Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day Trip to Han-sur-Lesse, Belgium

Exit of the Han-sur-Lesse caves
One of the true benefits of having middle school children (and living close to their respective school) is that you no longer require nannies, babysitters, daycare, or any other form of after school care. Having been a working mom in the past, and having several friends here in Lux who have had to tackle that inevitable need associated with having younger children, I cannot express to you how liberating it is! This sense of freedom doubles if you are fortunate enough to find a home close enough to the school that the independent middle-schoolers can venture down the street on their own each morning and each afternoon. Alas, I am finally free of that well known, much hated cue - the carpool line! I am also no longer at the mercy of rush hour traffic, road or renovation construction, or hidden speed zones. My day can begin with the gentle wake up call (yell up the stairs), a quick wardrobe review (me informing my oldest that 11 degrees Celsius means it is no longer shorts weather) and a kiss goodbye before ushering the boys out the door.  This may or may not be done in PJ's. Although I no longer have to deal with the morning carpool, I do face most mornings with a Coca Light, a yogurt, and the often busy drive to drop the husband off at work - the joys of being a one-car household. But the benefit of this effort is having the remaining time between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to determine what I want to accomplish that day.  Some days it is enough to muddle my way through a grocery store, while other days may be filled with French lessons, painting the house, or the endless list of errands. However, once in awhile you just have to determine that you deserve a break from the mundane, take charge of your day, and play hooky!

Last week, I did just that. One of the great little interest groups within the American Women's Club of Luxembourg is the Day Trip Group. Being new, I'm not quite sure how long this group has been around, but the general idea is to take full advantage of our central location in Europe. The trips can be one day, a weekend, or even a few days, but they are organized so that participants can choose what works for their schedule. Being the independent daytime mom, I jumped at the chance of taking advantage of my new-found freedom and signed up for the first trip this year - a day trip to Han-sur-Lesse, Belgium about an hour or so from Luxembourg. Our group was comprised of five women (including myself), ranging in backgrounds from grandmother, empty nester, mother of tweens, and recently married and no kids. All of us had one thing in common - a strong desire to explore and travel. Most of the women on the trip had traveled more extensively than I have, which made the trip that much more fun since I could learn about all of the other wonderful places they had been and the places they enjoyed the most.

As for our trip to Han-sur-Lesse, the trip there was a quick hour-and-a-half trip across the border into Belgium. The town itself is small and quaint, with a main road that crosses the Lesse river - the source that runs under the surrounding hills and created the caves. Our itinerary included a trip through the animal preserve, lunch and a trip through the limestone caves. The animal preserve was built in an effort to protect the land surrounding the caves and is now home to 18 species of wild animals that had once been prominent in Northern Europe, but whose numbers have dropped over the years. The safari cars wind their way through the park, up and down the hills of the reserve, providing wonderful views of the surrounding valleys. Most of the animals were easily visible from the tram, including wild horses, deer, owls, wolves, etc. The more amusing stop on the trip - the bears, who eagerly await the stopping tram and will stand on their hind legs in exchange for a tossed piece of baguette from the driver.

Lunch was a simple affair at Chez Billy.  Billy is a nice old gentlemen who spoke a little English and provided some wonderful pumpkin soup, Croque Monsieurs, and hot chocolate. Following lunch, we ventured over to the cue for the grottoes. A short tram drives visitors to the entrance of the caves. From there, you venture on foot, up and down some 400 stairs through some chilly (about 13 degrees Celsius), damp, but fascinating limestone caves. It is very obvious that great care has been given to maintaining the condition of the caves, and the presentation and guide (a wonderful man who provided information in 4 or 5 different languages) were terrific. The stalactites/stalagmites were really quite fascinating and very well lit. Towards the end of the tour, visitors are asked to sit in an arena-type area with metal benches where a very nice light/music show is done, highlighting the immense space of the caverns. The caves were first discovered in 1815 and has become one of Belgium's top tourist attractions, earning 3 Michelin stars. A true reflection of the small town atmosphere of this quaint village - one of the ladies on our trip left her umbrella at Chez Billy's. Billy sent a text to our tour guide letting us know he was holding it for us :)

Despite the dreary, drizzly weather, the trip was very enjoyable. The caves were great, but as always, the company was even better. Though we all come from various backgrounds (US, South Africa, England), we all have our experiences in Luxembourg as a bonding factor. I have only been here a short time, but I have found myself gravitating to the American Women's Club activities, drawn mostly by my ongoing curiosity as to why others are here and how they are or have managed their transition to this little country. Thankfully, this group of women seem to be making the most of their stay here (all of them are here on a short term basis), and had relatively positive opinions - a very important factor for those of us who are here on a more permanent basis and who make an active effort to avoid those with, shall we say, "glass half empty" mentalities. Life is too short to dwell on the short comings of your current life chapter. I have fully embraced this new adventure and have learned that I enjoy it that much more when I can find others to share it with me! Next day trip adventure - Verdun, France.  Can't wait :)

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