Tuesday, November 05, 2013


Click here for today's Lëtzebuerger Journal story by Nico Pleimling about Ein Amerikaner auf Abwegen. (Which, according to Google Translate, means: An American Gone Astray.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Multi-Lingual-Temporary-Amnesia-Panic Syndrome

Monday, October 07, 2013


Thursday, October 03, 2013


Monday, September 30, 2013


Monday, September 16, 2013


Thursday, September 12, 2013


Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Check this out: it's my Strava heat map since I moved to Luxembourg about six months ago. I've pretty much covered the whole country!

Sunday, September 08, 2013


Saturday, September 07, 2013


Saturday, August 10, 2013


The other day, mon frère d’Luxembourg, Fränz Schneider (pictured) texts me, asking if I want to go for a ride in his Porsche. Sure, say I. I’m not a car aficionado by any stretch, but I know a cool car when I see one and Fränz’s 1985 Porshe Carrera 911, which I’d previously only seen sitting in his garage, is tres, sehr, immens kool! 

So Fränz picks me up and we head for the rural, winding roads of the beautiful Luxembourg countryside. Past waves of grain, fields of mooing cows and up and down curvy-swervey forest roads. The Porsche’s engine roars and growls as Franz winds each gear out to the max and expertly maneuvers through serpentine turns—it’s really quite exciting!

Thing is, I’m not quite used to this. In the past six months, I’ve been in a car maybe four times and I’ve never been a particularly comfortable front seat passenger. Plus, I’ve never been in Porsche before, let alone not one zooming across the European countryside on curlicue roads not much wider than a sidewalk. 

Thus, my feet are pumping imaginary brakes pedals left and right and I’m desperately searching for handholds to get a grip. Searching too for somewhere in the car to point my mouth should I have no choice but to toss my cookies in this vomit comet. A couple times, I check the mirror because I’m curious if a person really does turn green when they’re nauseous. (They do.)

For his part, Fränz senses my discomfort and sets out to put me at ease. Men are like that; they’ll help each other out whenever they sense that another of their kind is in need. For instance in this case, Fränz starts driving about twice as fast. He winds each gear out even higher so that the roar and growl are deafening, and he seems hell-bent on finding the curviest narrowest, one-lane roads in all of Europe. At one point, when he floors it going straight up a hill, the passing scenery speeds by in such a blur I feel like I’m in the Millennium Falcon when it jumps it to light speed. Oh, and Fränz is laughing at me and my terrified reactions the whole time too. So there’s that. 

Actually, Fränz does try to help me out. 

“Maybe you won’t feel so sick if you drive,” he says, and he pulls off to the side of the road and stops. 

Again, I’m not a car guy per se, but I do know that in the future, it’d be pretty cool to look back on that one time I drove a Porsche Carrera 911 in Europe, even if the whole time, I felt like I was gonna hurl. So I jump at the chance and after some struggle getting out, Fränz and I switch places . (The car is so low, that getting out from the passenger seat feels like I’m getting out of a sleeping bag after a night spent on the ground.) 

I have to say, that sitting in the low cockpit, gripping that tiny, Speed Racer-type steering wheel in my hands, my nausea instantly subsided. To be replaced by high anxiety—not only have I not driven a car in half a year, but this is a Porsche for Chrissake, and my friend’s most prized possession; the last thing I wanna do is crack it up. So I take it slow. Really slow. In the rear-view mirror, I swear I can see cars backed up all the way to Brussels but I don’t care, I’m not gonna crash Fränz’s car. And even though I never get beyond third gear or above 50K per hour, the Porsche growls like I’m lettin’ her unwind on a straightaway at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It makes me extremely nervous. 

Finally, I can’t take it anymore. I decide I’d rather be a nauseous passenger on the verge of throwing up than suffer a full-on panic attack while behind the wheel of Fränz’s car. So I pull over and let him drive us back to d’Stad. On the way, I just closed my eyes, stuck my fingers in my ears and tried to think happy thoughts. 

All in all though, I’d have to say, it was another fun time with mon Luxembourg frère, Fränz.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Esch-sur-Sûre Mountain Biking

Amazing ride on Monday with the excellent Ferdy Adam, Claude and Christian (who own 
S-Cape Sports in Redange, and some friendly Dutch folks whose names completely escape me. We rode up, down and around Upper Sûre Lake (Stauséi Uewersaue), a reservoir that is Luxembourg's largest body of water and main water supply.

