Saturday, March 22, 2008


Pictures are:
1. Stasbourg's gigantic cathedral, puny us, and beautiful blue sky lifted from Venice (see Italia).
2. We could care less about the rain pouring down on us - we're in Le Petit France!
3. Crooked people on a crooked path in front of Chateau Haut Koenigsburg.

Strasbourg means “crossroads” and it is a fitting name since on this day we are past the halfway mark of the trip, and we are leaving the Northern European Plain (remember where that is from you map in SS 8?) and heading south.

Strasbourg was a walk in the rain – more than we have had on any other walking tour on the trip. If there were complaints, they didn’t make it to me – maybe because despite how much planning I do for the trip, I still can’t control the weather. I’m working on it though. The kids and adults who read my multiple emails about gloves and toques looked comfortable; the others not so much. But we still enjoyed our visit to Strasbourg’s giant lacy pink sandstone gothic cathedral (how many adjectives was that, grade 8’s?). When we went in, we were fortunate to be able to hear the choir practicing for Easter Mass the next day. Hearing the organ and the voices of the faithful added yet another sensory element to the experience. Most people were also glad to be inside, anyplace.

After a jaunt through Le Petit France, medieval home to tanners, butchers, millers, and other guildsmen, and then a quarantine island for plague victims, and now a collection of winding cobblestone streets and half-timbered buildings, we were off to our next step in Alsace, Chateau Haut Koenigsburg.

Alsace, the eastern French province whose capital is Strasbourg, is a Franco-German blend due to its proximity to the current German border, and its mixed up history. This current French province was German during the middle ages under the Holy Roman Empire, then French after Louis XIV’s armies expanded the borders of France, then German after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, then French after Germany’s defeat at the end of WW I, the German during the Nazi occupation of 1940-45, and French ever since. Before I knew this history, the existence of a neighbourhood called Le Petit France in a major French made as much sense to me as having a “Little Italy” in Rome.

The Chateau Haut Koenigsburg was restored under the orders of Kaiser Wilhelm while Alsace was in German hands – so the style of its restoration is very German. It has original weapons, armour, and furniture from the 15th to 17th century, and has many great photo opportunities when covered in a fresh blanket of snow as it was today.

Checking off another country on the list, we entered Switzerland and headed straight to Luzern and the Swiss Lion knife and watch store. Most of the kids bought some sort of keepsake there – I have a bag of knives beside me right now to prove it. Mr. Johnson took kids who were finished shopping up to the Lion monument, and had to explain it probably half a dozen times as different groups came up to see it.

After spending so much time in the hot store, it was a bit of a shock to the system to start our walking tour of Luzern in a snowstorm. I told everyone that if they wanted to skip it and stay on the bus, they could. These guys are tough – no one opted to skip a nice historic walk in the freezing winds and snow. And after visiting the covered chapel bridge and the baroque Jesuit Cathedral dedicated to Francis Xavier, cofounder of the Jesuit order, the snow stopped and we were able to continue our walk around the Reuss River, over the old Mill Bridge, and through the town centre back to the nice warm bus.

Everyone was pleased to be eating warm food for dinner at the friendly Luzern Youth Hostel, and while the kids played cards or pool in one of the common rooms, the parents enjoyed some nice hot Kaffee mit Milch.

We are over half way through the trip now, and looking forward to Italy and the leaning tower of Pisa tomorrow!

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