Saturday, March 30, 2013


About a month ago, I met and rode mountain bikes with Franz Schneider for the first time. (I’d contacted him through his terrific mountain-bike website, Franz bike commutes to work and he made a plan for us to meet up on his way home in Strassen (Stroossen in Luxembourgish), a neighboring town about three miles from my Luxembourg apartment. We’d ride to his house and, after he changed clothes and bikes, spend a couple hours riding the trails and dirt roads of the Strassen Forest. Sounded good to me.

So we meet up, chitchat a little while riding and, just after pedaling into Strassen, we pass what appears to be a drunk (or dead?) guy lying in the grass next to some bushes at the side of the road. My initial thought is: “Interesting. I didn’t think Luxembourg had drunkard-slash-junky-looking folks lying around, but I guess they do.” At the time I’d been in the country for two weeks and hadn’t yet seen anyone like this. And then, truthfully, I didn’t give the guy another thought. (If I had stopped to think about every dubious-looking character I saw lying in the grass at Maritime Heritage Park on my way home back in Bellingham, I’d have never made it home.)

But Franz is clearly alarmed. He skids to a stop, gets off his bike and approaches the guy. A bus driver pulls over, jumps out of his bus to see if he can help. A passing motorist stops too. Franz tries to rouse the guy but he’s not moving at all. I’m sure he’s dead. Wow, my first dead guy, I think to myself. Welcome to Luxembourg!

Soon enough, the guy starts moving around, gives a big exhalation of breath whereupon the air all the way from Strassen to Luxembourg reeks of booze. He tries to stand, plants his feet wide apart for balance and looks right at me. He says something that has great meaning to him in Drunkenbourgish and then keels over and passes out again.

It’s cold, a damp 35 degrees that chills one to the bone, and so Franz and the bus driver are concerned that the guy will freeze to death. Franz dials 112 for an ambulance to take the guy to the hospital. Ten minutes later an efficient team of EMT folks arrive and herd the guy into the back of their vehicle. Addi, my drunken friend!

All I can think of is the two emergency room visits I had in recent years—for facial lacerations when a tree fell on me; a broken collarbone—and how they each cost me more than $1,000. And that’s with insurance and without an ambulance ride to get there.  

Back on our bikes, Franz and I continue on to his house. I ask him if the drunk guy is going to have to pay for his treatment. He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think so.  

Monday, March 25, 2013


Here's a pretty cool video I shot a couple days ago of some of Luxembourg's amazing landmarks. I also happened upon a road cyclist who let me tag along and I got great footage of us riding some of the city's narrow, skinny cobbled streets.
Finally got a pic of the above place too. Always puts me in mind of Galbraith Mountain where there're trails named Bob's and Not Bob's. Then Brian Ecker tagged me on facebook with the below pic:

Speaking of facebook, I started a new page. It's called An American in Luxembourg and focuses on this American (me) who's in Luxembourg (here). Check it out and please 'Like' it if you're so inclined.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Before we left for Luxembourg, we’d read about the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg which is supposed to be a great resource for Americans living here. They publish a useful guidebook, hold meetings and outings, offer French classes, etc.  Turns out, they’re located right next door to our apartment. (A lot of doctors, lawyers, dentists and various organizations have offices in apartments around here too.) 

The other day, I’d just finished a run and looked out the window to see a small group of women standing around chatting outside the building next door. Somehow, I just knew they were American. So I cracked open the window and sure enough, I heard the familiar clang of American English. Not sure, how I knew they were American—something about their coats and bags, not quite as chic, more useful against the cold; the way they faced each other, smiled, laughed lots and nodded. 

I ran down and introduced myself and got some basic information—they’d just come from a meeting at the American Women’s Club. I asked if the club was just for women and one of them said, “Yes, in fact there’s a room full of naked women up there right now,” and we all laughed in our American way. They also told me that a Men’s group was also starting but they didn’t have any details.  I said, “It’s not just a bunch of man-cave types, is it?”

I went upstairs, met the club president (Yes, it is for women only), saw a French class going on and got some contact info for a French teacher and the men’s club. The club president showed me a room where they stock a whole bunch of American food that you can’t get in Luxembourg but that club members can buy--peanut butter, Reece’s peanut butter cups, pop tarts, Sugar Pops and other breakfast cereals, etc. Later, when I get back home, I look out my window to the building next door and there in a second-story window, I can see bags of Doritos, Lay's potato chips and Funions! The top of a Jif crunchy peanut butter jar too, which fairly makes me salivate every time I look out that window.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Here's a 2-minute video from last Sunday's mountain bike randonnee near Kayl, Luxembourg, just a few miles from the border with France. The dude in yellow pants who shows up a lot is my friend, Franz Schneider, impresario of the way-useful site.