 It's a beautiful, sparsely populated area in the rolling hill country of the Ardennes. Speaking of which, we passed a spot that had two big guns from the Battle of the Bulge and passed through a forest where during World War II, some Luxembourg citizens hid in the woods for several years to avoid having to join the German Army. This place just drips with history!

Friday, June 21, 2013


-On one of my early mountain bike rides here, I was asked what I knew of Luxembourg before I arrived. I said I knew almost nothing about it and that I thought Luxembourg and Lichtenstein were the same place. Being a fan of pro cycling, I did know of Fränk and Andy Schleck, but that was about it. Oh, and another pro cyclist, Kim Kirchen, I knew of him too.

(It just occurs to me that when I was about 25 and moved west to Seattle, I knew almost nothing about Seattle either. Only that Jimi Hendrix was from there and I had this vague notion than Seattle and Portland were sorta the same. But I digress …) 

During my subsequent Luxembourg studies at the University of Wikipedia (UW), I’ve been surprised to find that Luxembourg City’s population is only about 100,000, which isn’t much bigger than Bellingham’s 80,000. But it feels waaay bigger. Luxembourg City is a banking, finance, insurance, European Union, etc. hub and every day about 150,000 people commute here, most of them from nearby France, Germany and Belgium. So every day, the Ville de Luxembourg goes from being a city not much bigger than Bellingham to one the size of Tacoma. (That would mean something to you if you were from the Northwest.)

-In general, when I’m with a group of people here who speak multiple languages (and that would be just about everyone I’ve met here), they’ll switch to English out of respect for me, by far the group’s weakest language link. Sometimes though, it’s fun when they forget I’m there and switch over to their mother tongue and I try to follow their train of conversation. I did this a few weeks ago on a hiking trip with some Germans and surprised myself with how much I could understand. I deciphered, for instance, that sangria gave this one woman migraines. Another hoped that when she had kids she would have twins. And another really liked the city of Cologne, but found that people in Munich were too “chicky-mickey.”

-When my mountain-biking friends speak to each other in Luxembourgish, I can tell when they’re agreeing with each other (“Jo, jo, jo, …”—prounounced “Yo”), disagreeing (“Nee, nee, nee, …”) and, when we come to an intersection, when we’re to turn left (“Lénks!”). I don’t, however, recognize the word for ‘right’ so a lot of times, I find myself continuing straight as everyone else turns right. 

-On the Luxembourg facebook group pages I check out (biker.lu, 26pouces.lu, etc.), people usually write in Luxembourgish which I can follow far better than listening to it. However, some of my Luxembourgish friends have told me that while they spoke Luxembourgish at home and in the early years of school, they didn’t really learn to write it. Thus their spelling can sometimes be all over the place. But it does seem to be mostly phonetic. (For instance, there’s none of this nonsense like we have in English wherein you take a word that is pronounced ‘ruff’ and spell it r-o-u-g-h. Or, as in French, a phrase that is pronounced Kess-keh-say but is spelled qu'est ce que c'est.)

- People in Luxembourg sometimes seem surprised that we would move here from America. And several, after I tell them that we live in the Seattle area of the Pacific Northwest—with its spectacular mountains, forests, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife, not to mention its world-class mountain biking—wonder why the heck we’d choose to be in Luxembourg. Here’s my answer: Luxembourg may be small but IT’S FRICKIN’ EUROPE! WE’RE LIVING IN FRICKIN’ EUROPE! 

To me, that’s the coolest thing ever and even after four months, I still can’t believe I’m living here!

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Growing up in the U.S., one of my cycling dreams has been to ride my bike across the country. That’ll likely never happen which, truthfully, I’m fine with. (I imagine that riding from the West Coast to the Rockies would be pretty spectacular but after that, it’d be sorta boring—cornfields, cowfields, cities and strip malls. For 2,000 miles.)

That’s why living in a country that’s only 30 miles wide by 50 miles long is great. Starting in the morning, you can ride the length of it in a few hours and be back home that same evening to watch highlights of the Giro d’Italia on TV and sleep in your own bed. That’s basically what I did last Sunday.

