Monday, November 24, 2008

Luxembourg Nov 22

We’re driving from Luxembourg to Belgium in the first snowfall of the season. Thom made sure we had snow tires when he rented the car, so we’re in good shape. This morning we observed a huge traffic jam in the opposite direction of the Audubon, due to trucks and vehicles incapable of climbing a hill on their summer tires. Maybe we brought Alaska’s weather to Europe!
Our European journey began 3 days ago when we landed in Germany. After using the USO facilities to set up our cell phone and check email, we headed down the road in our Nissan minivan (with GPS!). We all commented on how clean and orderly Germany looks, even the little villages with their spiral church steeples. After a couple hours, we arrived in Heidelberg, where we stayed at a US Army facility called Patrick Henry Village. We had a 3 bedroom suite with a kitchen, which is just what we needed to get caught up on sleep. Unfortunately, Will and Ben were unable to sleep on the red eye flight, and the rest of us only caught a few hours.
We spent our first day exploring Heidelberg. It’s a beautiful city along the Nekkar River with an impressive castle built up on the hills from the 1400’s. We climbed the cobblestone steps and toured the castle, discovering the prince’s and princess’ quarters, the chapel, the damp recesses inhabited by bats, and the high protective walls. The castle is home to a museum of apothecary and medicinal things. It was interesting to see how people were medicated prior to modern medicine. Robby and I enjoyed the laboratory with distillation, mortar and pestle, etc. The boys were surprised to learn that the moat surrounding the castle was used to raise animals, and then the royalty actually hunted there! Our tour guide explained that the women would cheer on their “brave” men from balconies above.
Walking down the cobblestone streets with cafes and shops was enjoyable. The boys deciphered many signs, since many German words are similar to English…just a lot longer, they noticed. We heard children at recess playing in a very small space. Our boys watched as the kids laughed, played, and called to each other in German. I think they miss their friends, and probably being at school too. They simply commented that they couldn’t believe what a small outside space the kids had.
We also noticed that so many people commute on bikes; students, working people, mothers with children behind, etc. Robby enjoys all the different efficient cars. We think the Smartg Cars are too cute! We found ourselves inside a sporting goods store in a mall. A track with 4 lanes wound its way through the store. Before I knew it, all the boys were on scooters zipping around the track, including Thom! Skateboards, 3-wheelers, 2-wheeler scooters, etc. They were having a ball, and I was amazed that the clerks didn’t stop them.
Next, we visited a friend of Louise’s who lives in Heidelberg, named Karin Diekmann. Louise lived with Karin’s family about 50 years ago for a little while as an exchange student. Karin invited us into her stunning home filled with beautiful artwork. She shared sparkling wine and a light dinner with us, as we discussed the wonders of travel, speaking many languages, and family. The boys loved her house because it has an elevator, a lovely outside garden with an incredible view of Heidelberg, and an inside swimming pool. You bet they accepted her offer to go for a dip in the pool! Thank you, Karin for hosting a perfect evening to complete our first full day in Europe.
Next we drove to Trier, one of the oldest cities in Europe, which is located on the western border of Germany. We visited La Puerte Nigra, “The Black Door”, which is some of the oldest surviving architecture built by the Romans. I couldn’t help but ask the boys in awe what it feels like to climb 3 stories up on a structure so old. Statues, relief artwork, and drawings are everywhere. We could see the distant vineyards up and down the hillsides along the Moselle River.
Our family then walked through the pedestrian-only streets, enjoying German folksingers in traditional costume. We tried schnitzel for dinner, which the boys loved. As an adventure, we spent the night in a hostel. Over 25 years ago, I toured Europe as a college student and stayed in many youth hostels and pensions. It’s a terrific way to meet people from all over the world. The boys liked being in bunk beds again, and meeting a local man from Germany.
Today we ventured into Luxembourg and learned about its history. The city is strategically located on steep hills, and was constantly being attacked. Spain, France, Austria, German, The Netherlands, and Prussia controlled it over the past 2000 years. Now it is finally its own country. Luxembourg is the cleanest city I’ve ever experienced, basing much of its economy on finances and banking. Thom spoke with a local man who said the poor world economy doesn’t affect them as much here because they’re very conservative with their loans. We stopped into 2 incredible cathedrals, and walked along the steep hillsides. How they built the bridges, walls, and large cathedrals on inclines like this from hundreds of years ago seems miraculous.
Now we’re driving to Brussels, and it’s still snowing. We hope to spend the night at a US Air Base Community, Shape Headquarters, near Brussels.

No comments: