Monday, October 12, 2009

Home

I arrived home yesterday. My last night in Luxembourg was fun, as i went to several locations participating in La Nuit des Musees, where all of the galleries and museums were open until 1am and had special events going on (jazz bands, performance art, cocktails, etc). It was great. 
d

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vianden

On Friday morning, after a hearty breakfast i took two buses to get to Vianden, which is Luxembourg's most popular tourist destination. Why is it popular?
Vianden Castle
That's why. Because there is a big 12thC castle on a hill surrounded by a little medieval village. It is perfect. The air smells of leaves and woodsmoke and grilling meats. There were virtually no tourists, so i felt like i had the town to myself. I visited the castle and took a chair lift up to the top of a mountain for coffee. I visited the house where Victor Hugo lived while in exile. (Apparently he wrote Les Miserables there.) and i just generally wandered around, because that's all there is to do. My hotel (the Hotel Heintz) was absolutely delightful, so i relaxed there before going out for dinner. After dinner i hopped between three different bar\cafes, enjoying wine, coffee and cigars. (Cuban cigars are about half the price that they are in Canada, but there are not alot of shops that sell them.)
view from Vianden castle
me (dale) on the chairlift in Vianden
The town was all abuzz though getting ready for the annual Nessmoort (Walnut Festival). They were setting up booths and there were walnut related products everywhere--liquors, sweets, roasted nuts etc. Apparently it is a big deal and they have been doing it for centuries. (Actually, they are festival crazy in this town; apparently they relish in any excuse to get dressed up in medieval costume, drink and eat sausage.)

Anyway, i arrived back in Luxembourg city this morning. I am staying at a new hotel, the Hotel Simonici, which is very modern (everything is white) with lots of art on the walls. It is very nice, although my room is tiny.
The city is lively today. Hundreds of Swiss soccer fans are running wild through the streets and forming marching bands. I went to an antique market in one of the squares (mostly junk, but it was fun to look), and then i had lunch. At lunch i met this Irish girt who has invited me to join her and some friends for drinks later, which i may do depending on my mood.
Tomorrow i return home.
I may write again later...or not.
d

Echternach

When we last met our heroine, she was off to Echternach, deep in the heart of "little Switzerland" and then....nothing. As it turns out that i have been in areas so quaint, that they are internet free! (i apologize if i am making even more typos than usual, but this keyboard is entirely random and difficult to navigate.)
On Thur4sday i took the bus from Luxembourg city to Echternach, which took just under an hour. It was raining when i arrived, but that did not dissolve my spirits, as the town is so charming. It is kind of like Tallinn, in that it is very small and very medieval feeling. There is a square and a pedestrian street, a church and a school and that's about it. I checked into my Hotel, Le Pavillion, which was very cozy; i then proceeded to explore the town.To my delight there were hardly any tourists and almost no one spoke English. There were however lots and lots of kids. There is an enormous boarding school in Echternach and after school and into the evening, the kids just roam freely. Some were as young as about 8 years old. They weren't creepy - like children from a certain movie that shall not be named - they were just hanging out and eating candy. It is hard to imagine people in North America letting children roam unsupervised, but to the best of my observation, not one of these children was being molested. Crazy.
Echternach
I walked around all the streets at least twice before i decided to venture across the bridge into....Germany! Germany is a stone's throw from Echternach - literally, i threw a stone and hit German soil. Unfortunately, the town on the German side isn't very attractive, but i did hike up a mountain path into the forest to see what i could find. (nothing)
Bach to Echternach, i had dinner outside of my hotel, sitting in the stillness, watching people walking sturdy rottweilers and German Shepards and listening to a couple of old men talking vibrantly in Luxembourgish.
And that was my day in Echternach.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I've Got a Lovely Bicycle

I awoke this morning feeling a million times better (still a bit sniffly, but much better).
After breakfast, I took a stroll through the weekly farmers market at the Place de Guillaume II, where they had a lovely array of fruits and flowers. Sadly, I was stuffed from breakfast, so I didn't try anything.

