Sunday, September 11, 2005

Karyn in Luxembourg

Yesterday I took an MWR trip to Luxembourg City. MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) is a military organization that plans activities for military and their dependents. Here in Europe, they very frequently arrange coach trips to various destinations. Usually they are day trips, but sometimes the trips last all weekend.

Anyway, the trip to Luxembourg took about 3 hours. We drove through the Belgian Ardennes (past Bastogne) down into Luxembourg, and shortly after passing the border, we were in Luxembourg City. It's the largest city in Luxembourg, but doesn't have the feel of a capital city at all.

When our bus arrived, a tour guide got on and showed us the city's sights. Our first stop - the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, where over 5,000 WWII dead are buried. General Patton is also buried there. He died after the war ended, but his will requested that he be buried there with his men.

There is a Nazi cemetery down the street from the American one. I wanted to go in and look at it, but sadly, the tour did not include that. We did learn that over 9,000 Nazi soldiers are buried in that cemetery, approximately 5,000 of them in a mass grave.

The bus brought us back into town, where the guide pointed out various landmarks. We stopped at the casemates (the city fortifications) to look at the views of the valley below.

The bus tour ended around lunch-time, so we got off the bus, splitting off to do our own thing for the day. The guy who had been sitting next to me on the bus, Nels, asked if I would mind if he joined me, provided I didn't plan to spend my day shopping. I didn't plan to spend my day shopping, so I agreed to let him accompany me.

Our first stop was to find some lunch. We walked into a square with a variety of restaurants. I spied a Chi Chi's and I hadn't had Mexican food in some time. He agreed this was fine, so we decided to split a combination plate of their nachos. Honestly, the food was lousy. Chi Chi's isn't a great Mexican restaurant to begin with, but the overseas ones are really bad. I regret going there to eat. While we were eating (al fresco, I might add, although we were under an umbrella), it started sprinkling a bit.

After lunch, we decided to just walk around for awhile. The sky started darkening and we knew worse rain was coming (I was prepared, Nels was not). We ducked into a church when the rain started pouring down - Eglise St. Michel.

Once the rain let up a bit, we found ourselves going back toward the casemates. You can take tours inside it. There are various tunnels and caves inside where battles were fought. The rain started coming down again, so we decided to get tickets for the casemates tour and then spent the next hour or more walking through pitch black tunnels and going down slippery, narrow, winding stairs.

By the time we left the casemates, the rain had stopped and the sun came out again, so it started to get really muggy and miserable.

After that, we mostly wandered around, stopping for McFlurries at McDonald's. There was a jazz band playing in the square, so we listened in for a few minutes and then moved on.

We toured the Notre Dame cathedral, which isn't nearly as impressive as Cologne's, Strasbourg's, or Westminster Abbey. But it was still pretty.

About 45 minutes before we had to meet up with the bus to go home, we stopped at a restaurant called La Boucherie for drinks. (I wish we had eaten there for lunch. The food looked really good. And it was just 2 doors down from Chi Chi's). They had a new flavor of Cola Light - Sango (orange-flavored) that is being test-marketed in Luxembourg and Belgium. So I ordered that. It was very nice. (I ended up buying a big bottle of it to take home when the bus stopped just outside Liege on the way back).

Even though we didn't do much, we saw a lot of sights, and I could appreciate the things about Luxembourg that weren't particularly touristy. There were a lot of interesting details on both residential and commercial buildings, so I tried to photograph those things. The part of the city that lies in the valley seemed to be largely untouched by tourist traffic, so we enjoyed wandering around there as well. It was peaceful and quiet, with just a few sidewalk cafes and nothing that particularly catered to tourists.

We did a lot of walking, particularly on very steep (wet) cobblestone streets, which was a lot of fun, let me tell you. And there was a lot of stair climbing as well. But what I found to be really interesting about Luxembourg is that you can appreciate it on various levels. The views of the valley from the top of the casemates are equally as wonderful as the views from the valley. And in-between is nice too. I hope my pictures demonstrate that.


Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Lance and Karyn Go to London Town

This was almost two weeks ago, but Lance and I have been moving into another house, so I've had no time to update until now.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lance and I arrived at London Stansted after a nerve-wracking morning of being stuck in Eindhoven, NL traffic and getting to the airport less than an hour before our flight. The flight was smooth and extremely brief. Getting out of Stansted into London proper actually took longer than the flight. We took the Stansted Express – 45 minutes to Liverpool Street Station. From there, we hop on the tube, take that to Tower Hill, and then switch tubes to get out to Fulham Broadway. Total tube travel time (try saying that 10 times fast) = 1 hour. There were some delays due to security issues, but that seems to be pretty normal since the July 7 bombings.

At one of the tube stops, a pigeon got on, pecked around until the next stop, and then got off. Hilarious.

Once we got to Fulham Broadway and located our hotel, we checked in and decided to search for lunch. Lance decided that he wanted to visit the Natural History Museum, which is in the South Kensington area near a lot of other museums. So we figured we would find a bite to eat there. The first place we saw after leaving the tube station was a crepe restaurant. So crepes it was. And then on to the Natural History Museum.

I should say, first of all, that I wasn’t feeling well our first day there. I had an upset stomach – not nausea, but just not good. But I got through the Natural History Museum as best I could. It was interesting, but I just couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked. We saw a good portion of the museum, but not everything. The museum is free and I was very impressed with the quality of it. It was probably the best natural history museum I’ve ever seen. The dinosaur exhibit is impressive. No wonder it’s so popular.

