Quiet but not peaceful

After 20 countries we have to admit that sometimes places merge and we have to stop and think where we are. This week being in the “Little Switzerland” region of Luxembourg has been a tad confusing, as we never made Switzerland we will take it as a taster version.

We are both surprised at Luxembourg, it has been nothing that we expected. We thought such a small country would be very cramped with little outdoor space. We couldn’t have been further wrong, it’s like driving around one big parkland with the odd small village or town slotted in.  Whilst we have seen more than our fair share of forests in the last year we have never seen so many broad leaf woods. Hardly a pine or conifer in sight and being autumn the trees are magnificent it really felt as remote as Scandinavia as we drove up the German border.

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The benches come in big sizes here

As we drove through we were passing walking trails all the way, the forecast was for sunshine so we stopped for two nights at Kohnenhof so we could get out and do some walking.  Of course it rained fairly solidly all day, despite that we followed a trail up through the forests and then back down along the river. It pleases our sense of the adventure that we crossed over and back from Germany on the river footbridges twice, not even a sign that its a new country.

Language gets more confusing here all the time, we go into a shop and speak French, they respond in German – so we try a bit of German and they go to French! It seems natural to the people here to talk in both languages, we are now encountering more Dutch mixed in too. There is also a language called Luxembourgish, a French version of German but it seems not many people use that one – thankfully.

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He stayed dry

Our last stop in Luxembourg has been Clervaux another postcard setting with a castle, historic church and even an Abbey on the hill. We rolled in Saturday morning looking for the crowds, nope just us then. Car-parks empty, hardly a soul around, Luxembourg feels deserted, it may be out of season but even so we have not seen a country this quiet before. The town centre consists of several shops, four good sized hotels and river running through. Anywhere else this would be a tourist magnet but for some reason not here.

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Clervaux

The castle, as with pretty much everything in Luxembourg, was destroyed during the Battle of the Bulge, now fully restored it houses the museum of the Battle of the Bulge, more a collection of thousands of war artifacts from guns and uniforms to cigarette tins and pieces of old crates. As with most of the country they have a U.S. Sherman tank that participated in WWII and a German 88 anti-aircraft gun, both  outside the castle walls.

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The combined ticket also took us into the model castle exhibition. A 1:100 model of every one of the 15 castles in Luxembourg including the surrounding villages,  they are well done but have to say after the third or fourth it felt like groundhog day.

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Every town and village has a tank they are rightly proud of

The castle towers house the world famous “Family of Man” photographic exhibition. First shown in 1955 in New York, it then toured the world for eight years, having shows in 37 countries and being seen by more than 9 million people.  The photographs focus on the shared  features of mankind and humanism, with over 500 photos it is a lot to take in, some sad, some funny and many thought provoking. We spent an hour walking through but could easily have spent a day to really see every photograph properly.

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from The Family of Man – one of my favourites

This morning dawned bright blue skies so we set off to for the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maurice on the hill above the town. The Neo-Romanesque structure was built in 1910 but looks much older, a footpath winds it way up through the trees and after half an hour we were at the gates. We arrived just as one of their services was finishing, from outside the church we could just hear the gentle singing of the monks, perfect voices in a perfect setting.

There was a small exhibition area we were allowed to visit which showed photographs of how the monks live such as one on a tractor, another on a computer etc. Other than that there was no admittance to the abbey as the monks live a very secluded life. They do make a slight exception from their retiring lives and open their gift shops for an hour a day 🙂 commerce doesn’t stop for even a Benedictine Monk.

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Church Saints Cosmas and Damian

As we are being blessed with a few days of Indian summer we have stayed put for the weekend, on an amazing little campsite just on the edge of town. Everything we need plus a pitch the size of our garden and joy of joys a washing machine and dryer – never realised how much I would miss our washing machine. Most weeks we do a hand-wash but as the budget looks good went mad and did two loads in the machine – woohoo.

We have spent the rest afternoon sat in the sunshine listening to the hundreds of motorbikes roaring around the country lanes vying for attention with the constant bell ringing every 15 minutes at the town church and the Abbey getting in on the act every half hour.  Sunshine forecast well into next week so the plan is to work out a plan to see as much as Belgium as we can before we head home.

