Vianden Castle: Majestically Overlooking a Small Country

Vianden town
Vianden town

What is great about Europe is that you have so many countries bordering each other and that the cultures you find existing so close to one another can be as opposite as day and night. Traveling can be a great adventure, as you can cover short distances and land in a whole new world.

When I was back at home, I stayed in the Eifel area for a good one and a half weeks of my trip. The Eifel area is about as rural as it can get: Farmers sowing their fields, children visiting schools with 200 students or less, and villages inhabiting anywhere from 60 to 1,000 citizens. Yes, very rural! The Eifel is adjacent to Belgium and Luxembourg, and where I stayed it was only a good 45-minute-drive to the border of each. Needless to say that I took advantage of the proximity and was in Luxembourg at least once during this momentous trip.

Now Luxembourg by itself is not a big country. In fact, you can drive through it within 2 hours by car, and that’s when you don’t drive particularly fast. Growing up close to the border of this country, I’ve come in touch with many Luxembourgers and the language they speak. Letzebuergesch sounds like a mix between French and German and is the national language of the country, even though it is dying out for several reasons.
First, the country only has 500,000 citizens, who learn French and German in school from the early beginnings. Then, the high amount of immigrants from other countries is determining the country’s culture more and more over the past decades. Currently, it is filled with lots of Portuguese people and I am sure the demographics will change over the years. Finally, Luxembourg of course stands for one thing: International trade and finances, similar to and nearly as wealthy as Switzerland. Meaning, speaking other languages than Letzebuergisch is highly encouraged when working in this business and the capital. Some of my friends from school have applied for jobs in Luxembourg. They told me that during their interview they were asked how many languages they could speak. French was always a plus, but if someone spoke an unusual combination such as English or Russian, this was even better. So I believe any language other than the nation’s mother tongue is greatly encouraged in the working world of this country.

Having a job in Luxembourg means that compared to German standards it will pay a high amount of money. Therefore, what most employees do is simply commuting from Germany to Letzebuerg each and every day. Trier, for instance, is only a 30-minute-drive from the nation’s capital. The real estate prices in Germany are much lower than on the other side of the border so that even more and more Luxembourgers are increasingly moving to this borderline area of Deutschland because they want to save up on money.

As you have probably gathered, the part of the Eifel I grew up in has been subject to an intercultural exchange: Germans drive to Luxembourg to buy gas which is 20 Eurocents cheaper by the liter (about 75 cents cheaper by the gallon). Luxembourgers drive to Germany to shop at the local supermarket or to go out to clubs and bars. Germans, on the other hand, work in and explore Luxembourg City on a daily basis.

Now, this might all sound more exciting than it actually is. But it does make for quite the cultural mix. For example, the Eifel has a dialect which is called Platt. I also call it the farmer’s language. However, people who speak Platt are able to understand Letzebuergesch and vice versa. I don’t speak either but I do understand it and after some hearing practice I was able to understand Letzebuergesch after years of not being exposed to it. I guess that’s another language skill I should add to my resume.

Similar to the Eifel area, Luxembourg consists mostly of small towns and villages; aside from Luxembourg City, which has around 90,000 citizens. Vianden is one of these smaller towns but beware, it hosts more international flair than most towns in the adjacent Eifel do. Vianden has the oldest castle in the entire country of Luxembourg. It is one of those towns that come into existence from late spring to early fall, as it is based on tourism and people traveling here from the surrounding countries. When I visited Vianden, it was a bleary, gray day (yet, another one!). No one was walking around outside and only a few shops were open. On our quest to find a nice café or restaurant, we miserably failed. “How do people survive during the winter when their joints are closed?” is all I could wonder about. This question remains a mystery to me, so in case you know or have a theory to share, go ahead!

