Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Luxembourg with a side of Belgium

Europe has a lot of "one and onlys" ... this time we visited the world's only sovereign Grand Duchy, Luxembourg. Actually, our first stop was in Belgium, since you pretty much have to drive through most of it to get to Luxembourg. There's a lot of war history in this area; we stopped to see some in the Belgian town of Bastogne. A pleasant little town, it was a crucial spot in the Battle of the Bulge. To commemorate, the Mardasson Memorial sits just outside of town. It's an impressive monument even on a rainy day.

Pictured (click to enlarge): Mardasson Memorial

Then it was off through the rain to the Luxembourg town of Grevenmacher. If the name sounds German, it's because it's right on the border of Germany on the Mosel river. Actually, you're never far from a border in Luxembourg (Belgium, Germany, or France). That's probably why the residents all seem to speak French, German, and their own language (Luxembourgish, a strange combination that sounds like there's some dutch in there too) interchangeably. A quick check in wiki shows that the country is indeed trilingual, and most could speak good English as well.

Grevenmacher has a butterfly garden with many beautiful butterflies as well as the occasional lurking chameleon and a group of chicks that Rochelle was obsessed with but refused to sit still for a picture.

Most people outside of the area probably don't know that this region is known for wine production, in particular cremant (the poor man's champagne). What a surprise that we would visit! After a few stops the trunk was full and we were off to the city of Luxembourg (yes -- Luxembourg, Luxembourg).

Regional artwork: now, if only these fountains spouted real wine...

Just outside of the city are war cemeteries for both Americans and Germans. These are always moving sights. The American cemetery is resting place for over 5,000 soldiers and General George S. Patton. The German cemetery has over 10,000 soldiers; most are in a mass grave.

Pictured: top-American cemetery bottom-German cemetery

The city of Luxembourg is unique; divided up by high cliffs and deep ravines; the geography creates some nice views. The center is compact and easy to walk around. We stayed right around the corner from the palace, but there didn't seem to be a lot of activity there. Luxembourg is Europe's culture capital for 2007, and when we were there the main event was a gathering of drum corps. Everywhere we went we saw (heard!) small drum groups, some playing on stages but most kind of walking around performing. Mostly around our hotel. Late at night. It was fun, but luckily we're heavy sleepers.

Pictured: Luxembourg views, Duke's Palace, Night Drumming

Driving home, we decided to get off the motorway in Belgium and take some side roads for a while. This turned out to be a good decision for a couple of reasons. First, we found a really nice wine store in the middle of nowhere. The friendly owner helped us fill our trunk even further. Second, we stopped at a Carrefour grocery store. Dutch grocery stores are much smaller, and it was nice to stop in a big store with such a huge selection for a change. Third, we discovered that the region along the Meuse river is very pretty and scenic. We picked up some strawberries from a roadside stand and stopped for a picnic. A great way to finish a nice quick trip.

Pictured: along the Meuse river

Next post: Week of July 1

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Off to Chelsea

Since we landed in The Netherlands last year, Rochelle has been waiting for her chance to go to one of the huge garden shows in the UK. So we hopped over to London to go to the biggest of the big, the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Garden Show. Rochelle's even a member of the RHS even though we don't live in the UK. The weather was anything but spectacular this trip, but luckily the clouds parted on Friday, the day we went to the show.

We decided that we wanted a different view of London, so we took the advice of friends and stayed outside of the city in Richmond-Upon-Thames. Only about 30 minutes by tube, Richmond is a very casual river town, with a very nice pub & restaurant scene. We flew in Thursday morning and spent the rest of the day pretty much just strolling around town. It was off-and-on cloudy but at least not raining. For more about Richmond visit the photoblog.

We loved the name of this wine store in Richmond.

How british can you get ... watching an evening of cricket from a Richmond pub.

In order to try to beat the crowds, we headed out early for Chelsea and made it there right at opening time. Even then it was pretty populated; I found that I didn't take very many garden pictures, because you couldn't get a shot without a ton of people in it. The shots below don't do the gardens justice ... click the links for full descriptions. Rochelle's favorite garden was the Linnaeus garden -- she does tend to like whites & blues (click the link to see why there was a tribute to Linnaeus). My favorite was the Fetzer garden, not because they are a former client of mine, but because I liked the way they recreated a California style garden, especially the real vines and the cool bat house. We both liked the Cancer Research garden with its wood sculpture.

Pictured (click to enlarge): Linnaeus, Fetzer, and Cancer Research gardens

By 10-10:30 or so the legendary crowd was in full force. We finished looking at the displays in the pavilion, then took a walk through some more of the outside commercial exhibits. We tried our first Pimm's cocktail and decided it must be an acquired taste. So we headed for an early lunch at the Laurent-Perrier/Loch Fyne champagne/seafood restaurant. We tried unsuccessfully to find a boat launch from the area, and ended up heading back to Richmond for the evening.

Pictured: midday crowds at Chelsea

Saturday & Sunday were miserably rainy, so we decided to skip our planned visit to the Kew Garden and head into the city. On Saturday we shopped on Oxford Street (it seemed almost as crowded as the flower show) and took a boat ride on the Thames during a break in the rain. We visited the British Museum, which is very rich in history/archaeology. Sunday we headed in to the Tate Modern. Before we know it we were back on the train to Gatwick and taking off for home. Hopefully we'll make it to one of the other big shows while we're living in Europe.
Pictured: (L) From our boat tour, a view of the HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.
(R) The Millennium Bridge (click the link to read about its interesting history), looking from the Tate Modern to St. Paul's (evidently this area is in the midst of a building boom!)