Classic Car Talk in Luxembourg

Torino
Me driving my 1970 Ford Torino GT Convertible in 1987

Today I had another unique experience in Luxembourg. It is just another reason I really like living here. I stopped by a car part’s shop to buy a liter of oil for my car. My son and I will be taking our annual May mother/son trip to the Belgium coast next week and I didn’t get a chance to get the oil changed yet.

I was greeted by a very friendly Belgium man at the counter who showed me which oil I needed for my car and then we proceeded to chat for almost a half hour about a number of interesting things. I have always been a car geek and especially classic cars. It was after I told him that I used to change the oil in my cars years ago that the real conversation began.

He recommended a mechanic who does car repairs in France for about the quarter of the price in Luxembourg and gave me his name and number so I can go to a reliable and nice garage in the future. The man he referred me to also works on race cars and he showed me pictures of some amazing cars.

I received a quote for an oil change here in Luxembourg about a year ago for €350 ($410). Last year I ended up driving 25 minutes over the border to France and only payed €150 ($175). So, maybe changing the oil myself would be a good idea after all.

It has been years since I have talked to anyone about working on cars and in particular classic cars. He is a huge American classic car fan and we traded stories about which cars he has owned and wants to own as well as the classic cars I have owned. He showed me pictures of his friend’s classic cars and his favorites, the late 1960s Cobra and Charger as well as European cars. I told him about my 1970 Ford Torino GT convertible and he even knew the engine specs of my car.

His dream is to open his own garage/shop one day and specialize in classic cars. He recently bought a place just over the border in France, which is much cheaper than Luxembourg, and is putting together contacts and hopes to open his shop soon.

After our intense classic car discussion he gave me a discount on the oil and we went out to my car to take a look at the engine to see how difficult it would be for me to change my own oil and fuel filter. After a five-minute inspection he showed me how to access the nooks and crannies and gave me plenty of advice on how to proceed on my own. In fact it is not very difficult at all. I will just need to roll up my sleeves and get dirty.

I love meeting new and interesting people every day in Luxembourg.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Been Quite the Morning

baguettekioskIt’s just after 1:30 in the afternoon and I have already had quite the morning. It started with driving Luca to school, as his Friday classes start an hour later. Afterward I decided to stop by a friend’s expat store, Home from Home, in Strassen to chat and ask for a favor. When I arrived there was a television crew from RTL Luxembourg set up and they asked if they could film me and ask a few questions. It’s not like I could say no. And definitely not in Luxembourgish since I haven’t learned the language yet. Actually they were quite nice and did speak English. So I walked around the store and chatted with John and Mark the owners and did the shots and the interview. I am hoping the footage turns out well. I wasn’t exactly dressed for it.

Now to ask the favor. My daughter, who has two more years of secondary school, currently 10th grade in the US, must do an internship at the end of the school year as part of the curriculum. Yes, I said internship. She wanted to work with a local veterinarian but cannot for insurance reasons. She also would have loved to work in a pet sanctuary. But, in Luxembourg you cannot do volunteer work in these environments until you are 18. So, why not ask a friend if she can work in their store. Of course Mark and John were very nice and agreed that she can work in the store at the end of June. We chatted more about the schools in Luxembourg, our kids and how well their store is doing and possible new ideas. I went on my way thankful that they will let Juliana do her internship at their store. They are such great guys.

