

To be practical, while in Charleston Airport, I stopped off at their Caviar and Bananas kiosk (my favorite gourmet deli in Charleston), to get a sandwich (just in case the food on the flight was inedible) and some snacks.  Then it was on to Atlanta.

I am not a huge fan of Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, but on this occasion, our time there was pretty painless.  We did get to see some of the airport’s artwork, which was nice.

Shrimp Salad, Fruit Salad and Quinoa Salad on Flight 82

People who have heard me talk about flying know how little luck I have in getting good dairy free food on an airplane.  In recent years I have taken to not alerting the airline of my allergy and trying to order a dairy free meal, because I have been disappointed in the results so often.  But I have recently had good luck with Delta – they sometimes have a simple salad with chicken or shrimp on it, and in this case, on Flight 82 to Paris, they had a nice shrimp salad.  It does help to have a seat somewhere near the front of the economy section on the airplane, because these sorts of salads are popular and will run out long before the flight attendants get to the last rows of the airplane.

My Delta Flight Video Screen

I had a good flight over all, I have to say.  Therese and I both watched lots of movies – Delta’s video interface is pretty good.  I also played lots of free cell solitaire on my phone, my favorite phone card game.

And as usual, I got no sleep on the airplane – a nuisance that I come to adjust to.  But otherwise, it was a pretty smooth flight to Paris.  When we got there, a deluge awaited us – first, a serious scrum of people at the Border Patrol at Charles de Gaulle Airport (which took more than an hour to get through), and then a literal deluge, a downpour of near historic proportions.  But that, as they say, is another story.

Posted in Airplane flights, Airplane food, Charleston, Countries, France, Paris, South Carolina, Travel, United States | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Secrets de Table and La Marseillaise Conclude First Strasbourg Day

Secrets de Table and La Marseillaise Conclude First Strasbourg Day

I have already told you about my visit to Strasbourg Cathedral and the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame with Therese.  In this post, I will tell you the rest of what happened on that day, our first in Strasbourg, including meals at Secrets de Table and La Marseillaise and some other adventures.

So for lunch, we let our eyes direct us, and just off the main street back from the cathedral, we spied a terrace restaurant with some potential, Secrets de Table.

Secrets de Table

While Therese went inside to get in line to order, I found us a table outside.  She brought me back a dish that was perfect: a warm quinoa salad with roasted vegetables and chicken (and of course, no butter or other offending dairy ingredients).  That was perfect.

After our lunch, I sadly had to walk Therese to the Sofitel hotel, where her workshop would begin, and say goodbye for now.  After I left her, I decided to wander a bit – perhaps to scout out possible dinner restaurants for us for later in the week, or just to see something interesting that wouldn’t necessarily make it into a guidebook.

I found the utterly charming street, the Rue Sainte-Helene.

On the one hand, this street had the kind of ancient looking, beautifully decorated houses one expects to find in such a historic city.  On the other hand, at one end of it (it is only like 2 blocks long) lies one of the city’s movie theaters, housed in what looks like a pop-art 1960s building.  Totally kitschy and fun.

From the end of Rue Sainte-Helene, I made my way back to the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame and spent a few more hours exploring what turned out to be an extensive collection (as I have described previously).  When I was done there, I was feeling like it was time for some refreshment.  Luckily not far away was Place Gutenberg, named after the man who pioneered the printing press (yep, he was from Strasbourg).

In the middle of the square is an old-fashioned merry-go-round, and on one side are a couple of restaurants with outdoor seating.  I picked the one that had more attractive table cloths, Aux Armes de Strasbourg, and ordered my favorite French beverage, Diabolo de Menthe (mint syrup and club soda/seltzer), and some strawberry sorbet (these two items were actually on the menu together as an option).  The sorbet tasted like the strawberries had just been picked from the vine (and indeed, in France strawberries are still in season in July – tell me again why I don’t live there?).  An utterly perfect refreshment.

By then, it was nearly time to pick up Therese from her workshop, so I walked back to the Sofitel.  Since I was a few minutes early, I decided to visit the church across the street (when I tell you that everywhere you turn on Strasbourg’s Grand Ile, there is another historic church, I am not kidding).  St-Pierre-le-Jeune is one of Strasbourg’s Protestant churches (although you have to be careful, because they also have a similarly named church which is a Catholic church – the city was definitely the front lines for the religious wars).

