Saturday, May 24, 2014

Luxembourg Part 1: 5/7 - 11

We've been planning to go to Luxembourg ever since Jesse's brother, Rich, and his family moved there almost two years ago. We knew we would wait to let them settle in and we planned to go last September, but then decided to put it off a little bit... and I'm glad we did. Riley has matured so much in the last 8 months that I felt way more confident about her being able to make such a trip. Before this trip Riley had traveled all over Minnesota and a little into Wisconsin, but that was it. It's a little weird to think that now she has been to more countries than she's been to states within the US.

We planned for a 10 day trip and would spend most of our time in Luxembourg, but Luxembourg is pretty small so we knew there might be some side trips to France, Belgium, or Germany. Jesse and I both wanted to go to Germany for sure. We both have German ancestry (in fact, I am almost entirely German) and my dad was stationed in Baumholder, Germany during the Korean War. We looked forward to visiting castles, wineries, eating Luxembourg food (which tends to be French and German) and just visiting with our family, Rich and his wife, Susee, and their kids, Mason (15) and Cade (12).

Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world (20th smallest out of 194 independent countries), and is one of the wealthiest (it's in the top three). Luxembourg is known as a tax haven and has over 150 banks. Luxembourgish is the primary language, however French is used in business and German is the first language taught in schools and is often used in the media. Immigrants account for about 39% of the population. While many come from neighboring countries there is a large population from Portugal (15%).

But let's start at the beginning, Wednesday 5/7 (get ready for an obnoxious amount of pictures) ... our flight took off at about 7:30 pm that evening. A friend drove us to the airport through rush hour (thanks Nick!) and even though the traffic sucked we still got to the airport quite early. We checked our bags and then went through security which was way less stringent than when I went to Colorado a few months ago. It was a little weird and way too easy. Once we got past that we headed to our gate and found a restaurant nearby. As we were walking to our gate I noticed that many of the restaurants had iPads and the one we stopped at was no different. Not just one iPad per table, but one per spot. It was weird. I couldn't see Riley across the table because of the iPad in front of me. We ordered via the iPad and even had to choose a tip amount before anyone had even helped us. It made me wonder if the service then was aligned with the tip you left. Plus, there were ads. You forgot your razor? You could order one while sitting there and it would arrive 15 minutes later. I looked around and saw tables of people not talking to each other - just playing with the iPads or their phones. It was disturbing. We turned our iPads off after ordering so we could eat in peace.

After dinner we went to the gate and shortly before loading, Riley fell and hit the back of her head. There was no padding on the carpet so it sounded like the back of her head bounced right off of concrete. Jesse and I were consoling Riley when the counter agent ran over and asked if she should called the paramedics in case of a concussion. I hadn't even thought about that, but once she brought it up with such an urgency in her voice it really rattled me. I didn't think Riley had a concussion, but she planted that little seed in my head. She suggested where I could get ice (which I went to get) and said to make sure to tell the flight attendants if she started vomiting. It was not the way I wanted to start the flight.

She could have walked on these things for hours.

Luckily, Riley recovered once we were on the plane. Girlfriend was soooooooooooo excited. Beyond excited. We were a little worried as she's not a fan of the unknown, especially if it makes noise, but we felt confident that we gave her most of the information needed to prepare her. We ended up in the
last row of the plane which I usually don't like, but it actually worked out really well (side note: we picked all our seats when I booked the flights, but for some reason got none of those seats. It wasn't an issue until the flights home when we were separated). Riley wanted to sit next to the window (first surprising moment), and I sat next to her while Jesse sat across the aisle next to another little girl and her mom (Jesse and I swapped later in the flight). We were probably on the plane for at least 45 minutes before we took off and Riley said "are we going to go now" no less that 654 times in that time period. Like I said - excited.

Silly 1980's themed safety video. Alf even made an appearance. 

