The Hidden Gems of Strasbourg

Written by SU Strasbourg student Justin Cole.

Look through any tourist guide of Strasbourg and you’ll find the “must-sees,” like the famous Strasbourg Cathedral, the Council of Europe, and la Petite France.  While all of these buildings certainly justify their distinctions, they also serve as tourist traps for the thousands of weary travelers that have flooded the city of Strasbourg since the start of the Christmas Markets.

SU students now know to avoid these places at all cost, for to go to any of these places will only mean headaches, long queues, and elbow jabbing as caffeine-driven tourists rush to see and do everything in Strasbourg in only one day, an impossible feat in my opinion.  Luckily for us, Strasbourg provides a hodgepodge of lesser known student hang-outs to chat with friends, read a book, or just relax.  Below are just a few of the popular places where students spend their time.  And to all those going abroad to Strasbourg in Spring 2010, consider this an official “must-see” hang out guide.

James Schumacher, a junior Colorado University – Boulder student, often looks to the traditional French café when he’s looking for a place to hang out.  And if there is one thing that France has plenty of, it’s cafes.  When he’s looking for a place to listen to some live French music, he’ll head over to Café Jeanette et Le Cycleux, a popular hang-out for French students.  If he’s looking for a great place to get cheap coffee, he’ll look instead to La Taverne Française, where the owner is known to come over and engage in friendly conversation.  “Here in Strasbourg all students live with host families, so hanging out at each other’s houses is difficult,” says James.

Lisa Trimberger, a junior Santa Clara University student, prefers to hang out at one of Strasbourg’s famous places.  While in the United States a “place” refers to an ambiguous location, here in France it refers to an open, outdoor area in the middle of a city, much like a square.  Place Kleber, named after a famous French general, is one of Lisa’s favorite places to people-watch and enjoy the sights and sounds of our beautiful host city.  However, like most girls, shopping is a priority of Lisa’s and she also loves hanging out at the Rivetoile, a local shopping center near the largest movie theater in all of Europe, also located here in Strasbourg.

Tess Cherlin, a junior Syracuse University student, loves to write and says that it is easy to find inspiration in a country as beautiful as France, but in particular frequents “l’Artichaut”, a café that often features bands, film showings, and great coffee.  She finds Strasbourg to be a cultural and diverse city, something she was happily surprised to discover after exploring all of Strasbourg’s charm.

Sarah Wadlinger, a junior Vassar College student, can often be found at Café Brant, one of Strasbourg’s many cafes, but perhaps its quirkiest one.  The interior, decorated with moose heads and cave paintings of rabbits in the bathrooms, is unlike most traditional cafes and Sarah likes it for that very reason.  She loves to hang out here with friends and the free wifi access makes it convenient for completing homework as well.  She finds Strasbourg, “big enough and exciting enough to feel like there’s a lot to see, but small enough to be comfortable and not feel pressured about seeing everything.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Studying in France is one thing; making French friends is entirely different.  While we are immersed into the language, culture, and atmosphere of the Strasbourgoise, many students here find it very difficult to make friends with local French students.  While the fact is simple, the causes are not so.  Is it the natural timidity of American students to strike up conversation in a foreign language in a foreign place? Is it the resistance, or equal timidity, of the French student to engage in conversation with an American student?  Or is it quite simply that each group has already found the friends that they are most comfortable with and don’t feel the need to branch out and meet new people?

All of these reasons were cited as causes of this “isolation” effect by the students that I interviewed.  While some people said that they have made efforts to meet French students and have found difficulty, others admitted that they have not tried at all.  No one is to blame for this natural tendency, but I think that American students, myself included, can do a better job of opening ourselves up and getting to know someone who we may have otherwise never come into contact with.

It’s not easy, and it may at times be awkward or discouraging, but making an honest effort can’t hurt and who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a friend who can offer an entirely new perspective on how you see the world.

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