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.

 

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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 camp for families and men but is now 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.

 

Container Gardening in it’s Simplest Form

I bought a wooden garden box and starter veggies last week while I was in France.  I thought it was bigger than it ended up being. As I only travel to France from Luxembourg every couple of weeks I knew I needed to find a solution to my poor little veggie starts. I was hoping to find another box for my vegetables yesterday in Luxembourg but apparently they don’t sell them here. Plastic window boxes and pots abound but no wooden garden boxes. So, it’s Sunday, and nothing is open in Europe on Sundays and my poor veggies are wilting in the extreme heat this week.

So, I must come up with a plan. I had been throwing around the idea of using my large compost bags that are for garden waste to plant potatoes. My neighbor in Seattle used something like this for his potatoes. I thought, why not use my grocery bags, which are smaller than the compost bags but the same plastic material.

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So this afternoon I dug out all my grocery bags to see if I could fill them with my veggies. Thankfully I had plenty. There are no plastic or paper bags here in Europe so everyone brings their own bags to the market when they go shopping. And, the best part is that they are very inexpensive, only 50 cents. Each bag fit one 40L bag of soil perfectly.  With the bags only costing 50 cents each and the 40L potting soil only costing €2.39, I paid less than €3 ($3 US) for each container.

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In total I planted six tomato plants, six beet plants, three swiss chard plants and one hot pepper plant.

I also have a very artistic garden that can be mobile as well. Now I just need to replenish my grocery bags with some new ones (the prettier the better) and start my Spinach seedlings.

Universal Healthcare “Socialized Medicine” in Luxembourg VS. the US

So, the big question, is universal healthcare better than the system (very broken) in the United States? I would say hands down yes with my experience in Luxembourg. I had my first visit to the doctor yesterday. I am running out of my thyroid medication and need to get a new prescription. You are not allowed to ship prescription medicine from the United States.

Thankfully I met a wonderful woman a couple of weeks ago during the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg’s discussion on medicine and how the system works here. Dr. Nana Ikoko and I hit it off right off the bat and of course I wanted her to be my GP (general practitioner). She is an amazing woman. She grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, and moved to Belgium for university. After university she moved to London, where she practiced medicine for five years. Oh boy the stories she told me about her experiences in London. She has been in Luxembourg for a year now. It has been hard for her to establish a practice here since most Luxembourg people go to the same doctor from birth to death. She is fluent in English and French but not German and Luxembourgish so that has limited her.

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I went for my first visit yesterday. Upon arrival there were no forms to be filled out, you simply show your Securite Sociale card. I went directly into her office where we discussed what medicine I was on (a natural form of thyroid medicine). I had done some research and since alternative medicine/naturopathy is not available here I knew we would have to look further than Luxembourg. She was not familiar with my medicine. I had a print-out of pharmacists in the UK and she got on the phone and called them up right then and there. Within 10 minutes she had set up an account with the pharmacy and had ordered my prescription. She also wrote up a long list of blood tests I have been wanting to get for a while to see how my thyroid and other mineral absorptions are doing. Although I haven’t been to a primary doctor in the United States in many years, I know I never had an experience as great as this.

Upon check out, I paid just €55 (about $60) for my half-hour visit. Most of this will be reimbursed by the CNS. To give blood is a little more tricky since there are only a few labs in Luxembourg and most of them are only open from 7-9 am. Thankfully they had a lady that comes to this clinic on Thursday mornings so I was able to go this morning. Upon arrival this morning I was immediately wisked in and gave blood in less than 10 minutes. I gave six vials and was dreading what the bill would be for so many tests. I am guessing in the US it would be almost four figures since one thyroid test alone has cost me $300 in the past and I was getting 26 different tests today.

I asked the technician how I should pay. She said, “CNS pays for it. You pay nothing.” As I left the office, I was ecstatic. How could this be?

So, both times that I have had experiences with the medical establishment here it has been great. My son’s antibiotics cost less than €3 (post here) in the fall and now this.

I did find out some interesting information during the AWCL talk that American’s would find alarming, but overall I will take this system over the American system every day.