Lovely cloister, incredible altar painting, a touch of original frescos on the wall, and an ancient iron staircase – lots to love in this church.

So I had made a dinner reservation that night at La Marseillaise, a restaurant just one tram stop from where we were.  But unfortunately, Therese had to work that evening (poor Therese), preparing a report on her computer before the next day’s meetings.  So we asked the waiter at the restaurant if we could get food for takeaway.  He thought for a minute and said yes.  You know what they did?  They found a couple of dinner plates that had chips in them (which they probably were going to throw away anyway), put our orders on them, and covered them with aluminum foil and put them in a sack for us to take back to the hotel.  A bit unusual, but it worked.

Choucroute Garnie from La Marseillaise Restaurant

So we concluded our first lovely day in Strasbourg with dinner in our hotel room, with a beautiful sunset taking place just outside our window.  Life is good, my friends.

Sunset from our Hotel in Strasbourg

Posted in Dairy Free, Dessert, Dinner, Food, France, Lunch, Sorbet, Strasbourg | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Daytrip to Colmar, France on Fête Nationale 2017

Our Daytrip to Colmar, France on Fête Nationale 2017

During most of our week in Strasbourg, Therese was in workshops with her company and its client, while I was free to roam about and explore.  Toward the end of the week, though, her workshop finished and we had the better part of two days to explore together before we headed back to Paris, and from there, back to Charleston.  We decided to use one of those days, which also happened to be France’s independence day or Fête Nationale, to do a daytrip.  And while there are a number of storybook Alsatian villages not far from Strasbourg, we settled on visiting Colmar for two reasons.  One, it was a place that Therese had heard about but never yet visited (I always love to travel with her to places in Europe where she’s never been), and two, I heard that Colmar was home to the Unterlinden Museum and its famous Isenheim Altarpiece.

The train from Strasbourg to Colmar is very easy to navigate.  Since there are many trains a day (I think there is one about every half hour to hour), it was possible to buy them from the train station just a couple days ahead.  And it is a short ride, only about a half an hour.  The Colmar train station is small but functional – probably the most noteworthy thing I noticed was its machine that dispenses pharmaceuticals (I have never seen that before anywhere, and I have traveled on five continents!).

The train station is not far from the center of town, but to save our energy for traipsing about the museum and the town center, we took a short taxi ride to the Musee Unterlinden.  It is directly across the street from the town’s Tourist office (which we stopped in to get a city map, all the better to navigate our way through the town’s highlights), and both opened around the same time, I believe it was 10am.

This was the second year in a row that we were in France on their Fête nationale, and we were curious to see how much would be open on the holiday.  The previous year, we had discovered that not much was open in Rouen on that date.  And in this case, we had chosen to travel on the holiday because my research showed that there was not much to do in Strasbourg on the holiday.  Well, to make a long story less long, it turned out that nearly everything was open and operating on the holiday in Colmar, starting with its famous museum.

The museum is housed in a former convent (more on that later), and after buying your tickets, the first thing you do is pass through the cloister of the convent.  Then you pass in to a series of galleries – I’m not sure if this was a permanent installation, but it highlighted the work of local Renaissance-period artist Martin Schongauer.

We found Schongauer’s attention to detail exquisite and his portrayal of the characters’ features to be very personal – you could really imagine what these people would be like if they stepped off the canvas and came to life.

There were other period works mixed in with Hongauer’s works.  The most intriguing one for me was an anonymous depiction of St. James and the Miracle of the Roast Chickens.  The story goes that a father whose son was unjustly hanged goes to Compostella (the Medieval religious center that honors St. James the brother of Jesus) and prays for his son, and when he returns, he is told that his son is alive.  Being at dinner, the man says “my son is no more alive than these chickens!”  Immediately, the roast chickens jump off the plate and dance around the room.  To us, this may sound ridiculous, but if you study medieval stories of miracles, so many of them are a lot like this.