I then did something shocking....I rented a bicycle! They have those bike that lock up automatically and you rent them for like €1/hour and you can return it to any station in the city. I rode it cautiously at first, only on the sidewalks, but then I was riding in traffic without a care - and also without a helmet. It was liberating to be so reckless. I must say though that people here (and likewise in Paris and Amsterdam) ride bicycles differently than they do in Vancouver. First of all they are better dressed - men in suits and women in dresses. People in Vancouver slap on the reflective spandex just to commute to work. Second, people in Europe don't ride their bike like maniacs. In Vancouver people are dodging in and out of traffic, always racing. Here everyone seems to ride at a leisurely pace, perhaps so they don't get swetay in their fine clothes. Anyway, it was fantastic.
me on my bicycle
I ended my ride at the train station, where I caught a train to Clervaux, in the middle of the picturesque Ardennes, which makes up Northern Luxembourg. It took 50 minutes to get there. Clervaux is slightly larger than Esch-Sur-Sure, but not by much. It seemed especially sleepy. All the stores seemed to be closed, I didn't see anyone driving or doing much of anything really, except sipping coffee and walking slowly. It was quite lovely. Everyone there seemed to speak either German or Luxembourgish, not English or French.
Clervaux
I went to Clervaux Castle to see the Family of Man exhibit. The Family of Man is a photography exhibit but together in the 1950s at the Met in New York. It showcases photos of people from around the work taken by a wide-ranging group of photographers. The idea was to show people from everywhere engaging in similar activities to show how people are are fundamentally alike. (Since it is from the 1950s, I suppose it is a reaction to WWII and the Cold War). It is very sentimental, but effective and I quite enjoyed it. I had also planned to visit a museum dedicated to Bettle of the Ardennes, but discovered that from October to May it is only open Sundays.
Cathedral in Clervaux
After a coffee, I returned to Luxembourg City...and to my bicycle. This time, I rode down a crazy, windy hill to the Petrusse Valley and to Grund. I rode the length of the valley and back again. There were any cars on the path I was on, so I could ride as fast as I liked. At one point, which stopped on the bike, some Japanese tourists took photos of me. I suppose I shall end up in someone's photo album in Kyoto as an example of a Luxemburg commuter.
I then visited the National Museum of History and Art. It has 2 floors of contemporary Luxemburgish art, including an exhibit by an artist called Foni Tissen, whose work I quite liked. The other floors were devoted to renaissance and medieval works, of which I have seen better collections, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. (Wow, that sounds snobbish!) The lower two floors were all ancient history stuff - Translation: rooms of clay pots and bits of clay pots and bits of metal that once formed part of something useful.
I had falafel for dinner. I had planned to go for something fancier, but it was 6:00 and I was hungry. I am never in Europe long enough to get on to their eating schedule.  All the restaurants close or stop serving food between like 3 and 8pm here and, well, I get too hungry for dinner at eight.
I had a cigar at the hotel bar and then went out for a stroll.
It is so warm here today; even this evening i didn't need a jacket.
The city is very busy tonight. The restaurants and bars are literally overflowing - people milling about outside with their drinks in excited groups. One street even rolled out a red carpet that stretched for several blocks and all of the shops were serving champagne to people on the street. I wanted to mingle there, but it was a very well-heeled crowd and i did not fit in.
I must say that the men here are all very well dressed in nice suits. It looks like a whole city of lawyers and investment bankers, and it probably is.
Tomorrow i head to Echternach in the area known as "little Switzerland", where i shall be staying the night.
Gutt Nuecht.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

