Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back to Liege in October

Lena standing on the promenade above Liege
I first visited Lena in Liege, Belgium, back in February, and have since dropped by in June and again in July. Here in Luxembourg (and other catholic countries), Tuesday the first of November was a public holiday called All Saints Day (the day after Halloween, it's a day commemorating deceased who have reached heaven, so you go put flowers on graves), and as Jacquie was in the Netherlands for work the weeks before and after, Rogier decided to take Monday off and go up with the kids for a long weekend. So, I decided to hitch a ride with them as far as Liege in Belgium, and then train back to Luxembourg by myself on Monday night.
Liege in Autumn
The trip up was probably the best car ride I've had with the kids, we got organised really quickly in the morning and they were really well behaved. I got there at lunchtime, so we went to a new Pakistani place and had tandoori chicken chapati kebab things, and then whiled away the afternoon drinking tea and hanging out in the park.

View of the Foire from the Ferris wheel
Lena's mum is an awesome cook, so after we had a delicious dinner at home we went to the Foire d'Octobre, or the October Fair. It's a huge carnival that runs from the first weekend in October until 11 November, all spread out along the city's main boulevard, with rides, games, food boothes and stalls selling stuff like crafts and clothing. The one thing I noticed was the lack of ittle wooden sheds selling beer or wine like you get at fairs in Germany or Luxembourg.

We went on what felt like the ferris wheel of death, I'm sure its the tallest one I've ever been on, and the seats were like buckets hanging from one pole, so they could rock and spin around in circles, and there wasn't a cage or anything to hold you in. It scared me more than the bungy ball back at the Schueberfouer in Luxembourg, much to Lena's amusement. I had a huge waffle, dipped in white chocolate and covered in strawberries, cream and more chocolate, and also tried the Liege speciality 'Lacquemant', a wafer dipped in syrup, allegedly invented in 1903. I'm not really a fan, tastes like a war, dry biscuit dipped in maple syrup, the texture really doesn't do it for me.

We'd planned on going out, but as most students in Belgium return from their university city to their home towns and villages on the weekends, and even more so this week with the holiday, the place was pretty dead and we were both really tired, and after a few beers we decided to go home.

On Sunday morning we went with Lena's mum to the weekly riverside market that I'd gone to in February. She brought a few odds and ends, flowers and bread, and I brought a childrens 'my first words' picture book in French! We brought some roasted chestnuts as I'd never tried them before. Apparently these ones weren't very good, but I don't think I'd like them anyway, they are pretty flavourless and have a weird texture too, kind of like a moist scone. We sat at a cafe for coffee, and then headed back for lunch.

That afternoon, Lena and I walked along the promenade of the les Coteaux de la Citadelle, a walk along a ridge in the north of the city, behind the Palace of the Princes in Place St-Lambert and close to Lena's place. We started by walking through some crazy alleyways, with heaps of stairs to go up. It's kind of like Wellington, people live off these tiny alleys with no road access to their houses. At the top of the ridge, we walked through trees until we came out at a spot with a couple of buildings, I think the Citadelle was one of them, and a promenade with a great view over Liege. It was quite an amazing walk.

Lena 'cooked' dinner for us (she's got quite a reputation for not being able to cook anything!), reheating her mum's boulettes a la liegeoise, and frying chips with my help, and then we sat around watching a movie.

me with the speculoos waffle and fries
On Monday we had a couple of beers at one of our favourite bars, and then went back to the Foire so that I could get Belgian fries and another waffle, this time dipped in white chocolate and covered with speculoos cookies, cream and melted speculoos spread. It was heaven, and I expect it's to blame for my pants not fitting so well after the weekend! And then I was off, the train ride home was kind of intense, I ended up on a non-direct train and had to wait around another city quite a bit, and they are doing roadworks near the Belgian-Luxembourgish border, so it took over three hours to get home to the empty dark house. A pretty relaxed weekend, but good to get away for a bit and to see part of Liege that I hadn't been to before.

More photos from this trip to Liege are here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Highlights from Autumn in Luxembourg

View in Grund in Lux Ville
Ok so I suck at keeping this blog updated, I guess because life is pretty routine now and I don't want to talk about a lot of things that are happening (my love life for example, I won't write about who I'm dating anymore because I decided it's not really fair on them). But, Christmas is coming up and there should be some exciting stuff to talk about. So, here's the highlights of the last two months in Luxembourg, and I'll also write separate posts about my trips back to Liege and London.

Jags, Steve and Anna at castle number four
In early October the weather was still pretty good, so Anna, Steve, Jags and I went for another roadtrip. We attempted to do the Vallée des Sept Châteaux, or Valley of Seven Castles route, a hour's drive through Luxembourg that takes you past seven old castles. But, we attempted this without a map and spent a lot of time lost and saw castles number two, four and three, in that order. Castle number four was particularly spectacular, full of posh people picnicing who looked at bit shocked at the four of us dressed rather shabbily strolling through with beers in hand making fun of the classical statues.

BBQ at Châteaux Hollenfels
Before we'd left we'd brought a whole lot of barbeque food, and then realised en route that we had everything but a BBQ, but at castle number three, Châteaux Hollenfels, we found a BBQ pit in the castle grounds, so we sat there in the sun for the rest of the afternoon drinking beer and BBQing a few metres away from a heritage castle with a view over forested valleys - Luxembourg is really awesome sometimes!

