Aachen to Luxembourg City
Belgium/Luxembourg walk, May 2000
South from Aachen, Charlemagne's ancient capital, through Belgium's East Cantons, and down the eastern side of Luxembourg to the capital city - 200 km in 11 days of walking plus one layback day. Here's the map.
|19-May||Aachen to Eupen - cathedral, forest, busy road|
|20-May||Eupen to Monschau - back roads, dam, forest|
|21-May||Monschau to Bütgenbach - quiet roads, military reservation|
|22-May||Bütgenbach to St. Vith - uneventful|
|23-May||St. Vith to Troisvierges - quiet roads, small towns, forest|
|24-May||Troisvierges to Clervaux - monuments in the forest, walking companions|
|25-May||Clervaux to Vianden - the long march|
|26-May||Vianden, Diekirch, Ettelbruck - a much-needed off-day|
|27-May||Vianden to Beaufort - we meet Peter and Christine|
|28-May||Beaufort to Echternach - through 'Little Switzerland'|
|29-May||Echternach to Junglinster - a quiet walk on wide paths|
|30-May||Junglinster to Luxembourg City|
|31-May||Trier, travel home|
Well, we did what we could to prepare for this trip. Rod stayed up all night trying to finish several projects, and was in fact still drafting, using the seats in the waiting area in the airport for his table, almost up to the minute we boarded. I had stayed up late, gotten up early, then got stuck on a long-running query that pushed me to get to the airport when I had planned. I got there in plenty of time, though, and we all got off okay. Rod, his daughter, and her friend all sat together; I had a seat a couple of rows ahead. All of us (and I presume all the coach passengers) were in some of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable chairs I have ever been in. It was for me an extremely long flight, doubly disappointing because the last couple of trips have been relatively painless. On the other hand, true to his wife's assessment, Rod was asleep in a matter of minutes after dinner.
We arrived in Paris on time, deplaned, bought tickets to connect with the TGV, and did so. Fortunately Rod had his credit card - the cash couriers were on strike, and the train company had no cash. Literally.
My plan had been to sleep on the way to Brussels. As it turned out, I was the only one who didn't. I was seated next to a German businessman working in Amsterdam, and we ended up talking the entire way. The train is not in fact very fast in that region; Rod conjectures it may be because of low-quality track.
At Brussels, we had a couple of hours slack time, so we walked from the Zuid/Midi station to the Central station, going by the Grand Place, which was decorated for a state visit from Spain, the House of Parliament, and the Royal Palace and park before catching the local ("Bummeltren") to Aachen. On his own, Rod came to the same conclusion that I hold already, that one day in Brussels in enough to say you've seen it.
The 17:00 train to Aachen was absolutely packed with commuters. We stood in the entryway/bag storage area with a half-dozen other people for a very long 35 minutes until it cleared out, and I must say I was one tired puppy by this time. We both had to fight to stay awake this last hour - we didn't want to see the Cologne cathedral on this trip!
Our hotel in Aachen was just a block from the station, and turned out to be a very nice apartment, with a kitchenette, a WC and shower, and all for just DM120 - about US$50, breakfast included. We dumped our bags and had gyros with Turkish bread for supper, including french fries with that wonderful yellow mayonnaise, before phoning our wives and walking around the south end of town, then turning in.
Summer in Europe is great for touring - we were out walking until about 21:30, and it was still full light, with almost a chill edge to the weather when the wind was blowing. In the morning, it is light well before 06:00.
This is my eighth visit to Europe, and I'm pondering how it and I have changed over the last 23 years. Everything seems so familiar, and it is not easy to see how much is due to repeated exposure, and how much to modernization. I'm sure both aspects are there -- I remember how frustrated K and I were that first time just trying to figure out how to use the telephones, and how much bother we had washing blue jeans (way bad choice for travel clothes!) in the shower-stall-in-the-middle-of-the-room. Now there are laundromats, and the telephones work just like I would expect them to - but I know the rules now. The increased familiarity represents both good and bad: while the increased comfort has it far less stressful to tour, the modernization has removed large chunks of what you would want to come to see in the first place. My read is that in another generation, touring Europe (at least western Europe) will be considerably more like touring the US - not done so much for the overall experience of the unfamiliar, but to see the particular sights and events. People will go to Brussels or Paris like they go to San Francisco or Las Vegas. I wonder if in 100 years there will be any place different. With the speed at which western culture spreads via television and the internet, it really seems unlikely.
