I had the chance to go to Strasbourg last year, but I put it off for a bit for one reason – the European Materials Research Society (EMRS) Spring Meeting. I knew long before that this EMRS conference would be held in Strasbourg, so I hung on to the hope that my abstract would be accepted and that I would be allowed to go. Alas, it was accepted, and I went.
The conference went on for an entire week, where scientific knowledge and brilliant ideas were discussed and exchanged. Aside from the academic mumbo jumbo, of course I would not miss out on the chance to explore Alsace, a region in northeastern France known for its supreme white wine, timber-framed housing, and choucroute (sauerkraut). There was a lot to see in Strasbourg itself, but I also got the chance to visit Colmar, a medieval town half an hour away from Strasbourg by train.
The EMRS holds two annual meetings, one in spring in Strasbourg and one in fall in Warsaw, Poland. This is my first EMRS conference (and it may very well be the last), with an oral communication in the R symposium – Nano-engineered bioactive surfaces. It was a huge conference with 2000+ attendees from all over the world, and my second international conference after WBC last year.
With so many attendees, I wonder how they organize the meals. Lunch was provided every day, and they were formal lunches, with appetizer, main course, and dessert. Everyone lines up and gets assigned to a random table, so unless you were with your friends or colleagues in line, you meet new people every single day at lunch. Just imagine the number of people EMRS had to employ to get everything rolling, and all the logistics behind it!
The place I stayed at during the week was a 2-minute walk from the main city square where the great Strasbourg cathedral was found. It was close to all the activities, so I was free to roam around after the conference ended for the day. In Strasbourg, you can see houses built in timber framing, which is a typical characteristic of the architecture found in the Alsace region, similar to what I saw in Brittany last year.
The Strasbourg cathedral is probably the second tallest cathedral I’ve seen in Europe, after the Cologne Dom. When I first saw the Strasbourg cathedral, I almost believed that it was taller than the Dom! At dusk, the massive structure was illuminated by the orange glow of the setting sun.
As a celebration for the 30th anniversary of the EMRS, there was an organ concert that was held for all the conference attendees on Tuesday night. This wasn’t just inside some small cathedral…it was held inside the gigantic Notre Dame cathedral in the city centre, shown above. Quite the impressive organization, I’d have to say.
It rained heavily during three of the five conference days, but on the days that didn’t rain, I took the chance to explore Strasbourg by foot. Petite France is known as the most picturesque area in Strasbourg, filled with canals and colourful houses in every corner.
And at night, Petite France transformed into a stunning magical world. I chose to not go to the bar with the EMRS group after dinner on Thursday night, since it was warm and rain-free, and I decided to stroll around Petite France, which turned out to be an excellent idea. This is why I’m starting to be convinced that fairy tales aren’t actually just tales – they really happened, in Europe.
I explored the same area during the day earlier, but there’s just something about the seduction of night that made me go on even further than I had done before and see places that I have missed. Had I not gone and walked around Petite France that night, I would have missed the chance entirely as it rained the next two nights. Lucky me!
Of course, trying Alsatian cuisine was on my to-do list. I looked into what I could try, and there were plenty of choices. From left to right, we have (1) baeckeoffe, (2) jarret de porc braisé, and (3) traditional choucroute garnie. I cheated with the jarret de porc, because it was essentially a German schweinshaxe, and I knew it was delicious as I had it in Berlin before. What really impressed me, though, was the ubiquitous traditional choucroute garnie. I’ve had supermarket versions of it in Bordeaux, but in Alsace, it really does taste much better, I kid you not! It was a GIGANTIC plate, but I gulfed everything down (except for that ball of meat which I didn’t particularly like…it was liver or something) because…hey, it was so good! I’d never waste good food 😉
On Saturday, after the conference was complete, I took a little day trip to Colmar, a touristic town to the south of Strasbourg. The first place I tried to find was the tourism office to get a map, but it turned out to be the most secluded place ever. I had to follow signs for a good while before I finally found it. At least I didn’t end up in Princeton or Moscow!
Colmar was surprisingly small. I had planned on spending half a day there, but that wasn’t necessary at all. It took me around two and a half hours to walk all around the old town and see all the main sights. Colmar reminded me of Sarlat, one reason is probably that the girl who went to Sarlat with me was also the one who first told me about the town of Colmar 😛
In terms of the architecture, the density of timber-framed housing was much higher in Colmar than Strasbourg, as rows and rows of them could be found scattered all around the town.
As I navigated through the town and turned corner after corner, I saw this wall painting found. Just something a little different, and I really liked it 😉
In Strasbourg, we had Petite France, and here in Colmar, we have Petite Venise. After Amsterdam being called “Venice of the North” and Suzhou being called “Venice of the East”, we have one in France too! I’ve never been to Venice, so I can’t comment on whether this part of Colmar really lives up to its name, but it is itself a charming and scenic place to be. Which one is more impressive, Petite France or Petite Venise?
The last photo, another view of Petite Venise, which is also my favourite photo taken in Colmar (not taking into account the overexposed sky), concludes the week-long trip to Alsace. Yes, the trip was mainly for work-related purposes, but this is why I love conferences in academia – the travelling possibilities are endless! Today I took a 7-hour TGV (high speed train) and traversed France from the northeast back to the southwest, where I belong, in Bordeaux. Work continues tomorrow…but adventures will never cease! À la prochaine!