Me playing at being a band groupie
October also saw the re-launch of Devnull, Steve and Mark's band, as Alex joined them on drums. Jags and I established ourselves as their groupies, attending the first couple of their practices to further prove ourselves as BBQ gods and to keep the generator running. We may not be so cut out for the whole groupie thing though, as we've since been banned from coming!

One Saturday Jags, Steve and I took a short trip to Trier, just over the border in Germany. Trier is the oldest city in Germany, from before the 16th century, and although the population is only 100 000 there is much better shopping (more variety and cheaper) there than in Luxembourg, so everyone goes there on the weekends to buy stuff. We had Thai for lunch with their work collegue and his wife, and then she took me shopping while the boys spent a couple of hours in an electronics shop only to find that it wouldn't take their credit cards once thet had amassed a big pile to buy. We had dinner at some typical German restaurant, but it was a pretty terrible meal. We didn't see very much of Trier itself but the main square and old streets around it it look quite pretty so I'll try to have a better look around next time.

Lena in Grund, Luxembourg Ville
In late October Lena came to stay for the weekend. We had quiet drinks with Jags and Steve on the Friday night, and spent Saturday walking around Luxembourg Ville. I had planned on us having a BBQ with everyone out at a Devnull band practice, and then going for a roadtrip with the boys on Sunday, but Jags' car decided not to come to the party so the weekend kind of fell apart and ended up being pretty relaxed. Saturday night was a big one, we went out with Alex and some of his Italian flatmates. I wanted to go check out a dance club I'd heard of but we might have had a little too much to drink and didn't make it further than Ikki in Clausen again.

Our view of the RWC final
The following morning was the France vs All Blacks RWC final, which thanks to the time difference was on at 10am here. I have no idea how we got up (ok Lena got up and wouldn't shut up until I got up too) but we were suffering dreadfully and missed the first ten minutes. There were only two bars open to show the game in Lux, and both were packed, so we squished into one where we could only see a tiny sliver of the screen by craning our necks, it was absolutely crazy. I'm glad we won because we were a couple of the only kiwi supporters there! We spent the rest of the day sleeping (Pepi couldn't understand why we were sleeping when the sun was out!) and went to a movie, and then after we spent the next morning with the kids, she went home.

A factory in Esch-sur-Alzette
Early November I went down to the south of Luxembourg. I met a guy from here who is currently just killing time before he goes traveling to NZ, so he took me down south one day to take photographs. We went to Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg's biggest city with a population of 28 000. It's only 15km away from Luxembourg Ville (but then pretty much everything in Luxembourg is 15km away from Luxembourg Ville!) and is to be the centre of the steel mining industry. There are a lot of old factories and train lines left in the city, while new modern buildings are being built all around them, its really quite cool and the day we went down there it was really foggy and magical.

At a factory in Dudelange
After Esch we went to Dudelange, Luxembourg's third biggest city with 17 000 people and only 12km down the road. It's also a steel mining city, and as mum informed me, home to the most successful Luxembourg football club in recent history. We had lunch here, and a few beers, as well as checking out a huge abandoned factory.

Pepi playing with the leaves
Over the last couple of months here the weather has really turned to custard. Back at the beginning of October it was still sunny, but now its constantly grey and foggy, and we're now lucky to get a high of 8degrees (its 2degrees as I write this, and it's been several degrees colder than this the last couple of weeks!). This is already colder than Wellington during winter, so I'm not looking forward to the next couple of months, although the first snowfall will be exciting. Autumn was really beautiful, I think in NZ you don't notice autumn so much as there's so many trees that keep their leaves, but here everything turned red and orange and I had a lot of fun playing in the fallen leaves with the kids.

Mining buildings in Esch-sur-Alzette
I've been taking french lessons. Long story short, I'm registered under Jacqueline's name for them, and I arrived at the first lesson to be handed a piece of paper by the teacher to confirm my details. He looked at it and noted "I" come from the Netherlands, and promptly informed me that he is from Belgium and speaks Dutch. I spent the next hour sitting there terrified of him realising I don't speak dutch and aren't in fact from the Netherlands, until I came up with the cover story of being a New Zealander here on a dutch passport via my dutch grandparents. Now I just have to remember to keep answering to Jacqueline and hope he doesn't realise I'm meant to be in my 30s and married with two kids! The French lessons aren't getting me very far, from day one everything is in french, and the two or three people in the class that actually speak french nod away and manage to form whole sentances in french to ask him questions. The rest of us sit there scratching our heads and understanding very little. I'm actually doing better than the guys I sit next too, because at least with my spanish I can read french pretty well, but then again they are from countries that don't even use the latin alphabet, so that doesn't count for much! I thought that one day I'd learnt how to call myself a duck, only to repeat the sentence to Rogier and find out that if you mispronounce 'duck' you can call yourself a dick. Neither sentance is particularly useful though, so I might have to start working on the french thing some more in my own time!

Me and Lena going out in Lux
And finally, work and the kids are good. Things have changed a little with Jacquie starting to work again back in the Netherlands, she heads there for about four nights a week two or three times a month, so I get to play housewife and keep the place clean and have dinner on the table at night time. It means I have to be more flexible, as the days that the kids stay home or go to creche change more often, and it also means I'm doing more work across more days per week, but at the moment I'm coping.

Photos from Luxembourg in October are here, and in November here.