For me now, though, there is still enough difference to be fun. I even got to use Spanish: when we were in Brussels, we reserved our hotel room for the very last night. The hotel keeper addressed us in French; I answered in German. That not working, I offered English. She declined, countered with Italian. I shook my head. She said "español?", and there we connected. Actually, her Spanish didn't seem much better than mine. In any case, communication happened (I hope). We'll know for sure in 13 days.
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Fri 19-May-2000 - Aachen to Eupen
I woke at 06:00, after a satisfying rest. Rod slept just a bit longer. We had one of those really good German-style breakfasts, with meat, cheese, and a hard-boiled egg added to the typical Continental breakfast. (Actually, after having powered my way across England on 'full English breakfasts' [='heart attack on a plate'] two years ago, I was curious if we would have enough protein for breakfast in Europe. No problem!) Sufficiently fueled, we sallied forth to check out the Aachen cathedral and its treasury. Our family missed it last year because it was closed for repairs. The cathedral itself is interesting because the older parts, including the main part, are Romanesque, while later additions are Gothic. The integration was done well, however, and the result is quite appealing. The treasury (Schatzkammer) was pretty impressive, partly because of the quality of the work, but also because of the age - many pieces from Charlemagne's time or not long after. I found notable (if not believable) the large number of relics there, as well as real bones of Charlemagne (believable).
We found a lot of public statuary in the towns there, much of it humorous. We could do that here, if we wanted.
At noon, we picked up our bags at the hotel and headed south after buying groceries for lunch. We spent a couple of delightful hours walking through Aachen and the Aachener Wald, the city forest on the south side of town. The rhododendrons were blooming like crazy all over the territory we walked, almost like the azalea season here. The forest was heavily wooded, with dirt hiking trails laced through it, not all of them corresponding to any trail shown on our map! In the middle of that time it began to rain and sleet, but only very lightly - an omen of (wet) things to come.
By the time we had wandered through the forest, including taking a picnic lunch on tree stumps, it was 15:30, and we still had multiple kilometers to cover, so we took the direct road south and west towards Eupen. Somehow, we had estimated the distance about 5 km short, and any other road would have taken us even longer. The direct route, though, was pretty miserable. The traffic was very heavy and the shoulders almost non-existent. Add in the heavy rain that came down fairly solidly, and you have one of those experiences that make wonderful stories a couple of years down the line. That's not to mention that I broke off part of a tooth right in the middle of this walk. As I remarked to Rod, this was what separated the men from the women, and he allowed as how that was at least true for our women (which was all I meant to imply, anyway!).
We rolled, no, dragged, no, schlepped ourselves into Eupen at 18:30, finding our hotel with minimal delay and crashing for a half-hour. Most of the places we stayed, we had a room two or three flights up, and most of them had pretty cool views of other roofs.
After dinner, we went to an ice cream parlor and caught up on our journals. My broken tooth wasn't hurting, so I decided to just ignore until it did.
OOH! I almost forgot to mention the high point of my day - I HELPED ROD USE AN ATM FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME! Really! He uses cash all the time, but until today never actually went to the machine. He did real good for a first-timer.
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Sat 20-May-2000 - Eupen to Monschau
I was up for a while in the middle of the night - apparently my salmon filet had some ingredients which were not in the recipe. Except for that, we slept well, rising at 08:00, and on the street by 09:30. The first hour or so was through Eupen and out into the country, mainly farm land and pasturage. Then we started into the forest, walking on a lightly trafficked road on a steady 4% grade for another hour. We were both surprised when we got to the Weser Valley dam. I was expecting a little earthworks dam 10 or 12 feet high, but it actually looked more like the dam in "Force 10 from Navarone". Well, not quite that big - maybe "Force 4.5 from Navarone". The reservoir is pretty, and since it's for drinking water, there is no swimming or boating.
Passing on, we continued through some pretty deep dark forest, almost all conifers. We stopped for lunch on a couple of sawed stumps, then veered off the road and onto the forest 'trails' that the map shows with a thin dashed line. The slightness of the map symbol represents the slightness of incursion those 'trails' made on the forest ecosystem. We were essentially bushwhacking for a couple of hours, after which the map was fundamentally useless. We kept bearing south and east on rough tracks and eventually found a road and a 'you are here' map (all this forest is in a national preserve). We then proceeded on to Monschau through some very attractive vistas (which would have been more scenic if it hadn't been so cloudy). The only problem we had, other than being blasted, was a steep downhill trail that dropped violently right into town. We found our hotel and our room (3 flights up), and immediately lay down for a half-hour (I'm beginning to detect a pattern here!).