With eight other riders, I caught the 7:15 train from Luxembourg City and after placing our bikes in the dedicated bike carriers (laid them in the aisle of the nearly empty car), paid a hefty fee (2 Euros), and enjoyed a scenic hour-long ride to Troivierges, the northernmost stop in Luxembourg. Ferdy Adam and Gilbert Jacobs put the ride together and assembled a terrific group of folks, but unfortunately, I don’t remember everyone’s name. (Already lousy at remembering names, I’m even worse when I can’t speak their languages.) 
All were Luxembourgers except for myself and Axel Molinero, who’s from Spain but lives in Germany where he runs Atracktive mountainbiking, a mountain bike guiding company. Axel is a fun, enthusiastic kid, whom I took to immediately. As often seems to happen since I’ve been in Luxembourg, we talked languages—he, like seemingly everyone else in this country except for me, speaks about five different ones—and I attempted to entertain him with various English accents: British (Austin Powers, Beatles, Month Python), New York, Boston and U.S. Southern. He seemed amused or was just being polite. 

From Troivierges, a small village seemingly right out of a storybook (like so many places in Luxembourg), we began our journey south. This is the hilly Ardennes country where we rolled up and down big hills via a mix of unbelievably smooth roads, fun swirling singletrack, farm fields, and forest dirt roads, always trending south back toward Luxembourg City. Ardennes hills are short but steep and some of them hurt like hell. Tiniest gear, up on the nose of the saddle, just trying to keep from falling over, type climbs. At times, the open views were breathtaking—rolling hill upon rolling hill in all directions, a lineup of giant white wind turbines not spinning at all on this windless day, a pointy church steeple from a village down in the valley over there. And another one over there! And over there too! Back home, there’s a climb where I’m always extremely moved when I pass this particular ridge of pointy North Cascade Mountain peaks. Just happy, lucky-as-hell-to-be-healthy-and-alive-type moved. I had similar moments on this ride as well.

A fun, funny, enlightening moment:

-About three hours into the ride we stopped for lunch (spaghetti, Cokes, Apfelschorle and espresso) at a café in tiny Kehmen. It was yummy and energizing. As we were about to leave, I asked Ferdy if he knew where the restrooms were.

“They’re inside on the right, by the bowling,” he says.

“By the what?”

“The bowling,” he says. “Right before the bowling. ... Here, I show you,” he says, seeing my confused look. 

As he leads me inside, I’m thinking ‘bowling’ must some little game of chance played while sitting at the bar, like pull tabs. But no, it’s real bowling. This small café has a single lane for European bowling (jeu de quills), something I’d never seen or even heard of before. Looking at the café from the outside, you would never think there’s a bowling alley inside. It was like something out of Harry Potter where they cross a portal revealing a whole other elaborate world inside. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration but still, it took me a moment to get my head around it. 

The lane looks to be as long as a bowling lane that I’m familiar with from the U.S., but is really narrow and flares out down near the pins. The balls are smaller, not much larger than a softball, but heavy and have no holes. They seem to be of varying size too. Ferdy tells me that there’s much strategy involved in spinning the ball as you roll it in order to make it curve. (Who knew?) 

Ferdy and I take a couple turns which was fun and funny and I feel pretty safe in saying that I might be the only American who has ridden his bike the length of Luxembourg and played jeu de quills in the same day. That’s something to be proud of. 

I took no notes and after a while, the riding all kind of blended together in my mind. Sorry, for not many details. We saw some stunning castles. The north part of Luxembourg is much hillier than the south. From Mersch on down, much of the riding seemed to be a fair amount of what I would call gravel-grinding: dirt roads through fields and forest, interspersed from time to time with fun singletrack. 

We lucked out in myriad ways. The weather was perfect—sunny, high 60s (F) with no wind—not a single flat tire or mechanical for any of the nine riders. Everyone finished strong. 

Strava has my distance at 60.7 miles with 7,012 feet of elevation gain. Ride time was 6 hours and 25 minutes, 8:53 total time. An absolutely incredible day and a huge shout-out of thanks to Ferdy Gilbert (and Franz Schneider who wasn't with us but who helped create this route) for putting it together!