This was an over night flight so I hoped that Riley would be able to sleep. I was less sure about Jesse and I as we just aren't 'fall asleep where you sit' type of people. And even though it was actually Riley's bedtime when we took off we let her watch a movie first since we knew there was no chance of immediate sleep. We also brought along books, and coloring stuff... and the iPad, of course, but didn't use any of it for this leg of the trip. After her movie she insisted that she wasn't tired, but 5 minutes later she was asleep.

Oh, I should also mention that Riley was sick going into this trip. We had a couple nights of troubled
sleeping already because of a persistent cough and the day before we left some questionable eye goo arrived (we crossed our fingers that it wasn't pink eye). A soon as we arrived at the airport I also realized that I was sick and Jesse had already noted not feeling well a couple days prior as well. So there we were starting our long planned for trip all feeling less than stellar.

At any rate, the flight went well. Riley was great and we only had one moment that didn't go so great. Riley fell asleep, but woke at some point as she was trying to get comfortable which was a little hard to do. Her eyes had crusted over at this point and in her overly tired, uncomfortable state this caused her to whine cry for about an hour. The whine cry is almost worse than the full out cry, but we got through it and it was the only 'down point' during the travel time. I was really amazed at how well she did overall. Unfortunately, Jesse didn't get any sleep, and I maybe got a couple hours of disjointed sleep

It could have been worse. We could have been like the lady sitting a couple seats from me who totally barfed while landing. I felt so bad for her especially when her 2 year old kept crawling all over her once we landed. It also almost set off a trigger event for me and I had to totally pull it together to not start puking myself.

Once we landed in Amsterdam we had 2.5 hours to catch our next plane - an hour long flight to Luxembourg. We ended up having enough time, but Amsterdam's airport is huge so it made me worry about the hour and 20 minutes layover we had on the return flight.

Jesse feeling the fatigue. It was about 4 am Central Standard Time here.

Why hello engine, and gassy engine smell.

Thursday 5/8 - We were finally in Luxembourg!!! Rich picked us up a little after 2:00 pm (Minnesota is seven hours behind so we were obviously dealing with jet lag) and he brought us back to his house where Susee was waiting while Mason was at school and Cade was in Normandy for a school trip (how cool is that). We spent the rest of the afternoon at the grocery store, hanging out, and then eating grilled mettwurst sausage on french bread with a delicious spicy mustard. Why have I never thought to eat sausages on french bread. I'm totally doing this from now on.

Once dinner was consumed we couldn't hold on anymore and all went to bed at 7:00 pm. I slept a glorious 13 hours and was even blessed with Riley sleeping in past me until 10:00 am. When I woke up (Friday 5/9) I realized that my voice was pretty much gone, but I was still feeling somewhat ok at this point. Because it was a slow start to the day we decided to begin with a walk in the neighborhood. Rich and Susee live right out of Luxembourg City in a cozy neighborhood. They had a great little park just down the block so we wanted to check that out, plus we heard there were sheep nearby. It was interesting how you would be driving along in a neighborhood and then find a small family farm with cows or sheep grazing away on the grass. Riley did ok at first, but she still wasn't feeling well and dropped off fast after playing in the park. Instead of finding the sheep we headed back to the house with plans to go shopping and get lunch before Rich came home from work early.

Riley loved all the flowers that were in bloom and picked quite a few. It was amazing to see how lush a green everything was here, but the trees were barely budding back at home. This country appears to have the most shrubbery I have seen anywhere. Seriously. It was thick and trimmed and beautiful. It was so luscious and tall and there was no chance of squeezing through it if you tried. Instead of fences you saw shrubs. Maybe I was so amazed by it since it was so green compared to back home. Plus, everyone has these amazing landscaped yards. The climate here is similar to Minnesota, but not as extreme so I imagine they can maintain these yards because they don't go through as many scorcher days as we do. It was just lovely.

It was backwards coat day apparently.