It being Saturday evening in Germany, the entire town was shut down by the time we got up, so we took a long dinner in our hotel's restaurant and turned in. Long dinners are a given in the restaurants here - they must feel that if you spend less than two hours, you're not getting your money's worth.
Monschau, from the little I could see of it, is the German equivalent of Mendocino or Estes Park - a very pretty tourist trap, although it is attractive enough that I would be pleased to go back to it someday. The main street is virtually a pedestrian zone - visitors park outside the center and walk in.
The only problem I had was that Rod was hogging the double-sized blanket that spanned both our beds. If you read his journal, please disregard the entry for 02:43 of this day - his version is curiously at odds with my recollections.
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Sun 21-May-2000 - Monschau to Bütgenbach
We had an excellent large breakfast, including even scrambled eggs, before setting off at 09:00. We walked out of town on the big road, this one thankfully with shoulders, then through mainly wildflower meadows and pastures (see draft horses and bench), part of the nature preserve, and were halfway to Bütgenbach by 12:00. Taking a 5-minute packs-off break every hour seems to really help. We were feeling pretty good about having a relatively short day as we walked down a straight road heading straight south. When we crossed the border back into Belgium, though, we hit red signs that said MILITÄR GELÄNDE! - ZUTRITT VERBOTEN! - LASER! Even if you can't speak German, the MILITÄR was fairly obvious, as was the VERBOTEN. My map showed something called the Champ de Tir, which I assumed from the marking was a field (as in Champs Elysees). Apparently, though, it meant camp, as in army camp. We decided to track west to go around it. After a couple of kilometers the trail ran out into a marsh. For the next hour or so we slogged through fields of deep grass, marshes, and rough forests, and barely forded a stream without falling in. In the middle of that time it started raining. All in all, we were pretty glad to get to the road on the other side, thoroughly wet, thoroughly tired, and a bit discouraged, as we still had another 8 or 9 km to go. Then the rain got stronger, and we were reduced to just plodding down the road for a couple of more hours. We were very happy to finally drag into Bütgenbach just after 1700 and immediately start hanging wet clothes all over the room. We had thought to maybe just have pizza for supper, but we were too tired to do more than just drag ourselves down to the restaurant. We had an excellent meal - asparagus soup, a trout (complete with head and eyes), a steak, and ice cream. That sounds like a lot, but we had only a couple of power bars for lunch, and had really burned the calories in the marshes, and it just hit the spot. Our experience today confirmed that our choice of a motto yesterday was appropriate: "Was nicht tötet, macht stärker" - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
The hotels have been overall a very pleasant surprise. I picked them by searching the internet, then choosing based on lower-end pricing (and, of course, availability). I had expected fairly minimal accommodations with arcane plumbing and awkward arrangements (the Pacific Hotel in Brussels comes to mind), but most of them have been nicely appointed, a couple almost elegant, even, all with modern plumbing and all at about Motel 6 prices. Since we have been staying in smaller towns, we have had to eat in the hotel restaurants (there are no fast food places), but the meals, although pricey, have been excellent, and we have been very pleased with them. The hotel we stayed in this night, Hotel du Lac, was memorable for having a lift - the first we have seen.
One other remarkable thing to me is the almost total (some places, absolutely total) absence of people in the towns we walk through. It doesn't matter what day it is or what the weather. Cars go by, dogs bark, the flowers are blooming in the planter boxes everywhere, but there is no one to be seen. It's a bit spooky.
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Mon 22-May-2000 - Bütgenbach to Sankt Vith
We got off again at around 0900, stopping at a supermarket for a couple of lunch snacks before marching on down the road. Another striking difference I see from the Europe of 20 years ago is the virtual extinction of bakeries and butcher shops in favor of small supermarkets, a loss of charm and personalness traded for a putative (and admittedly, probably real) economic advantage. As a tourist, I regret their demise (as I regret the demise of mom-and-pop grocery stores in this country in my lifetime).
The walk itself today was pretty uneventful, neither very long nor very stressful. We are doing better about making regular deliberate rest stops, which seems to be helping quite a lot. The scenery today was a bit more open roads, towns, and fields, less forest. Walking by the hedgerows made me aware of how tough it must have been for the soldiers in the Ardennes battle to make progress across these fields - and they were fighting in snow during one of the coldest winters on record!
