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Paris, Luxembourg, Tongeren, and Home

January 29-February 3, 2008

Written March 1, 2008

Dear Friends and Families,


OK. It now takes me a month to write a diary, not exactly in accord with the original meaning* of the word. Oh well, better late than never.

We had enjoyed our stop in Nancy and looked forward to NOT driving to Paris, a huge city with very difficult traffic. Monday morning, we took our seats on the high-speed train for the 90-minute trip from Nancy to the City of Lights. Even though every seat was full, it was a pleasant trip. Boy, what a difference from a full airplane!

Arriving at Gare de l'Est, we went with the flow into the station. There, being tourists and not commuters, we detoured over to the taxi stand while most of our train neighbors flowed into the subway system.

Our taxi crossed the city to our hotel, "The Hotel du Champ de Mars", a small place in the 7th arrondesmont, not far from the Eiffel Tower. This was another good recommendation from the Rick Steves guide books, our favorite source.


We arrived at lunchtime, and we could look out our hotel window at another of Rick's recommendations. We made a beeline over there and ordered giant salads, a house specialty. Despite the weird pose I struck for this picture, we'd classify this as another R.S. hit: tasty and relatively inexpensive.

The balance of our Paris visit is largely picture-free. The weather was dull and, besides, we were here on business. My business was relatively straightforward: two days of meetings at our company headquarters, a towering, black, shiny, glass box, out in the "la Defense" development on the edge of Paris. As business meetings go, it was OK. Our industry is booming and we are the largest company in the business. It's fun being busy. That has not always been the situation for us nuclear engineers.

Marianne's job was more important than assuring the future world-wide supply of electricity; she had to buy a dress. Not "a dress", I suppose, but "THE dress"; THE dress to be mother-of-the-bride (MOTB) in Gabby's May wedding in Hawaii. This was a major goal of our Parisian visit, a goal which, as it turned out "we" failed at. But not for lack of trying. Marianne devoted two and a half days, pounding the pavement, moving from boutique to boutique, from Bon Marche, to Printemps, to Galleries Lafayette. All without seeing THE dress.

"How could this be?", you might ask. Paris is a center, perhaps THE center, of female fashion. But, it was January and the perfect Hawaii MOTB dress just had not yet arrived at the racks of fashionable dress shops. I did hear the story of a nice outfit that "almost" worked, but, fortunately, Marianne decided to let the 1,000 euro ($1,500) outfit stay in the store. The days shopping were not completely without success as she did manage "A" dress for the May wedding season, just not THE dress.


In any event, on Thursday morning, we returned to Gare de l'Est with bags hardly heavier than the ones we had come with a couple days before. Waiting for our train back to Nancy, we were introduced to these heaters. where the edge of a French winter could be kept at bay. (The picture is more dramatic than the real experience, for some technical reason well beyond my capabilities to explain -- or know. )


So, we made it to Nancy, grabbed the car, and headed to our next destination:Luxembourg, Luxembourg. This turned out to be a short drive north of Nancy, maybe an hour-and-a-half freeway drive and then into town. Getting into a city like Luxembourg is one of those situations where we really appreciate our trusty GPS. The city is spread out on a number of hilltops, separated by deep ravines. One of the reasons few invaders have every conquered the locals is that the combination of hills and ravines make excellent fortresses and battlements - and excellent tourist-driver traps. Navigating into this maze takes prior knowledge, the whole point of a GPS map system.

Thanks to the help, we found the Hotel Parc Belle Vue (http://www.parcbellevue.lu/) , a convenient and reasonably-priced hotel on the edge of the small downtown. It had been surprisingly hard to find an "appropriate" hotel in Luxembourg and the Belle Vue, at 110 euro, was the only one we found even close to our budget. Especially with the U.S. dollar sinking out of sight, Luxembourg proved to be an expensive place, with lunch running almost 50 euros ($75), for an OK-but-not-special Asian restaurant.

Thursday night we enjoyed a dinner with Jean-Loup and his wife Catherine. Jean-Loup is a good friend from our days in Kiev. He is now stationed in Luxembourg with his family, a nice "foreign" assignment that allows them to still drive home to Paris, as they would the next day. The evening meal was a great combination of good food and good company. I'd recommend the restaurant highly, except that, after two bottles of wine, I've forgotten what it was called!

The next day, we were treated to what Jean-Loup and Catherine had said was typical Luxembourgian weather - cold rain. We did some wandering around the city center and remarked how nice this area must be, in better weather. It made us eager to just head back to the hotel and settle in. On our long trip of several years ago, we would have called this a "day off" and we have come to appreciate such days, even on a relatively short 10-day trip. In the evening we tried our hands at some night photography. The results were OK, but nothing special. At least it gave us some visual images with which to remember our stay.

On Saturday, we headed up into Belgium, to a town called Tongeren or Tongres, depending on whether one is Walloon or Flemish. Belgium is yet another middle-European country that is home to a mixture between folks who speak German, or a derivative, and French, of some sort. The language borders are much more diffuse than are the modern national state borders. In concept, it is not too different from the Middle East, where warring factions are still searching for a formula for living side by side. The bilingual European states have figured this out better, but even Belgium, home of the European Union, continues to struggle.

We have been to Tongeren a few times before and I still like the scene this picture shows, of the old part of the town center. I suppose we could be jaded, after half a decade surrounded by quaint, middle-age villages, but it's still fun.

Speaking of fun, this was the weekend for Carnival parades. On Saturday, we saw these kids practicing for the children's parade. We should have stayed around town more, to see the party but it was COLD and hanging around on street corners didn't seem like a good idea. (Carnival, to us, stills means Rio de Janeiro, where January weather is way different.)



The main attraction for us in Tongeren is the Sunday Antique Market. Back when we were working on the restoration of our old house, this was a parts supply. Now, with another "restoration" pending, we thought that we needed to look. Unfortunately, cold winter Sundays just don't bring out the same range of antique sellers, so we left for home with plenty of room left in the car.


From central Belgium, we faced a four or five hour drive home, most of it in Germany with our high speed autobahns. Shortly after crossing the border from Belgium, we entered the Ruhr valley, famous as the heartland of German heavy industry. Even today, the valley is filled with iron mills, coal mines, and huge coal-burning power stations. These massive installations are a tourist attraction all by themselves, for us engineers I guess.


The rest of the drive was completely uneventful, just the normal death-defying speeds we have become accustomed to. By the time we pulled off the A3 Autobahn toward home in Pommersfelden, we were ready to stay put. A good part about Europe is that we can drive through four countries in a week. A better part is when we don't need to. I'm glad to be home.


John and Marianne

*"diary": 1581, from L. diarium, "daily allowance," later "a journal," neut. of diarius "daily," from dies "day." Earliest sense was a daily record of events; sense of the book in which such are written is first attested in Ben Jonson's "Volpone" (1605). Online Etymology Dictionary


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