Interesting ways they do things here:

There are two hospitals in the city of Luxembourg. There are two more in the country (north and south). At any given time only one of the hospital’s emergency rooms is open. You have to find out which one before you go. They do have an after-care center (urgent care center) that you can go to after hours (8 pm) but you also have to know which one is open on which day. During regular hours you see your GP.

911 in the US or 112 here: If you call, very few will speak English so speak slow and simple. This is also the number you call to see which hospital is on-call and which pharmacy is open. You can also ask about a directory of doctors and specialists. It is not just for emergencies. So, if you do have an emergency they will ask a couple of questions. If it doesn’t involve blood and not very urgent they will send out an ambulance as transport only. This will be followed by a doctor who has all the medicine and materials in his/her bag. If it is a true emergency they will call for another ambulance that has more advanced materials for transport to the hospital. In the rural regions of Luxembourg they will send a helicopter instead of an ambulance since it is hard to get to places with the windy roads and can take too long. The doctor follows the ambulance to the hospital. The ambulances are nowhere nearly as advanced as the US and the EMTs are volunteers and are not trained in life saving.

If you show up yourself at the emergency room of the hospital that is not on-call they cannot take you in. It is closed – doors shut and lights off. You will need to go to the other hospital. There was a case recently where someone died outside the hospital in this circumstance. The infrastructure of this fast-growing city has not been updated and it is obvious if you go to the emergency room I have heard. People can wait hours to get in. Luxembourg is slow and Old World with regards to this. Although I have to say there are probably areas in the US that do not have adequate facilities either.

If you want to know more, here are nice articles by expats.

Public Health System in Luxembourg by Expat Mum in Luxembourg
Using The Healthcare System In Luxembourg – A Short Guide For Expats

Just Two Hours from Brussels but Safe

For those of my friends and family that are concerned about our families welfare living in Europe – Don’t worry! I feel perfectly safe. Yes, it is a travesty what is happening, but nothing new … as outlined in the shared post below… all over the world, not just Europe … these suicide bombings are happening … there are coups.

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People display a solidarity banner in Brussels following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. The banner reads “I am Brussels” in French and in Flemish languages. Charles Platiau/Reuters

I made a new friend a couple of weeks ago who is a doctor from the Congo in Africa. She moved to Belgium for University (still has family there) and most recently lived in London for five years and now Luxembourg for the last year. We met again today and shared our plans for vacations in the next couple of weeks and discussed current events. She is still going to Turkey for vacation despite the bombing in Instanbul because it can happen anywhere. She is not worried about her parents or brother and sister who life in Belgium. She has no plans to cancel her vacation and said we cannot run away scared because it could happen anywhere at any time. We must live our lives and not give in to the terrorists.

These things happen every day in Africa and on a smaller scale throughout the world. But in America it is so hyped when it happens in an anglo saxon country (or Europe) that everyone is told to be afraid. I try not to follow the American news too much because it makes me said. Especially this morning, when I saw that there was an alert out in America to “Not travel to Europe.” Seriously, does America know how big Europe is? Let’s stop the fear mongering and take care of the real problems .. which are plenty… that America has.

We are going to Mallorca, Spain during our Spring Break in a couple of days, we will travel through Paris on our way to Bordeaux to see family later this spring and we plan on traveling north through Belgium (just 20 minutes from home) and the Netherlands and Norway this summer. This will not stop us from exploring and seeing the world and all the beauty and people that it has to offer. We will continue to live, laugh and love instead of putting up walls and cowering in our home.

Controle Technique Car Inspection – Will I Pass?

IMG_0338We received a notice at the end of November about the yearly Controle Technique inspection that needs to be done yearly on the car. I put it aside since it seemed so far off. The holiday break began and I found the letter. In fact, instead of a deadline of the end of January, the inspection was due by Jan. 2.
In the US this would be no big deal, we would have two weeks to get it done. But, in Luxembourg, everything shuts down during the holidays. It is a ghost town the whole month of August and the week of Christmas was the same.

Dynamic websites in Luxembourg are lacking, to say the least. Websites are the same as you 10 years ago in the US. Usually there is little more than a homepage. The Societe National de Controle Technique has a quite interesting website. It shows you the multiple papers you need to bring with you and the four, yes just four, stations in the entire country, where you can get your car inspected. There is a tab for “Prise de Rendez-vous” or make an appointment.