It threatened rain all day long, but never really did anything - just enough to make us keep our rain suits on! We found a bus stop attached to an old building in a deserted town(!) to eat lunch under shelter. By the time we got to St. Vith, we were ready to be there. Our hotel here was on a pond, totally surrounded by trees, and quite charming. We dropped our packs and walked back into the town to check it out. Everything was closed (we have yet to arrive before the town shuts down), but it looked like it would be a neat place to walk around in by day. It was a big enough town to have a pizzeria and a Chinese restaurant, but both were closed, so again we ate in the hotel restaurant, large portions of excellent food at high-ish prices. We washed a few clothes (easy if you do it every night), then dropped off about 2300. I got hot during the night, had a couple of bad dreams, and woke up about 0700 to face what we expected would be our biggest challenge so far.
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Tue 23-May-2000 - Sankt Vith to Troisvierges
Today was one of the two 25+ km days on this walk - 15 or 16 miles. We ate another hearty breakfast (which, by the way, has been the norm - almost every place has had meats and cheeses as well as the normal bread and condiments), then got underway after a quick stop for snacks at a supermarket. We mainly walked through farm country for the first couple of hours, then got into a forest track for a while, all of it very beautiful, of course. We did have a little unpleasantness just after that, when no side roads were available, and we walked for a couple of km on the main north-south road in this part of Belgium, but only two lanes and no shoulder. The traffic was very heavy, much of it large trucks, and the half-hour we took getting to Oudler, where we could get off it, was the most harrowing of the trip so far.
We ate our snack lunch lying on a wide retaining wall in Oudler, then rested for a half-hour before continuing. The afternoon was like the morning, except that it started drizzling. We crossed into Luxembourg around 15:00 and immediately entered a forest track. It was rough and heavily overgrown, and by the time we hit pavement again, I was beat. It was still another hour before we got to the "official" trail that led into Troisvierges, and then another hour on that trail. We finally dragged ourselves into town just after 18:00, and I felt as tired as I have since I can't remember when. The youth hostel was of course on the far other end of the town, but we finally got into our room before 19:00. The room we were assigned was about like what our family stayed in at Trier last year, two bunk bed sets and a wardrobe, except that this one had a bath with shower attached to it. After we had bathed and rested, we went down to the little restaurant in the hostel and stuffed ourselves on soup, salad, and steak before crawling back upstairs to sack out.
I'm still trying to figure out hostels. The one in Trier last year was full of noisy kids, and we found it essentially impossible to rest well. You have to supply your own sheets and towels, as well, so it's a bit more of a nuisance (particularly, packing a wet towel for travel). For two people, the incremental cost for a pretty-good hotel would seem to be only about $10 each per night - pretty little for a substantial increase in comfort. In any case, it appeared we were the only guests, so I expected to fare better here, but the room was pretty warm, and between the noise from the bar and the noise from the train station across the street, I had a tough night. Sleeping on a sleep sack is no great shakes, either. We're only staying one other night in a hostel this trip, for which I am glad. All that said, they do look like a good deal for someone traveling alone, since hotel rates for one person are only 20-30% less than the two-person rate.
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Wed 24-May-2000 - Troisvierges to Clervaux
Even the breakfast was up to what we have grown to expect. I had muesli for breakfast, skipping the meat and cheese (we really had stuffed ourselves last night). We weren't in a rush to get off, since we had only a 3-hour walk scheduled, but still got off just after 0900. Almost immediately we met up with 4 men, strollers with knee-pants, fancy stockings, and shoulder bags. I struck up a conversation that ended up taking all morning. As it turned out, they were also walking to Clervaux, and were in fact planning to eat lunch in our destination hotel, so we just walked with them. Their path, which was probably not our path (I don't know for sure since we just followed without paying attention), led by a monument to 700 Luxembourger Jews deported to Auschwitz, of whom only 6 returned, and also to the wreck of a British warplane 'returning from a secret mission in Germany and shot down by the Luftwaffe March 1945', and the graves of its passengers and pilots. Almost all of our conversation was with one of the four, Henri, who could speak both German and English.
