My mom likes to travel. She’s been to South America, Europe — Greenland! Really, she’s been all over. Because she has seen so many things and been to all these locales, she sometimes winds up getting the names of places confused. Such was the case when I moved to Stroudsburg in 2010. For months, even a year maybe, my mom would say, “So how are things going in Strasbourg?” She was obviously confusing Stroudsburg, a nice little borough in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, population 5,600, give or take, with, well, Strasbourg: a historical city in France, near the German border, with a population of about 260,000.
Well, there’s been a funny little turn of events. A couple days ago, my mom arrived in Germany. I had vacation time and she thought it would be nice if we both spent some time together in Germany and did some traveling around Europe, too. One of the places that my mom has long wanted to see is, yup, you guessed it: Strasbourg. And so, my dear Stroudsburgers, I am now writing to you from a little hotel in Strasbourg, France. My mom and I boarded a train in Hamburg on Thursday morning and arrived here in the afternoon.
And since I’m now here in Strasbourg, I figured I’d give you a little portrait of the place, if at very, very least to show you the difference a few vowels can make.
Strasbourg is a charming little city with lots of old-world architecture and a sophisticated network of canals. It’s located in Alsace, one of France’s 21 regions. Though the city’s charm is a huge draw — everywhere you go you see cross-timber houses that have baskets of flowers hanging from their balconies, narrow alleys with stone walkways, facades painted in faded pastels, stone wharfs and more baskets of flowers — Strasbourg is probably best known, along with Alsace, as being a place that has, over the course of history, belonged both to Germany and France. In other words, Strasbourg, and the entire Alsace region, depending on politics, the outcomes of wars and how borders were recreated, has “changed hands” about four times in a hundred years. The region again belongs to France, of course, but it was only returned to France after the defeat of Hitler, at the end of World War II.
In any event, all this “give and take,” if you will, has produced an interesting kind of culture. French, German and a bit of English are spoken in Strasbourg. In fact, it’s not unusual for a waiter to switch languages based on what nationality he thinks you are. And according to a recording I was listening to today as I took a boat ride around the city’s canals, Alsace is one of the only places in France where both German and French are taught in the schools.
So, yeah, that’s the history lesson. As for what else is here in good ol’ Strasbourg, well, there’s a massive gothic cathedral made of red sandstone in the center of the old town; wrought iron bridges; accomplished street musicians, who can be seen playing jazz, samba and even rock ‘n’ roll on street corners and in front of cafes; German tourists; French tourists; American tourists (I actually even met some Americans from Arkansas today); pigeons drinking from puddles in the squares and tall carousels that are covered by beige shrouds after sundown.
Yup, so that’s about it. My mom and I have been having fun here. I think we have the most fun when we’re walking around the city discovering new things and taking pictures together. And, yes, sometimes when my mom and I are passing cross-timber houses and she is talking about how beautiful she finds the city, she refers to it as Stroudsburg.