Vianden Castle on its rocky fundament
Vianden Castle on its rocky fundament

Luckily, the castle was open for business and that was the main reason we had come here, anyways. Vianden Castle overlooks the town from a rocky monument. It is believed to have been built from the 11th to 14th century, as the first mentioning of a Count Vianden was around 1040. Built on Roman fundaments, it has risen to a medieval beauty and to date is still being restored by its current owners. A big part of castle life are the knights who once went in and out of their “home”. Therefore, every year in the summer Vianden hosts a Knight Festival for 9 long days in and around the castle. During this time, people perform shows, such as fights, songs, and beautiful birds of preys (who were part of daily life back then). Even a medieval market is open to public, which has food, products and other necessities inspired by the old times (to find more about Vianden Castle, go here).

I would highly recommend visiting this small little town if you are in the area but most likely it is more fun to do during the summer months, as you will find many more attractions open to public, such as the chairlift (catapulting you high up in the air). Oh, and possibly a nice café that is not closed!

[For more pictures on Vianden Castle, go to A Picture Every Day: Vianden Castle and Surroundings]

Travel Hassles: The First Few Days

SNOW!! Again!
SNOW!! Again!

I left New York on a sunny spring day and arrived in Germany on possibly one of the dreariest days of March. As soon as I got off the plane, the weather changed from depressingly gray to white. Snowflakes came tumbling down, covering the still frozen ground with yet another layer of ice and winter. I thought I was set back in a bad movie. The first two weeks of my trip from March to the beginning of April were basically a bad joke weather-wise. It was cold, it was rainy, it was winter-like, and it still snowed on occasion. Nothing I would have imagined for a usually warm spring in the motherland!

“It must be meteorite that hit Russia in February” a relative concluded during our annual Easter feast with the family. “It has seldom been this cold in April. The snow we expected to have for Christmas is now here for the Easter bunny!” she went on. Surely enough, a few days after my arrival I looked out of the window and even more snow was piling up outside, but this time in Northern Germany, far away from our Southwestern home. As the tale went, there had only been one week of spring bliss in Germany, and this had been in the very beginning of March. After some astonishing 15 Celsius, the weather had drastically changed for the worse. So much to coming home at the “right” time of year.

Oldest Castle in Luxembourg
Oldest Castle in Luxembourg

My search of finding new and innovative things to do during a complete fail in temperatures was more meager than successful. Yes, my family lives close to Luxembourg and Belgium, yes, there should have been plenty of opportunity for sightseeing and exploration. But then you always need a car to get around and Brussels would be another 2 and a half hours out of my way. So I’m lucky that I’ve come to look at a few milestones while visiting: The oldest castle in Luxembourg, which lies in Vianden. Then Trier, of course, the oldest Roman city in Germany. Even Berlin was crappy weather-wise, but luckily this changed during the very last days!
Therefore, keep in mind that weather significantly influenced how I experienced my time abroad this year and how I formed my impressions on certain places.

Berlin and its symbol
Berlin and its symbol

In addition to the things I cannot change, another thing has become increasingly annoying: The never-ending quest of finding a good average of how to stay in touch. Especially when trying to see friends dispersed throughout the entire country and negotiating when and where to meet up. I don’t think people realize how much stress it can be to organize a trip from abroad and then find the right time to see each other again. Sometimes it is better to keep it low, just see who really wants to see you, and then have the courage to say no to everyone else. I spent two days in the Heidelberg area but this time I’ve only come to see Heidelberg itself for one afternoon, if even. Although it was worth it, since I knocked out 3 dates total. And Berlin was probably the most successful in terms of meeting old and new friends, as I got to see 4 people at once!

So with all of these obstacles kept in mind, I hope you will enjoy flipping through the following posts!

What Reality Is: Coming Back to the City

I’ve been back in New York for one week. A week can be a long or a short time, depending on how much occurs in that time frame. To me, it’s flown by compared to the three weeks I had before this. And it has also rather felt like a vacation than returning back to “home” or whatever you want to call a place you have lived in for the past three years.

