Two rivers, two countries and too many vans in Strasbourg

From the ‘Route de Vins’ we drove early through traffic into Strasbourg to our aire, ‘les deux rives’.  The small car park was already crowded with frustrated motorhomers all vying to use the smelly service point and make their exit. An alarming number of Italian registered vans competed with each other to come within a hair’s breadth of taking out a fellow van’s bumper or wing mirror or even a spouse.

Having parked quietly in a corner we headed into the city through the beautiful ‘jardin des deux rives’ with its themed planting and mind boggling bridge across the Rhine.

Jardin des deux rives

Once on the other side we commented on the number of German registered cars and posters for a local exhibition commemorating ‘das Erste Welt Krieg’, the First World War. Having come from Ypres it was interesting to see how a German community remembered the centenary. Slowly it dawned on us that we couldn’t possibly be in Strasbourg, the French powerhouse of European Parliament. We had crossed the river the wrong way and had walked into Germany!

Using the smart local DB bahnhof we took the six minute train ride back into Strasbourg’s impressive railway station. The iron-framed 19th century station is fully encased in what could only be described as giant plastic bubble wrap. The familiar tones of the French SNCF jingle rang out from the speakers reminding us of our farewell to Doug and Marg at Lille station not even a week but two countries ago.

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg

Strasbourg is a powerful symbol of medieval magnificence and it wears its splendid history with a comfortable and contented air.

The centre is packed with expensive boutiques and eateries and the timber-framed and colourfully painted merchant houses wind their way to and around the lace-like sculpture of the city’s impressive Munster. Designer labels vie for window space with centuries’ old family businesses of chocolate, bakery, shoe and wine crafts.

Arriving at the French lunch hour of between noon and 2pm the local ‘winstubs’ were quickly filling up with hungry tour groups.

We meandered along the pretty river and canal sides of Petite France before returning to the unexpected windfall of a table facing the famous rose window of the cathedral, where we enjoyed the views of the spectacular architecture to the accompaniment of a lunch of flammkuchen and the antics of our American, and hapless, fellow diners.

An unlikely stroll to the hospital gave us the chance to walk underground through the medieval city’s arsenal and wine cellars. A cask of wine from 1472 sat behind grand iron gates and we watched a young vintner wash down the gigantic barrels which each contain more than a thousand litres of wine. Exiting through the cave shop we were delighted to pick up a bottle of Madam Meyer’s finest Blanc for just 5 euros. What style!

Back at the aire even more Italian vans had replaced those that had left. A Portuguese van drove over a high kerb and through two trees to squeeze next to Bertha.

Our Italian neighbour decided to ignite a charcoal bbq with lighter fluid inches from our door, before moving it closer to his gas tank.

A French ‘van trying to reverse into an impossible space

Bravely leaving Bertha we strolled back through the lamp-lit park to see the Rhine and Germany at dusk.

Declaiming Macbeth upon a wooden stage and running the illustrative length of the solar system in grassy meters we returned to the now quiet aire and a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

The Rhine at dusk separating the two countries

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