Tuesday, October 09, 2007

 

Luxembourg


A few days away from home, with the only Spanish contact - a book by Juan Madrid that I had bought at the airport in his names-sake city and a CD by Muchachito Bombo Infierno with which I intended to deafen a few foreigners.
Madrid (the city) had been, as always, good fun. Besides being taken to an expensive restaurant by my daughter who lives in the centre of our capital city, a restaurant that specialises in Peruvian food and is located in the middle of Chueca, the gay district (help! I think the waiter likes me), I also managed to fit in a visit to the FNAC shop in Callao (books in English plus a vast selection of music) and a side-visit to a woolly sock shop.
You see, together with my wife, I was off to Luxembourg.
Normally a trip like this, you want to have an idea in your head of where the country – or, apparently, ‘duchy’ – lies on the map. But who cared about that? It would fall to the pilot to find the place – we’d just sit in the back, as usual by the lavatories.

Luxembourg, pop 450,000 of which 42% are, apparently, foreigners.
I remember reading a few years back that there were so many foreigners in Luxembourg that they might, if allowed to vote, cause the Wrong Sort to get in. So the foreigners in Luxembourg, exceptionally, were promptly disenfranchised by European law.
It’s lucky that there are so few of us here in Spain – or, at least, so few of us who want to vote occasionally…

The weather was warm and sunny during our six-day visit, so the thermal socks that I had carefully brought were given to the maid at the hotel in the small town where we stayed. She said they were too big for her but that she’d send them home to Nigeria.
We were there for a wedding and a christening so we didn’t feel too lonely, with around 150 friends to help us through the 48-hour jag that the youth of today equate with celebrating. Oddly, I didn’t have much of a headache after I woke up the following day upside down in a ditch. It must have been the quality wines, champagnes, deathly Belgian beers and glasses of cognacs that we guzzled, together with the food.
I know one is meant to write nice things about food in Spain, but, hey, this was proper French/German/Belgiun/Lux food – a darn site better.
Food in Luxembourg is taken seriously. I sat in some restaurants that insisted on five courses before they’d let you go. All of them heavily soaked in cream and brandy sauces. Luxembourg is also remarkable for the size of its portions – rather like America. ‘Super-size me’ being no joke here. On one occasion, with the idea of getting out of the place on my own two feet, I ordered sole for the main course. Sole meunière: sloshed in butter. It didn’t work though - they brought me four of them, plus a side order of chips. This after I’d already consumed a bucket of soup. There were a few Chinese restaurants (‘all you can eat’ places) in town but, while I was working on my third sole, I noticed a party of Orientals come in and sit down at a nearby table. They must have been hungry: they went for the à la carte steaks.
Another tremendous meal – this time rather better – was a steak in sauce plus veg and mash, all cooked and served on a roof-tile, one of those curvy Spanish ones, called a ‘tuile’ in French. There was a metal holder on the table to balance it on. Good though. To get to that particular restaurant, located somewhere in the countryside, you had to pass through the Snug, shouting ‘bonjour’ as a sullen crowd of extras from ‘Straw Dogs’ looked you over.
A fly accompanied us throughout the entire visit. Wherever we went, there was just this one fly, casting about between the serried ranks of forks that threaten every diner or rubbing its front legs in glee on the breadsticks. Our friends, after some discussion, agreed that it must have come with us from Spain, although I christened it Zizi la Mouche. I think I finally lost it at the airport.
To battle the flab, our hotel had an exercise bicycle nailed to the floor upstairs, but I never saw anyone give it a spin.
Those mobile phones are clever. Mine called me up in the taxi and said ‘Welcome to Luxembourg’. Late the first night, a gent rang claiming to be an employee of Sevillana and asking for a modest sum. Oddly, his number was blocked so I couldn’t ring him back. From the police station.

The hotel was comfortable and – despite having to deal with three national languages, which is not bad for a country half the size of Almería – the owners were able to entertain me in English. The town, a small tourist dorp on the eastern border with Germany just over the bridge, is occasionally flooded by the rising waters of the modest looking River Sauer which generally flows quietly enough some ten metres below. When it does flood, around every ten years, there is a brief photo call and then everyone goes out in their Wellington boots and has a huge lunch to forget their woes. We walked across the bridge into Germany, stayed just a fraction under a minute, and then ambled back into Lux. The Germans, for their part, drive regularly over the Sauer into Lux to take advantage of the cheaper petrol there. There are daily traffic jams of German visitors looking to fill their tanks (no pun intended – a German joke is no laughing matter, etc).
Cigarettes are obviously less bad for you than they are in Spain as they are freely sold in practically every shop. The best idea we found in the shops – the supermarkets and so on (loaded with everything those supermarkets: everything!) – was the plastic bags. They won’t give you one, you buy one for three cents, or you bring your own. Fewer plastic bags means less trash on the sides of the roads. Actually, apart from a pair of thermal socks, I didn’t see any trash on the sides of the roads.
There are few if any real-estate offices there. My wife inexplicably goes looking for one every time we stray much further from home than Turre. Perhaps people don’t buy and sell property much in Luxembourg, perhaps it's the thought of having to move all those forks to a fresh kitchen chest, or maybe they prefer to use the pages of the local ‘Der Welt’ (printed in Luxembourgish – a language) to advertise.

The town where we stayed was founded by an Irish monk called St Willibrord who happened to be in the area sometime in 698 looking for a decent lunch, preferably served on a roof-tile. There are now some 5,000 people living there, with much of the town given over to pedestrian streets together with a large square, a monastery, a basilica and a school. Plus, of course, restaurants, tea rooms and cake shops. The mayor, who helped at the wedding, and who always wears a sash so you can recognise him, has another novel way of standing out in a crowd. Whenever he leaves the town hall, a group of gaily-costumed brass blowing musicians accompany him. I saw the lot of them several times making their way grandly down the main street, the mayor looking harassed and the band tootling merrily. ‘Boys, I’m just going out for some cigarettes and maybe a pear brandy, so you don’t… oh, very well then’ dit di diddly de dee..

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (or Groussherzogtum Lëtzebuerg if you prefer) is ruled amiably by Grand-Duke Henri, who amongst his other duties, will become the godfather of your seventh child, if you get that far. The duchy (I’ve just looked this up) is exactly 999 square miles or a rather boring number of square kilometres. Much of it, when not dedicated to banks or restaurants, is in fact countryside. The rolling hills, bright green fields (aahhh!) the cows and the dark forests were all very beautiful as I roared past them comfortably ensconced in the passenger seat of several expensive cars.

Next year, I thought San Marino might be nice…

Comments:
12 de Octubre, Fiesta de la Hispanidad...
 
Thank you for the description - I may have to visit the place shortly for a job interview and It's nice to know what to expect.
 
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