Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Travel Notes: What Am I Doing Here?

Luxembourg City
That’s the title of a collection of Bruce Chatwin travel essays.

It’s a good questions to ask — and answer— while travelling.

I travelled to Luxembourg on a day trip tour by bus because it was too expensive to take the fast train to Paris for a day trip. English predominates but the tour guide moved as easily to French and Spanish and back to English. The mixed forestland south of Brussels fell away to flat pasturelands broken by wind turbines, then the rolling hillsides at Namur crossing the Meuse R., then the tighter hills and valleys of the Ardenne.

We received our history lesson before stopping in Bastogne, near the epicenter of the Battle of the Bulge. To those of us on that bus who stepped off to walk through the memorial, it is another’s time, we did not live through that war, that battle, that place. We are told in English, French and Spanish the facts, the meanings— but it is hard to be touched. What am I doing here?

“You are now in Luxembourg,” the tour guide announces as we speed along the narrow countryside road. “No one saluted.”

There is interesting history of how the Low Countries came to be nations— if that interests you. More immediate is the massive building boom EU bureaucracy and finances have brought to the Kirchberg Plateau area in Luxembourg City. Most immediate, we disembark in Old Town, “Hot City,” the little signs say.

Tiny Luxembourg is a rich country. We arrive at the start of the “Finance Race” a marathon-like foot race along the city’s walkways. Unlike Brussels, Luxembourg has elevation, highs and lows, visible layers of fortifications above the Grund area below the Old Town. Elevation pleases the eye.

Two beers in the “Colors” brassiere— Battia and Bofferding — and a thick haze of cigarette smoke. One can still smoke in public places in Luxembourg. I don’t smoke any more; I am pleasantly amazed to have discovered this for myself.

To discover that little fact is what I am doing here.

--Mike Sato

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