L'Eau de Vie

Last night after blogging, I enjoyed the most relaxing evening in the lounge at my hotel. I had a cigar and read the New York Times and worked on the crossword puzzle. I also samples one variety of the Luxembourg beverage, L'eau de Vie. Basically it is like grappa, but in stead of being made from grapes, it is made from fruit. There is apple, pear, strawberry, plum, raspberry, and others. I had the raspberry. It was quite nice.
I chatted with the waiter, who is from Germany. He told me that he recently went to Canada; and where do think he went? To Invermere, Cranbrook and Banff. How random is that? Invermere? He thought it was beautiful. He told me that he had always heard that Canada had very good ''weed'' and very bad chocolate. When I ordered my beverage he said ''Wunderbar'', of course it sounded like "Voonderbar". Delightful; I didn't know that German people actually said that.
I also talked to a Swiss man who has never left Europe because he does not think he could fly because he could not go without cigarettes fro the duration of the flight.
After a sleepless night due to a raging fever and an achy body, I began my day. I took a train to Ettlebruck and then caught a bus to Esch-sur-Sûre, which is North East of Luxembourg City. Esch-sur-Sûre is a tiny little hamlet nestled (that really is the most appropriate word for it) between the mountains in a steep bend in the river Sûre. The ride there was beautiful, past farms with horses and sheep with long tails and enormous cows. The town is tiny - population 250. It took me 20 minutes to walk every street. I played on a swing by the river and listened to birds and watched dogs playing by the river. The air was so crisp and the leaves were all in various shades of autumn.
Esch-sur-Sûre
The town dates back to about the 600s and there is a castle from about 800 on a hill in the centre of town. The castle is mostly in ruin now, but from its vantage point I had excellent views of the town. After a cup of coffee, I returned to Luxembourg city.
This afternoon I visited the AM Tunnel gallery. It is very odd. It is a gallery of photographs (100s of them) displayed in a tunnel 5 floors below the ground. The tunnel exists as a conduit between the various banks in the area (none of which look like banks, by the way; the all look like homes for royalty). The gallery had two exhibits: a vast collection of photos by Edward Steichen and a similar array of photos by Rene Burri. It was very impressive.
I haven't done much since then; I had dinner (pizza) and I have just been walking and relaxing. I just had some tea and a cigar at my hotel. I am pretty exhausted and still feeling quite ill, so I shall retire shortly.
The weather was nice today: about 17 degrees, cloudy, but not rainy.
Tomorrow I plan to take the train to Clervaux. Details to come.
d
Esch-sur-Sûre river

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Stuff of Nightmares

Day two in Luxembourg has had two things working against it: my cold and the rain, which was severe this afternoon. Aside from those two negative aspects, the day has been lovely. I went on a brisk walk in the park this morning before browsing through the shops on the Grand Rue. There is a fine selection of chocolate shops here, although I have yet to sample any. I did however buy a coat. It's weird, I know, but it is chilly here and the coat is nice; it is black and sort of marching-band-esque. It proved to be a wise purchase in light of the rain and cool temperatures.
Luxembourg busker
I then went to the Casino. No, not the gambling kind, some of you will be disappointed to learn (and you know who you are), it is a contemporary art museum called "Casino" (it was a gaming establishment in the 1800s). They had an exhibit called SK-Interfaces and it was great, although I may very well have nightmares. It was probably the creepiest exhibit I have ever seen - and let's not forget, I have seen mummies in Egypt, pickled babies in Russia and, yesterday, a jar of preserved fingers. The exhibit was this weird synthesis of science and art that culminated in art such as someone growing tiny leather coats using animal stem cells; some flowers that had been cross-bred with the artists own DNA; a fur coat made of road kill and an accompanying video of the skinning process; a video of an artist who had an ear grafted onto his arm; a display of artful hymens made of human and animal cells; ä collection of "perfume" bottles filled with liquid derived from human sweat and supposedly smelling of actual human fear; and a photography exhibit of a nude woman engaged in rather disturbing acts with a pig carcass. Yep. Not everything was creepy. There was a neat painting that you were encouraged to touch and when you did, the color would disappear (temporarily) from the places you had come into contact with. But by and large it was pretty disturbing (which means I loved it).
The rest of the after noon consisted of me wandering and, when the rain got too bad, hopping from cafe to cafe, sipping on wine and coffee and soup and smoking. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to smoke inside and to SEE people smoking inside. One cafe I walked past was filled with table after table of women with glasses of wine and coffee, smoking contemplatively and reading or writing in books. It just seems so civilized.
I had about a 3 hour nap today. I was wet and tired and I am, after, all, sick. This allowed me to go out this evening for a tea and a stroll. The streets are so welcoming here after dark. Everything feels so pleasant and secure.  I have to say that there are a surprising array of inviting cafes and taverns here; they aren't too loud or too quiet and the decor seems to always be just right.
Tomorrow I plan to venture outside of the city to explore one of the many villages in the country.
Gutt Nuecht.
d. 

