Monday, January 23, 2006

It’s that time again…

In order to save money, John and I decided to take a decidedly circuitous route back to Luxembourg from the states. John arrived at O’Hare about the middle of the day on the 11th, and I met him at the gate for a British Airways flight to London Heathrow. After a very boring 7 hour flight from Chicago to London, we arrived in London Heathrow. We went through immigration where they put a stamp in my passport in the square that already had two stamps in it. Now I have 3 superimposed stamps in one square, how fun. We got our bags and walked through customs which was actually nothing at all, just a doorway that said customs. We then grabbed a free bus to the nearest tube station (the one at the airport was busted or something). We took a long tube ride into the center of the city—Piccadilly Circus, and we looked around for something to eat, but since we had very little time, we were forced to go to Burger King. There I paid 4 pounds for a small value meal, yay for London prices. We got back on the tube to Liverpool station where we caught the Stansted Express out to London Stansted airport. (London has more airports than most countries—Heathrow, Luton, Stansted, London City, and Gatwick.)
We got there, checked in (no problems with bag weight, thankfully), and sat around at our gate. We headed out to the plane, walking out onto the tarmac and up the stairs to the plane, since Ryanair is waaaay too cheap for jetways. Seats were first come first serve, and I gambled that when we got to Frankfurt Hahn, they would use both the front and rear doors, and I would be able to get off quickly. John headed farther up the plane and ended up in the middle. After a short uncomfortable flight on which I still managed to get sleep, we landed in Frankfurt and my gamble paid off. I got off the plane almost immediately, breezed through immigration (no stamp) and headed to baggage claim. I got John’s bag and my own and then had to wait a good 15-20 minutes for him to get through immigration. Now, Frankfurt Hahn is actually nowhere near Frankfurt, or anywhere else for that matter. There is a direct bus service from the airport to Luxembourg City for €5, however. We saw buses out the front of the terminal, so we sat around inside waiting until it was nearer to time to go, then headed outside. As it turns out, the bus station we needed to be at was actually 200m from the terminal, so we saw our bus drive away as we hauled ass to the station. We headed back inside and told Guy we weren’t going to be on time, and waited for the next bus an hour and a half later. We took no chances with this one and got on and left. We arrived at Luxembourg Gare Central at 2200 on 12 January, where Guy was overjoyed to see us and we were overjoyed to see him and be (almost) home. Guy drove us home, and we ate a good dinner and collapsed.

John and I woke up around 8:00 the next morning feeling just great. We headed down to the Chateau around lunchtime to take advantage of the free lunch. Crici saw us walking in and greeted us enthusiastically. We started to meet new MUDECers and ate lunch. It was weird seeing 130 unfamiliar faces, as we had gotten to know the previous class so well.
After lunch, we got on the bus that was going to the Moselle for a Wine Tour. We first stopped in Schengen, which John and I had already seen, and is only worth about 5 minutes of looking anyway, as all that there is is a small monument to the signing of the Schengen Agreement (abolishing passport controls in the Benelux countries, Germany, and France). Then we stopped at another small Moselle town, where there was a wine museum, detailing how wine was made two years ago. Our tour guide was bad, the tour was boring and the museum was not very well done. One of the faculty members, my base course teacher in fact, kept wandering off. Then we got back on the bus and headed to Wormeldange, where we toured the Wine Cellar of Wormeldange, which is part of the Cooperative that makes Vinsmoselle wines. They also make Guy’s favorite Champagnes; Poll Fabaire and Duc Henry. The tour had no real new information, and the tour we had of the Bernard Massard Cave in Grevenmacher was much more informative and interesting. After the tour, there was a tasting. We were served Auxerrois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Poll Fabaire Brut.
After that we got on the bus, where one girl had a harmonica, and she played Piano Man, as the whole bus sang along. I spent some of the other time on the way to Luxembourg talking to one of Kat’s roommates, then I fell asleep when most people got off in Luxembourg. We got to Differdange, and as I passed Erin, she was giving directions to Scott’s Pub in Luxembourg City to a whole gaggle of MUDECers, which is typical of her. Our student activities coordinator may as well be on the payroll at Scott’s and Halfway House. She doesn’t organize any activities that don’t have to do with a bar.

