Treetop Walk Baumwipfelpfad Saarschleife

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It was such a beautiful day that we decided to take a day trip into Germany. I just found out about Saarland and all it’s beauty the night before our trip and was astounded at all that was so nearby us in Luxembourg. We haven’t really explored Germany as much as I’d like but we had such a great time with this trip. And, it was only a 35-minute drive.

Baumwipfelpfad Saarschleife is just breathtaking. It is a treetop walk to a high tower that is 42 meters tall. Once you reach the top  you see a beautiful view of Naturpark Saar-Hunsruck as well as the banks of the Saar and Mosel rivers. We first had lunch at the Bistro Mirabell onsite, and it was amazing food and very well priced compared to Luxembourg restaurants. Then we walked the treetop walkway up to the tower. It was magnificent.

When we came down we went to the edge of the Cloef to watch the barges on the river and then took the meandering path down the hill. The hike down was not for the faint of heart. It just kept going and going, snaking through the trees. It was quite beautiful and picturesque despite there being no leaves on the trees. We were all exhausted when we made it down and then we had to trudge back up. Wow was it a hike, but well worth it. In total we walked about 10 km of beauty. Myself and Luca look forward to going back again and exploring more of Saarland.

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Lunchtime in Luxembourg

The sun will come out tomorrow!

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After weeks of rain, the sun finally came out Today. And what do Luxembourgers do when the sun comes out? They go outside. They come out it droves. Why? Because these rays of light rarely come out over the winter or spring. And, when they do, everyone goes out and soaks up the sun.

So today as I took my first really nice, sunny day walk this spring I enjoyed seeing how people in Luxembourg enjoy the great outdoors and everything it has to offer. In America, despite living in areas that were quite outdoorsy places, I noticed that people didn’t really leave the office let alone their desks for lunch. Here in Luxembourg people take their one-hour lunch and then take a leisurely walk through the streets or parks near their office. You know it is noon because everyone takes their lunch at exactly noon. Oftentimes lunch lasts up to two, relaxed, non-frenetic hours.

I live in the Southwest edge of the city in Cessange, where you see huge cranes building a new mall, alongside meadows and farmland. My street in particular is very busy on nice days with people strolling, talking and smiling.  Yes, I said actually talking and smiling. Unlike Americans, people here can actually put down their phones long enough to take a walk, catch up with colleagues and friends while also soaking up the sun.

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This is why days like today make me really appreciate the way Europeans actually take time to eat their lunch, have a walk and talk to friends. This relaxed attitude is why I came to Europe. Now if only we could share it with the rest of the world – yes you America.

 

Living Through the American Election Abroad

futurebelongsvote.jpgMost days I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over what I am seeing in this year’s election. Most days I try not to cry. With everything that is going on in this world, including the disenchanted refugees, the terror attacks and a multitude of other issues here in Europe and the rest of the world, I am even more upset and ashamed of what is going on in America. I am thankful that CNN International doesn’t showcase the election quite as insanely as the American version. So, at least I am not going through the terror of many of my friends who are asking, “What happened to America.”

Being removed from it all has been a blessing for me because if I was there I would have had a serious mental breakdown by now. I am on the verge as it is. Living abroad has actually opened up my mind and made me get more into American politics from afar.

When you live outside your bubble you see things very differently. I talk to different people every day and see how people from around the world view not only the world, but America. I rarely meet an American. And when I do they share the same shame and anguish as I do about this election cycle and what America has seemed to become.

What do non-Americans think about America right now? When I first mention I am American they kind of smirk and ask if I am voting for Trump. I of course say no and follow up with a quip about telling people I am Canadian after the election if Trump is elected and getting my French citizenship. Of course I laugh when I say this but I am serious.

I am finding it harder and harder to see what has become of the America I love. Where is the compassion? Instead of people helping their neighbors, in the world I grew up in, it is friend or enemy. People can’t seem to have a discussion about politics or religion without picking sides and alienating anyone that doesn’t believe in the same things they do.

What do people I meet think about the election? I have yet to meet one person that believes that Trump will be elected. But, as the discussion progresses we talk about what would happen if he does become president. Despite the havoc he would reign on America, it would be catastrophic for the rest of the world.  People look up to America as a model, a country that invites people in and let’s them pursue their dreams. Now people are shying away from even visiting America for a vacation let alone moving there. When I tell them about how the political system and America really works in regards to education, healthcare, race relations and a myriad of other areas they just gasp and wonder how we can say we are a blueprint to democracy.