At the end of this series of galleries is an entrance into what must have formerly been the convent’s chapel.  It is now home to the Isenheim Altarpiece.

The altarpiece is many layered, with a sculptured carved altar created by an artist named Niklaus Hagenhauer at its base.  Attached to this altar are several paintings created by Matthias Grunewald depicting different religious scenes on hinges, so that depending on which of these wings were opened or closed, the penitents attending mass might see one or more of these scenes, including the Crucifixion, the Nativity, a concert of angels, or the trials of St. Anthony.

For the sake of viewing the entirety of this masterpiece, the many layered paintings of the altarpiece are displayed separated, hanging in sequence down the middle of the room, so that you can see both sides of every canvas (since the paintings are double-sided).  On the wall next to the paintings, a small wooden model shows how it all fit together, and you can open and close the various wings to see what scenes are mixed with which.

Calling this collection of religious art a masterpiece doesn’t do it.  The serenity on the face of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child, contrasted with the disturbing beasts tormenting St. Anthony, show an artist of supreme talents working at the pinnacle of his art.  I’m sure that many people come to Colmar just to see this artwork, and I am also sure that they walk away completed satisfied.  It’s magnificent.

Displayed around the former chapel were also some representative art of the period, and some details of the chapel itself that have survived, such as a fresco of the Crucifixion.

After seeing that, the question was, does this museum contain anything else?  Well, they did have a temporary exhibit on cast and wrought iron – one of our favorite things since seeing the Musee Secq des Tournelles in Rouen last summer.  Much of the pieces were signs used to identify shops during the Renaissance.  Lots of fun stuff!

Also there were a couple small rooms that contained various artworks.  I enjoyed seeing the mold of Strasbourgeoise, the woman in typical Renaissance Strasbourg clothing, with the incredibly wide hat.  I had seen a woman depicted in similar clothing in Strasbourg’s Beaux Arts Museum earlier in the week, so I knew exactly what this was.

3 Sausages with Fries and Salad

The time was passing quickly, and it was already time for lunch.  Just a few blocks away, in the middle of the city, were several restaurants with outdoor seating.  We sat down at the Brasserie des Domicains.  I ordered a dish of three sausages with fries, pretty simple stuff, but good.  It was only after I began eating that I realized that one of the sausages was stuffed with cheese!  Well, the truth was, two sausages and lots of fries (and a green salad) was plenty to fill me up.

Just as we finished lunch, it began to drizzle.  As we walked a block to our next destination, the Dominican Church, the drizzle turned into a deluge.  We scampered into the church, along with a bunch of other folks escaping the rain.  When the docents inside the church announced that there was a small fee (I think like 2 Euros) to see the church, most of the people left, braving the rain.  But of course we remained.

Happily, this rain shower was short-lived, and when we left the church a little while later, the sun was already coming out.  So rather than visit more churches and such, we decided to make the most of the sunshine and good weather by walking to the area of Colmar known as “Little Venice” for a boat ride.  While it doesn’t look much like Venice to us, there is a canal here, bordered by old houses and some forested sections.  It reminded me more of taking a boat ride in Bruges, Belgium.

Anyway, we found a tavern (called Wistub La Krutenau) that sold tickets for the boat ride, and not long after, with the sun now blazing away, we went for the half-hour ride.  Ducking under the low bridges was fun, and the few minutes in the woodsy part of the ride were a respite from the urban feeling of the town.

Now, nothing to me goes so well with a hot afternoon as a nice bowl of cold ice cream (or sorbet for me).  And sure enough, about halfway back towards the middle of town, we found a nice place to get both, the Sorbetiere d’Isabelle.  They had many varieties of sorbet for me to choose from, and lots of intriguing ice cream desserts for Therese.  Indeed, I don’t usually include pictures of food that isn’t dairy free in my posts, but I thought her dessert was so attractive looking that some would enjoy seeing it.

With our bellies happily full of dessert, we walked through more of the fairytale streets of Colmar (especially Rue des Marchands).  Some of it seems a bit overdone for the sake of the tourists, but there are streets that give an authentic feeling of Medieval urban living.  And of course, you can find houses with the typical shutters with heart-shaped openings.  The story goes that houses with those shutters have eligible young ladies inside who are waiting for men to come and sweep them off their feet.  But I doubt the shutters are changed frequently enough to keep up with the love affairs of those houses’ residents!

