Sunday, December 14, 2014

Discovering Luxembourg

I think that I am falling in love with the architecture of Luxembourg.  This morning I have spent mostly walking around the streets of the city, with its curious mixture of old and new, and I am being continually taken in by the drama and beauty of the place.  My hotel was right in the center of the city, and the city itself is quite compact: a hill surrounded by deep and defensible valleys, now bridged with great stone and concrete viaducts that carry highways and rail lines.

The streets in many places are nearly as narrow as Venice, but with high 18th century-style buildings more reminiscent of Paris.  Even the newer construction often seems to have chosen either to fit in or to coherently and deliberately depart (and there is quite a bit of new architecture, Luxembourg having apparently been rather damaged in the tail end of World War II).  Moreover, since the center is much more compact than either Paris or Venice, all these things combine to create a city where even a short walk turns around many corners of surprises, dramatic angles formed of the corners and confluences of little wriggling streets.  At the edge of the hill, the city drops off sharply, with steep stairs and roads plunging down into the parkland of the river valley.  Along the side of the valley are old castles, pastel-colored stone houses marching down the side of the slope, and even homes driven into the rock itself.  On the far side rise cranes and the glass towers of the country's industry, though I'm not sure whether those particular towers hold banking or software or European government.

It is a rather international city as well, as befits a small country that attempted neutrality for a long time, then after its experience in World War II turned about and fiercely embraced the new order that it helped to create, as one of the founders and agitators for both the European Union and NATO.  I walked along a major road named Franklin D. Roosevelt Boulevard, and not far away is another street named for John F Kennedy. I hear many languages in the streets, and see at least at least a smattering of cross-cultural couples.  Nearly every advertisement that I have seen has something to do with the way the country sees itself as a crossroads, a place not on its own, but defined through its connections with the rest of the world.  Luxembourg intrigues me, and I need to come here again with more time to spend.

Now, I am sitting on the steps of a public building on the edge of one of the city squares, listening to blacksmiths pounding out ornaments in the bustling Christmas market in front of me, and amazed to find myself automatically online (perhaps it is the university) so I can even upload this post while it is fresh on my mind.  Good job, Luxembourg: yet another way I like you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

International Showers

Somewhere, inside pretty much every international airport, there is a place where you can get a shower.  Sometimes they are public and anybody can get at them; other times you have to get access to one of the airline lounges, either by being a frequent flyer or paying for a day pass.  If you can get at that shower, though, it can make a world of difference.  Last night, before getting on my overnight flight from Miami to London, I got a shower in the American Airlines lounge, making up for not really being able to clean my hair properly for the last week.  Then, while waiting to connect in Heathrow, I got another shower in the British Airways lounge, and washed away all of that red-eye flight nastiness that builds up when you've spent a night neither really sleeping nor not sleeping.  In both showers, the water temperature was kind of unstable (each in its own special way), but who cares: it was a few minutes of perfect quiet solitude and self-care, and by the time I stepped out, I was clean from my toes to my teeth and with a much more settled and stable mind, ready to face the next step of my voyage.