True to promise, they walked us right into our hotel, then turned right when we turned left. It wasn't until we were in our room that we realized that those men, all retired and in their 60s, had walked the 12km without stopping for water or for rest. We had too, of course, but after lunch they turned around and walked back, as they did every week! We exchanged addresses, and Henri and I swapped baseball caps. The weather was okay, except it was very humid, so Rod and I headed immediately for the showers before walking around the town. Apparently people here take siestas - many of the shops are closed for 2 or 3 hours around lunchtime.
We found the FAMILY OF MAN museum right away - it's in an old castle - and walked through it. Even though the exhibit is as old as I am, it still has a freshness that I find compelling, no doubt because of the currency of its subject matter - mankind. The remainder of the day we spent just walking around the town. There are a lot of hotel- here, and many of them fly both American and Luxembourg flags. There is a G.I. memorial here, and other monuments relating to the American liberation in 1945. No doubt the flags represent true appreciation, but I wonder if maybe some small part might also be concession to a major funding source for their tourist trade, much of which appeared to be Americans of an age to have been in the Battle of the Bulge.
Hooray! We found a pizzeria and enjoyed a change from the almost steady diet of steak we have been exposed to so far, then walked a bit more before turning in early.
Today was the midpoint of the trip timewise, and just past halfway by distance. Tomorrow is 'hump' day - the other 25+ km day, except this time in the mountains. Barring accidents and blowouts, we're thinking the remainder of the trip should present few problems.
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Thu 25-May-2000 - Clervaux to Vianden
It was a good thing we got off early - we took all day to get to Vianden. The actual distance was somewhat over 30 km, and we figure we walked right at 20 miles, making it the longest day by far.
We got off about 0900, and made good time all morning, walking through very nice forested patches, stopping about 1230 to eat lunch and put on our rain suits (both of which are part of our daily drill; the difference is only that we eat lunch at the same time each day). We had a little setback just a few minutes later: the road we had planned to take had been completely plowed under, and in spite of the vow we had made going around the camp at the Belgian border, we ended up walking through tall, wet grass to get to a road farther on.
Things got both better and worse as the day wore on. It started clearing up soon after we put on rain gear - the game the Wetterfrolsch (weather frog) was playing with us. That was the good. The bad was reflected in our decision to formalize the motto de jour: "if it's not going uphill, it's going downhill" - we had very little level ground all day. About 1530, we stopped for a second lunch at Weiler.
After that, I started going down. I wasn't tired particularly, but my feet were really hurting. I had bruised the outer knuckles on both feet earlier in the week, and I had fairly easily endured the discomfort until this evening, but it was very uncomfortable to make those last 9 km. Fortunately, the sun came out (for the first time on the trip so far), and that lifted my spirits considerably. We actually made really good time, even with rest stops, getting into Vianden about 1830, 20 miles in 8 1/2 walking hours. My feet were really aching by the time I crawled onto my bed, and I didn't go out again the rest of the evening. Rod, on the other hand, was feeling pumped. As soon as we got here, he dumped his pack, took a shower, and went out for a walk to check out the place. He was kind enough to bring me a pizza, which I consumed in bed.
I don't know how it would have been if I had been walking by myself. Certainly, I would have gotten into town - I really would have had little choice - but this unpleasant aching in my feet would have been really discouraging if I didn't have someone along to complain to and to be ridiculed by.
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Fri 26-May-2000 - Diekirch and Ettelbruck
Today was our layback day - I had figured that to be prudent after the long push yesterday, and I was right. We were both still pretty tired when we woke and started our (by now daily) routine of wiggling toes, feet, legs and seeing what hurts and what still works. We did manage to drag ourselves down to eat (we haven't missed a breakfast yet!), then wandered the town. The sun was out in full brightness, and everything looked bright and clean, although partial credit must be given to the little old ladies who wash the steps and the streets in front of their houses (!). We wandered around town, Rod showing me where he had walked the night previous, until things opened up at 1000. We immediately took the chair lift up to the mountain above the castle, then walked down to the castle and toured it. Pretty interesting - parts date from Roman occupation in the fourth century - something you don't see in Germany east of the Rhein (thanks to Arminius (=Hermann)!). One of the neatest parts is this breezeway on the upper level - a big open room with arched arcades (I guess they would have to be arched, wouldn't they!) on either side. The wind blows steadily around, as is attested by the large number of wind turbines in the area, and a steady wind was blowing through as we sat there - very pleasant, even on a hot summer day, I bet. I'm amazed at the number of castles like this in Europe, most of them unknown unless you stumble across them in a guidebook.
