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HFC on Tour: Luxembourg City and General Patton’s grave

Posted by Denny Koch on October 19, 2012

The casemates of Luxembourg city are the world’s biggest casemates

On our tour through the Ardennes this summer, we became fans of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – a small, friendly, and very relaxed country in the heart of Western Europe. We didn’t have enough time to visit the capital Luxembourg City then, so we decided to make another trip into our neighboring country and visit the capital as well as the US and German war cemeteries in the city vicinity.

We went to Luxembourg city by car, using the opportunity to fill up our car (Luxembourg has very cheap gas prices, compared to the incredibly expensive prices in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands).

Despite being a medieval city, located on several sandstone plateaus and cliffs above steep valleys, your first impression when you enter the city is the skyline of the banking district  dominated by skyscrapers of several banks, funds, and the European Parliament. These are in a stark contrast to the Frankish castle, the Gothic Cathedral and massive forts that dominate the old town.

Topography and Language

The old town, as seen from the Bock Casemates

The topography of Luxembourg city is quite dramatic – most of the city is located on various sandstone cliffs which are separated by two deep-cutting rivers – the Alzette and Pétrusse – with pittoresque parks and recreational areas 70 m (230 ft) below the plateaus. The city districts are connected by large bridges and viaducts, one of them the world’s 2nd largest arch bridge (the largest being in China), the Adolphe Bridge. This bridge is one of the main tourist attractions and a kind of  unofficial national symbol, symbolizing Luxembourg’s independence.

The city has about 100,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in the country of Luxembourg.

The official languages are Luxembourgish, French, and German, but French appears to be the most popular language by far, followed by the curious Luxembourgish which is a close relative to the Mosel-Frankish German dialect. Both are hard to understand for Germans from other regions. Strangely enough, many shops (even McDonald’s or Saturn, one of the largest electronics shops) have German product displays and ads, but the staff only speaks French and if you switch to German, they answer you in English… You soon get accustomed to the Babylonian language mingle-mangle in this country, so if one language doesn’t work, you simply switch to the next language, and the answer will probably be in a third language or with hands and feet. The inhabitants even tend to mix French and Luxembourgish within one sentence, using both languages in their conversations simultaneously. English also isn’t a problem at all since Luxembourg City is a very international and very European city.

One of the famous viaducts

Since the city is located on several plateaus, connected by bridges, understanding the geography isn’t an easy feat. We tried to follow the parking guidance system into the city and ended in a parking garage near the “gare” (meaning railway station). We were under the impression that a railway station must be located close to the city center, but learned later that the station was intentionally built outside the city center (about 2 km, on a different plateau) for defensive reasons.

We walked through the area around the station which is a modern shopping district, dominated by the usual combination of McDonald’s / Subway / fashion stores of a typical European major city.

Then we reached the Adolphe Bridge and were impressed by the height and the dramatic landscape all around us. We later asked a tour guide how often people jump from this bridge in order to commit suicide, and learned that there was an ever higher bridge which was the favorite suicide location until they built a high fence instead of a handrail.

Deep below Adolphe Bridge is a river with a nice park, which is used by tourists and Luxembourgers alike when they want to skate, bike, relax, meet, or read.

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HFC On Tour: Battle of the Bulge – the Ardennes

Posted by Denny Koch on September 5, 2012

Clervaux is the perfect base for an Ardennes tour – every other interesting location is in a 30 km-radius!

This summer, we decided to tour the Ardennes in Luxembourg and Eastern Belgium. In villages and small towns like Wiltz, Diekirch, Ettelbruck, or St. Vith you can find (official and private) Battle of the Bulge museums and memorials next to medieval castles, monasteries and old churches. The scenery is impressive as well, you find deep valleys, cut by small rivers, surrounded by steep rock formations and dense forests. If you happen to visit the Western Ardennes around Bastogne, you should also consider taking a trip to the Eastern battlefields – here is why 🙂

Clervaux

Don’t miss our extensive photo gallery with many more pictures from our tour!

Clervaux castle contains a Battle of the Bulge museum

Our hotel was located in the medieval town of Clervaux (Luxembourg Ardennes), which is a perfect central basis for exploring the surrounding locations.

The small town (app. 1000 inhabitants) is dominated by a massive castle from the 12th century, which also contains a Battle of the Bulge Museum. Clervaux is also famous for a Benedictine monastery on top of a hill above the town. The village is located at the small river Our, lies deep in a rocky valley, and is almost completely surrounded by tree-covered, steep hills.

If you don’t travel by car, Clervaux has a small railway station and you can reach it by train from Luxembourg City or Liege / Belgium. Parking your car isn’t an issue here (in contrast to the difficult and very expensive parking situation in Arnhem!), you can park your car almost everywhere by simply ignoring the no-parking signs because they are of no consequences (a recommendation from our hotel owner, and it proved to be true, we never had any parking problems in any towns in Luxembourg).

Clervaux Memorial for the 6th US Armored Division

From December 16th to 18th, 1944, Clervaux was the scene of heavy fightings during the Battle of Clervaux (which has been referred to as the “Luxembourg Alamo“). American forces from the 110th Regiment and 109th Field Artillery Battalion were encircled by overwhelming German forces from the 5th Panzer Army and 126th Infantry Division, and retreated into the Clervaux castle. In the end, the US forces were forced to surrender when German tanks broke into the already burning castle, but at least they had managed to delay and bind large German forces for two days, thus slowing the German timetable of the time-critical offensive. Clervaux castle was heavily damaged during the battle, and the restoration was not finished until 1994.

In front of the castle are a German 88 artillery and an US Sherman tank which participated in the Battle of Clervaux. There is also a memorial next to the central square of Clervaux, commemorating the liberation of Luxembourg in 1944.

Other interesting sights in Clervaux are the Saint-Maurice and Saint Maur Benedictine Abbey, where you can listen to the Gregorian chants of the monks inside the church several times a day, and the impressive catholic church Saints Cosmas and Damian. In the Abby catacombs is an ongoing exhibition about life at a Benedictine monastery. There is also a golf course in the vicinity (which is rumored to be quite good) and most of the hotels also offer wellness and Ayurveda.

Clervaux War Memorial

Beware, there is no pulsing nightlife in the quite little town of Clervaux (in contrast to lively Arnhem)! There is a nice restaurant with beer garden in the woods above the city, “Ecuries du Parc“, which is located in the rustic building of the former horse stables of the Earl of Clervaux. Prices for meals are, as everywhere in Luxembourg, quite expensive (compared to prices in Germany), but the restaurant is excellent, as is the beer, and the historical, rustic atmosphere is very enjoyable. Everything in Clervaux is reachable by foot, so there is no need to drive by car from your hotel and you can enjoy the various beers offered here.

Another recommendation for spending your evenings is the Bistro 1895 in our hotel, the Hotel des Nations. It offers good meals, diverse local beers and other drinks, so we drank ourselves through the various Luxembourgian and Belgium beers here. The atmosphere is relaxed and familiar – the hotel and the bistro are family owned since 1895, and the couple who own the hotel will happily tell you about the history of the hotel, their ancestors (who are displayed on family photos on the walls and even on the menu card), and about the good old times in Clervaux.

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