I know I’ve been a little behind on the blog, but for good reason: I was in a different part of France for week-end de Pâques! I travelled three hours by car with the family to stay with Bernard’s parents for a few days in a completely unique region of France called Alsace. I’d heard of this region before but I had no idea I would get to see it during my stay! I got lucky, pretty good gig I got over here.
While I was in Alsace I didn’t have much access to the internet, so I made notes on my phone to remind me of things to write about when I got the chance and now I will attempt to piece together some of the nonsense I jotted down.
To begin, I’ll offer you the briefest of histories: Alsace is located in the Grand Est region of France and it is a place with its own culture and history. It touches Germany and it has a lot of ties with Germany and German culture because of its history. During and after the second world war, this region was at times French, and at other times German. In Alsace, they speak Alsatian, a germanic dialect. It sounds sort of like French spoken with a German accent, but the dialect and accent are different enough that people from other parts of France have a hard time understanding.
If you ever get a chance to see Alsace, you’ll notice that it looks like Germany with all of its architecture. It truly felt like I’d left France and hopped over the border! During the drive over, as we drew nearer the landscape changed and it became more mountainous. The views were amazing and even reminded me a little bit of home, except that on the tops of these mountains, instead of millionaire’s modern homes, there sat old châteaux. The region was made up of a bunch of tiny little villages which made it all the more cozy. Much of the area has not changed on bit since it was built centuries ago. However, some areas are completely geared for non-natives as Alsace is a big tourist destination today. I could definitely feel the difference between the first village we visited, Riquewihr, which was for tourists, and the second, Obernai, which was more for locals. Since it was Easter weekend, there were tourists everywhere we went. I think Easter is celebrated more in France than America, even though I feel like the country as a whole is not as religious as the United States. One neat thing I got to experience that is specific to Alsace and Easter is lamala, or lamb cake. You can only get this cute little lamb-shaped cake on Easter! And it sure was yummy. Another things that I really did not expect is that Alsace is home to the cigogne, or storks! It was really something else to look up and see these giant birds and their giant nests perched on the tops of old maisons. One last *fun fact* is that there is a special pizza-like food that’s strictly Alsatian: tarte flambée. The more interesting part of this is that I actually first tried this in Montreal last year! I was told at the time that flamm (as they call it in Montreal with a hard ‘a’ sound) was from a special part of France, but I forgot immediately. And then just this weekend I went to the place of its inception! It feels like my travels have come full circle! Though I must say, the tartes flambées in Alsace were definitely better.
During my three days in Alsace, I was also lucky enough to visit Strasbourg. I’d wanted to visit and fortunately the family wanted to show me the town too.Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and freezing the day we decided to visit. It was pretty miserable, but I’m still glad I was able to see what may be one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. If Strasbourg is that impressive under grey gloom, I can only imagine how amazing it us under the sun. Strasbourg was different from the other small villages we had visited because it was a nice juxtaposition of old and new. The city was bigger than a village and it had to accommodate modern life, and it did so by combining old and new in a tasteful way. Also of note is that I discovered my new favorite church. I really thought that the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal would be hard to beat, but the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg really takes the cake. I couldn’t take a great picture so I implore you to look it up on your own. It is just absolutely stunning. It is the grandest church I’ve ever laid my eyes on. You can see the steeple from many parts of the city, but as you approach it and the rest of the structure is revealed, it just takes your breath away (well, if you like churches like I do). According to wikipedia, it is considered to be one
of the finest examples of high gothic architecture. And boy, is it fine. I think that seeing it under the gloom might have helped the aesthetic, even. I’m not well-versed in architecture, but all I know is that I have never before seen anything quite like this. The inside of the structure is just as impressive as the outside. And I was lucky that it was raining and there was no queue because normally, I guess, it can take an hour just to get into the church. Inside there is this astronomical clock that has been accurately functioning since it was built hundreds of years ago. Talk about a wild trip. And to top it all off, I found out that the church just celebrated its millennium anniversary in 2015. Now this is the historic European experience I was hoping for!
I did experience more things, but I don’t feel like sharing because I gotta keep some things to myself, ya know? Though I will share that I watched a classic French comedy on the night of Easter called La Grande Vadrouille (1966, U.S.: Don’t Look Now…We’re Being Shot At! — which I think is a pretty horrible title). It’s about, what else, World War II and these two normal French guys who have to help some British soldiers make their way back to England. This isn’t a good sell at all but the film is really funny and I think an American audience would enjoy it, too. Also, one of the two main comedic actors, Louis de Funès, reminded me of Robin Williams in some scenes.
So, it seems as though I’ve given you some homework: look up pictures of Alsace and Strasbourg and subsequently cry at the fact that you aren’t in France right now experiencing this cool stuff with me & watch that film!