What’s A Motto With You?

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This blog entry about the events of Saturday, July 24, 2004 was originally posted on August 02, 2004.

DAY 280:  Luxembourg is not French, not German, not Belgian, but Luxembourgish, a national identity its citizens strived to keep for centuries despite the country’s small size.  Although Luxembourg may have lost territories to its bordering countries throughout history, its core has been strived in the center of Western Europe since it was founded in 963 A.D.  Over a thousand years later, its proud Luxembourgish motto says, “Mir welle bleiwe wat mir sin” which translates to “We want to remain who we are” (or in layman’s terms, “We ain’t sellin’ out to The Man!”)

Luxembourg really isn’t in the scopes of many travelers in Europe — most tour companies zip through it from France en route to Germany or vice versa — but if it really was this distinct nationality, I wanted to see exactly what it was.  Actually, that’s a lie; I probably wouldn’t have thought to go either if I didn’t have relatives living there already.

“What do you want to see?” my second cousin Hans-Georg asked in his family apartment.

“I don’t really know,” I answered.  “Let me see what my guidebook says.”

“How many pages is it?”

“Four pages.”

“Oh, that’s too much,” he joked.

The first page of my Let’s Go guidebook’s section on Luxembourg’s sights states, “Luxembourg City is compact enough to be explored without a map; by wandering around you’ll bump into most of the major sights.”  Wander around we did, in a logical manner since Tatjana knew the city streets fairly well, bumping into the major sights as predicted:  the Parc Ed Klein, the Golden Lady monument on Boulevard Roosevelt, the street with Luxembourg’s famous motto painted on the wall, Town Hall and the Royal Palace, where Grand Duke Henri presides but doesn’t reside.  Luxembourg City was built in and around a section of the Alzette River Valley known as the Grund, which would be a perfect picturesque stretch of valley if it weren’t for the towering construction cranes marring the skyline (picture above). 

The most significant structure in Luxembourg City is the Bock Casemates, a protective fortress built in the 10th century into a conveniently placed rock formation that overlooked the city.  The inside the casemates were used for centuries as soldiers defended the city in a 23 km.-long series of tunnels and caves dug into the rock — even bakers and butchers dwelled in the rocky barracks to feed the troops.  Hans-Georg, Tatjana, Deborah and I walked though the tunnels, with its old cannons still facing out the windows where enemies once were, until we got to a dead end and went back the way we came.  The Bock Casemates, which once protected the proud Luxembourgish people, is now protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Walking down into valley of the Grund and across the Petrusse River, we passed through the Abbey of Neumünster, the former abbey-turned-prison-turned-exhibition and performance venue.  Sunday jazz was booked with reservations already, so we head back up out of the Grund via elevator, only to find out that Hans-Georg’s and Tatjana’s favorite hidden cafe was also booked for a private function. 

Perhaps Luxembourg’s motto should be changed to translate to “Reservations recommended.”


DEBORAH, HOLDING HER LITTLE GIRL PURSE and wearing sunglasses like a movie star, led the way, passed the statue of the former Grand Duchess Charlotte in the Place Guillaume II and onto the Cathedral de Notre Dame, before being so tired she had to be carried by both parents (taking turns) back to the apartment.  Once back at home she was a little more energetic (although not energetic enough to pop out her loose tooth), while we sat around and ate Tatjiana’s home-cooked Indian-style ginger chicken. 


SOMEHOW, THE PEOPLE OF LUXEMBOURG managed to fit a city and a countryside in a tiny little nation.  Less than an hour away by car was the smaller country town of Larochette, home of the ruins of Larochette Castle built on a hill overlooking the little town.  In 1979 the state acquired the property and began a restoration program to preserve its proud Luxembourg heritage.  While about half of the grounds is still under renovation (at the time of writing), many items have already been restored, from the wooden shackles that Deborah and I checked out with cranky faces, to the 14th century Créhange Manor.  Wandering the manor’s insides, we saw the restored, but empty rooms, each with a painted illustration of the way things were centuries ago.

The way things were in town centuries later were a bit of a surprise to us.  It was a Sunday in what should have been a sleepy little mountain town, but the downtown area was bustling with carnival rides, balloon animal sculptors in medieval costumes and vendors selling everything from wine to Eminem t-shirts. 

“They must have known we were coming,” Tatjana said.  Later she found out the town was having a paderie, an end-of-season sidewalk-sale which they used as an excuse to have a little fair.

We wandered the town fair at our leisure, checking out the vendors, stopping at a sidewalk cafe for coffee.  For Deborah, the trip wouldn’t have been complete without a ride on a carnival spaceship ride, where she sat in a UFO that went up and down, around and around while she talked to herself in the ship, perhaps reciting the mottos of alien races like one of her favorites, Stitch from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch.  After her short stint in outer space, we headed back to Luxembourg City to get ready for the next ride ahead.


WHILE HANS-GEORG AND FAMILY lived in Luxembourg, Hans-Georg commuted to nearby Germany, for his financial job in Stuttgart.  During the week, he crashed in his old room at this parents’ house in Filderstadt, suburb of Stuttgart; with a three-hour one-way drive it just made sense rather than going back and forth everyday.  With my bags packed and my thank yous and aeddis (goodbyes) said to Tatjana and Deborah, Hans-Georg and I hopped in the Audi 80 and cruised down the autobahn.  I was expecting there to be some sort of thing denoting the border between Luxembourg and Germany, but there was none, not even a “Willkommen nach Deutschland” sign.  If it weren’t for Hans-Georg pointing out the Mossel River boundary, I wouldn’t have known.