While we were in Luxembourg we went to a number of grocery stores and some of these were in malls. I traveled to Europe 17 years ago (backpacked through many countries during the entire month of November) and was quite aware of how different (and yet the same) things could be in Europe, but it was a little different view this time since I was visiting people who lived there and would point out many of the differences. I will say that I should have brushed up on my French a little more as that one year of French I took in the 9th grade wasn't really helping me here. Luckily, most people spoke English enough if you needed, but it really made me want to learn another language or make sure that Riley does. Another thing that was different was that every store we went to offered Riley a treat of some sort: candy, balloons, stickers. Every store. Kid's seemed to be highly valued here in a way that's a little different than in the US. Riley would love living here. 

Eggs (and milk) are not refrigerated. Also this seems like a lot of eggs compared to what our grocery store stocks.

According to Google Translator petit pain fitness means bun fitness. I'm still confused. 

That evening we played it low key and decided to do movie night like we do at home. Since several family members hadn't had the joy of seeing Frozen for the gazillionth time (or even the first time) we decided to watch that while eating pizza. Jesse and Rich (ok, mostly Rich) made us pizza's.

Mason and Riley worked on some sidewalk art while the pizzas were cooking.

While I played with my camera and took pictures of greenery and flowers.

I don't know about you, but I have this idea that food in Europe is so much fresher and not filled with things like corn syrup and other additives. While not every meal I had was a winner (I'm looking at you greasy fries), but overall I loved eating here. In fact, going to the grocery store was one of my favorite things to do and we even brought home some food items such as honey and mustard.

Flowers Riley collected that day.

Saturday 5/10 - We decided to head into the city to check out the Saturday market. Turns out the Octave Pilgrimage had recently begin as well so the market was a little more active than usual. Octave is the annual pilgrimage to honor Our Lady (Notre Dame) in Luxembourg. Apparently, downtown usually has more of a farmer's market feel on Saturdays, but with Octave it was market meets carnival. We decided to take the bus into the city and I was quite impressed with their buses. Clean, and spacious... and safe. My nephews often take the city bus to school or downtown by themselves, and this is common for kids even younger than them.

The Duke's residence in straight ahead in the above picture. When he's in residence there is a guard out front... and there was so that was a big attraction.

Later that week I thought I would get a picture of Riley with the guard in the back. She didn't seem too thrilled and then asked if she could do a silly face. Why not?... Also note how tired her eyes looked. Welcome to the beautiful look of jet lag plus a virus.

We decided to walk over to Notre Dame, but it was locked up so we didn't get to see the inside, but it had pretty cool doors.

We then walked around the city before heading on to the Bock Casemates which was the other plan for today.

Saw lots of these bikes, but only one person riding one. Expected to see more cyclists than I did.

I thought we were going to eat next, but I have to admit I wasn't feeling my best and was just following the rest of my party. I realized that we were headed to the Casemates already so I mentioned something to Jesse about lunch. I should back up here and mention that I need to eat and sleep on a regular schedule and that if I don't I often head into migraine territory. I had talked to Jesse before we left explaining that he needed to help me out in this regard - make sure I stayed on track. I've traveled with others before who didn't understand this about me and it's hard to be that person who has these sorts of issues. I often feel like a pain - like I have too many needs. But this was important because it doesn't take long for me to head into migraine country and once it settles in it usually takes a few days to leave.

So there we were... walking along and I really should have said something to the group about getting lunch first. As I said, I mentioned something to Jesse who walked up ahead with the rest of the group and I thought he would say something, but he did not. Before I knew it we were at our next destination so I quickly ate a breakfast bar I had stashed in my purse, but unfortunately it would not be enough.

Regardless of my hunger the Casemates were one of my favorite places to explore. It was too dark to get many good pictures inside, but I tried to grab a few in some of the larger corridors that also had light coming in from the windows. The Casemates was built as a military fortress to help protect the city. Eventually, they were mostly dismantled, but both Casemates (Bock and Petrusse) served as shelters during the two world wars.

Riley showing off her light up shoes.