Thankfully I have been able to meet up with like-minded and devoted Americans who really do care about the future of our America and want to make a difference. I am a member of Democrats Aboard and have done many activities with my new friends. Yes we discuss politics, but we also discuss our lives and how America has shaped us and what we miss about being away. We also discuss how bad things have become and mourn the America of the past. But, we try to make a difference despite being thousands of miles away.

Recently we went to American based companies as non-partisan volunteers and registered people to vote and to obtain their absentee ballots. Everyone we met was excited to vote and really thinks this year is key to the future of our nation. We have gathered to watch the debates and discussed them. This week we had a dinner where the American Ambassador to Luxembourg attended and talked with us about how this election will shape the future of our country.

I have become more involved in politics this year than I have in many years. Despite being abroad, I feel like I can make a difference. It is upon each and every one of us to not just talk about it and gripe and moan about how bad it is but to do something about it. I have less power as an American abroad but every one of my friends in the US has the power to vote, talk with their neighbors and friends and change the things that are not working effectively.  The presidential election is very important but the local and state elections are just as important.

My ballot was 7 pages long. I researched and found out which initiatives and people aligned with my view of the future. Everyone in American needs to do the same thing. Treat this election like you would the welfare of your family. We the people are in charge of our destiny. As the saying goes, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Educate yourself and vote.

 

The Quest to Get My Luxembourg Driver’s License

luxlicenseMoving to Luxembourg has some quite interesting hurdles. One of them is getting your driver’s license. You can drive with your original license but must apply for a Luxembourg license within 12 months of arrival if you are a non-European citizen. If you don’t get it before one year of residency you have to pay big bucks to take a driving class and test.  So, at the beginning of June I started my quest for the Grande-Duché de Luxembourg  Permis de Conduire.

You must get quite a few documents together and it is quite a feat.

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First I made an appointment with my general practitioner and friend Dr. Nana Ikoko. You need a health certificate (certificat médical). It is a pretty in-depth exam and you pee in a cup to make sure you don’t have diabetes. It will take about 30 minutes and cost €60, which is not reimbursed.

Next I made an appointment with the American Embassy for an Affidavit that states that I haven’t had a criminal record within the last five years. Since the embassy is only open one day a week in the afternoon during the summer,  I was lucky to get an appointment only a week later. This was actually the most time-consuming part of the process. I arrived at the embassy with an appointment. Myself and three other people had to wait outside for 15 minutes for them to let us in.

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We went through a medal detector and then were escorted by a security guard to the administration office. Once there we had to wait an additional 15 minutes for the lady to come back from lunch. When it was my turn I went up to the window and was asked if I had a criminal record and put up my hand to swear upon it. After one minute of basic questions I was back in the waiting room waiting for the signed Affidavit, which took another 10 minutes. There is no official background check by the embassy, just your word. I was then escorted back to the entrance and was on my way. It took about an hour and cost €50.

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The next day I was off to Bierger-Center in the city center. Here I needed to take a ticket and wait my turn, thankfully only 10 minutes. Here I needed to get a certified copy of my driver’s license front and back and a Certificate of Residence (Certificat de Résidence), as well as a copy of my Carte d’identité (Luxembourg ID card) and a copy of my passport. This only cost a few euros.

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Just a five minute walk is the Cité Judiciaire, where I received the Bulletin No. 2 Casier Judiciaire that showed that I had no criminal record in Luxembourg.

I rounded out the day with the last piece of documentations, a photo. I drove to Photo Nett at Belle Etoile Mall where it only took 20 minutes to get my photos. The photos cost €14.

Now that I had all my paperwork I downloaded the Demande en obtention d’un permis de conduire (application form), which is available in French and German. This outlines all of the paperwork you need. I went to the SNCA in Sandweiler the next day. Here you take a ticket and wait your turn. I only had to wait around 20 minutes. I gave them all the paperwork and purchased the Timbre de Chancellerie (tax and admin fee) for €33.

Less than a week later I received a letter stating that my license was ready for pick-up. Since it was a busy summer for me I waited until the kids were back in school. It took two minutes to get my new Luxembourg license today. The grand total for my new license was €160.

Here is a list of documents you need:

  • health certificate from your doctor in Luxembourg, which is no more than three months old
  • affidavit from your Embassy
  • certified copy of the front and back of your current driver’s license, (if this is not in French, German or English you must have it legally translated before applying)
  • certificate of residency, less than one month old (Bierger-Center or your commune)
  • passport picture (45/35mm)
  • Photocopy of your passport of Luxembourg ID
  • your police record of good conduct from Cité Judiciaire
  • driver’s license request form Demande en obtention d’un permis de conduire
  • tax stamp (timbre de chancellerie), available at SNCA when you apply

The Beauty of Bacharach, Germany

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Our friends the Westerbeck’s from Kenmore, Washington, started a three-week trip to Europe this week. We had the pleasure of joining them at the beginning of their adventure in Bacharach, Germany. Bacharach is a two-hour drive from Luxembourg. We traveled through the rural countryside of Luxembourg through Trier, Germany, and the landscape became more hilly as we drove. The rivers and hills of vines made the two-hour drive go by rather fast. As we got closer to Bacharach we drove into a forest with hairpin turns and beautiful, looming hills. The view coming out of the forest overlooking Bacharach and the Rhine river is just breathtaking.