A week is certainly long enough to go through a variety of stages: The honeymoon phase, during which everyone and everything around you seems absurdly sweet but you respect the differences and have enough distance to clearly see how unimportant it can all be in the grand scheme of things. The angry phase, during which arrogant salespeople might piss you off or the people on the streets who hatefully glare after you because you feel absolutely great and they absolutely do not. And then the acceptance phase, during which New York sorta turns into what it was before your departure: One of the biggest opportunities in the world, not without the necessary pitfalls that reveal themselves to you.

So that’s basically how long (or short) a week can be. Since I am currently not working full-time, I’ve had more time than ever to become acquainted with countless sides of the Big Apple once again. Just like in the summer of 2010, I’ve found that there are tons and tons of stuff to do that are simply for free.
Walking the Manhattan Bridge and crossing the Hudson River, for example. Or taking in the shouting vendors in Chinatown on a Friday morning. Not to forget discovering Brooklyn all over again. Greenpoint can be so peaceful on an average noon compared to the thriving masses of a Midtown weekday. Almost forgotten were the notorious side sweepers and how people have to park in second row on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in my neighborhood.

Somewhere in between Brooklyn and Manhattan
Somewhere in between Brooklyn and Manhattan

It’s the small things that make a city out (and perhaps life in general). Running down the freshly renovated boardwalk of Coney Island at the end of April – with no one really standing in your way and no one bothering you like they would two months later during yet another crazy hot summer. I might even get the chance to check out the wild Bronx Zoo on a free Wednesday, come time, future and opportunity.

The people who live here, they just fascinate me. All the hard struggles they’ve had to go through and still burden themselves with every day. The resiliency of a single person to all of the stressors of daily life – I’ve come to see this all over again in the city of cities. Why become a cab driver in a foreign country when you have a Ph.D. in your homeland? Why wait tables here when you’ve earned your Master’s degree in Switzerland and want to make it in film? Is life in New York really worth it – giving up the “good” life you had before to move to a city that won’t appreciate you or rather your skill set the way it should?

After three weeks of being away, I’ve come to realize a couple of things. I’ve realized that, in this humongously wide world, one person can have more than one home. The home where you grew up at, where your family still resides, where your friends still might be, and where food tastes the way you are used to. And then the home you’ve chosen to be, the home where life happens, where excitement is evoked and where another friend circle has been built.

What is reality? Could it be you realizing that you have better friends abroad than where you are right now? Ouch! Cold, shallow America, with its people who like to talk to you but never call you back! Or perhaps realizing that the rent is 3 times as much as anywhere else and that, after three years, you still don’t get what you pay for? Maybe.
Realizing that with the lingering hope of a better home somewhere else, each and every place visited becomes boring after a short time.

Like my Australian roommate pointed out: Life is pretty unexciting anywhere outside of the States. I’m taking it a step further: Life is unexciting anywhere outside if New York! The curse of the city is not its rudeness, or inequality, or Karma. The curse of the city is that you cannot live a satisfying life outside of it. The feeling of becoming bored constantly. It can kill you. Or annoy you. Or make you realize that you are addicted to the rush, dirt, hustle and bustle, and the wonderful miracles that happen each and every day. So for all of the sad thoughts I’ve sometimes had on life in an 8-million-citizen madhouse, I’ve also come to think about all of the great things that have happened. Being the main shooter at a UFC event on the Thursday I came back, for example. Or being able to see the skyline almost every day, if I wanted to. Not to forget the interaction with real New Yorkers and their hard-bred opinions. The opportunities in a city so big – they are simply endless.

This is reality. This is currently life.

Try Something New in 30 Days

I found this great video through Heather Goes to Deutschland‘s blog today and thought I’d share it with you and the rest of the blogosphere!

Matt Cutts: Try something new in 30 days

Isn’t it motivating? Makes me realize that you shall not and simply cannot take life for granted! Now all I have to do is think about which one of those quazillion things on my mind I want to try for the next 30 days…

What about you, fellow bloggers? Anything particular you have in mind? Let’s be adventurous together! And please share what you will be doing!