Scintilating Strasbourg and its beautiful neighbours in the Rhineland

Strasbourg in Alsace, now in France..for many years in Germany, is a stately and gracious city with wide streets, effective trams and very polite drivers …even with those who drive the wrong way in one way streets and occasionally hesitate in the midst of quite heavy traffic!  Our “Couvent Franciscan” hotel is not, as we imagined an out of town quiet retreat but a mid-town hotel right in the thick of things. So this morning after brekky we were able to walk quite easily from our hotel room directly to the bridge over the river Ill (that’s capital I as in eye  and two “ls” as in lake), a tributary of the Rhine and directly three blocks further to the old town (where we found a wonderful Lalique shop)  and of course to Strasbourg Cathedral.

Ann on the bridge over the Ill River in Strasbourg. The Ill is a tributary of the Rhine and the flowers along the bridge were a sensation as is my amazing wife and travelling partner!

Ann on the bridge over the Ill River in Strasbourg. The Ill is a tributary of the Rhine and the flowers along the bridge were a sensation as is my amazing wife and travelling partner!

Just outside the Cathedral platz we found this wonderful Lalique crystal and jewellery shop. Many beautiful pieces of creative art here

Just outside the Cathedral platz we found this wonderful Lalique crystal and jewellery shop. Many beautiful pieces of creative art here

The Church of Notre Dame de Strasbourg is currently celebrating its millennial year, being created in 1015 with of course many additions since.  This is really one of the world’s “great” cathedrals. I hate to use that word ever since being told in year 7 that it is a pretty ordinary adjective and surely I could think of something more explicit! But “great” this Gothic cathedral is as well as monstrous in a photograph defying sense.  What ecclesiastical grandeur can compare with Strasbourg?…well certainly of course the other wonderful French Gothic cathedrals (Chartres, Amiens, Rouen, Rheims, Notre Dame de Paris; of course St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London, Lincoln? Seville?Cologne?.St Patricks New York?.not many more I think.

Strasbourg Gothic cathedral which celebrates its millennial year at present with a light show every night. It is a simply wonderful and spiritually overpowering place

Strasbourg Gothic cathedral which celebrates its millennial year at present with a light show every night. It is a simply wonderful and spiritually overpowering place

Strasbourg cathedral interior ..the stained glass cannot be photographed without back lighting. It is unique, high, everywhere and very fine; extraordinary rose window.

Strasbourg cathedral interior ..the stained glass cannot be photographed without back lighting. It is unique, high, everywhere and very fine; extraordinary rose window.

An organ with moving parts to its decoration..fit for a cathedral!

An organ with moving parts to its decoration..fit for a cathedral!

The stained glass is exquisite..high, everywhere, complete; the decoration and statuary subdued (during the Reformation a great many statues and other decoration was destroyed); It’s astronomical clock incomparable! The external bulk and complexity defies our little iPhone photographic skills. It was a  privilege to be quietly in this sacred space this morning.

This is certainly the largest clock I have ever seen; we saw it in action..it makes our cuckoo clock seem completely irrelevant

This is certainly the largest clock I have ever seen; we saw it in action..it makes our cuckoo clock seem completely irrelevant

We had a a wander in old town Strasbourg then came back to town and took off in the Renault Capture for the Rhineland towns of Colmar in France and Freiburg in Germany.  Colmar is to Strasbourg what Olinda is to Melbourne.  About 90kms by easy freeway to a picture perfect town with a wonderful market and lots of unusual shops as well as all the normal tourist stuff.

Colmar, 90kms south of Strasbourg on the French side of the Rhine. A fairytale town

Colmar, 90kms south of Strasbourg on the French side of the Rhine. A fairytale town

Colmar old town again!

Colmar old town again!

But art lovers come to Colmar for one reason only…the Isenheim altar piece in the Unterlinden Museum. Somehow this C16th masterpiece by an artist  known as Grunewald (actual name Mathis Gotthart Nithard and a sculptor named Nicolas de Hagenau. It is a complex work physically with three levels of openings.  Currently Underlinden Museum is closed for renovation so the Isenheim altarpiece is on display in the local ancient Dominican monastery church which has its own stained glass quiet beauty. I am sure greater art critics than I can explain the popularity of this altarpiece. To me the resurrection scene does not ring true and the connection made between St Anthony and St Paul and Christ  is not helpful. Nevertheless there is a richness in the colour  and drama of the whole display that is compelling and I saw people quite moved to sit and look at the crucifixion depiction in particular

"Grunewald's" C16th masterpiece ..part of the Isenheim altar piece from the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. It is the town's greatest claim to fame

“Grunewald’s” C16th masterpiece ..part of the Isenheim altar piece from the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. It is the town’s greatest claim to fame

After a simple lunch we drove the short distance from Colmar across the mighty Rhine with its cruiser boats busy,  into Germany to the Minster city of Freiburg.  Everything is an anticlimax after Strasbourg but Freiburg Minster has its own charm with its deep red stone, high towers, and again some impressive stained glass;  the flying buttresses with their fleeing “demons” are exciting and as in Strasbourg folk seem to love just sitting in these vast worship spaces, overwhelmed by the sense of ancient piety, scope and strength of architecture and exquisite beauty of the glasswork in the windows.

Freiburg Minster..another grand mediaeval Gothic cathedral..a place to sit and ponder and be quiet

Freiburg Minster..another grand mediaeval Gothic cathedral..a place to sit and ponder and be quiet

Interior of Freiburg Minster. A simpler and less adorned cathedral than Strasbourg but a place of quiet beauty

Interior of Freiburg Minster.
A simpler and less adorned cathedral than Strasbourg but a place of quiet beauty

The journey home to Strasbourg was even quicker owing to the superior German highway engineering on their side of the Rhine. It was a very quiet and happy day in beautiful sunshine.

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