The afternoon was passing by, but we had a little more time to kill before we had to steer in the direction of the train station.  I thought it would be fun to see their Covered Market, about which I had heard good things.

Ah, but what do you know?  This was the first thing we found that was closed for the holiday!  Oh well – it was nice seeing it from the outside.

My Colmar map showed several other noteworthy places to stop along our walk back to the train station.  So we headed that way, and took note of what we saw – mainly statues of local celebrities, created by Auguste Bartholdi, a resident of Colmar who we Americans know for having been the designer of our Statue of Liberty.  We also saw a large fountain in the middle of a lovely park whose sculptures we found less attractive than those made by Monsieur Bartholdi.

Not long after, we were on the train and back to Strasbourg.  We took the tram back to our hotel, and arrived there just in time to enjoy the “happy hour” snacks and drinks in our Hilton Hotel Strasbourg‘s executive lounge.  Ah, what a successful and lovely day!

Strasbourg Hilton Executive Lounge

Posted in Churches, Colmar, Countries, Dairy Free, Dessert, Food, France, German Food, Museums, Sausage, Sorbet, Strasbourg, Train Stations, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame is Extraordinary

Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame is Extraordinary

Yes indeed, the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg is extraordinary.  Normally, I wouldn’t give it all away in the title.  In the course on blog writing that I took at NYU years ago that led me to start this blog, we were taught to create titles that inferred things, but drew the reader in to find out more.  I am sure that the instructor, if he saw this title, would shake his head with disapproval.  But what can I say?  I will expand on this them, but without a doubt, this is the best museum I saw in Strasbourg, and maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Medieval Capitol

Therese had a half day to sightsee with me before going to her afternoon workshop.  So we had begun the day by visiting the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral (I will tell you all about that in a separate post).  And since the museum is just across the plaza from the side of the cathedral, I had planned that this would be our first museum in Strasbourg.

The museum’s premise is that to save some of the most precious (and most fragile/vulnerable) parts of the cathedral building from the ravages of wars, religious and otherwise, these things were stored away.  Originally, it is possible that the intention was to return these valuables to their positions in the cathedral after the fighting was over.  But instead, what happened was that copies were made to take the place of the originals in and around the cathedral, and this museum was opened instead to house these jewels.  And I say jewels because, well, take a look at stained glass above this paragraph.  The richest colors I have ever seen, some of the most incredible stained glass I have ever seen, and from the twelfth century, no less.  The surviving original windows in the cathedral may be just as impressive, but some are dirty, and all are positioned so far from the human’s eye view, that it is hard to get a good look at them.  But here are some of those panels, just stupendously gorgeous, and just a foot from you.  Wow.

12th Century Virgin Mary

Take this stained glass of the Virgin Mary, for example.  Without question one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen.  All those visitors to France who want to clamor around Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre can have it – just let me stare at this for hours.  And again, my friends, this was created in the 12th century.  Pretty incredible if you ask me.

Therese Listening to Audio Guide

Therese was as impressed as I was by the first few rooms within this museum.  And free with our admission fee was an audio guide in English that gave lots of colorful description of the pieces collected in the museum.

In a small passage were collected these delightful dob statues – again, pieces that were removed from the facade of the cathedral.

The Church and Synagogue

The next large room contained many very interesting pieces of sculpture.  The first that caught my eye were these two statues that go together of “the Church” and “the Synagogue.”  Of course, in a time when only a few people could read, the statuary and stained glass windows in a cathedral were teaching tools.  Here, for example, was an attempt to reinforce how Christianity was a redemption of Judaism, its predecessor.  Synagogue is troubled with a veil literally over her face, and a posture of despair.  Church looks at her with an attitude of triumph.  I leave you with that – I do not share the lesson conveyed here, obviously, but I find it very interesting.

Next was a very curious group of virtuous and unvirtuous maids and the tempter who is trying to corrupt them.  The virtuous maids hold a cup right side up, while the corrupted hold their cups upside down.  The tempter looks attractive and wears a big smile, but when you look at his back, you see he is covered with serpents and toads, a vile disgusting creature.

