One of the purposes for us returning to Europe this time was to visit a long time friend of Paul’s; Jens Frank of Level One kites. Trust me.... I will talk more about that in a bit, and that is a story you want to hear. :)
But first, let's hit the road some more. This time, from Zeeland (Netherlands) to near Stuttgart, Germany via Luxembourg.
Luxembourg is an interesting city/country. A little fairy tale tax haven hiding between Belgium, France, and Germany. The charm and heritage of all three of its larger neighbors blends together in the capital city, with a sprinkling of high tech companies housed in the heart of the city. Which speaks to the governments desires to transition from a long established resource based economy to a ‘knowledge economy’. Over half of its population is foreigners; which works out fine as there are 3 official languages. It is a beautiful city, especially the old town area - The Grund.
Here situated in a canyon along an idyllic river are exceptional old buildings (some from the 14th century) lining the cobbled streets from the 10th century. One edge of the canyon is a cliff face with holes and caverns chiseled into its face. The 'Bock', is a series of underground caverns and tunnels that is believed to have been from around 963 AD (although it is believed the Romans and Franks were there before) and used throughout the centuries as natural fortifications.... with some upgrades throughout the years. The man-made fortifications have been demolished, rebuilt, flattened, rebuilt, modified, expanded, and demolished again and again. The fortress that once stood as a part of this area is mostly gone (thanks to the Treaty of London in 1867), but the holes in the Bock itself are still there. We didn't walk through them this time, but they can be seen from almost any part of the valley floor of the Grund.
Funnily enough, when they were last demolishing the fortress, they stopped halfway with one of the towers/gates that leads up from the valley floor. The tower was only half destroyed, and they decided to stop, and repair part of it with the intent to create a 'ruins of a medieval castle'. Yep... fake ruins of a real old ruin.
That seems to be a theme in the area 'faked ruins using actual old ruins'. When we were driving, we passed castle after castle, and thanks to our amazing skills with Google (ok, really just the fact that we had a connection) we were able to research locations on the fly. Like our own private bus tour of the countryside. One stood out; a very geometric castle near Annweiler, Germany. The Trifels castle, while it looks old and has all of the history to go with it, is actually a reconstruction. The original is believed to have been built sometime before 1000 AD, and is the site where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned. After a few centuries of swapping hands, it fell into decay and most of it vanished. Sometime around 1840, the kings of Bavaria started rebuilding it, with the Nazi's actually doing most of the reconstruction work from 1938-1942. Further work continued until around 1989. The current castle is ... well... a guess at what it might have looked like, with some disregard for actual medieval construction methods or appearances. Looks authentic enough and has the 'providence' to go with it, so is it really a 'fake castle'?
But, back to Luxembourg, and the Grund. Once the home of craftsman living below the fortress, it is now a blend of pubs, fine eating establishments, museums, and the regional headquarters for tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Skype. Go figure.
Go ahead and take a close look at this google map shot, right there, on the river, surrounded by old architecture, sits the European HQ for Amazon and Microsoft. (the brown blocks in the lower left of the photo) For contrast, the buildings on the right side of the photo, are the Church of St John, and was built in the late 1600's. The original church was first mentioned around 1309, and houses a 'Black Madonna' from the 14th century that supposed to work miracles in emergencies. It is a weird contrast for me personally being from the Seattle area, the original headquarters for Microsoft and Amazon. Down the road from those HQ's are historical sites that speak to America's expansion via resettlement of Native tribes and the Yukon Gold Rush.
Most of the roads are actually closed to personal vehicle traffic, but not all, and they are narrow. Which works out just fine for walking around. Like the rest of most European cities, walking is the preferred mode of transport anyways. Cars are simply cumbersome. You may have to watch for the occasional bus permitted to drive the streets, or the very few cars. (Not sure if those are residents cars with special passes, or what is going on) Perhaps the next time passing through we can actually spend a bit more time exploring.
This time we were there with just enough time for a bite and a short walk. It seemed fitting to try the local hard cider with a small sandwich, followed by a fresh baked Pain au Chocolat along the river as we headed back to our car (nicely parked under the Microsoft HQ).
Getting out of the valley was a bit of fun, as the navigation showed the roads so close that they were apparently overlapping one another. Apparently there is a difference to our google maps navigation between ‘Take a right’ being a 180 degree narrow switchback, and a ‘hard right’ being a 180 degree narrow switchback that even in our little Citreon Cactus (a small car) we had to do a 3 point turn to get around.
Both Paul and I were laughing too hard while trying to get around one of these narrow 'turns' we forgot to take a photo. Google maps to the rescue!!
So, that was our quick stop in Luxembourg... onward to Germany!! I swear..... I am going to write about that.... and about hanging out with Jens Frank of Level One. Yep, going to do it. I swear. :)