Garden view from the Casemates

The pathways in the Casemates got pretty small and there were a number of dead ends but it was interesting and Riley even seemed to enjoy it. I'm sure there was quite a lot to explore yet, but we finally decided that we needed to get food. Unfortunately, my migraine had already set in (and would stick around for a few days), but we headed off to find someplace to eat. We finally settled on Brasserie du Cercle. I had the quiche which was quite good, Jesse liked his salad, and Riley had her signature plain noodles. It was here that she discovered the long, thin bread stick. I know we have them in America, but we had to buy a box and bring them home.

After lunch we headed back home via the bus and took some underground tunnels to get to our bus stop. There are these large underground areas across the city that are filled with plenty of 'art'. The ones in this area were some of the most interesting... and perhaps confusing.

Sunday 5/11 - Mother's day was another slow start, but my voice was starting to sound better. Unfortunately, this is the day that the cough started (and I still have as I write this post two weeks later - bah). After Riley gave me a lovely picture she drew (I'm wearing the red boots below) we decided to check out a castle in Northern Luxembourg called Vianden.

Vianden was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries, but was sold off in the 1800's and fell into ruin. It has since been restored and is open for tours. We weren't sure how much Riley would like touring an old place like this, but once we told her it was a castle where a princess once lived she was all over it. She was determined to find the princesses bedroom and we were grateful this place did not let her down.

Haha. Don't we look like a chipper crowd? Just us at various stages of illness.

Ha. Such a surly looking character working in the kitchen. You've got to admire his shaggy, misshapen mustache and seedy glare.

And she's just sitting back there thinking "I want to trim that silly mustache of his".

Vianden walls

Jesse totally made me re-walk this path several times to get the picture he wanted.

We heard "I'm just going to nap in the car" on multiple occasions.

Once back home I made Jesse take a picture of Riley and me since it was mother's day. After a Mother's day or two with no documentation of me, I decided that I would make sure I was in a picture every Mother's Day.

And then I decided to take some pictures of Riley. One of the things I loved about Rich and Susee's house was the light. The house had four levels to it and all, but the basement had such great light. I wanted to take pictures everywhere. I also envied their neighborhood for a lot of great places to take photos.

Loved that Riley was showing her sweet side for these pictures. She often wants to do silly pictures, which is fine, but it's nice to capture this side of her since she really is such a sweetheart.

We also Skyped with Jesse and Rich's mom (fun fact: Skype is headquartered in Luxembourg). Such a great way to help feel connected when so far away.

My sister in law, Susee, has an artistic talent that I do not possess. She made the following picture and the sculpture of people crawling up the walls. Just had to show off some of her talents.

Mother's day ended with the guys making us dinner. It was great to finally get out and explore Luxembourg and it's history in a little more detail. Even though we were sick we were determined to make the most of our vacation. Coming up: part two and three where I'll share about our visit to Belgium and Germany and more exploration of Luxembourg.


  1. I LOVE these posts and pictures!!! My question was how was the honey and the wine (I see it had a bee on the label?)

    1. Ah yes, the wine and honey. The wine in the picture was ok. I also had a Pinot Gris at Caves Gourmande that was pretty good, but it had a slight bubbliness to it which isn't my favorite. The best wine I had was called Elbling and is a Luxembourg/German wine. I also brought home a bottle of Pinot Gris that's from a winery (St. Martin) in Luxembourg (but that we didn't get to visit). Rich and Susee brought a bottle to me last summer when they came to visit and I loved it. Jesse also had a mix of good and ok red wines, but decided to bring honey home over wine. We've been told that the wines sold there have less tannins and that you never get a wine hang over like you do here. Apparently, there are wineries that sell their less than stellar stuff to America and the good stuff in Europe.

      As far as the honey, it's really great. Rich and Susee brought some back last summer for Jesse and he's been on the hunt for something similar here ever since. He's come close with something he found at Whole Foods, but says it's not quite the same. They were nice enough to send another care package with honey in it over the winter and Jesse brought home a couple different jars this trip. We probably won't see them again for another couple years so I guess Jesse is going to have to learn to settle for some other honey.


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