I've been riding two or three times a week with Franz; he's been an excellent tour guide to the beautiful Luxembourg countryside. Here's a shot Franz took from yesterday's snow-filled ride.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Here're some more thoughts, observations from our first three-and-a-half weeks in Luxembourg:

Things I like about Luxembourg:
-       The Milka chocolate; in fact, chocolate here in general is the bomb!
-       The mélange or, as the kids say, mash-up of languages that’re everywhere—this morning I went to a bakery and said "Moien" (Luxembourgish) as I entered, ordered "ein poche pomme und ein muffin chocolat, bitte" (German), said "Merci," (French) and, for good measure, "Vielen Dank" (German) when I exchanged my money for food, and "Atty" (Lux) as I bid adieu. (I’m sure it’s a mess, but I have fun trying.) 
-       The cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and stone arches that are everywhere.
-       Turning a corner and having my breath taken away by one surprise vista after another—a stone bridge over a winding river, fortress walls built into sandstone bluffs, gonging church bells, steep-pitched Europey- rooftops, etc. History is everywhere here, it seems.
-       Poking my head into a hundreds-years-old church or cathedral and being gifted with a practicing choir or someone jamming on the church organ.

-       While riding my bike, finding yet another steep cobbled street that beckons me to attack it as if I were Tom Boonen pulling the peloton into a spot of bother.
-       The buses and train system.
-       The paved bike paths, bike lanes and signage for each.
-       That people have been super nice.
-       Franz Schneider and his cronies.
-       The Petrusse Valley.
-       Baguettes from Fischer bakeries.  
-       Having Eurovision HD on my cable TV system. (Along with beaucoup cycling, they've been showing a lot of biathlon, ski jumping, women’s soccer and snooker.)
-       That there appears to be no sprawl here.

Things I don’t like about Luxembourg
-       There are no Starbucks.
-       Everything, EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays.
-       It’s crazy expensive to live here.
-       The weather hasn’t been the greatest so far. Probably three excellent days, seven days of snow (it looked like a blizzard outside much of today), the rest mostly gray.
-       Our apartment is great but whomever manages it, their website should be www.wedon’
-       I don’t have a guitar here.

Things I’ve found sort of odd, interesting, different from the U.S.
-       That the female bathroom attendant at the gare (train station) told me that it was 60 cents “to go pee-pee”, 1.10 euro if I needed to do something else (as it were).
-       No one seems to pay to ride the city buses and the drivers seem almost annoyed when you do.
-       Check-out cashiers at grocery stores are seated.
-       Everything, EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays.
-       There are no Starbucks.
-       Besides McDonalds the other American fast-food chain that’s common here is … Subway. (???)
-       Watching “The Voice Italy” and “The Voice Belgium”

Friday, March 08, 2013


Bummed I won't be able to make it physically to this weekend's Seattle Bike Expo, an annual rite of spring, but I'll be there in spirit (and print) at the Mountaineers Books booth. Stop by and say 'Hi' to everyone for me, maybe pick up a copy of "75 Classic Rides: Washington" while you're there.
Bon weekend, everyone, and for your visual enjoyment, here are some photos from Luxembourg City and Echternach, a lovely historic village about 20 miles northwest of L-town.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


About a week ago I had the great fortune of making contact with Franz (umlaut over the 'a') Schneider, who runs the way-cool, all-things-Luxembourg mountain bike website Along with being a great rider and knowing every square inch of where to ride in the Grand Duchy, he's a super guy with a terrific sense of humor. And, he speaks like four languages--Luxembourgish, French, German and English. 
This past weekend we got in a couple really fun rides--a nighttime Tour de Luxembourg City that looped around this 1,050-year-old city, and a Sunday morning ride across the forests and fields of the central Luxembourg countryside. During the night ride, Franz tried to teach me how to count to 10 in Luxembourgish. I didn't do very well but I can say hello ("Moien") and good-bye: ("Atty") 
As I hope these photos show, the riding here is very different from Bellingham and the Northwest in general. I grew up in rural New Jersey (not an oxymoron) and it reminds me of the rolling terrain there with its leafy forests, short steep hills, narrow creeks and streams. Many's the time I've thought to myself that the Luxembourg countryside is very similar to where my sister Kath used to live in Warren County, NJ.  
Franz has led me on several great rides and one of the things I find interesting is that we just seem to go from field to field, forest to forest, without any demarcation of parkland or recreational forest or whatever. We ride seemingly wherever we want. And we see lots of others out hiking, running, etc. so everyone's doing it. (Quick note on the above pic of the band; on Sunday I rode to Franz's house and came across this combo marching up and down the street garnering donations door-to-door ... at 9 o'clock in the morning!)     
In truth, much of what we've ridden so far is dirt road, intermingled with stretches of fun singletrack. The more technical trails are apparently in the Mullerthal, an area about 25 miles north of Luxembourg City and that's known as Little Switzerland. I'm hoping to ride there in a couple weeks in the Randonnee Mullerthal.
There seem to be lots of mountain bike randonnee events--mountain bike tours, as it were, as opposed to races. You pay 5 or 10 euros and follow various marked routes (called "tracks" over here) of 20-, 40- or 60-K, whatever. Seems like a lot of fun.
I don't think I've mentioned my new bike frame yet. Before I left Bellingham, I took my bike into Fanatik, to have a once-over and they found a crack in the chainstay. So I just had to buy a new frame and all they had lying around was this sleek, sexy Niner Air 9 (below) which I was pretty much  forced to buy. Really, I was. Honest. I'm still getting used to it on these totally unfamiliar trails, but so far, I'm digging it. Funny, it's only been ridden in Luxembourg.