As a deliberate pre-planned form of holiday trip, I have never seen the attraction of “extreme tourism”. The term was explained to me by a professional tour-guide who presumably had grown bored of fair bog-standard trips to new destinations. The idea is to approach a trip from a completely different perspective. For example, to arrange to go on a city break with a friend but not travel there together and not arrange a time or place to meet. You both have to find each other in the city.
I have my own slightly tamer version. I have not just returned from a fairly mundane work trip, I have been on a short extreme tourism break.
My connection from the Eurostar to the TGV on the outward journey was at Lille. I had an hour.
Knowing a small amount about the layout of the city thanks to organising a proper le weekend next month I knew that I wanted to turn left out of Europe station to get to the central area. I also needed cash. The area near the TGV and the more traditional Flandres stations is unremarkable. Think Typical Modern European City. Plenty of cafes, brasseries and kebab shops. Very practical. Nothing much to write home about. I did notice that I was on a street named after well-known architect-planner Le Corbusier. I couldn’t judge a best direction to walk in and there was annoying cold water falling from the sky so I kept turning right until I got back to the station square and headed into the HUGE shopping mall which looks like it was built with the TGV/Eurostar station. Busy, if only because of the cold rain. Saw a fight kicking off in a cafe. Bought a sandwich and a horrible coffee and went to catch my train.
My train rather went through Haute Picardie, skirted round Paris, got stranded at the glamorously-named Champagne-Ardenne station (suggestion for SNCF customer services: a complimentary small local delicacy wouldn’t go amiss when there is an hour’s delay due to a signal failure) and finally arrived late at the Eastern outpost of the French Empire.
Strasbourg itself grew on me in the few hours I was there. At first it seemed dominated by characterless avenues and over-bearing too-shiny metal-and-glass public buildings, but then I realised that I was unlucky enough to be staying the supranational quarter. The city has an incredible range of viewpoints: from medieval winding narrow streets lined with timber-framed shop-houses, to the ultra-modern.
There were adverts everywhere imploring everyone to buy new flats to live in or as an investment. So either France is not quite as anti-capitalist as us rosbifs might have thought, or there is a serious housing glut in this town.
There seemed to be plenty of imposing churches…
…and no French town would be complete without a classic Citroen lounging around the square (sponsored by Visit Strasbourg)!
I don’t know if it was the background vague knowledge that this part of the world has fairly frequently found itself on different sides of the Gallic-Germanic border or something in the architecture, but this square rather reminded me of somewhere (a prize for the first person who thinks what I am thinking).
A city which quite rightly holds Winston Churchill in high regard, and encourages visitors to repeat his efforts on a smaller scale.
Summary. Strasbourg: quite a nice place to wander around for a few hours if you are there anyway; probably wouldn’t rush back; fantastic trams.
Oh, and for completeness, I had a nice early supper in Paris en route home in the kind of place that you would pay serious money at if it was in London and would certainly not just casually be sitting next to St. Pancras station catering for people with a couple of hours to kill between trains…