Moien

Moien. (That is hello in Luxembourgish.)
After blogging last night, I had a cigar in the hotel bar which doing a crossword and enjoying a glass of wine. It was a perfect way to end the day.
What is not perfect is that I woke up sick! Sore throat and sniffles. That's what I get for going 48 hours without sleep and spending 14 hours on airplanes.
This morning I sampled the many delights at the hotel's breakfast. The only thing missing from the array of treats was dessert.
I am off to explore.
Addi. (that's goodbye)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Luxembourg

I have arrived in Luxembourg!
over Luxembourg
The flights (Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to Zurich, and Zurich to Luxembourg City) were all very pleasant.  There were no hassles, no irritations, just many hours of relaxation.
I arrived in Luxembourg City at 9 or 10 this morning. (Note: Luxembourg is 9 hours ahead of Vancouver Time). The only problem was...my bag decided to take a later flight. No problem though, as the airline delivered it to my hotel about 10 hours later.
A few comments about Luxembourg generally. Most people have been perplexed or even irritated by my decision to come here on vacation, as they wondered why i wouldn't go somewhere else. All i can say is that I knew shamefully little about this diminutive country, but some preliminary investigation intrigued me.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
For your own edification, here are some useful facts:
  • Yes, it is a country.
  • Yes, there really is a language called "Luxembourgish".
  • The country is 2586 km2 and has a population of 486,006.
  • It had the highest per capita GDP in the world, has a near 100% literacy rate and makes most of its money in banking.
  • It is 90% Roman Catholic (which explains the constant church bells.)
  • The National Dish is called Gaardebounen  smoked pork neck served with broad beans, potatos, and bacon.
  • They make wine and chocolate and some odd looking liqueurs.
  • It is one of the most forested countries in Europe and is home to deer, wolves, wild boar and an impressive collection of birds.
  • They have two flags.
  • It is the only Grand Duchy in the world. (I don't know why this is a big deal, but they are very proud of it.)
First impressions: Luxembourg is very green with a patchwork farmland and puffy forests visible from the airplane.  The were so many shades of green and gold and "yellow ocher" in the trees that it resembled a Bob Ross painting.


I caught the bus into the city, which cost €1.5 and took about 10 minutes.  The city is quaint and beautiful.  It looks more like a 'real" city than, say Talinn, but it is very charming.  There are many squares lined with the requisite cafes and cobblestone streets leading to churches and museums. Winding though the middle of the city is a narrow and deep ravine, which is reachable either by steep stairs or an elevator. At the bottom of the ravine is a serene forested park area along the banks of a river (scarcely, more than a trickle, really, but that call it a river.) The park is so beautiful and is full of bird song and that delightful smell that i shall simply call ''forresty".
view of Luxembourg City
I am staying at the Hotel Grand Cravat which is lousy with "faded elegance" (to borrow from a previous post).  The common areas are lovely, but my room is nothing special; it is however, very clean and stocked with all the amenities. The lack of charm in my room however is more than remedied by the hotel bar which is exceedingly gentlemanly and civilized, with leather chairs, stately draperies and painting of men in doublets and impressive moustaches. The best part? It is cigar friendly! Apparently you can smoke in any bar or cafe as long as they are not serving food. Huzzah!
Anyway, I spent the day exploring and becoming comfortable navigating around the circuitous streets. As it is Sunday today, all the of the shops were closed, but the churches and cafes were busy. I will not list every place I visited, but there were a couple of churches, some squares and I walked through the Petrusse Valley (the aforementioned ravine). I also visited the Bock Casemates, which are 17 km of tunnels carved into the rock walls of the ravine, built in the 17th C for defensive purposes. Betty Lou, you would have been both claustrophobic and suffering from vertigo. I, however, enjoyed it.
The Grund area in Luxembourg City
I also visited the Museum of the History of the City of Luxembourg because  they had a fascinating exhibit on murder and manslaughter. It was gruesome and academic and partly interactive. They even had a jar of prisoners' fingers! It thought it was neat.
I had Indian food for dinner (thank god for curry or I would surely starve in Europe).
More observations: There are many happy looking dogs of medium to large sizes. It is very clean. Although there are 3 national languages, most people I overhear are speaking French. I am relying on French with the odd mis-pronounced word of Luxembourgish thrown in for effect. People are serious but very nice. Bicycles are everywhere (no helmets, of course.)
Like I said, it was a quiet Sunday, so I will get a better sense of things tomorrow.
d