Thursday, May 02, 2013


In the 2-1/2 months I’ve been in Luxembourg, I’ve ridden four mountain bike randonnees of between 30K and 70K. They’re not races, more like road bike century rides in the U.S. and are a great way to learn the landscape. Lots and lots of forests, bizarrely beautiful rock formations in the north, windswept open fields and farmland that call to mind the springtime pro bicycle races I love to watch on Eurosport. 

Randonnees—and mountain biking in general--have been a great way to meet people too. My entry key into the Luxembourg mountain bike scene has been Fränz Schneider, who runs the Biker.lu site and club. (I think it’s a club; I’m still not sure how Luxembourg bike clubs, associations and the like work.) He’s the Grandmaster of all Connectors (Google Malcolm Gladwell and Connectors and that’s Fränz) who’s been a terrific friend and guide and has allowed me to follow him around like a new puppy ever since I arrived here. 

Apropos of nothing, here are a couple tidbits that only marginally have anything to do with the randonnees I’ve ridden. 

-After a 36K randonnee in Beaufort, not far from the amazing Château de Beaufort there, dozens of us tired, muddied riders gathered in some sort of community center for a spaghetti feed. Just before we dig in, Fränz says to me: “Gudden Appetit!” (Pronounced appe-teet). 

But I thought he said, “Looks good enough to eat,” so I said “Yes, it does.”

We went back and forth like this a couple times before he cleared up the English-Luxembourgish discrepancy. By this time, however, I’d found myself distracted and a little intimidated by the beauty and skill with which this room full of Luxembourgers ate their spaghetti. 

Using a knife and fork, they spin the spaghetti on the fork using the spoon as a sort of base to support said fork spinning and then, with a quick subtle move, pull out the fork so that the spun spaghetti dollop now sits in the spoon. Which they then spoon into their mouths. (Somewhere in the recesses of my brain is the knowledge that this is how one is supposed to eat spaghetti but I’ve never seen anyone actually do it.)

Looking around and seeing every single person eating this way except for me seemed a bit surreal. It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry and Elaine are in the diner and realize that everyone around them is eating cookies, donuts, Snicker’s bars, etc. with a knife and fork except for them. There was a balletic beauty about these Luxembourgers’ spaghetti-eating, worthy of a Vivaldi soundtrack. Meanwhile, I shoveled my spaghetti into my piehole caveman-style feeling like I was Tony Soprano crashing dinner at Downton Abbey. 

-The longest randonnee I’ve ridden so far here is the Mill Man Trail, a 70K near Echternach, Luxembourg’s oldest city located across the Sauer River from Germany. This was with my friends Ferdy, a Luxembourger, and Jean-Louis who’s French. Both speak excellent English and on the drive to Echternach, we talked much of languages, etc. They said that American English is harder to understand than British English and that some of the time when I speak all they hear is “Grrrr-Grrrr-Grrrr.”

So I affected my best British accent and said, “Do you think there will be a lot of people here today?”

“Ah, that’s much easier to understand,” they both said, almost in unison. I imagined it was as if I had fine-tuned a radio station so that it came in much clearer.

Later, on the randonnee I was surprised with the freeness with which riders (albeit, all male) would take out the garden hose, when the need arose, and water the lawn as it were. On an organized ride in the U.S., there’re porta johns (usually not enough) and stern warnings of the consequences if you don’t use them. Just for shaking a little dew off the lily. Here, you’ll see whole pelotons of pee-peeing pedalers mere feet from the aid tent or wherever.

“We’d get fined for doing this in the U.S.,” I said to Ferdy as we and a dozen or so others were poised at the edge of some trees personally trying to put out a forest fire. 

“Fined? Why?” asked Ferdy. “It’s natural.”

Such is true.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

LUXEMBOURG HIKING - NaturWanderPark delux

Vianden Castle
Just got back from spending three days hiking and dining with some European journalists and bloggers in Luxembourg’s Mullerthal and Ardennes regions. Absolutely beautifully breathtakingly stunning nice and fun! We were exploring a few of the trails in the new , a joint Deutschland-Luxembourg (de-lux, get it?) tourism project that offers hikes that loop through both countries, sometimes crossing the Our River to do so. 