On the letter we received it does not give you any information about where to go to get the inspection or how it is done. It is suggested that you make a reservation/ appointment but does not say it is mandatory. We looked for the first available appointment and it was for January 23rd. So we decided we would go without an appointment the next day and just wait in line.

Well, guess what, it is necessary to have an appointment. And how did we find out? We got up early Dec. 23rd and drove a half hour to sit in line for about 20 minutes, after trying to figure out where in the line we should be. We finally asked for directions and were told that we MUST have an appointment. Nowhere on the website or letter did it say this. There were about 20 cars in line and nothing seemed to be moving. We thought we would try to see if we could sneak in without an appointment.

Upon reaching the first inspection stop it was pointed out to us that we did not have an up-to-date insurance card. So, it being a holiday week we called our insurance company and raced into town to get a new insurance card before the holiday break. So, two hours later we trudged home to see what appointment would be available or if there were alternatives. The attendant also mentioned that we could just come by the next week on Monday at 8 am and take a chance to see if there were any cancelations.

Bright and early Monday morning my husband went to get the inspection and came back as he was turned away and told we MUST have an appointment. We came upon a page on the website that listed “partners” that could also do the inspection. Yeah! … Not so fast… After the few garages within a half hour radius, the best we could do was for an appointment on Jan. 6th. Technically you cannot drive your car in Luxembourg without a valid controle technique. But, what could we do?
My husband made the appointment for me (his French is much better than mine his being French and all) and I take care of the inspection myself.  We had an address and where told to come at 8:30 am on the 6th. There were two garages with the same name listed near each other online and I wasn’t sure which one to go to. The garage is for trucks – big industrial trucks – and is located in an industrial park that I had been to when I changed the winter tires.

Our GPS is outdated (area unmapped) so I went on Mapquest to make sure I knew where the two garages were located and hoped to find the right one first. The only problem – there are not road signs on all the roads. Thankfully after making three different wrong turns and 10 minutes of circling the same roundabout I found the one garage, there were not two. It was a huge complex that was at least a block long. I could not find the entrance through all the trucks parked outside. I found a truck stall and saw a mechanic inside. I knocked on the window and asked in my fabulous French where the controle technique was. He told me and I pretty much understood what he said but in fact not really. I drove to the next part of the building that looked like it was the right place half way around the building and stepped into an office where they do truck rentals. They again gave me directions that I fouled up. There were dozens and dozens of trucks parked everywhere. I finally found the small sign that pointed to the controle technique.

There were multiple trucks in line and a car. I parked to make sure that this time I was in fact in the right place. Yes! Again my limited French worked and the man behind the counter took me outside and guided me and my car to a scattered line of trucks to wait my turn. Shortly after, an Italian man in his car drove up and he asked if I knew where the line was or where the truck stall was for the controle technique. I told him that the man had told me to wait here in my car and and pointed out the spot where I believed the inspection would be. He spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out where he was supposed to go with his car. I had faith at this point that I would get my turn. Trucks continued to go in and out of the lot. Multiple times myself and the trucks and car behind me had to move for the big rigs coming through.

Finally I was up – only one hour later… As I pulled up to the garage, the door shut and the men left the building for a coffee break for 15 minutes. I was just happy to be next at this point. I was also just hoping that the car would pass inspection. I had heard stories of how difficult it can be to pass and when we had the tires changed they told me I had to put digital sensors on in order to pass. I hoped it wasn’t true.

When it was my turn, three men speaking Luxembourgish asked me to put on the lights, wipers etc. and I did not understand and tried my French again. They were very nice and helpful and probably loved hearing my broken French and watching my flailing hands. If they had been speaking in French I would have understood their banter as they checked the car over for loose brakes, suspension, etc.

At the end of the inspection I was wringing my hands.  I told them it was my first time with the controle technique and they just smiled. As they finished I asked, “Ca bien?” “Oui!” they said. Ahhhh. I finally let out my breathe. Now I just had to walk back through the truck/inspection stall to the office, pay, come back through the parking lot and inspection stall and get back out to the car. It is definitely old school here.

As I got in my car and tried finding my way back home – unmapped area – I felt a small victory of making it through the dreaded controle technique after only 2 1/2 hours.