Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Can You Find Luxembourg on a map?

I could, even before coming to Belgium, probably mostly thanks to studying for Jeopardy. The only things I really knew about it, though, were:

1. It's tiny.
2. The capital is also called Luxembourg.
3. It's tiny - on The Amazing Race one season, the contestants had a task of bicycling across the country (the addition of this fact makes #3 slightly different from #1. Also, without it, I probably wouldn't have had a #3.).

But as it turned out, our landlady here in Gent (I'll just call her "T.") is originally from Luxembourg. And she was interested in going to visit her family over the long weekend at the first of November (All Saint's Day is a holiday). She has had some recent trouble with one of her arms, so driving is not that easy for her; would we be willing to drive her to Luxembourg? Then she would stay with her family, and we could have the car to go sightseeing on our own.

That's a great deal, obviously, and we said "definitely!"

And that's how I ended up driving in Europe for the first time. It was ... interesting, considering I didn't understand all the signs or know offhand what a reasonable speed in kilometers per hour is on any given type of road. But in general, driving is driving, and we made it there without mishap. We met our landlady's brother and some family friends, and went out with T. and her brother ("F.").

We had dinner at the hotel where we were staying, and it was amazing. I had steak tartare, which I've been interested in, but never had occasion to order before. The waiter was very patient with me when he came to make it at the table and I didn't really know what I would want him to put into it. With my requests to leave the capers out, and make it spicy but not really spicy, he got it perfectly to my taste. I somehow didn't take any photos of dinner, but I guess something that is essentially a raw hamburger isn't going to look too appealing anyway.

To make up for that, here's a look at breakfast.

Luxembourgers know how to start the day. (At hotels, anyway.)
 The next day, F. took us on a tour of some highlights of Luxembourg. We first looked at some of the sights of Esch-sur-Alzette, which is where we were staying. It's the second-largest city (or town, I guess - it has 27,000 people) in Luxembourg. It also used to be a center for steel production. Apparently, steel is still big business in the country, after recovering from over-production in the '70s. Nevertheless, there is only one steel processing plant still working in Esch, and it's scheduled to close soon.

The revamping of this industrial area involves a mall, big concert hall, and buildings for the University of Luxembourg. There was a lot of construction going on, all with a very modern feel. I didn't manage to take a picture of those, although the buildings were very interesting.

Then we headed into Luxembourg City.

It's a city that's set up on terrain that gives it a very odd layout. Because of the cliffs, this location has been used many times as a spot for fortifications, starting somewhere around the 10th century. The photo above was taken from the main downtown area of the city, looking over the parts that are below. It's hard to effectively capture the way the city is set on multiple levels, but I might have some additional pictures to post to give you a better idea of it.

The Luxembourgish saying on this window is "Mir w├Âlle bleiwe wat mir sin," and it translates to "We want to remain what we are." It's the national motto, and refers to the fact that they have been taken over by and beholden to the countries around them many times, but they want to be independent. It's a sort of Luxembourgish "We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore!" (That's from the movie Network, in case you haven't seen it.)

And now, a statue!

This one is in the Place Guillaume II, and coincidentally, the guy on the horse is Guillaume II ... better known as William II of the Netherlands, who was also the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. In Luxembourgish, they call the square "Knuedler," which means "knot." I'm a little unclear on why that is, though, because it's not a particularly knotty intersection of streets or anything. But there you have it.

We also went to the Philharmonie Luxembourg, partially because it's an interesting building and partially because you can get a nice view of the city from its location in the Kirchberg area, which is up on a plateau. The area is full of very modern buildings, and has the European Court of Justice and European Investment Bank, among other EU facilities.

It looks a little like an air filter to me, I have to admit.
F. told us that the wind blowing between the hollow columns originally made a lot of noise, and they had to go back and partially fill them with water or sand or something. I can't find any reference to that online, so you can take it with a grain of salt. It's an amusing idea, if nothing else.

I wasn't able to get any really terrific shots of the view (someone went and built a hotel blocking the best of it ... the nerve!), but I'll post one I took anyway.

It's like standing in between two worlds - below is about a century or so behind the area above, which is a world of metal and glass.

That's plenty for now. More to come soon!

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