Here’re some quick-hit impressions:

-The Mullerthal region (oft referred to as Little Switzerland; Petite Suisse Luxembourgeoise ) has some amazing hiking trails that meander through bizarrely sculpted sandstone rock formations. For you Northwest folks, much of them are exactly like the sandstone bluffs along Chuckanut Bay—except they’re in middle of the woods in a landlocked European country! Farther north, the Ardennes hills surrounding Vianden offer sweeping views down into the Our River valley and the patchwork of forests, fields and farmland on both the Luxembourg and German sides. 
Cool rock formations along the Mullerthal trail.

-Where I live in America, crossing the border from the U.S. into Canada can sometimes take an hour-and-a-half of waiting in line in your car, inhaling auto and truck exhaust, being forced to listen to krappy tunes coming from other cars, all culminating perhaps with a drug-sniffing dog rummaging through your car for drugs and/or illegal immigrants. So it’s refreshingly fun and freeing to cross back and forth between two countries as simply and easily as if you were taking the next step on your mindless saunter out to the kitchen to see if they were any croissants left over from breakfast. 

It’s sort of ironic to the think about too: the U.S. and Canada have been never been at odds militarily and yet to cross from one to the other requires such effort, preparation and a following of myriad rules and regulations. However, even though Luxembourg and Germany have a history of conflict (e.g., the Nazis occupied Luxembourg during World War II) crossing from one to the other couldn’t be easier. On my Mullerthal-Ardennes visit, sometimes all it took was walking across the bridge spanning the Our River; in other spots, the border is marked by a widely-spaced row of short, cement blocks. One could--and one did quite often--stand on one of these block so he could say that he was in two countries at once. 
My right arm is in Luxembourg, my left in Germany.
-Castles are my new bald eagle. What I mean is this—when I first moved from New Jersey to the Northwest, I couldn’t believe how common bald eagles were. I’d never seen one before, yet during salmon spawning it’s not uncommon in Washington State to see 30 eagles in a single tree. So I spent much of my first few years there in open-mouthed wonder. Similarly, I have no experience with castles.

“We don’t have castles in America,” I said during this trip to one of my new friends, a journalist from Germany. She appeared stunned.

So I spent much of these three days in gape-mouthed wonder, especially during our 90-minute explore of spectacular Le Château de Vianden. 
Inside the chapel at Vianden Castle.
-The Mullerthal and Vianden region would be AMAZING for trail running. (Though I hiked about 25 miles during my three-day visit, I didn’t get a chance to go running.) Lots of single- and double-track, mega-ups and mega-downs, stunning vistas, terrific signage to keep from getting lost, castles (CASTLES!), Europey-looking villages and more—can’t wait to get back up there and put running-shoe tread to trail!
Trail running the Mullerthal. 
-The Mullerthal and Vianden region is rollicking big-time fun for mountain biking. (See above, the only difference being that just before my hiking trip, I rode a 70K mountain bike randonnee in the Mullerthal and thus I’ve experienced its fat-tire goodness first-hand.)

-With smooth, curvy-swervey paved roads that go up, up, and up, and sometimes culminate with an ancient castle (A CASTLE!), I simply can’t wait to head up there on my road bike! (‘Cause there’re castles ‘n’ all.) 

-They have green woodpeckers in Luxembourg. (GREEN woodpeckers!) I didn’t actually see one, but I did see a picture of one in our guide Marco’s guidebook. We did see a den hole for a badger though. (Honey badger?)

-Beds in Luxembourg and Germany don’t seem to have top sheets.

-When you’re at a restaurant and you’re done eating, place your knife and fork on your plate at 4 o’clock otherwise the waiter thinks you’re still eating and won’t take your plate away. 

