Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chapter 23: Finally to Luxembourg

Last weekend we made up for our previous aborted attempt to visit Luxembourg. We finally made it! It was, admittedly, a brief trip. We left Spesbach later than we had planned (it's hard to get up early on a Saturday!), but finally took off down the road at around 10:00. We wanted to check out a small resort village in Luxembourg (the country) first. Vianden is a place of relaxation for affluent Europeans, and there are many of them in Luxembourg. The village is tucked in the hills, approached by attractive, winding country roads that, at least on that weekend, were roaring with expensive motorcycles. The village is full of rustic cafes, and most of the parking areas were full of gleaming, motorcycles. People crowded the outside tables dressed in black leather jackets. Those who weren't motorcycling, it seemed, were bicycling in bright, designer biking wear. It's a popular getaway with a long history. Victor Hugo loved the area so much that he bought a house right on the river. There is a Victor Hugo museum attached to the tourist office and a restaurant in the same building. Without at first realizing that we were on hallowed literary ground, we ate there.
Pizza and beer with the spirit of Victor Hugo

pictures of Victor Hugo's home in Vianden

Vianden, Luxembourg

I had brought 100 euro, which usually suffices for these weekend jaunts, but this restaurant took out a bite in no time. We looked at the menu, and we were about to leave; yet, we knew we had seen a pizza sign outside for 18 euro. Lawna asked the waiter, and she said "Ah, yes. Let me get the downstairs menu!" Hmm. I guess we Americans were slumming it for eating upstairs. We weren't the only ones. There was also a young French family nearby munching out on pizza. Local cuisine is fine, and I like to be adventurous, but not when it wipes out our weekend trip money. Pizza it was! And it was very good, chased down by a local Lux pilsner.

Vianden clings to a hill, weaving up steep cobble stone streets, punctuated with upscale shops and fine resorts and hotels. After we finished our meal, packing half of the pizza for later, we drove up the insanely steep main street through town to the edge of an overlook from which you can view the castle that crowns the whole area. Since we wanted to get to Luxembourg, and had already used up about half of our day, we did not attempt to visit the castle or ride the popular sky lift that takes visitors there. Maybe some other time. This excursion was a bit of a rush job.

Vianden Castle

After taking some pictures, we headed due south to Luxembourg. It's a short drive--Luxembourg, after all, is a small country. It's also a beautiful and clean country. It's not mountainous, but it is hilly, with many winding roads and lovely villages. The city is also striking, built upon a high promontory. In fact, it is sometimes called the Gibraltar of northern Europe. In times past, this geography kept it almost invulnerable to attack and maintained centuries of peace. Like Switzerland, Luxembourg has also kept peace by managing other people's money. It is one of the major banking centers in Europe, and, yes, has been embroiled in recent global money laundering scandals. Luxembourg is also a major governing center of the EU, though Brussels is the main one. Luxembourg maintains influence by managing the union's purse strings. Thirty two miles wide and fifty one miles long, Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and the city of Luxembourg is the money machine. Luxembourg has it's own language, which hardly anyone outside the country speaks, so most citizens also speak French and German, and many speak English. Luxembourg waiters can morph between these four languages effortlessly and fluently.

We arrived at the city in the late afternoon, so we parked the car in a dark, underground public garage, visited the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral, took some pictures of the city's panorama from a viewing spot on the edge of the city's precipice and then hopped on a tour bus for the quickie tour, which is guided through headphones that can dial into several different languages. Luxembourg is a rich blend of historic and modern architecture. The old city is separated into two parts by high bridges that link the two original promontories. There are also streets that wind down the cliff sides, and I developed a good bit of respect for the driver that navigated our spacious double-decker bus down the mountainside. Obviously, this modern city has outgrown it's original fortress-on-a-rock geography, and boulevards of glass banking buildings spread out beyond the old town.
Notre Dame Cathedral, Luxembourg
Notre Dame
When we completed our tour, we found a cafe downtown and ate quiche Lorraine and drank a local amber beer. A bride-to-be was walking with her best girl friends downtown, all of them decked out in frizzy pink wigs and having fun. It is a ritual that we saw in Strasbourg the week before--sort of a bachelorette party in goofy costumes. A small brass band played for a while in the town square, and then an accordianist. A good time. After an enjoyable, slow-paced meal, we strolled back to our car and started back home. In northern Europe, early summer daylight lasts until around 10:00 p.m., so we arrived home before night fell.
City on a rock, Luxembourg

high bridge

quickie tour

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