Monday, July 2, 2012

National Day & the 4th of July

Prince Henri's Flag
Last week was absolutely crazy with it being the last week of school for ISL. Even though it was an easy week for the kids (turning in books, end-of-year parties, etc.), it was a busy week for room parents. I am room parent for both of the boys, so between buying teacher gifts and helping out with the celebrations, I was definitely having one of those "feeling over-committed" weeks. That being said, things seemed to go quite smoothly, except... I got slightly behind on blogging. And I can't write a blog about Luxembourg without blogging about National Day, so I will link it in with the 4th of July!

Last year we moved to Luxembourg about 2 or 3 weeks after National Day. We had heard that it was a huge celebration, but we really had no idea just how big it is. For Luxembourgers, National Day is like the 4th of July to Americans, the main difference being that it recognizes the Duke's birthday, rather than the country's birthday. Beyond that, it has the same type of atmosphere as most July 4th celebrations - food, parades, and fantastic fireworks.

We happened to be hosting my nephew last week. G just graduated high school and was in Europe participating in some regattas in Britain and Germany (yes, he sails) and came through Lux for a quick visit before heading back to the States. It was absolutely terrific having him here, especially given that the boys were able to show him the sites and G was able to impart a little of his teenaged "wisdom" (meaning, he was a great influence on the boys!) Little did G know that he could not have come to Lux at a better time! In general, Lux can be a bit sleepy depending on the weather and time of year. Things do generally get a bit busier during the summer, but G had the opportunity to see it at its finest! The city was definitely ready for a great celebration. Friday marked National Day Eve when most of the events occur. There is the changing of the guard at the palace, a torchlit parade through the Centre (led, of course, by Duke Henri and his family who have privileged, elevated seats in front of the town hall), and probably one of the largest fireworks displays I have ever seen.

Our family headed down to the Centre shortly after I picked up Joe from the airport; he had been back in the States for the week. We met up with some friends and coworkers, setting up camp in the Place Guilliame where the parade begins. The parade participants are primarily from local organizations and schools, many of whom march with lit torches through the Centre. Again, not a tradition I can imagine ever being embraced in the States, if only for the liability concerns! Following the parade, folks make their way over to the Petruse bridge where equipment is set up for the fireworks display. Since National Day Eve also happened to be Summer Solstice, the sun did not fully set until after 10:00 p.m.. Therefore, the fireworks display was not scheduled to start until 11:45 p.m..

The fireworks show was unlike anything we have seen before. We've been to quite a few fireworks shows, including the Taste of Chicago and 4th of July in New York, but neither were 20-25 minutes of what most of us consider "the finale" level of fireworks. Even Disney's or Seaworld's shows could not compare. The show was set to music piped throughout the Centre. The amazing aspect of the display was that the explosives were literally right above our heads. In a few cases we were dodging the paper cases released from the explosives that were falling from many feet up in the air. Even sparks were showering down on us - it really was amazing! I honestly don't think our level of proximity to the launch area would ever have been allowed in the U.S.. But, we did have an unobstructed view and the kids had a blast!

After the show we decided to take a quick walk through the Centre, just to see what happens afterwards. We assumed that the city would party late into the night, but we never anticipated the level of the crowds when we started our walk. By the time we reached the palace and started making our way around the Centre the crowds resembled large mosh pits. Somehow, G and I got separated from the rest as the crowd seemed to have a mind of its own. Rather than fight it, we let ourselves be guided through the city by the mob of inebriated partiers. I stuck with G like glue so that I was not left behind in the mob. Thankfully, we were able to manage our way through, though it did take some time to figure out where everyone else had ended up.

Ambassador Mandell
Anyway, the day was terrific and we did make it back to the house around 2:00 a.m.. Sunday was a much calmer event for us with mini-golf in the Petruse and lunch in the Place de Armes. There was a military parade in the morning that we missed (we chose to sleep in!) and lots of kiddo activities down in the Petruse, but most of the activities are meant for the toddler set. G left the following day, but he assured us that he had had an awesome time. It seems he has been talking a lot to the family about his stay here - at least, from what I have heard from my brother.

As for the 4th of July, The American's Women's Club and several other American-based organizations hosted a picnic just outside of Luxembourg Ville in Contern. The restaurant, Conter Stuff, is actually a really interesting building (think old, converted country farm house and barn) that has a terrific patio and yard, perfect for chatting with friends over some Budweiser (yes, it was purchased just for the occasion, though I opted for Lux Pinot Gris!), chili, burgers, hot dogs and brownies. The younger kids enjoyed the free bouncy castle and face painting, while the adults enjoyed the music and the chance to win some cool prizes that were raffled off throughout the afternoon. We even had the honor of receiving a visit from the American Ambassador for Luxembourg, Robert A. Mandell, who gave a short welcome speech and even provided a painting he had recently done as one of the raffle prizes. The weather even held out despite the morning down pour of rain hours before.

Though there won't be any fireworks for our July 4th this year, National Day helped to make up for the bit of homesickness we will likely experience on Wednesday. Thankfully, we have Joe's brother and his girlfriend heading this way this weekend. They are enjoying Paris for the week, but we will have them for a long weekend before they venture off to Munich. I will keep my fingers crossed that Luxembourg weather will behave and that we will have the chance for a few more family members see everything Luxembourg has to offer. It will likely be a bit calmer this weekend, but I am sure a walk through the Petruse, some 1 euro gelato in the center and (we hope!) a lovely summer day in the Centre will be perfect! But, if fireworks are what you are looking for, here is just a snippet from National Day Eve! Enjoy!


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