The Victoria & Albert Museum is right by the Natural History Museum, and Lance chose that as a place for us to visit. That surprised me, because it’s mostly art, and he’s not really into that. But there was plenty of interesting stuff to look at. We didn’t get through all of this museum either, but the sculpture room was especially interesting and I also liked the wardrobe exhibits – mostly stuff worn by royalty.

After we had enough of that museum, we decided to go in search of dinner. Lance wanted to eat at the Hard Rock Café, since it’s the original. I wasn’t so particular. I’ve already eaten there anyway. So we took the tube to Hyde Park Corner to go to the restaurant, only to find out that they were closed due to a fire. So we walked all over the area looking for another place to eat. We stopped briefly in Harrod’s so Lance could check it out. And then we continued on…and on…and on… Our walk turned up nothing that either of us wanted to eat (and in London, that’s pretty amazing). So Lance suggested we take the tube back to the area where we started out, and there we found an Italian restaurant. So we had dinner there and headed back to the hotel to shower and rest. We spent the rest of the evening watching crazy British television shows (there’s this one called “Bad Lad Army” that just had us in hysterics) and I had some hot cocoa and cookies from the tea service in our room.

Friday, August 26

Lance’s sister and Dennis were arriving that morning, so we spent all morning in the hotel lobby awaiting their arrival, after having a traditional English breakfast at a little café across the street from our hotel. Their flight was to get into Gatwick at 9, but they didn’t make it to the hotel until almost noon.

Once they got checked in, we gave them some time to freshen up, and then they came and got us at our room.

We figured we would get on our city bus tour, since we had 24 hours to use it after validating the ticket. So we took the tube to Green Park to get on the bus, but since we were so close to Buckingham Palace, and Kim wanted to take the tour of the state rooms, we did that first. Then we got on our bus tour, and it started to get pretty cold and a bit rainy then. We rode up to the Tower of London, got off, and then took our free one-way boat cruise down the Thames. We arrived somewhere near the Parliament building, and we decided to go to Trafalgar Square for dinner. We ended up at the first place we saw – Garfunkel’s – which had a bit of everything: burgers, fish and chips, steak.

After dinner, Kim and Dennis were feeling the jet-lag, so we headed back to the hotel. And that ended day 2. At least for Lance and myself.

Saturday, August 27

Not wanting to have English breakfast again, Lance and I fortified ourselves with 2 day old cinnamon rolls from the Sainsbury's grocery down the street. Ick. At least the tea from the tea service was good (but Lance doesn't drink it, so he'll never know).

Our first stop was to the Tower of London. It took awhile to get there on the tube. We got there pretty early and got on one of the tours with a Beefeater, who was more amusing than you could imagine. It was a really interesting tour, but it didn’t cover the exhibits. So we looked at the crown jewels, and the armory.

Since we had an ambitious schedule, we left there around noon, grabbing quick takeaway lunches from the Tower’s snack counter. We hopped on the tube to St. Paul’s, but when we got there, it looked like there was a wedding about to happen, so we decided against taking a tour. Back on the tube, this time headed for Westminster Abbey. We spent at least an hour in there…probably more than that. I was particularly in awe of Elizabeth I’s tomb, the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Poets' Corner. It really is a magnificent graveyard. You almost forget that it’s a cathedral though because it is so mired down in sarcophagi and memorials – more than any other cathedral I’ve seen. But it’s so fascinating to see them all. I almost stepped on Charles Darwin’s grave. He’s buried under the floor. You can’t walk in there without stepping on someone’s resting place.

We had a 4:30 appointment at the London Eye, so we left around 3:30 or so and walked across the bridge to get there (it’s directly across from the abbey – Parliament). We got there way early and we were ushered into a waiting room to await our tour guide that we paid a bit extra to have. We got a private car with her (along with the few other people who paid extra for the tour guide) and had a really cool half hour ride with a bird’s eye view of all of London’s sights. Very very cool. Seeing Downing Street (the prime minister’s residence) from high above was particularly interesting, because it doesn’t look nearly as impressive on the ground as it does from the sky. I have to admit that I was skeptical about the London Eye. In my humble opinion, it’s an eyesore next to the grandeur of all of London’s great landmarks. But it is an awesome way to see the city.

We capped off our night by having dinner at The Anchor Bankside, a pub that was once the haunt of Shakespeare, Samuel Pepys, and Dickens. We had a nice dinner there and stayed and had drinks as the skies darkened and the London skyline lit up. After having our fill of beer and cider, we walked along the banks of the Thames for awhile, enjoying the beautiful views, the buskers performing in the streets, and the beautiful weather. What a fantastic ending to our trip.

Sunday, August 28

We had said goodbye to Kim and Dennis the night before, since they had a very early wake-up call to move on to their next destination (Stratford-Upon-Avon…*jealous*…I’ve been there before and I loved it so much). Lance and I didn’t have our flight back to Eindhoven until 5, so we had a leisurely morning at the hotel. Then we checked out and took the tube to Liverpool Street Station, which is where we needed to catch the train for the airport. But we hung out there for awhile, had lunch, and attempted to spend some of the pounds we had left. At 1, we took to train to the airport and then spent more money there. I bought a bunch of books and magazines, so I have plenty of reading material to last me awhile now.

As we were arriving in Eindhoven, I was very excited to see the British Royal Air Force Red Arrows lined up on Eindhoven’s tarmac. I saw them perform last year when Lance and I were at RAF Waddington near Lincoln, England for an air show. They are impressive.