The stories of a couchsurfer

Strasbourg: An ideal balance

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg

Some cities are rightfully renowned for their touristic pull. Their history or monuments attracting upwards of millions of tourists a year. Sometimes, particularly in the case of smaller such examples, it’s easy for these cities to become overdependent on the tourism factor, and the city becomes more recognisable as a real-world theme park of sorts.

While this is enjoyable for the traveler, one can only assume that it’s not pleasant on the locals that attempt to live their day-to-day lives while, depending on the season, being overrun by the influx of visitors. Struggling to book a table at the popular inner-city restaurant – not to mention the overinflated prices that the tourists have created – or having to deal with an overcrowded park or beach are just a few of the examples that locals in touristic cities need to deal with.

On the other end of the spectrum are the places that don’t really attract any visitors at all. Typically, this environment would be found in a small village but it often occurs in larger cities too. Here, daily life goes on as normal and rarely do the locals have to contend with tourists for being able to enjoy their own space.

Yet maybe these locals find it a little dull to live in such a place. A lack of tourism generally means a lack of something spectacular to be proud about for your home town.

Then again, maybe locals of non touristic towns don’t care for having anything noteworthy. And perhaps locals of tourist havens get used to the constant competition with tourists and don’t care for that either.

Which environment would be best to live in? And although the answer may seem evident, it’s still worth asking the question of which environment would be best to travel in also.

It’s something that is considered when in a place such as Strasbourg.

Strasbourg’s population is less than one million, but after having spent some time there, one can consider it a larger city. The city centre, at least during the summer, bustles with activity as people both relax on the restaurant terraces and commute around workplaces.

Yet, there’s no great sense of urgency around town. As opposed to business capitals Paris and London or even other large centres such as Birmingham, Strasbourg managed to go about it’s daily activities in a low-stress mode, despite there still being plenty of business around.

It could be the fact that a lot of the larger industries in town locate their offices outside of the city centre, such as the European Parliament and European Council, just two of many European institutions based in Strasbourg.

Still, there are many workplaces located centrally, but it never becomes overwhelming – quite on the contrary, in fact.

But the businessmen and women only make up part of the activity in the centre of Strasbourg. The other part comes from a great deal of people that are relaxing and appreciating the surrounds. Of course, a part of these are tourists, and although there are surely many of them, it never becomes overcrowded or burdensome, and they are not that easily spotted.

The other part of the relaxing folk are actually the locals, filling up the restaurants and cafés and generally appreciating their own city.

And there is much to appreciate.

Strasbourg is generally a very clean city and walking around during the summertime presents a nice blend of colours. There is plenty of greenery with parks and trees abounds. Mix this with the colourful architecture around town – both the new and the old – and the city breathes life wherever you walk.

The Rhineland timber-framed buildings scatter throughout town, most notably in the most touristic part of town, La Petite France, which perfectly epitomises Strasbourg with it’s blend of architecture, water and greenery.

Even the cathedral splashes yet more colour onto the Strasbourg canvas with it’s strong sandstone red shining a beacon that sticks out above the rest of the skyline.

In fact, the cathedral may be the single best thing about Strasbourg, yet it’s hard to really define why. The architecture is fascinating, and there is plenty of intricate detailing to impress, but it falls short when compared to some of it’s Spanish contemporaries in Salamanca, for example.

It’s size is also awesome, being so much larger than anything else nearby, but it was nowhere near the size of the cathedral in Liverpool.

On the inside there were no great works of art, no extravagant amounts of gold to keep you amazed for hours like you will find in some French cathedrals such as, say, in Lyon.

Yet still the Strasbourg cathedral had the ability to inspire awe just as strongly as any of the other previously mentioned examples. Perhaps its because it coupled it’s massiveness with being closely surrounded by the rest of the city and was centrally located, unlike that in Liverpool.

Perhaps its instead because it coupled it’s massiveness to also having intricate detailing throughout.

Most likely, however, was that it just managed to find the right balance of all of these ingredients, without being over the top.

In this way it was a perfect cathedral for the city of Strasbourg, because this is what Strasbourg does best – balance.

It balances both work and living environments nicely, with a large work market of all varieties of industries to choose from and a fantastic cultural scene to enjoy.

It balances it’s German and French cultures perfectly, allowing it to take from the best practices in French wine making and also in German beer brewing, for example. It mixes the two cuisines together nicely to provide good cheeses and even finer sausages.

It balances the new with the old well – maintaining it’s proud history via regions like la petite france and buildings such as the cathedral but also moving into the future with new developments, a modern public transport system and hosting many of the European institutions.

Strasbourg felt like a perfect blend of all the good things experienced elsewhere. It has the balance of modernity and history seen in Montpellier, the cultural diversity of Lille and the food scene of Lyon.

This is the type of city that is benefited just as well by it’s citizens as much as it’s tourists, and perhaps that’s the most ideal town of all to both live and tour in.


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