Bacharach is a small town on the Rhine river with a quaint, Old World charm. There are narrow cobbled streets and quaint timber houses surrounded by fortified walls and hillsides filled with grapevines. The river is majestic in its own right as it flows from the Swiss Alps in the south to Cologne, Germany and eventually Holland in the north. There are ferries and barges constantly floating by the riverfront park.

We arrived at lunchtime and had a wonderful meal at Kleines Brauhaus, an old theater and outdoor carousel that was made into a beer garden and restaurant. We had a very nice meal overlooking the river.

bacharachrainbow2After having the local beer and wine it was time for a short nap for the kids at Hotel am Markt at the center of the village. Our family room was light and airy and a wonderful place to stay. Our friends stayed at the Hotel-Pension Im Malerwinkel that has beautiful gardens (pictures below) and set at the edge of the hill built into the fortifications of the city.

The afternoon and evening we spent exploring the town and hiking up hillsides for amazing views of the city. We were lucky enough to catch a rainbow after a few minutes of rain. The kids decided to take a quick dip in the Rhine River. For dinner we had a wonderful evening tasting local wine, eating local sausage and sharing our travel stories.

Although we would have loved to stay, we traveled back to Luxembourg the next morning as our friends made their way to Austria.

 

Our Drive Across France to Bordeaux & Loire Valley

bordeauxsignMy mother and sister in law live in Bordeaux, France. Since they are not able to travel we took our May school break traversing France to Bordeaux. We had considered flying, but I wasn’t quick enough getting the tickets and we are trying to travel a lot on the cheap while we have the chance. So, we decided to undertake the 9.5 hour drive to Bordeaux. I made all the arrangements since I love planning trips.

We started Day 1 on Saturday, leaving around 10:30 am. We drove west from Luxembourg through  Paris (which is about 4 hours). The outer ring of Paris was a little busy but not bad. This quick view of Paris was anything but beautiful or romantic. As the motorcycles weaved in and out between cars at breakneck speeds we maneuvered through the black fume-laden auto route that was full of pitted roads, slow-moving cars and graffiti filled bridges.

After we left Paris we headed south through the Loire Valley. Our next stop was Futuroscope near Poitiers Saturday evening. Parc du Futuroscope is a theme park based upon multimedia, cinematographic futuroscope and audio-visual techniques. It has several 3D cinemas and a few 4D cinemas along with other attractions and shows, some of which are the only examples in the world. We had been to Futuroscope when the kids were little, around 9 years ago.

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The next morning we ventured out for a full day of Futuroscope. It was a long day but the kids kept us going until 9 pm. Luca and I had a great time on the Dances with Robots ride, which was a combination of being in a dance club and riding a bucking bull. It was quite the challenge and not for the faint of heart. We also were able to visit the Arthur and Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs 4 D Adventures, as well as see two Imax style theater productions Mysteries of the Unseen World and The Explorarium, a stunning dive with Jean-Michel Cousteau. We also explored Futur l’Expo, a hands-on journey into the future. There were also many outdoor exhibits and park areas as well as rides for the kids. We didn’t get a chance to see everything but we had a great time.

On Monday morning we finished our trip to Bordeaux, another 1.5 hour drive. Although the weather was not sunny during our stay it was pleasant. We spent most of our time outside exploring the city, Parc Bordelais, Place des Quinconces, the water fountain on the promenade (we couldn’t get the kids to leave) and visiting with our family. We rented a beautiful house on Housetrip.com in the Bouscat area of Bordeaux called Maison de Charme that was fantastic. It was in the perfect location, only a five minute walk to our families house and a couple of blocks from the park, shopping and restaurants in the heart of Bordeaux.

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Luca in Parc Bordelais

 

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We took a day trip to see to the coast near Bassin d’Arcachon. We didn’t have a lot of time so we were only able to visit Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe, 60 km from Bordeaux. It was quite a hike up the dune and the kids had fun climbing up and running down a couple of times.

