We left Aachen early Friday evening, after Jenny finished work. The rest of the day was an experience in languages. Within a few hours, we had to be ready to read road signs in German, Dutch, German, French, German, and Luxembourgish, in that order as we passed from Germany to the Netherlands, back to Germany, to Belgium, Belgium, and finally into Luxembourg. I didn’t even realize that Luxembourg had its own language until that trip. The most confusing part of the drive was within Belgium. We passed from the French-speaking part into the German-speaking part without any border or sign. The only notice was that city halls were suddenly called Rathaus instead of Hôtel de Ville.
Backing up a bit, the trip into the Netherlands was brief and completely unnecessary. I wanted to see the hospital where she works in Aachen, so we checked it out. I quickly regretted it, since that hospital is one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen. It was as though they’d heard that the Centre Pompidou in Paris was a nice building with its external service skeleton, and they tried to copy it. Disastrously. It was so bad I just couldn’t take a picture.
Anyway, after I’d seen the hospital, it was only a couple miles to the Dutch border and another hotel Jenny had used a few times. So, we drove about five miles into the Netherlands just because we could. The interesting thing was the border. You could see the buildings that used to be border guard stations, but now those buildings had ice cream shops. The only real way to know you’d just crossed a Schengen border was the subtle change in spelling between Deutsch and Dutch.
Once back on the trail to Luxembourg, we crossed into Belgium quickly. We didn’t have any particular reason to stop there; it was too early for dinner and Lonely Planet didn’t have anything too interesting to say about any of the cities on our route. However, Jenny had never been to Belgium, and we couldn’t count it if we didn’t get out of the car. So, we headed off the highway to the small town of Stavelot. There wasn’t much to see there, as the museum in the old Abbey were closed. However, we drove around a bit and tried to understand the French words.
From Stavelot, the drive into Luxembourg was interesting. When I spent a night in Luxembourg in 1997, I didn’t see much or really understand much. Driving into the country disabused me of the notion that there wasn’t really anything to the country but the capital city. In fact, there were some gorgeous views as we drove through the northern highlands of Luxembourg. Unfortunately, we never really got a good picture.
We didn’t get into Luxembourg City until late, but we resolved to see as much of the old city as we could, and to find some dinner. It really is an attractive city perched on the cliffs above the confluence of two rivers. It was immediately apparent how the city was turned into a great fortress, the “Gibraltar of the North.”
Dinner was good, too. We found a restaurant that used to be a brewery in one of the valleys below the city. The restaurant focused on local Luxembourgish specialties, which apparently means pork. My dish that evening was four large helpings of four different cuts of pork: a succulent ham, pork loin, pork ribs, and a ham hock, with broad beans, potatoes and sauerkraut. It would have been enough for both of us, but it surely was tasty. I washed my pork down with a local beer, and Jenny washed down her tasty chicken dish with a glass of Luxembourgish wine.
In the morning, we walked around the city a lot more, following Lonely Planet’s suggested walking tour (and picking up breakfast at the farmer’s market set up in the town square). The best parts were the City History Museum and the Bock Casements.
The history museum was built at the edge of the city. The top three floors are in a mansion built within the city walls, and the lower floors were built into some old buildings that were built up from the valley floor. The permanent exhibit was in the lower floors, explaining the history of the city through a series of intricate wooden models, surrounded by stonework of the ancient buildings. Very cool. The upstairs portion was a temporary exhibit on the artwork stolen from Luxembourg by the Nazis in World War II. It was very interesting despite being only in German and French.
The Bock Casements were a series of tunnels and rooms carved out of the cliffs by the Spaniards in the 1700s as part of the city’s defenses. There’s nothing really inside the tunnels, but it’s interesting to walk through the rough-hewn stone rooms and imagine being garrisoned there.
Then, we tried to leave Luxembourg. This was mostly a simple process, except for the hotel garage. I’ve never seen such a narrow driving course in my life. Instead of making a three-point turn to get out of the garage, I had to make a nine- or eleven- point turn. Unfortunately, I had to make such maneuvers at least four times to get into the garage and at least twice to get out of the garage. I’ve never been so exhausted by driving, even when I drove all night from St. Louis to Rapid City, SD.
So, when we finally succeeded in getting out of the garage, we headed to the Luxembourg wine region along the Mosel River. We found a winery there, and had a tour and some samples of fine sweet white Luxembourgish wine. Finally, we were on our way back to Germany to go to Trier.
That will have to wait until the next post.