If you're looking for a day trip from Frankfurt, Germany, and a change of country and scenery, a lovely option awaits just a two-hour train ride away: Strasbourg, France.
Strasbourg, which sits on the west side of the Rhine River in the Alsace region of northeastern France, is a charming blend of French and German culture, history and architecture.
The must-see in this picturesque city is the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg, which dates to the 11th century. Fire destroyed most of the original building, which was Romanesque in style, and it took its current shape as a Gothic cathedral in the 13th century. In the 1400s, a towering 466-foot spire was added, transforming the church into the world's tallest building, a status it maintained for several centuries.
French writer Victor Hugo described Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg as a "gigantic and delicate marvel," while German novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who spent some time studying in Strasbourg, remarked that "its loftiness is linked to its beauty."
I concur with both men, having been moved and nearly overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the cathedral, enveloped in red sandstone and adorned with extraordinary ornamentation and detail inside and out, from the statues and carvings to the centuries-old stained glass windows and astronomical clock.
After lengthy exploration of the church's exterior and interior, and excessive photo-taking, it was time to satisfy my cousin's wish: to climb to the viewing platform that on a clear day rewards visitors with vistas of the Alsace Plain, the Vosges Mountains and the Black Forest of Germany. We stopped several times during the ascent, which is "330 marches," to catch our breath and to marvel at the embellishments not easily visible from the ground. ("Is that a sculpture of a dog with a bone in its mouth over there? Why, yes, it is.") The payoff — a spectacular panorama — was well worth the physical exertion.
Legend has it that the wind that seems to constantly blow outside the cathedral can be traced to the devil riding by in olden days. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but each time we walked by it was eerily breezy.
After wrapping up our visit to the church we went to a nearby restaurant to refuel with crepes.
Fortified, we wandered around, stopping in the shops that were open (it was a Sunday) and marveling at this enchanting place dotted with cobblestone streets, open plazas and buildings with crisscrossed wooden patterns and window boxes filled with flowers and greenery.
To get a different view, we decided, like the many swans we saw, to take to the water. On a boat tour along the River Ill, we learned, among other things, that a number of institutions call Strasbourg home, including the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
During our 10-hour stay we also managed to work in a "snack" at Le Gruber, a restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, lots of wood, lots of character and an extensive menu. (The French onion soup and French wine were delicious, and the desserts on display in a glass case enticing, though we did not partake.)
After walking around a little more, and passing by the cathedral one last time, noting the eerie breeziness once again, it was time to bid storybook Strasbourg adieu and board the train for Frankfurt.