Of Canals, Footpaths, & Sorbet Salad: A Trip to Petite France, Strasbourg

“There is literally no way to get to our hotel.” Exasperated, dumbfounded, and quite amused, Team Jenkins proceeded to make another loop around the island of Petite France.

Leaving the comforts of Germany and the easily navigable autobahn, Chris and I embarked on a trip to Strasbourg by way of Bitche (don’t worry, I will 100% get to that in a minute). Strasbourg isn’t quite French or German. Over the years, this region has traded hands between both countries, creating an identity that is uniquely Alsatian.

Being so close to Germany (Strasbourg was just a 2.5-hour drive from Trier), we figured the land of tarte flambee would be the perfect pit stop on our German road trip if we wanted to check another country off our travel bucket list. What we got was so much more than that.

“I’m going to see if we can get across the bridge on the other side,” Chris said amidst a 17-point turn to get our car back onto the main road. Our GPS had taken us to what looked like a foot bridge with large cement barricades blocking vehicle entry.

It’s the blue-pink light that’s immediately striking. The way dusk reflects off the canals and onto the half-timbered houses holds your eyes hostage, refusing to let you look at anything else, or want to.

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It’s a trance that convinces you that time isn’t passing, your phone can wait, and your other obligations aren’t all that important. Don’t wake me up.

“Our hotel is on an island only accessible by these bridges. These bridges are pedestrian-only. We paid for in-hotel parking.” Somehow stating facts wasn’t making the situation any less confusing. Driving to the other side of the island yielded nothing different than the front side -- another footbridge.

Petite France is so disgustingly adorable that you’d have no way of guessing that it was originally used to quarantine syphilis patients or serve as a blue-collar haven for tanners, millers, and fishermen. I guess the channels were function before they were form.  

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To navigate the channels that are such a pillar of the city, boats have to be flat (both shallow-bottomed and short) and be able to fit in a lock. If you ever visit Strasbourg and go on one of the boat tours (which I highly recommend) you will get to pass through a lock. Unbeknownst to me, a lock raises or lowers boats to the level of the respective channels. Since most tourists opting for a boat tour are looking for a mellow put around the city and not diving over waterfalls, the locks come in handy.

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“What if it’s that thing?” I pointed at one of the cement pillars that was blocking our car’s path to the footbridge, which I just noticed had a small button and slip of paper appended to it. I shuffled out of the car, walked up to the pillar, and proceeded to talk to it (hoping that was a totally normal practice).

Bzzzzt.

“Bonjour, c'est l'hôtel régent. Comment puis-je vous aider?”

(*thinks for approximately 1 second about responding in French before I remember that’s irrational because I don’t speak a lick of French.*)

“Hi, um, we’re staying at your hotel tonight and we need to get to your parking garage.”

Bzzzzt.

(Cement pillar proceeds to DISAPPEAR INTO THE GROUND like that was a normal thing we were supposed to know about.)

The directions to our hotel’s parking garage made about as much sense as the “garden salad” I ordered at an Alsatian restaurant for dinner, complete with mixed greens, tomatoes, cantaloup, watermelon, prosciutto, chives, hard-boiled eggs, and melon sorbet. I made sure to eat those ingredients in isolation and avoid mixing as much as possible. We washed our hearty meals down with designer drinks at Code Bar. My white chocolate tiki drink came garnished with a miniature paper cone filled with popcorn. It was very hip. Much like the bridge to our hotel, you had to buzz to get in.

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“What do you want for lunch?” For people who view travel as killing time between meals (exaggerating, but not totally lying), that question never gets old.

“Let’s see what they have at this market.”

We picked up grapes, brie, prosciutto, a baguette, and sparkling water, made our way to the path along the canal, and sat in a shady spot on the grass where we ate our lunch in silence, watching all the cars try to navigate those silly streets.

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“But what about Bitche?!”

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget.

We 100% took the scenic route from Trier to Strasbourg just to visit this town for it’s name.

Welcome to Bitche.

He. Hehe.

Little did we know that this would actually be one of the prettiest, most interesting places we visited on our trip. The citadel of Bitche was actually the only part of France not to have been captured by the Prussian army. The soldiers and townspeople held themselves up in the citadel until the French government, once defeat was clear, ordered them to surrender.

Come for the 7th grade boy jokes, stay for the culture.

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Kameron Jenkins