a little petite

Petite France, StrasbourgMore sketches from Petite France, the old picturesque part of Strasbourg, famous for being where they put diseased soldiers centuries ago. The scene above is one of the most beautiful views in the city, where one of the canals of the river Ill twists past the narrow medieval lanes surrounding the Place Benjamin Zix (“Zixplätzel” in Alsacien). Benjamin Zix was a painter and sculptor in the Napoleonic era, born here (well, on rue des Moulins) in 1772. The building in the middle is the Maison des Tanneurs, dating from 1572, which is now a restaurant. I sat here by the narrow lock for a couple of hours, as tourists walked by, and other tourists in groups whirred by on those Segway things. I don’t know how you can go around Petite France on those Segways (which remind me of the STAP flying platforms ridden by battle droids in the Phantom Menace while attacking Gungans on Naboo), but a lot of people did manage it. Sketching in Petite France

Below is the rue des Dentelles (Spitzegass), which I sketched on the first day. There is a really interesting shop there called ‘Un Noel en Alsace’, which sells Christmas ornaments, mostly Alsatian. The most recent visit to Strasbourg I had made was in December 2004 with my wife, when we came to visit the Christmas market, or “Christkindelsmärik”. Strasbourg, if you don’t know, is the home of the traditional Christmas market. It is the oldest one in Europe, dating back to 1570, and is a lovely experience (albeit rather crowded). Strasbourg calls itself the ‘Capital of Christmas‘. It seemed to cover most of the centre-ville, and there was mulled wine (or maybe gluhwein, both of which I’m not keen on) being passed around. I do love Christmas time though, and Alsace does it pretty well.

Spitzegasse, Strasbourg

On the final day in Strasbourg I decided I would do more exploring than sketching (I spent a lot of time in bookshops), but I just had to go back and sketch more Petite France. I wasn’t done with Petite France yet. There was one scene which again is picturesque, tourist-photogenic, detail-heavy timber-framedness. The view from the Pont St. Martin towards the back end of the rue des Moulins (below). I spent an hour and a half sketching all the ink, and added most of the colour later. Below me, the water was gushing down from the locks. Behind me, the sound of children playing at a nearby school. Around me, tourists from all over the world lining up to take pictures of each other. I did consider making this a two-page panorama (and even plotted out the left hand page) but knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw it. Still, I’m well happy I took the time to come and draw this.

Petite France Pont St Martin

Still more to come!

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sketching fire hydrants in strasbourg is cool

Strasbourg Hydrant 1 smStrasbourg Hydrant

Let’s just go back in time again, to 1995, to my first ever trip to Strasbourg. More on that later. But let’s just say I ask my 19 year old self, in twenty years time, do you expect that you will come back to this city, right, and draw pictures of fire hydrants? I would have laughed the very crazy idea right back to England. Yet here I was, in 2015, sitting crouched up next to red fire hydrants drawing them as if it’s totally normal. Actually if I’m honest, my 19 year old self would have been, “oh wow, respect.” My 19 year old self would have thought that was the coolest thing. My 19 year old self, may I remind you, thought that going to Denmark for the summer with less than a hundred quid in his pocket to pick strawberries and have adventures (adventures that largely consisted of being poor and getting sick of strawberries, it has to be said) was cool. My 19 year old self worked at an Asda coffee shop and would get red Slush Puppy all over my shirt and think, oh that’s cool, I look like Mr Blond from Reservoir Dogs now. My 19 year old self wore black adidas shorts and a nike baseball cap and a messy purple shirt that had buttons missing. My 19 year old self was frankly an idiot, but then that’s true of most stages in my life to varying degrees. Being 19 was a time I remember with great fondness, a time of energy and invention and wanderlust. But I still wouldn’t have thought of drawing fire hydrants all over the world, that was not an idea that I had yet had. So I was pleased, on making this anniversary return to Strasbourg, to find they did have hydrants there too. I only drew the two above. The first one was sketched in Petite France, on the rue des Moulins. The second one was drawn on my last day in the city, on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, across the street from the Vox cinema. Now, my 19 year old self went to that cinema. My 19 year old self had as one of his favourite movies (and it still is) Les Visiteurs, the French comedy classic about two knights who go into the present day, wash in the toilet, beat up a postal van, and so on. Jean Reno and Cristian Clavier, “Cousin Hubert”, all of that. Well, I didn’t see that there. I did see another movie with cristian Clavier there called Les Anges Gardiens, a stupid comedy he starred in alongside Gerard Depardieu (I know right, a French film from the 90s with Depardieu in it, such a rarity). I saw it on my second trip to Strasbourg as a 19 year old, a solo trip in the autumn of that year, when I came back to explore the city more by myself. I recall it was billed as being the ‘next Les Visiteurs’ so I had to see it. It wasn’t, it was bloody awful. You see? My 19 year old self was an idiot, even my 19 year old self knew it. Anyway, that’s what I remembered when I was sketching that fire hydrant, with the tramway humming past me.   