Saturday 14.1.06

Today we didn’t want to go along on the orientation trips, so after a sleepless night, we got up and had lunch with Guy. Then Guy took us out to the valley of seven castles. We drove through the valley, which was a beautiful area. We stopped at a few of the castles, and at one of them we were startled to see an American WWII style jeep with a helmet with “Hitler Kaputt” painted on it, as well as three men dressed in American army outfits from the same time period and carrying fake weapons. They were apparently filming a movie of some sort, even though they only had small digital cameras. It was a rather surreal scene. The castles were pretty cool. We then headed back to Luxembourg.
We came into the city via the Kirchberg plateau, which is the modern part of the city where all the EU buildings are. I had never gone through as much as we did that night, and it is pretty extensive. It looks about like any other major city, and it was strange to see such a district in a city like Luxembourg. We drove by the airport as well; it’s a bit smaller than O’Hare. We then went to a small place that had an absolutely spectacular view of the city. Unfortunately I only got one shot off before my camera’s battery died. It was a good shot, but it was too grainy for my liking. That annoyed me. By that time it was late enough that we headed to the Taj Mahal. After a great meal of Chicken Nisat, Chai, and Mango juice, we headed back to Guy’s house. As we were sitting playing cards, Daryl walked in. He was welcomed and we played cards for a while, before going to bed for the night.

Sunday 15.1.06

Today was Bastogne. We all managed to drag ourselves out of bed and headed to the chateau. There we were treated to baguette sandwiches and water and got on the bus. On the way to Belgium, we went through a town down a road with Belgium on the west side and Luxembourg on the east side. All along the Luxembourg side were gas stations. Gas is usually 20-30 eurocents cheaper per liter in Luxembourg than in Germany or Belgium, so people go to fill up in Luxembourg. Some even have (illegal) tanks in their trunks to carry more cheap gas. The stations also had large cigarette selections as tobacco is also a lot cheaper in Luxembourg.
We got to the Bastogne memorial, and it was quite impressive. It was shaped like a 5 pointed star, with the names of all 50 states on it. The inside had an inscription in English of the important parts of the Battle of the Bulge. You could also climb to the top and look out over what was a battlefield over sixty years ago. Next to the monument was the historical center, but that was closed for some reason. Parked outside the center were a couple of tanks and there was also a turret sprouting out of what looked like a hobbit’s chimney. After wandering around there in the freezing cold for a while, we got back on the bus to head to the Bastogne museum.
We got a guided tour there, but our guide didn’t speak very good English and was very long-winded. John and I ended up making it mostly self-guided. We finished before the rest of the group and headed outside to look at a cool church across the street from the museum. It was pretty cool, but not exactly anything new and exciting. When we emerged, all the MUDECers were walking away from the museum. We asked someone what was going on and they said that we were to explore the city and meet the bus in the main square. We wandered down the main street, seeing very little that was interesting. The main square had yet another Sherman tank parked in it. This time it had a couple holes in it. The square is named McAuliffe square after the general who responded to the German’s demand for surrender with the word “Nuts!” There is even a café on the square called “Café le Nuts”. We eventually got back on the bus and headed to Athus, Belgium, where we went to a brewery/restaurant for dinner. There we sat with a couple of newbies we had decided were cool enough to hang out with us. The ones worth mentioning were Brian (another 300 level German student, and a good guy) and Audrey (in my German class, as well as Kay Sloan’s class I took last semester, and also good people). Justin, same guy from last semester, also sat with us. A good time was had by all. The dessert was absolutely amazing. It looked rather gross; a hunk of brown stuff in some goopy white sauce, but it was minty, chocolaty and amazing. Then we headed back to Luxembourg to sleep in preparation for the next day’s classes.

