Thursday, October 17, 2013

Luxembourg Road Trip

Driving through the countryside on our way to Luxembourg, we observed rolling hills, sweeping valleys, rows of crops and cows grazing in the fields. This landscape is pretty par for the course in Germany so when my friend Katie and I arrived in Luxembourg City, the capital of Luxembourg, we were pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful, old city with grand, ornate buildings and cobblestone streets perched atop a massive cliff. Gone were the A-frame, half-timbered houses that the Germans so dearly love.

Only 4 hours away from Stuttgart, I was excited to explore Luxembourg because 1) I didn’t even realize it was a country until I met a boy from there while studying abroad and 2) despite the fact that the entire country is only the size of Rhode Island, it boasts the second highest GDP in the world and has roughly 500,000 residents.

As always our GPS had some difficultly navigating the car through the one way streets, many of which were blocked off due to construction, so after about 15 minutes of driving in circles, we located our hotel for the night.  Modern, clean, pet-friendly and decorated with modern art, Hotel Simoncini offered large rooms, unfortunately without the comfort of air conditioning, as is the trend in Europe. After dropping our bags off, we ventured out for dinner to Caves Gourmands, a French restaurant that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. We sat at a table outside and ordered off of the special menu that allowed us to pick an appetizer, entrĂ©e and dessert for a set price (one of my favorite French customs). I elected the fois gras terrine, lemon-caper sole and macaroon with berries while my friend ordered pork knuckle, chicken with chanterelles and ice cream with hot chocolate sauce. To drink, I ordered a glass of Chablis that the waiter promptly opened and poured for me. After a few bites of the amuse bouche and sips of the wine, the waiter returned to ask me how I liked the wine. I responded that it was good then he proceeded to tell me that the wine was actually undrinkable due to a rotted cork. This was slightly embarrassing since I hadn’t noticed the problem at all but he suggested a local Pinot Gris that I reluctantly accepted hoping another awkward situation would not occur. On the way back to the hotel we wandered around the town and discovered many hip restaurants and bars packed with patrons, which was surprising to see given it was a Tuesday night.

The next morning we woke up early and set off to explore the city. The first stop was the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin, originally constructed in 1613 in late Gothic style with Renaissance influence. It boasts bright stained glass windows in wonderful jewel tones and glimmering mosaics. The kind overseer even allowed us to bring in my friend’s dog so long as he was held.

From there, we wandered along the streets that bordered the Cliffside and overlooked the old town below. This path offered numerous photo ops. From there we found ourselves at the historic casemates, the city’s ancient military defense system. While the foundation of the casemates was originally constructed in the 10th century, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Holland and Prussia all took part in expanding the fortifications when each country had control of the city so that they grew to be over 23 km long. Today only 17 km of casemates remain and provide one of the top attractions in Luxembourg as tourists wander through the dark caves and peak their heads out of the holes that used to fit cannons and other weaponry.  While we only had time to see the casements, other tourist sites in Luxembourg City include the Neumunster Abbey and the modern art museum.

From there we drove about 10 minutes outside the city to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial where more than 5,000 American soldiers were laid to rest, including General George Patton, Jr. White marble crosses and Jewish stars commemorated the heroic efforts of the allied forces as they strove to defeat Germany’s last major counteroffensive in December 1944 in what is famously remembered as the “Battle of the Bulge.”

 After another stop in the beautiful city of Trier, Germany, we headed back home to Stuttgart, just in time for rush hour traffic.  

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