little hydrant

An honourable mention goes to this hydrant, which I did not sketch (I was on my way to a morning urban sketchers meet-up). I loved the way it was hiding in an alley, half in shadow, with the silhouette of a very Alsace-looking shop-sign just behind it. Strasbourg-hydrant-noir, if you like, but you know, in the daytime.

More Strasbourg sketches to come…

Strasbourg!

Petite France, StrasbourgThe first time I came to Strasbourg was twenty years ago, and I arrived on a coach some time after midnight. It was part of an exchange program between sixth-form colleges in England and the Lycee Jean Monnet in Strasbourg, and from that trip in 1995 I fell in love with the city. I was learning both French and German at the time, so naturally Strasbourg was perfect. I went back a few times since, but the most recent was over ten years ago, and so when the opportunity (let’s call it the excuse) came up to visit Strasbourg again, to meet up with the French Urban Sketchers at the 3rd National ‘Rencontre’, I couldn’t resist. It was the twentieth anniversary of that pretty formative trip and Strasbourg was fading from my memory, so I simply had to come back and draw it, and draw it A LOT. Just as twenty years ago, I arrived after midnight, on a TGV from the south of France. I arrived to discover that the whole train station was now covered in a massive futuristic glass bubble. I walked to my hotel right by the cathedral, using the massive, towering steeple as a compass.

I met a group of French urban sketchers the next morning down at Petite France, where I stood on a bridge near the Ponts Couverts and sketched the scene above, the river Ill winding sleepily past timber-framed houses. You can see the sketchers gathered on the banks. I recognized a few from their sketches online; I’m a big fan of the French Urban Sketchers group, having met several of them in Barcelona, and I eagerly follow them on all the usual online places (the main site is france.urbansketchers.org). It was a cloudy morning, and the occasional raindrop splashed down, but there were no more storms, and eventually the sun came out. The weather here in Alsace was perfect for being out sketching.

Petite France, Strasbourg
Petite France is an area of Strasbourg famous for its narrow cobbled streets and old timber-framed buildings, where the river splits off into canals criss-crossed by footbridges and the occasional lock. It is very peaceful, or would be if it weren’t for the groups of Segway tourists whirring along the cobbles. There was a lot to sketch down here, and I would come back every day. Petite France is not, as the name suggests, a model-village based on the whole of France, nor is it made of Lego, nor are the people really small like Lilliputians. It gets its name from a disease, specifically Syphilis, which was known as the ‘French Disease’. Actually (according to a tour guide on a Segway) it was also known as the ‘Italian Disease’, because French troops brought it back from Naples at the end of the fifteenth century. Actually it was probably first brought into Europe from the Americas, but nobody knows for sure. Anyway, those affected soldiers were often brought here to this part of Strasbourg to be treated (or at least kept out of the way), giving the area the name “Little France” after those afflicted with the French Disease. The city was part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time, not France – Strasbourg, or Strassburg, was for much of its history decidedly German, and its native language Alsacian is a form of Low Alemannic German.

Here I am in a France shirt (size Large, not Petite) sketching by the river Ill. Ironically people used to come here because they were ill. Anyway, all potential jokes and puns now exhausted, I decided to move along.
Sketching in Petite FranceSketching in Petite France
I stopped for lunch at a little place on Rue des Moulins, around the corner from the spot above, called ‘Le Baeckoffe d’Alsace’. I sketched the scene below while waiting for my food, and sipped a nice cold glass of ‘Fischer’ blonde beer (or Pecheur, depending on the glass), which was a real treat of a beer. Alsace knows its biere blonde. It also knows its food – I had the Cuisse de Poulet au Riesling (chicken leg in a Riesling-based sauce) with Spaetzle “Maison” (Spaetzle is a German side dish which my wife’s grandma used to make). This was superb, especially the Spaetzle, which was seasoned deliciously, and I could have eaten it all day long.

Rue des Moulins, Strasbourg

Strasbourg lunch

Best. Lunch. Ever.

To be continued…