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Relaxing reading for the final push North 🙂

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so good they named it twice?

Sunday morning we shot through Belgium and arrived in Luxembourg (Belgium is being saved until last).  Our first impressions were so much space and a love of pink – in every hamlet and village pink paint abounds on houses, restaurants and even the odd garage. The other thing that struck us is we have hit autumn – in the space of a few hours drive the trees are in shedding leaves like there is no tomorrow.

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Our first stop was just outside Ettlebruck at Dietsch. A gigantic campsite next to the river but only five or six vans and a couple of caravans there so we had roughly 30 pitches of space each between us, or we should have. Not sure what’s with people who need to pitch next door, acres of space but three nights running vans came in and parked either side of us.

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Chateau Berdorf

Monday morning dawned cold, damp and grey, we got the bikes out for a ride to on yet more brilliant cycle paths, all off road – so good that despite the cold we continued onto Colmar (home of a Goodyear factory – weirdly good smell) before retracing out steps into Ettlebruck for a warming coffee stop – they even gave us blankets at the pavement cafe.

Being slightly confused with what language we should be using we asked the waitress, she said any will do, people speak French, English, German or often Portuguese!

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The way ahead – blankets at all cafes

The town was liberted by the US in 1944 but re-taken by Germany in the December during the Battle of the Bulge. No less than General Patton himself led the the troops into retake the town again a couple of weeks later for the final liberation from the Nazi occupation. With so much fighting taking place the town has very few older buildings, lots of post war apartments, shops with the occasional ally-way of pre-war houses dotted around.

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Pink painted buildings abound

Breaking a habit we went been to Luxembourg city for a day. We used the local train which  ran hourly, 40 minutes each way, a double decker train and €4 each – worth it for the journey alone.

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Luxembourg Luxembourg (ie the city bit) is  ranked 1st in terms of safety out of 221 cities across the world. Not surprising in a lot of ways as its very small, most people seem to be office folk and maybe because it was raining cats and dogs there were very few tourists around.  That said there are more than enough historic buildings to visit, we saw the Ducal Palace but sadly the castle was under wraps as scaffold covers a large part.

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For a small city there is a fair bit of up and down hill to get around. There are two deep gorges running through the city, both over 230 ft deep, most of the city is built high on the cliffs each side leaving the bottom of the valleys at parkland and open green spaces. We braved the rain and headed for the Bock, a natural cliff at the edge the city that contains the ruins of a castle and miles of tunnels.

It is an easy city to walk in a few hours, the old town has a good shopping area with all the household names but the rain meant we weren’t really that interested. Wet through we gave up after a lunch stop and headed back to the campsite.

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We decided to move along to the border region and arrived in Echternach, a small town on the German border, literally – cross over a small foot bridge and you are in Germany – less than 20ft between them over a small river. The town was founded back in 698 AD by a Brit, none other than St. Wilibrord from Ripon (another Yorkshire man!).  An impressive Basilica stands in the centre of town where Wilibrords tomb is housed in the crypt. The town was very much what we thought all German towns would be more like, medieval walls with towers, cobbled streets and tall houses – most of the town was badly damaged in WWII but has since been completely restored.

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Echternach

Another of the must see here is Vianden, a small village but with a whooper of a castle perched on the hillside.  Built in the 11th century it was left to fall into disrepair in the 1800’s. It was only recently in 1997 that the Grand Duke gave the castle to the state and restorations were completed.  The other main claim to fame is the annual ‘nut fair’  where local walnuts are on sale together with walnut cakes, walnut confectionary, walnut brandy and walnut liqueurs – it on this Sunday so we may go back.

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Vianden village

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Vianden castle

Whilst in the village, joy of joys, we came across a chair lift which climbed over 450 ft up a sheer cliff. We did, as you do – bloody nightmare. It started off fine, then crossed the river, followed by the main road and if that wasn’t bad enough your feet are dangling in the tree canopy all the way. Strangely enough no people coming down, just seats with beer barrels and crates!

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When we got to the top it was a bit of a let down, no views of the castle as the trees have grown way too high over the years. To use the loo they want another 50 cents of your money and for the photo they took of you terrified on the way up another €6. I was going to walk down it was that bad going up, to be fair the down trip wasn’t as bad.

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