At lunch (after, really - even the buses shut down from 1200 to 1330), we
hopped the bus for a side trip to Diekirch. The buses that run all over
Luxembourg are big, Greyhound-style, and seem a bit much for the mostly 10- and
15-minute rides. They are comfortable, though. In Diekirch, Rod went through the
National Military Museum. Since I had seen it just last year, I opted rather to
walk around the pedestrian zone. The weather was clear and bright, and everyone
seemed really upbeat, probably at least partly from the weather. They had
loudspeakers throughout the zone pumping out "I Feel Good!". When Rod
and I met up again, we walked around a bit more, then hopped a bus for
Ettelbruck and walked around its pedestrian zone before heading back to
Vianden, where we had what was for me one of the strangest encounters of the
whole trip. We had stopped in an Italian restaurant for supper, and could hear
that everyone was speaking American English - the only time that had happened
anywhere on this trip. We struck up a conversation with the group at the table
next to us, mainly with this young (20-something) woman from Los Angeles. When
she asked what we were doing and we replied "walking from Aachen to
Luxembourg", it didn't register for a while, but when it did, she asked,
"With your feet?"
"Couldn't you rent a car?"
She was nice, she was pretty, but she wasn't tuned in.
As it turns out, she had come in to Amsterdam that morning, had blasted with
her host through 3 countries that hay already, and had just stopped for supper
in Vianden in the middle of a fast drive to Nice, France to lie on the beach. I
don't think the idea of going slowly and soaking up these places was anything
she could get her head around. As they were preparing to leave, Rod commented
that he had a daughter about her age who was just now in Prague.
"It's the capital of the Czech Republic."
"I wasn't good at geography."
And out the door they went.
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Sat 27-May-2000 - Vianden to Beaufort
We started on the back 9 today. The day off yesterday was definitely good for us, both emotionally and feet-wise. We had a short walk planned, and took our time getting off, not leaving Vianden until after 1000. The weather was crispy clear, with big poofy white clouds in a bright blue sky - just gorgeous. We walked along the Our valley for part of the way. Looking at these peaceful farms and little woods now, it is very difficult for me to imagine what they looked like in Dec 1944, with a million soldiers in them and deep stow everywhere. The people here remember, though. We talked to Canadians, brothers, who were here with their wives and their mom. They emigrated from Luxembourg in 1956, and one of them told us how they had fled Vianden just before the Nazis came in, and how they had stopped off in a farmhouse on the way west. He then said "I was here a couple of years ago, driving around with one of my uncles, who pointed out an old man as the owner of the form we had stopped at in 1940. I had him stop the car, and I went over to the old man and said, 'Do you remember me?' When he said he didn't, I said, 'I was about 3 years old, sitting in your lap and looking out that farmhouse window there.' And then the tears came!"
Walking through one of the little villages, we actually had a chance to talk to someone! I asked her why the communities were all devoid of people, and she explained (with regret, as I read it) that the economy had driven most of the farmers to take up work in the cities, and that these were now all bedroom communities, with few people staying home days. I guess that's not too different from much of American life, except that it's more apparent since the entire village is empty.
I had a little fillip of excitement at lunchtime. We had stopped at a roadside table and had just about finished when the rain and wind came up suddenly. Rod said, "Grab your rain jacket!" As I lunged for it, my feet slipped on the grass and I started slipping down a steep slope. It was pretty exciting for the 2 or 3 seconds it took foe me to arrest myself, but no big deal, except that I was wearing shorts, and had crushed some sort of stinging plant that caused the skin on my legs to welt up, turn red, then itch for the next couple of days - not very pleasant!
Although we had planned to stay at the Beaufort YH, our experience in Troisvierges and our observation of the hostel at Vianden - packed full of yelling, running pre-teens - had prompted us to change to a hotel. The one we picked was run by a man who reminded me most of Lurch from the Addams family, except substantially more voluble. He explained to us about 3 times in a 2-minute speech that he was going to be in a meeting from 5 to 9pm, then ended with, "As I've already mentioned, I'll be out from 5 to 9."
We walked around Beaufort, which didn't take very long, then had a pleasant meal out before returning to write in our journals. We thought we were the only guests in the hotel, but we were soon joined on the terrace by a couple who struck up a conversation with us. They were from Antwerp, on a long weekend. Peter is a butcher, Christine a nurse, 28 and 31 respectively, married just a year ago, and saving for a house. We know a whole lot more about them as well - we talked more than 2 hours about a lot of different topics. At the end of the evening we both gave them business cards and invited them to stay with us in Houston. As a result of talking late, we were late to bed, but it didn't matter. Our beds both had pronounced sags in the middle, and our rest was somewhat less than perfectly satisfying.
