Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Random Excursions

Chateau Larochette
I am slowly getting accustomed to the longer days that accompany Spring here in Luxembourg. Not having lived this far north before, the idea of the sun coming up around 5 a.m. and setting close to 10 p.m. takes some getting used to. With the longer days come the spring sports of tennis, baseball and golf, which has greatly increased our weekly travel. Golf practice for my youngest takes place at a golf course about 45 minutes north of Lux ville at Christnach Golf Club. This lovely little course is only minutes from Larochette and what is referred to as the "Little Switzerland" region of Luxembourg. Joe and I had ventured to Echternach on our first visit to the country about a year ago, but since he wasn't feeling very well that day, our trip was cut short and our trip back to the city was highway focused. The route to the golf course is actually quite lovely. If you venture off the highways, you can almost always be guaranteed a tranquil landscape, one that usually includes cows or sheep grazing in rolling, green fields. The trip to the golf course is actually a contrast to the normal countryside I am used to. Instead of the rolling fields, you wind your way through dense forest, often hugging a road carved into rugged, rocky hills and rushing streams. Since the course is a distance away, and the lesson only an hour long, I usually find myself either enjoying a cappuccino at the course cafe, or venturing off on some of the roads in an attempt to discover something new in my short window of opportunity. On one such evening I decided to venture into Larochette, thinking that at least maybe I could find an outdoor cafe and a change of scenery. I had heard that there was a castle in the area, but wasn't quite sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the castle rests high above the small village, providing an almost surreal backdrop to the town. Not being able to resist the lure of the chateau, I parked at the bottom of the hill and ventured my way up what must have been a hundred rugged, muddy stairs to see what there was to see. Murphy's Law - once I reached the top of the stairs I discovered the visitor parking lot nestled behind the castle. I knew the castle was pretty much just ruins, but was not aware of the 3 euros entrance fee. Having just given my son my last bit of change for a drink at the course after his lesson, I was a euro short. C'est la vie. It just meant that I had a new destination to put on our list for weekend excursions!

Dusseldorf, Germany
Tennis and baseball have led to opportunities for us to see more of Germany since most baseball games are held at the air bases in Bitburg or Spangdalhem, and the tennis tournaments have been in Dusseldorf and Hamburg. With all of the rain we have been having in this part of Europe, the grass is strikingly green across Germany and the fields have been full of bright yellow flowers that provide a gorgeous contrast across the gently rolling hills and forests. A few weeks ago, my son had a tournament in Dusseldorf, just north of Cologne and about 3 and a half hours from Luxembourg. Since my husband had to work that weekend, I ventured on my own to watch the matches and to stay the night and check out the city a bit. Although I could only see so much in my few hours there, I was pleasantly surprised at how quaint the city was, despite having had so many of its original structures destroyed during WWII. The city is nestled against the Rhine river and has an interesting contrast between its older section of the city and the more modern, artistic area near the harbor. Although the parks along the river are quite tranquil, the center of the city is alive with traditional German beer houses and an amazing selection of international restaurants and contemporary shopping areas.  The main shopping district was somewhat remeniscint of Savannah, GA with its tall, weeping trees, parks and fountains.

Maastricht, Holland
The only downside of the trip, and the area around Cologne in general, is the amount of road construction that is currently underway around the city. My trip took an extra hour given the amount of traffic making its way around all of the detoured roads. Therefore, rather than suffering through the same traffic on the way back, I choose to take a more "scenic" route and travelled slightly north and dropped down through Holland and into Belgium on the way back home. I had heard that the small town of Maastricht was worth a day trip, so I decided to venture through and determine whether it would be worth a family trip in the future. The town did not disappoint. Known as the home of the European Union and birthplace of the euro, Maastricht has a quaint city square Vrijthof, which was hosting a fair at the time of my visit, with rides and typical fair booths. Near the square, you can find Sint-Janskerk, a sandstone Gothic church with its distinctive red tower. The church was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and is worth a quick look inside. Just down the block from the church is Sint-Servaas Basiliek, the Romanesque church of Saint Servatius. There is a small entrance fee, maybe 3 euros, which allows you to see the churches treasures and get a feel for the rich history of the area. I spent about two hours walking through the shopping district and through the Market Square. The city definitely has a quaint vibe to it, but is full of high end shopping and overflowing street cafes. I definitely put it on my "return to with the family" list.

Now that school is starting to wind down, I am eagerly making a list of all of the little places nearby that I am anxious to check out with the kids. Though we will be heading back to the States for a few weeks, there are still plenty of weekends available for excursions. I don't think I could ever get tired of discovering these new little gems. If only work and school didn't get in the way :)

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