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Our trip to Bordeaux had to end and we had to say goodby to my mother and sister-in-law Friday morning as we started back home. We stopped in the Loire Valley in Amboise. We could not drive through the Loire Valley without stopping. We spent the afternoon visiting the Chateaux du Clos Luce a Amboise, Leonardo de Vinci’s house and workshop at the end of his life. It is a museum and gardens that is out of this world. This year is the 500th  anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s arrival at the Château du Clos Lucé.

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We spent the night in a nice Airbnb apartment on the small island that straddled the Loire river. We walked into the village of Amboise for an excellent dinner and explored the town. In the evening after dinner the kids and I found a nice local park and the kids played until dark.

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Saturday morning we walked across the bridge to town for fresh pastries before our day at  Château de Chenonceau, the famous château spanning the River Cher, near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley. It is a 15 minute drive from Amboise. There are not words to describe Chenonceau. We did a tour and explored the gardens and out buildings. It was hard to say goodbye to such beauty and history.

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My First Day Teaching English to Refugees/ Asylum Seekers

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Respect is a rare bird in the world!

I found a post a couple of weeks ago asking for volunteers to teach English classes to the refugees and asylum seekers at Croix-Rouge Luxembourgeoise (Red Cross). Today I had my first class and it was enlightening and enriching. I have been wanting to help out with the refugees since I arrived in Luxembourg last summer. I was able to donate clothes and toys and also help out at the sorting center, but this was my first opportunity to help face-to-face.

After a few e-mails back and forth with other volunteers I found a time to meet up with Mairead (a kind and gentle Irish woman that has lived in Luxembourg for many years) this morning for my first class. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only note I received about the classes was that many of the people spoke little to no English and would only be in this transitional camp for a few weeks to months.

Mairead sent me an e-mail telling me how to get to the camp, an old industrial warehouse that many don’t know about, just a 3 minute drive from my house. Drive past the supermarket parking lot and stop at the gate for the guards who will need to see your ID and usher you in. Upon arrival I saw a few men going from building to building and a couple of security guards. It was very laid back. There were beautiful murals on the walls outside and in the building. We met in the parking lot with her husband and she proceeded to show me around and give me the history of the building, the murals and how the Croix-Rouge has been housing the refugees here since November 2015. It was a point for families and men but is not just a camp/center for men. There are other camps in the area that cater to families.

As we walk into the building there are men milling around, saying “Bonjour” or “Moin” – hello in French and Luxembourgish – with a smile.

Mairead explains how many men are housed here, around 150 now, and how they go about their daily routine, which includes language lessons onsite in English, French and Luxembourgish if they wish. Language is very important since you can’t get a job unless you have one or more of the national languages – French, German or Luxembourgish. English is also very well-spoken in Europe.

At first we only have one student, an 18-year-old boy from Montenegro in the Balkan countries.  He has been in Luxembourg for a few weeks and hopes to stay but knows it is unlikely since primarily true asylum seekers (Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) are getting completely through the process. Years ago refugees from the Balkan countries were granted asylum but nowadays not. The boy came here in hopes of finding work. When he returns to Monte Negro, which he is sure will happen, he wants to go to school to become a police officer.

Next a 42-year-old man from Iraq joins us. He knows very little English and only speaks Arabic. After introductions Mairead sets me to teaching him one-on-one as other men start joining the class. He is soft-spoken and earnest and really wants to learn English. He is a welder by trade and we have worksheets that have pictures of tools and workers with the names in English and Arabic underneath. We work on his pronunciation. As the class progresses we start to talk more. He shows me pictures of his wife and children, who currently live in Germany. He has only been in Luxembourg for 4 months but his wife and family were able to leave Iraq six years earlier and start the immigration process in Germany. His family visited him here in Luxembourg last weekend and he shared his pictures of their picnic. I told him how beautiful his family is and he continued to share pictures of them including his daughter’s 11th Birthday party. I could see a sadness in his eyes that he wishes he could be with them now but knows it might still be a while before they are reunited.

Close to the end of the class a few more men show up and work with Mairead. A young man from Afghanistan joins our group. He has been in Luxembourg for just two weeks. He shared with me his route here and what it took to get here – trains and bus rides. At the end of the class I talk with the other men too. Some of them have been here a couple of weeks, some a few months. They are from Monte Negro, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and other countries.  I didn’t get a chance to talk with all of them and we are using limited English.

There is one thing that did stand out with all of these men. They are happy to be in Luxembourg but sad to have left their countries. They have left behind family and friends and lives that they could no longer live. Some of them were laughing and joking while others were quiet and contemplative. Who really knows what they have been through to get to where they are today. One thing is for sure, they all have kind hearts and want to start a new life in Luxembourg.