Previously in this space, you read about the part
of Bruceís visit during which we took day trips to Amsterdam, Den
Haag, and Brussels. After a while we went out of town. Our first
stop was in Maastricht in the southeastern part of the Netherlands.
Iíve written about Maastricht before noting that itís different from
other Dutch cities because it seems to have a strong French and
German influence. Our hotel came equipped with wireless internet so
we were able to hear the Eaglesí comeback victory over Kansas City.
Aaah, the comforts of home.
Thereís a place not far from
Maastricht called Driepunt, Three Points. Itís in the woods so one has to actively
seek this out. Itís on a hill, possibly the only serious hill in the
Netherlands at about 900 feet or so. Its claim to fame is that itís
not entirely in the Netherlands. As its name implies, this is the
three point intersection that marks a common border with the
Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. There a small
obelisk marker, just
like the Washington monument except that itís about four feet high,
which marks the spot. One can be in all three countries
simultaneously. There are small souvenir stands on the Dutch and
Belgian sides but the Germans seem to ignore the whole thing. Iíve
never been to the "Four Corners" in the American southwest, but I
assume itís a similar thing: a geographical oddity that, when there,
leads to the question, "Whatís for lunch?"
To get out of there, we exited the woods on the
same Dutch road we entered on. When we got to the main road, we
turned right and in less than a minute crossed the German border
again into Aachen. Heading down the road for about two minutes, we
passed a sign telling us we were back in Belgium. Bruce checked the
map to make sure this was correct and it was. Crossing international
borders in Europe is not a whole lot more eventful than crossing
state borders in the U.S. Since the advent of the Euro, the money
doesnít even change. However, the languages do and I have to
remember not to say "Ik spreek geen Nederlands" to Germans because
they probably donít speak Dutch, either. Bruce noted that we had
already been in three countries that day and we were about to pick
up a fourth. We were headed to Luxembourg.
Chances are you donít know just where Luxembourg
is. Earlier I referred to a three point intersection. If there were
a three point intersection among France, Germany and Belgium, it
would be in Luxembourg which is kind of nestled right in there in
the corner of all three. Luxembourg is shaped roughly like the
"lower peninsula" of Michigan. Iíll bet the only people who have a
chance of knowing what that means are a few of you mid-westerners.
Mostly Iím referring to the fact that the northern border comes to
sort of a point. Thatís where we entered. The weather was pretty
nice that day and we were doing the top-down convertible-sound
thing. Philadelphians of a certain age are right now thinking of
Hyski. The terrain is hilly, not at all like the Netherlands but
clearly not the Alps. We were taking back roads which curved all
over the place. It was a wonderful drive. The sun was starting to go
down so we werenít able to get the full effect. You all know that
Luxembourg is pretty small (yet not the smallest country in Europe). We entered the country on the northern
border and drove to Luxembourg (the city Ė same name as the country)
which is very near the French border in the south. The distance,
practically the whole length of the country, is about 50 miles which
is 67% more than the width of the country, about 30 miles. We
wondered if the Grand Duke has a weekend place in the north. Thereís
plenty of space and we saw scenery and structures that looked
befitting of a Grand Duke. Yet as small as Luxembourg is and with a
population of less than a half million, there are three official
languages: French, German and Luxembourgish. This last one claims
only about 300,000 people who speak it.
Before Lynn and I went to Luxembourg the first
time last year, I hadnít spent more than 15 minutes of my life
thinking about the place. That averages out to about a 16 seconds a
year. You probably are the same way. Itís a big mistake. The city
got its start 963 with the construction of the Luxembourg Castle.
Simultaneously they were struggling with the Y1K problem which was
presumably successfully solved although there is no documentation to
that effect. The Grand Duchy has had its share of political strife
as it has been a political soccer ball thrown around among the
French, Germans and Dutch for much of its history. It finally gained
independence in 1839.
The castleís location is not an accident. It has
everything to do with the areaís topography. The city is built
around large chasms in the earth. There are several. Back then these
were supposed to give the advantage to those on the high ground but
given so many take-overs, I wonder how effective they were. You can
walk down into some of the chasms and feel totally removed from the
sights and sounds of a big city. Itís serene and very quiet down
there. In one area of the city, there is a thoroughly modern
downtown area. Another area is the old town which is being
gentrified and people are moving back into houses built 500 years
ago. Nearby is the home of the Grand Duke. Still another area just a
bit outside the central business district is the new home of the
European Union with ultra modern hotels and office buildings.
Because there are so many chasms, there are spectacular views in a
lot of different directions.
You are all aware that the price of gasoline in
Europe, until recently at least, is much higher than in the U.S.
Most of that is tax and the Netherlands is the highest of all. The
major industry in Luxembourg is banking and taxes are relatively
low. Gasoline there is Ä.30/liter, about $1.33/gallon, less in
Luxembourg than in the Netherlands. The good news ends there.
Luxembourg is very, very expensive. Hotels in the central area can
be easily twice what they are elsewhere. Had we arrived earlier than
9 p.m. we could have scoped it out better and in retrospect, the
airport area, only five miles away, might have been a whole lot
better. Still, if you get a chance to see this place, itís well
worth it. I have a Danish colleague here who likes it far better
than Paris. See my pictures
and a video of Luxembourg
in addition to these links to other pictures:
We were only a few miles from the French border
and Bruce wanted to pick up another country so we crossed the border
and went to a place called Thionville. This town was similar to
Pottstown, Pa. and we were only there to touch second base and come
back. While there, though, we needed some stuff from a pharmacy. The
woman behind the counter had a name tag: S. Kessler. What kind of
French name is that? I speak no French other than "Je ne parle pas
franÁais." Bruce speaks a little more. We got several things and I
added it up in my head. She said something. I gave her Ä15 and she
gave me change. I counted the change and it looked about right.
Bruce was thinking about something. We got back into the car and he
said, "She said it was Ä12.40." Thanks.
We headed to Bonn and DŁsseldorf in Germany and
we found a little place along the way in a small town near Bitburg
to stay overnight. There was a small almost empty restaurant where
we had dinner. The next morning we went to the same place for
breakfast. A woman entered frantically waving her arms saying
something we didnít understand but it was clear she wanted us out of
there. We followed her to a stairway where she went on and on while
pointing upstairs. We went upstairs and found a room where breakfast
was being served. Sometimes you donít need words.
We stayed a few hours in Bonn which everyone here
says isnít much but itís the birthplace of Beethoven. We didnít
actually see it but you see what it looks like
here and from some of my
pictures. It was nice enough to wander through but Iím not
sure itís a place to build a trip around. We went to DŁsseldorf and
saw only a very little bit. Rush hour was starting, it was difficult
to park, and I didnít want to pay monster prices for a hotel again,
so we made our way to the Dutch border to spend our last night out.
DŁsseldorf is supposed to have a terrific Christmas market that
Lynn and I will have to come to. See the subsequent
Lynn and I thoroughly enjoyed Bruceís visit. He,
in turn, loved our town and the portion of Europe he got to see. He
said he wants to come back, probably sooner than he originally
thought and this time he wants to bring his girlfriend Corey. I
suspect heíll have an even better time with her. See, I remember
being 26. Think about it. Europe for a couple weeks with parents?
Europe for a couple weeks with girlfriend? Parents? Girlfriend? This
is clearly a no-brainer. And I understand.