Saturday, 21.1.06

Belgian’s rail system had a deal for this month, where you could get a round trip ticket from anywhere in Belgium to anywhere in Belgium for all of €6. Combined with our Jumbo Cards that allow us to travel anywhere in Luxembourg for free, this added up to very cheap fares to anywhere in Belgium. John and I decided we would go to Antwerp. I was too lazy and procrastinated too much to get a hostel and stay overnight, so we only went for a day trip. It was a bit of a lengthy day trip, as Antwerp is almost four hours away from Luxembourg. We got up and took the 7.00 train to Luxembourg, and got on a train to Brussels about 8.30. Technically we were supposed to buy a ticket from the last city in Lux to the first one in Belgium, but we decided to wing it and see what happened. As we waited for our train, we ran into Justin (last semester), his new roommate, and Jill. They were going to Bruges, so they were on the same train to Brussels as us. We had a grand old time chatting about what to do in Bruges and stuff. We split up in Brussels and John and I grabbed a local train to Antwerp (or Antwerpen, as it is in Flemish).
Once there, we got off the train in an amazingly elaborate train station. It looked more fit to be a palace than a train station. Everything was carved stone inside and out. After we finished ogling the train station we headed off to find some waffles. As we headed away from the train station, we found out why Antwerp is called the diamond city. Innumerable stores selling diamond jewelry lined the streets. Despite my desperate need for a ring with 100 .1k diamonds on it, I managed to hold off and not buy anything. Despite the guidebook telling us that there were a million restaurants in Antwerp, we were having difficulty finding one on the main street and the side streets were pretty barren. We saw a number of cool looking churches and other buildings, but still no waffles. We eventually gave up and went to an Italian place and had some pasta. How authentic, we’re in Belgium and the waiter is saying “Prego!” It’s like a bad dream.
After that, we headed to the gigantic Cathedral of our Lady. The main tower is something like 123 meters high. It is done in a gothic style, although the outside color is lighter than what you see on say the Dom in Köln or the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. It was quite a fantastic looking building. The inside was actually Baroque, having been redone with paintings by Rubens, primarily. The painting behind the alter can actually be changed according to the season, to one of 3 paintings by Rubens. It was very impressive; parts of the inside had Gothic spires! (Obviously it wasn’t entirely baroque.)
When we had finished at the church we headed to the Rockox museum. Rockox was a Baroque painter form Antwerp, and a patron of Rubens’. His house became a museum of art, both paintings and applied art. It had a lot of good art, and I am definitely becoming a fan of Dutch and Belgian art. I saw a number of paintings that I would like to have prints of hanging in my classy place of residence, if I ever have one. There was also a very interesting movie talking about Antwerp in its Golden age and the roles that Rockox and Rubens played in it. It was very interesting, but since John and I were tired, we fell asleep, and had to watch it twice to actually see all of it. The museum was interesting, and being under 26, it was all of €1.25 to get in, which is an incredible bargain.
We were about done with the city at this point, so we headed back to the train station. On the way, we saw a restaurant that sold waffles, so we stopped in and had waffles with bananas and whipped cream and hot chocolate. We both had the exact same thing, but we were so tired that it took us like 5 minutes to figure out the bill. At one point John had somehow made €5, which is impressive. We eventually figured it out.
We got back on the train, and headed to Brussels. Once there we had 45 minutes to kill so I took some pictures with the mini tripod my father was so kind to lend me. Then we got on the train to Luxembourg and slept most of the way. Eventually a conductor came around and this time told us we were supposed to have bought a ticket from border town to border town. We pleaded ignorance and he let it go. Sometimes not planning and winging it can be a good way to travel; it saved us money in this case. We got back and instead of sleeping, John played Warcraft for an hour, which prevented my sleeping as well. When we did finally sleep, I slept like a rock. I was ready for Sunday’s nothingness. And nothing is what we did.