Burg Falkenstein, Germany

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Please enjoy some random bike photos with this story.
This is the first time I’ve lived in a city apartment in about 20 years and I have to say, I’m really enjoying it. I like not having a car and thus, not paying for gas, insurance, maintenance, registration tabs, etc. It’s fun relying on public transportation, my bike or walking to get around.
Granted, the rental management company (agence immobiliere) seems to be run by a band of chucklehead teens up to no good. We’ll call them up to let them know there’s a problem—“Our half-melted bathroom light fixture is still shooting sparks at us whenever we turn it on; are you going to send someone out to fix it like you told us six weeks ago?—and swear we hear snickering on the other end of the line.
“Oui, oui, Monsieur, someone will get right back to you,” they say, amid barely suppressed giggle fits.
Then nothing. No one ever comes out to fix anything.
I imagine we’re the subjects of some YouTube video in which unsuspecting tenants are shown being repeatedly lied to over the phone by pranking agence immobiliere employees whose goal it is to make the tenants snap.
But other than that, everything’s fine. And I love my new rituals. My morning walks down to the bakery on the corner for croissants and muffins. My thrice-weekly runs through the historic and beautiful Petrusse Valley, which is less than a kilometer away. Our easy jaunts into the city Centre where the pretty people hang out. Also, our son’s school is right across the street from our apartment. It’s all good.

In recent days, however, I’d become intrigued by what I soon termed the Mystery Sound. A sort-of repetitive rhythmic Whoomp-Whoomp-Whoomp, which at first I took to be the upstairs couple in the throes of horizontal passion. But the Whoomping  would go on for hours. And unless the guy was suffering one of the side effects I’ve heard about on the Viagra and Cialis commercials—no, not the sudden vision loss or ringing in the ears—that wasn’t likely.
Whoomp-Whoomp-Whoomp …
And then it would stop for a few hours.
And then start up again.
Whoomp-Whoomp-Whoomp …
After establishing that it wasn’t coming from anywhere inside our apartment, the next time the Whoomping started, I ventured out into the hallway and began listening outside our neighbors’ doorways. Perhaps a fellow tenant was using one of those Nordic Track indoor cross-country ski trainers? And given their multi-hour-long workouts, maybe he or she is a future Olympian. Perhaps one I could befriend and whom with gift me with tickets to next year’s Winter Games in Russia!
But, no, I heard nothing at either neighbor’s doorway.
I climbed the stairs to the floor above and the Whoomping got quieter. Aha! It’s coming from below. Now we’re getting somewhere. I sprinted down to the lobby but as soon as I got there, the Whoomping stopped. I’d have to wait to find the Whoomping source, but that was OK. I was creeping ever closer to discovering the source of the Mystery Sound.
The next day, as soon as the Whoomping started, I flew down to the lobby, where it sounded like two rhinoceroses were taking turns butting their giant horned heads against a wall down below. Opening the door to the dungeon-like basement, the sound was so loud I couldn’t help but wince with each Whoomp!
I soldiered on down the stairs, step-by-step, in a sort-of sideways, slightly crouched defensive position, fists clenched and forearms up should I need to shield my face from an attack. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I followed the sound to an unmarked door from where the Whoomping sound was definitely emanating.
I was nervous. I was scared. With the loud Whoomping now throbbing in my head, I turned the knob, thrust open the door and leapt inside, grunting threateningly with great menace! But not too great of menace. Just in case there was someone inside the room and I needed my threatening grunt to be interpreted as just a loud cough.
My eyes darted all around the empty room, which appeared to be a catch-all storage, electrical, heating, utility-type space. Over in a corner, I found my great white whale, the source of all Whoomping: a techy-looking green cube stuck to the wall amid a jumble of pipes and wires. A small light flashed with each pulsating Whoomp! It was as if the green cube had come to life and was barking at me.
I ventured a closer look; printing on the cube read: Wasseraufbereitung. I whipped out my smartphone and Google-translated Wasseraufbereitung. I suspected it meant detonator. Or Time bomb. Or possibly C4 Explosive Cube!
Instead, the translator came back with … Water Treatment.
Oh. It’s some sort of water treatment thingy. I know Luxembourg has a funky water issue wherein everything gets coated with calcium or sandstone or something. And that you buy detergent and dishwashing soap with special de-scaling agents; the Wasseraufbereitung must deal with that.  It’s then that I notice a clear hose leading from the cube down to a box on the floor marked ‘Minerals.’ Ah.
But why the Whoomping, and the flashing lights? Common sense would dictate that I check with the agence immobilier. But I know that won’t get me anywhere.
‘Cept onto another YouTube prank video.