I’d never been to France before our Rhine River cruise, and if Strasbourg is any indication, I believe I’ll need to go again!
It was an early morning aboard the Viking Lofn. By 8:30, our shore excursion for the day was underway. In the heart of the Alsace region is Strasbourg, the largest port on the Upper Rhine. Because it sits on the border between Germany and France, Strasbourg is a cultural mix – a pleasant blend of old and new, beer and wine, cheese and chocolate. The border is in the middle of the river so in the photo below, the ship where I’m standing is in Germany and the other is in France.
Our bus tour included a drive through the German Imperial District and the European Quarter, but what I found most interesting was the hundreds of stork nests we saw in the trees on our way to the historic district. Storks migrate here in the spring from as far away as Africa. Storks are said to bring good luck, fertility… and babies! Symbols of them are prevalent throughout the city.
The bus dropped us off in the enchanting neighborhood of Petite France, my favorite part of Strasbourg. Charming on a beautiful day were the scenic canals displaying the reflection of colorful, timber-framed houses and flower-boxed windows. In the Middle Ages this area was home to the tanners, millers and fishermen.
Over cobblestone streets and pretty little bridges, we crossed the Ill River which surrounds the old town and forms an island. The entire “island” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the Strasbourg Cathedral of Notre Dame, Rohan Palace and Museums, courtyards, squares, shopping and the popular Christmas market.
Strasbourg’s soaring cathedral is the sixth-tallest church in the world and the highest surviving structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. It sits on the sight of an old Roman basilica destroyed by fire 100 years after it was built in 1176. Construction of the current cathedral began at the end of the 12th century.
The stunning pink sandstone makes it one of the most magnificent examples of Gothic architecture in the world, featuring a remarkable Rosette and stained-glass windows. The interior includes a suspended pipe organ, intricate carvings and an original astronomical clock built in 1842.
We went back to the ship after the walking tour and stayed for lunch (because lunch on the ship was ALWAYS so good). Viking provided shuttle bus services all afternoon long, so of course we went back to see more of amazing Strasbourg on our own.
We were treated to a “Taste of Germany” that evening… a hearty German buffet and rousing music; and as always, a nice assortment of wine and beer from the region. And for dessert – on this night, anyway – a rainbow!
During and after dinner, the Viking Lofn navigated through the Grand Canal d’Alsace, a system of locks necessary to ensure ship safety on the river. There is a total of 12 locks on the Rhine upstream from Basel. We went through most of them at night, but not this one. I found it an interesting process to watch. Because river cruise ships utilize as much square footage as possible, there is about a one foot gap between the width of the lock and most ships. I could reach out and touch the cold, damp lock walls from the balcony of our room.
Watching the progression of the sunset was fascinating as well! I had worried that sunsets on a river cruise would not compare in beauty to those on an ocean cruise. Fortunately, I was wrong!
Coming up, the final post! Beauty on the Rhine Conclusion – Breisach, Colmar, and the Black Forest.