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Sun 28-May-2000 - Beaufort to Echternach
This turned out to be the high point of the trip as regards scenery. We had breakfast with Peter and Christine, communed in the Lord's Supper in our bedrooms, and got off about 1000. Almost at once we entered the Müllerthal, and the scenery got dramatic - we were in le petit Suisse - little Switzerland. The nature path we were on almost all the way to Echternach was along a stream that ran through huge sandstone rocks - 30 or more feet tall, many of them. The microclimate there reminded me most of Olympic NP - moss growing on everything, ferns all over, the air so moist you could almost drink it. The Olympic peninsula, though, doesn't have those fantastic rocks. Between us, we probably went through 5 or 6 rolls of film before lunch. It almost got to be too much, but not quite - we just stopped taking pictures of every little thing.
Even with our making so many stops, we got to Echternach about 1630, and after dumping our bags and taking a quick shower, we hit the Fußgängerzone. (Our hotel was on the 'rue de la gare', which we were puzzled about, since our maps showed no rails in the city. As it turns out, there is a bus station somewhere, but the 'rue de la gare' is in fact a pedestrian zone down the middle of town.)
We hadn't walked three blocks before Rod saw Peter & Christine in a
restaurant window, so we had to have a coffee with them before they left
town, which we did. Afterwards, we had our dinner, then went out walking
some more (yes, we really did). There was a lot of activity around the church
building, and when we checked it out, it was the Echternach Festival (Chamber)
Orchestra, so we bought tickets and zipped in just at 2030, when the concert
started. The orchestra was fairly good, and the program was varied (don't ask me
why I wrote it into my journal):
ROSSINI: The Silken Ladder Overture
BARBER: Adagio for Strings
HAYDN: Concerto for Cello in C
ARRIAGA: Symphony in d minor
COPLAND: Music for the Movies
The concert lasted past 2230, and by the time it ended, we were good and tired. We got to bed right away, but Rod's shoulder, which he dislocated a few weeks ago, was still bothering him at night, so it was a while before either of us slept, what with his tossing and turning to try to find a comfortable position.
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Mon 29-May-2000 - Echternach to Junglinster
Even with not being in a hurry today, we still got off in good time, even counting a grocery stop. The path this day led south out of Echternach, and the scenery was drastically less dramatic than we had seen the day before, but very pleasant, and we took several opportunities to just sit and look at it. Our walk today was only about 20 km, almost all of which we chose to walk on very excellent bicycle paths - paved, about 2 meters wide, and separated from the main roads. They reminded me a lot of the B-roads in Scotland. On this workday, these paths were empty - we encountered one pair of bicyclists all day long, period.
By the afternoon, the tall radio towers and the sharply-increased number of low-flying planes were clear indications that we were nearing Luxembourg City and the end of this trip - a source of mixed reactions in me. This walk has been very satisfying for me, and I could not have picked a more congenial, compatible travelling companion than Rod, but I am also ready to be in one place for more than a few hours, and I guess I'm even about ready to get back to work, not to mention seeing Kelia again.
We made good time to Junglinster, arriving around 1600, and hitting the only accommodations snag on the entire trip. Our hotel had us down, but for tomorrow night, with no rooms available for this night. Fortunately, she secured us a room at a hotel just a couple of blocks away (not without a bit of complaining about our not being there the following day). As it turned out, the owner of the place we ended up at was the most service-oriented person we interacted with on the whole trip. He was from Salzburg province in Austria, and had worked with a cruise line for a long enough time to get it. Tuesday was his rest day, but he discounted our room for not supplying breakfast, then sold us butter and jam for us to have a do-it-yourself, etc. Rod took a pain pill and slept all night, apparently not budging.
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Tue 30-May-2000 - Junglinster to Luxembourg
After fixing ourselves a quick breakfast, we got off by 0700, and the sun was already up for some 2 hours even at that. (Generally, we haven't been able to set out early because our hosts are not willing to serve breakfast before 8ish - which you can well understand.) We made excellent time - I can keep up with Rod for the first couple of hours each day - and got to the outskirts of Luxembourg well before noon. There was a fair amount of road work, but we were able to skirt it on the paved biking roads. I felt pretty good when we hit the city limit, leaving us just some 4km to get to our hotel by the train station. On the last stretch, the weather frog decided to play one more prank on us, turning on a drizzle just hard enough to make us put our rain suits on, but not hard enough to cool us off. We made it to our hotel just fine, though, and with a great deal of satisfaction put our packs down, marking a victorious end to our trek. Then we went to sleep.
