A deluxembourg birthday

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Greetings all - I hope you are well.

I certainly am despite being a year older and none the wiser. Why? Well, because firstly I'm now a proud uncle (congratulations Ains and li'l Charlie - more on that including some photos later hopefully) and secondly, although being hard at work over the winter months, I'm managing to still travel to new places - one of my main goals when moving over this way. So, all is good.

My first European trip ended up being to Luxembourg, with new (dare I say it) girlfriend - Karen - for my 33rd birthday. Some of you are probably choking on the girlfriend bit (how many years has it been since I had an actual girlfriend?) but that's what it seems like. Hope I don't scare her off with that and thanks Karen for making this milestone such a memorable one.

Anyway, we arrived at Luxembourg Findil airport as the sun set that Friday evening and dove straight into one of the highlights of whole weekend. I've never heard of nor experienced a 'raclette' grill before but I must say that through cleverly combining tasty cheese and electric barbecue-ing, Raclette has rocketed way up my list of favourite world cuisines!

Brilliantly conceived by some continental mastermind, this two-tiered toasting contrivance stands proudly in the middle of the dining tables across the region. A range of tasty ingredients like smoked hams and bacons, sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms cook upon the top griddle, whilst the fine cheeses essential to this meal are grilled to a deliciously oozy state in cute little shovels by the naked element underneath. Once done the molten cheesy mass is poured from the shovel onto a boiled potato which is then garnished with the other ingredients to taste. What a flavour sensation!

Accompanied by some highly amusing conversation from other multi-lingual guests like Fernand, and all washed down with some fine Luxembourgish wines this was a superb night, so many thanks to host Romaine for putting on such a lovely first-up treat.

Next morning we launched into a breakfast of nun's farts (no kidding - that's the literal translation for these sweet little dough balls) and more continental cheese, before waddling out on full stomachs (very typical of the weekend) to see the capital of this tiny but Grand Duchy.

Wedged between France, Germany and Belgium, Luxembourg City was founded on a cliff-top promintory overlooking the confluence of two rivers in 963AD. Due to its strategic location the city has seen a fair share of European conflict over the ages, with the Burgundians, Spanish, French, Austrians and Prussians laying seige to it at various times - often destroying it in the process. The resulting fortification improvements earned it a reputation more recently as the 'Gibraltar of the north'.

You can see why - its a pretty place of gorges and bridges and neat buildings built on the high ground, all of which would have been most difficult to attack from the other side of one of the rivers down below. Yet attack we did, charging into the centre of what turned out to be a very quiet town that early on Saturday morning. A lone guard out front of the closed Ducal Palace was about the only person we saw before reaching a colourful flower market a little further toward the city centre.

However the Casemates are the big attraction in town and fortunately we turned up on the opening weekend of the tourist season, so they were actually open to explore. The Casemate tunnels we visited had been hewn from the finger of rock that supported the original abbey and fort the Siegfroid wisely established way back in the 10th century, but apparently more than 23km of other tunnels still honeycomb the area - 17km of which are still accessible in various states of repair. There are even man made chambers down there big enough to host mini concerts and plays, so all in all a place packed with history and integral to the World Heritage site that Luxembourg City was made in the md 90s. Though quite interesting, we found the maze of spiral staircases, narrow passageways and cliff-face viewing platforms a little chilly so headed topside for more conventional sights.

After happily confusing the European Cultural Capital deer logo for a bunch of giant blue moose we headed for the Notre Dame Cathedral. I haven't seen the original in France as yet but parts of this one seems a little modern which sort of deadens the overall effect. Probably better to see this one first so I'll be suitably impressed when I eventually see the archetype.

Not to worry, there is more to see and do in town even though it only supports a population of about 100,000. After a tasty quiche lorraine (yes, real men do eat it) in a typically French cafe we wandered back down the steep hill to the riverside and into another section of well preserved 'old town'. The view from the Corniche of some very cute architecture lining the hillsides is well worth the effort and that, coupled with a very relaxed mood, inspired Karen to state that Luxembourg is actually nicer than Prague. That's a bold claim but as I haven't been to the latter it was interesting to hear - after all, Prague is meant to be pretty sweet!

After crossing the city again, including lots of walking up and down hills, we adjourned late in the afternoon to a groovy little locals' bar called The Interview. Smoking is still allowed in the bars here but despite that the passing parade of hip cats and doe-eyed dogs doing the rounds made for amusing viewing. The local Bitburger lager went down a treat too, so all that was left to do that fine Saturday was chow down to a horse meat steak (a very tasty local delicacy) and rest up for Sunday's birthday adventures. They're up next so read on >>
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