Traffic got pretty bad since we got close to the Stuttgart outer limits, so we took a detour through the countryside and arrived to the little house in Filderstadt by early nightfall.  I had spent a month in the house one summer with Blogreader wheat in 1991 and thirteen years later, it looked pretty much the same — except for the fact that the big open field across the street was now developed with another row of suburban houses.  My mother’s cousin Tony and his wife Ursula were still the same humble interracial couple I remembered as a sixteen-year-old and they welcomed me with open arms yet again.  My cousin Anton, Hans-Georg’s brother, still lived there, working odd hours as a security guard for the U.S. military installation 20 km. away.  When he came home around ten o’clock, I discovered that he was the same old guy too, just a lot bigger — although I couldn’t believe the teenager I remembered in 1991 who collected Garfield comics and played ping pong now toted a pistol and kept watch over U.S. Navy Seals. 

I sat in the same dinner table, in the same seat, and used the same silverware that I had thirteen years prior, and everything become familiar yet again.  I even slept on a floor mattress in the same area of Hans-Georg’s room that I did in 1991.  Thirteen years later, it had seemed that nothing had changed; everyone and everything was pretty much the same from my vantage point.  Perhaps they took attention to Luxembourg’s proud motto, “We want to remain who we are.”  Remain they did, and I felt at home again.






Next entry: Searching For Einstein

Previous entry: Perfect Strangers




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Comments for “What's A Motto With You?”

  • I liked this entry - it was a nice view into family life.  Deborah looks like a darling little girl.

    Posted by Liz  on  08/02  at  03:17 PM


  • So what is the speed limit on the autobahn? I was under the impression that there is no speed limit.  Is that just a myth?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  03:44 PM


  • Visiting family or friends is so refreshing after fending for yourself. When I arrived in Japan after a month of travel, it was great to have friends take care of me!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  04:58 PM


  • this is a great entry, and not just cuz rik mentioned my name.  im glad nothing’s really changed.  your uncle tony’s fam is the coolest.  meat and potatoes everyday w/ mineral soda, “tita” Orsel makin the best german potato salad ever…, speeding down the autobahn, ping pong tables in the park and watchin jackie chan flicks.  ahhh heaven!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  05:00 PM


  • So I guess Luxemborg is sorta like Delaware, just a place to pass through?  PAUL knows all about Delaware….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  05:00 PM


  • It’s nice to know that all over the family connections are the same. I am jealous of your family connections tho - they spread across continents, whereas mine as simply here on the West Coast…

    I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit Luxembourg - I did a report on it in the 8th grade. Thanks for the story - such a cute area…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  05:24 PM


  • ERIK: Great entry!

    MARKYT: I admit, DE is a State frequently passed during road trips on the way down to MD/DC or up to PA/NJ/NY, thus rarely given much attention. There isn’t a whole lot to say about it. However, in an effort to maintain the “remaining who i/we am/are” theme of Luxembourg, I thought I’d list some fun facts about DE.

    -Delaware was the first state to ratify the United States constitution. It did so on December 7, 1787.

    -The nation’s first scheduled steam railroad began in New Castle, DE in 1831.

    -Dead Poets Society was filmed at the St. Andrews School in Middletown, DE.

    -Oprah Winfrey’s movie, Beloved, was filmed in New Castle, DE and Philly.

    -George Washington headquartered in Wilmington, DE before defeating the British in the Battle of Brandywine in Kennett Square, PA (c. 1777)

    -Famous Delawareans include: Ryan Phillippe, Valerie Bertinelli, Elisabeth and Andrew Shue, Henry Heimlich (of Heimlich manuever fame), Sean Patrick Thomas, George Thorogood, and Judge Reinhold. Honorable mention: Bob Marley lived in Wilmington, DE during 1960s and 1970s.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  05:32 PM


  • wow PAUL….thanks for the DE history lesson….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  05:35 PM


  • i was going to stay back and be an SBR once again, but I couldn’t help it and I had to say—> awesome entry!  family, tons of great pics, history and best of all, you worked in my all time fave disney flick, LION KING, into your title!

    “What’s a motto?” 

    “Nothing, what’s a motto with you?”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  06:08 PM


  • Good one! I’m sure a home cooked meal and family was a welcome change of pace. Very convenient that there was no language barrier. It amazes me that so many EU folks are multi-lingual. I’m lucky I can manage tourist phrases when I go from place to place. Very NOT multi-lingual. Meant to ask you, did your SA Spanish come in handy in Spain?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/03  at  02:31 AM


  • BTW, that Parc Ed Klein photo looks like the Giant’s Causeway—a geological formation that is on the NE coast of Northern Ireland and the NW coast of Scotland. Some great folklore explains it was built by the giant Finn McCool to get across the sea to get his girlfriend in Scotland. I wonder if there’s a connection in Lux that goes with either of those two countries?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/03  at  02:51 AM


  • I think it is definitely a shame that we in the good ol’ USofA aren’t encouraged to be as multi-lingual. Languages need to start being taught in elementary school…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/03  at  03:49 AM


  • A’S TO YOUR Q’S:

    JANICE:  Only certain parts of the autobahn have no speed limit… but that’s way out in the countryside; anywhere near a city is regulated strictly with automated radar and cameras…

    CHRISTY:  Yes, SA Spanish came in handy in Spain… I just had to convert my S and Z sounds to THs…

    NOELLE:  Agreed. 

    PAUL:  “Hey, I’m in Delaware.”  - Wayne Campbell

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/04  at  03:35 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Searching For Einstein

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