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On the Road Again - Part 2

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:



other images

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 essay and pictures of DŁsseldorf.

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.


© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008