The far end of the room was dominated by a large triangular piece of stone figures, which was lifted (or at least what remained of it was lifted after a good deal of damage had already been done) from the facade of the cathedral.  Above you see what has been saved in the museum, including the many curious gargoyles and monsters adoring its many crevices.  Here is the section of the western front of the cathedral with the triangles many figures reconstructed:

Western Tympanum and Triangle

So you get an idea from this of how much damage was done by war over the centuries in Strasbourg.

Therese accompanied me this far in the museum, but it was now time for her to head to her workshop, which was taking place at the Strasbourg Sofitel.  We left the museum (the attendant at the desk assured me I could return later in the day if I wished) and had some lunch in the middle of the city, and then I walked her to the hotel, and decided I would return to the museum to see how much more the collection entailed.  And in short, it entailed a great deal more than I expected.

First, I spent more time in the rooms we had already seen.  For example, while I have already shared with you some of the stained glass on display, I had to take more photos and share them with you.  I am crazy for the medieval ornament, and to see these many examples, so close up and in such vivid bright colors, was such a privilege.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Then there were other details, such as a trefoil, on display, as well was a sorrowful crucifixion scene and a panel of the Archangel Gabriel (I have given you a close up of the delicated piece of glass depicting his face).

After passing once again through the large room with the triangle from the cathedral face, there was the opportunity to go in one of two directions.  To the right was the museum garden, so I decided to go there first.  Strasbourg’s weather is a bit cooler than, say, Paris, but in mid-July it was still pretty warm (and sticky), and this museum like the vast majority of buildings in Europe was un-air-conditioned.  So it was nice to leave behind the warm museum for some cool fresh air in the garden.  And I enjoyed getting to see the outside of one of the sections of the museum that resembles a half-tempered house.

Returning to the museum, the other direction took me to a staircase to a passage upstairs.  From this point onwards, most of the collection is no longer pieces saved from the cathedral – rather, it consists of art (much but not all of a religious nature) precious to the region.  First, I saw a room filled with ceramics that were made in or near Strasbourg – for example, apparently for some reason it was popular at one time to make glasses in the shape of a pineapple.

Next was perhaps the second most precious collection of artworks in the museum (after the twelfth-century stained glass saved from the cathedral I had seen downstairs).  This was several stained glass windows saved from Strasbourg’s Sainte-Madeleine Church.  The church was completed in the fifteenth century, but sadly was burned to the ground in 1904.  A meticulous effort was undertaken to rescue individual pieces of glass after the fire and painstakingly reconstruct them into full windows.  As you can see, the artwork, by a famous stained glass artist of the time named Peter Hemmel, is superb.  In a completely different style from the earlier stained glass in the museum’s collection, these windows nevertheless contain once again the most vivid colors, enlivening scenes such as that of Christ washing the disciples feet, seen here and at the beginning of this post.

On these upper floors were displayed several examples of local highly esteemed artists who worked in Strasbourg or were born there.  For example, one room celebrated the famous Renaissance sculptor Nikolaus Gerhaert van Leyden.

Alongside his masterpiece “Man Meditating” (which some have said is a self-portrait) are other splendid late-15th century small sculptures, such as one of an elderly man that I really loved.

Some unattributed works in the collection were equally impressive, such as the painting of the Virgin in a Garden and a series on the popular Medieval/Renaissance subject of St. Ursula and her Companions.

On a number of occasions, I was reminded that the building that contained this museum was as impressive, as worthy of my attention, as the artworks displayed in its rooms.  The bare wooden rafters, ancient and simple, were lovely to see, and the spiral staircases that offered the most speedy way in and out of the museum were also lots of fun (if a bit tricky to negotiated).

Portrait of a Young Man, or Self-Portrait, by Hans Baldung Grien

A second celebrated artist of local repute represented on these upper floors is Hans Baldung Grien.  His Portrait of a Young Man is (just as with the Gerhaert sculpture) considered to be a self-portrait.