After a brief nap, we put on street clothes and went out for lunch. Luxembourg has a bit more variety than most of the places we stayed, so we had Chinese - not great, but a welcome change. Then we split up to walk around the shopping zone, which we both soon figured out was like the Galleria, but without the variety, and at higher prices. I also went by the headquarters of the Scouting federation, which was a bit disappointing - their scout shop was mainly camping equipment, with very little insignia. I got only 2 patches.
After dinner ('Macho Meal' at the Quick Burger - Rod's choice, not mine - falls short in a comparison to McD's), we walked over to the cathedral and sat for a few minutes listening to a rehearsal for a performance of liturgical music by Luxembourger composers. We also bought tickets to Trier and to Brussels for the following day before heading back to our room.
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Wed/Thu 31-May-2000 - Trier and back home
It was pretty clear from our walking yesterday that we had seen as much of Luxembourg City as we cared to for this trip, so we spend today in Trier, 'the oldest city in Germany', and only about an hour away from Luxembourg by train. We spent our time on the Roman antiquities and the cathedral, proceeding as our family had last year, from the Porta Negra through the pedestrian zone to the cathedral, to the Basilica and its gardens, to the immense imperial bathes, then to the amphitheater. We ate a snack lunch of doner kebabs, then trained back to Luxembourg with a car full of junior-high-age kids on a field trip on their last day of school, and boy were they wound up! We talked with their teacher most of the way.
We had scheduled the connection to give us plenty of time, but because of a mixup I had with the tickets, I had to stand in line to ask a question, and consequently we had to run to catch our train to Brussels, but the conductor was kind, and we made it okay. On the ride to Brussels, I visited with an Austrian woman from Vienna who was suffering from macular degeneration. She exited a couple of stops before we did, and just before she left, she asked me, "Do you know the word 'kurzweilig'?" It means 'making the time pass quickly', or 'diverting', and her point was that our conversation had made the trip kurzweilig for her. That pleased me.
Our hotel was convenient to the station and our room extremely convenient to the tracks - probably within 10 meters! In spite of that, we were able to drop off to sleep pretty quickly on our last night of the trip.
If the train ride yesterday was kurzweilig, then all the travelling we did to get home today was definitely langweilig. We almost got on the wrong train to get to Paris, thanks to deficient signage in Brussels, then got into the wrong car, again due to crummy signage. Then we were berated in French by an unfriendly conductor for being in the wrong car (he actually threw Rod's gear out onto the aisle before locking up the compartment). By the time we got to Paris, I was ready to be home. The flight seemed to take forever (which it almost did - 10 hours), but we arrived home on time.
So. What was the point of all this? Or, in the words of that girl from Los Angeles, "couldn't you rent a car?"
Rod told me that a long walk through Europe has been a dream of his since he was young. I can't say that, exactly, but the last few trips to Europe have certainly got me thinking that a car is too rapid a way to tour it - that it is not "close enough to the ground", to use Rick Steve's phrase, and walking certainly is that. It would have been even more so if there had been any people in the places we walked through! Walking does allow you to savor sights and sounds and smells that other modes of travel don't.
In terms of the plan, this was not some extreme endeavor, something we would do or die trying. We neither of us had any doubt that we would do what we had planned. It was more exercise than we get normally, to be sure, but it was just enough to leave us tired (pleasantly so) at the end of each day.
I had originally planned to do this walk by myself, but it turned out that having Rod along enhanced my pleasure a great deal, to share both the pretty parts and the tough bits. We had one or two days where the other had to be the booster - "Come on, guy, we're gonna get there, don't stop now" - and that made for a much more enjoyable walk. We seemed to be pretty well matched for capabilities, sensibilities, and disposition, and that helped, too. We had no harsh words (and I had no harsh thoughts), which given the almost constant contact is pretty amazing.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! Would I tempt or taunt the weather frog next time? Not on your tintype!
Interested in another trip journal? Try http://www.ballou.us/Cotswolds2002 for photos and a narrative of a walk Kelia and I made in England.