So, then I returned home to quickly study a little bit of French before my tutoring session in France. I am studying my French, somewhat intensively, to prepare for a French language nationality exam the second week of March, just over two weeks from now. As I drove the half hour to Haute-Kontz in France I enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and the rolling hills and countryside of the Moselle valley. It is breathtaking, except for the nuclear power plant billowing steam not far away. It has been quite nippy lately or just a little chilly for me but freezing cold for almost everyone else. When you have Minnesota blood it is just chilly when it’s around freezing or a little below. But at least we have the sunshine after months of rain and looming clouds.

baguettes

We had a very nice tutoring session and I drove back through the country roads to Mondorf. I had noticed a kiosk before but today I had to stop. There was a fresh baguette kiosk just outside Le Bureau de Marie (Town Hall/ Mayor’s Office). For just one euro a fresh, warm baguette pops out of the kiosk. I had to get two of course. As I was backing out of my parking spot, I turned around and just in time stopped as I almost hit a woman walking through the parking lot. She tapped the back window at the last second. I was mortified. I thought, “Did I just hit that woman with my car.” I jumped out the car and asked her if she was OK in French. I had to practice my French and especially since we were still in France (the border was only 100 meters away). She was in fact just fine and she smiled. I have to say that adrenaline surge lasted for at least another 20 minutes as I made my way back home.

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Now it’s time to make lunch, study more French, get ready for a Skype French lesson and clean up the house. Oh, that’s right, little Nipper decided to help out with putting the dishes away.

So that was my morning in Luxembourg. There is always some new adventure just around the corner. Although next time I will pay more attention when I back out of a parking spot.

Socially Active in Luxembourg

It’s hard to believe that I have been in Luxembourg more than two and a half years already. While many people think it is hard to move to a new country and feel at home and get involved, that is not true for me. I love Luxembourg and all the people I have met here. What I like most is that people are from all over the world, very kind and open. I have yet to have a bad experience with people I have met. And let me tell you, or as my close friends will say (you know who you are K and A), “Natalie makes friends with everyone she meets.”

Since I am a very “social” person I meet someone new almost every day and I am very involved in community events and volunteer with a number of groups. This weekend I have volunteered, as an executive committee board member for Democrats Abroad Luxembourg, to host the Women’s March Luxembourg at my house. We will meet at my house at the edge of the city, discuss issues and then stroll through the walking routes and fields near my house. I know this seems like a grand endeavor, but it will be very fulfilling and it will bring together like-minded women and men to discuss the issues of today.

Luxembourg

I am not doing this alone, along with Democrats Abroad Luxembourg we have the Women’s March Luxembourg, which was very popular last year, as well as other groups in Luxembourg that are participating. I recently made a connection with CID | Fraen an Gender, for all those who are interested in feminism, gender issues, equality between women and men and who refuse stereotypical roles attributed by gender.  We are lucky enough to have socially active members and volunteers to gather people together for this Women’s March and Solidarity Stroll to address the issues of today.  Thank you for everyone’s help and passion to get this out to our members, Luxembourg residents and in the local media. I can only hope that we have better weather than we have over the last month. Sunshine or at least no rain and wind please!

I cannot live in such an international and vibrant city as Luxembourg and not be involved. I look for new opportunities every day. I was lucky to meet a wonderful group of women last weekend for a Woman’s Healing Circle. These are the types of people I like to meet and build lasting relationships with.

I am also very active with the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg, which is actually a very international women’s club. I am the communications director on the executive board and enjoy putting together the monthly newsletter as well as taking care of the website and FB page. They are such a lovely group of ladies.

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I also started volunteering with the World Peace Forum last summer for the annual Luxembourg Peace Prize that awards world peace makers. I met some very wonderful people from around the world and look forward to this year’s event on June 22, 2018. The Schengen Peace Foundation was initiated in 2005 as a not-for-profit charity approved by His Royal Highness Henri the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.  The Foundation contributes to the construction of a more peaceful world by promoting peace, tolerance and understanding through multicultural dialogue with the help of discussions, publications, exhibits and workshops, internet platforms, encounters, exchange and education programs as well as studies about peace.

I was lucky to be part of the GAYMAT, the Luxembourg LGBT Pride Event in July.

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This is a short list of the social activities I participated in over the last year. Let’s see what new opportunities come my way in 2018.

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.

Lunchtime in Luxembourg

The sun will come out tomorrow!

walkingpaths

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.

medical

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.

affidavit

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.

certificate-of-residence

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.

judiciaire

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