Paneled Room

The paneled room pictured above was not the only room in the museum similarly decorated in a period manner.  It looked like it would be a wonderful place to pass an afternoon with a good book and a cup of hot (or iced) tea.

I would not have been so crass, however, as to consider pouring my beverage into one of the lovely glasses I saw on display in the next room.  The one that fascinated me the most was the cobalt blue blown glass of some sort of fanciful mythic creature which I gather is something you pour your wine into to then put ice into the second opening for cooling your drink.

Finally, at the end of an incredibly fruitful afternoon’s exploration, I arrived at the last, quite large room, one filled with furniture, whose windows were decorated with a number of later stained glass pieces saved from the cathedral.  I was so satisfied to have seen such an extraordinary collection of art, grateful that there were those who had had the foresight to save this art from the destruction of war, and happy that others had the generosity of spirit to allow these works to be displayed for our enrichment.

Posted in Churches, Countries, France, Museums, Strasbourg, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hanging Out in Gare de l’Est Train Station in Paris

Hanging Out in Gare de l’Est Train Station in Paris

Normally, I would not want to hang out in a train station for long.  And truth be told, we wouldn’t have stayed in Gare de l’Est for even an hour if things had gone our way (more on that later).  But circumstances dictated that our wisest cause of action was to stay there for a few hours before boarding our train to Strasbourg, where our trip was meant to take place (for the most part – we did have some Paris time planned, but that was on the back end of the trip).

So yes, here is how it all went.  We arrived in Paris early in the morning, and even after spending a couple hours going through customs (man, the line for non-Europeans moves slowly…), and a long taxi ride from the airport to the train station through the most intense rainstorm I have ever seen in France (if this had been Charleston, that storm would have been average), we still had a chance to maybe take an earlier train to Strasbourg.  You see, I had made a reservation for a 12:30ish train, but there was also a 9:30ish train.

So as soon as we got our bearings in Gare de l’Est, I made my way to a self-service machine to print out our tickets.  These are usually yellow, but for some reason, the new machines are white – they thought they could confuse me by changing the color, but I managed to find the machine anyway!  Haha!

SNCF Self-service Machines

To now exchange our tickets for an earlier train, we would have to speak to a human being, and here is where Therese’s firm grasp of the French language came in handy.  It took talking to a couple people, but we finally found the train ticket office, and once there, we were directed to the line where we could do exchanges.  But sorry to say, the man listened to our request, and told us the earlier train was sold out.  Quel dommage!

Now that we had a few hours to kill, the first thing we thought of was having a proper breakfast.  I was willing to settle for some cold cuts on a baguette, but Therese insisted we find the station’s restaurant.  Which we did, and for sure, it was a good thing to really sit and eat something substantial.

Breakfast at Brasserie Flo Gare de l’Est in Paris

Once again, after eating my lovely breakfast of a plain omelet with ham (what I would call prosciutto but the French call “bacon”) and a simple salad of greens with dressing.  Man, how is it possible that something so simple could be so delicious and satisfying?  That is French cooking for you in a nutshell.

That was also the first decent food we had had in many hours (I will talk about the dinner on the plane the previous night elsewhere).  With that in my belly, in spite of the fact that I had not slept in nearly 24 hours, I felt pretty stable.

How to kill the rest of our 3 free hours?  We explored, took a nap, explored some more.  There is a lovely huge painting commemorating World War One – supposedly the only such painting in France (I guess all the other WWI commemorations are statues and the like).

Le Départ des Poilus by Albert Herter

We also thought about getting lunch for the train.  I found some sort of sandwich, while Therese was thrilled to discover that Marks & Spencer, her favorite chain of English delis, has a branch in Gare de l’Est.  She found meat pies in the refrigerator section, an English specialty that can be eaten cold (and whaddaya know, those things were dairy free!  Cool, huh?  But I never did try one…)

Main Entrance to Gare de l’Est from the Interior

After that, we killed some more time by finding a place to sit and taking another nap, and then before you know it, our train was in the station, and we validated our tickets, and boarded the train for Strasbourg.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t take another nap on the train, but before long we would have the chance to get ourselves oriented to France-time.

Posted in Countries, France, Paris, Strasbourg, Train Stations, Train travel, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment