Category Archives: Missing home

Lucks-em-bourg

This morning, we left Maastricht early to catch the train to Luxembourg City, the country with the highest GDP per capita. We ate breakfast on the train. Although simple, it was quite satisfying:

We had several transfers including this one at Liège-Guillemins, which is pictured below:

We arrived in Luxembourg City around one o’clock. We took a bus to our hostel. The driver was very friendly and explained to us how efficient the public transport system is in the country and that people don’t really need to buy cars but still do because the low taxes leave them with a lot of disposable income.

The hostel is found in the lower part of the city, Luxembourg being divided into a lower section in a deep river valley and an upper section found on top of the old city walls. The hostel is very modern and is more like a serviced apartment than an old-style hostel. We had a piece of good luck at the check-in counter: some previous guests had left their partly used internet card at reception for the next people to use. The card still had two days left so we will be surfing for free while we are here. This made a nice change from our previous questionable internet experiences. Many places have claimed to have wireless access but in fact their internet connections were very sketchy, especially in the rooms. It is fair to say that a formerly unwritten part of our journey has been a constant quest for internet.

After checking in, we went for a walk around the city. We started by walking along the old city walls. From here, there were incredible views of the Grund, an old section of the city found below the walls. There were also lovely views of the numerous bridges which take traffic and trains into the raised upper city. Some of these bridges were exceptionally tall and their construction seems amazing since they were clearly built a long time ago:

Luxembourg City is outstandingly picturesque. Indeed, it at times seems to be made up entirely of three-dimensional postcards. I have heard Europe described as a living museum and I would say that Luxembourg is one of the most obvious examples of this. Unfortunately, we cannot offer you many images of our own because of what occurred about half way through our city tour.

The series of unfortunate events began in a cafe. Jeff and I were having a drink when I passed him my watch to show him a crack that had developed in the winding button. As he handed the watch back to me, he accidentally dropped it into my coffee. The offending cup is shown below:

The watch worked for a few more minutes after we had cleaned it off. But it eventually died. We headed down from the upper city to a park in the valley. The views were beautiful. However, I was too distracted by my watch and the noseeums which blanketed the sky. At this point, our luck turned from bad to worse. I was swatting away the bugs when I accidentally let go of my precious camera. It smashed onto the ground and was clearly broken. Two severe deaths in less than an hour.

We returned to the hostel disappointed and grumpy (especially me). While I checked email, Jeff went out for a walk. There were not many restaurants around the hostel but he luckily stumbled upon a small Chinese place called Jin Fu. He brought me to it for dinner. There were a handful of locals drinking in the bar section of the restaurant but we were the only true diners and as such were placed in the otherwise empty dining hall.

There were some mild communication problems between Jeff and the waitress as the waitress’s French wasn’t very good. Fortunately, we realised that the waitress could speak Mandarin and from then on it got much easier to talk to each other. The waitress seemed very happy to speak to a customer who could talk to her in Chinese. I decided to have a set meal which included a sweet-and-sour soup, spring rolls and a chicken dish with Chinese mushrooms and bamboo.

I had a Proustian moment when tasting the soup. It reminded me of the kind of soup my deceased grandmother used to make, and I couldn’t help tearing up. I could never have imagined someone else would be able to make the exact same flavour as she did: the subtle taste of sweetness and sourness, the whipped eggs, and the traditional assortment of vegetables. Perhaps the traditional Chinese background music helped forster this sense of nostalgia in me. A musical note, a taste, a smell — the smallest things can conjure up the deepest emotions. The following dishes were also excellent. The spring rolls were huge and crispy and made with very fresh ingredients. The chicken and fish we had were both exceptionally delicious.

While we were eating, the owner and then later, the chef came out to meet me. When I complimented the cook on his food, he was very happy but was also a bit shy. He explained that it didn’t matter how well he cooked, people in the area only came to drink. When he departed our table, he said, ‘We Chinese eat things hot, so I’ll let you finish your meal.’ This is something I have not heard for about a year now, as my parents are not here to reprimand me for eating too slowly.

I left the restaurant both heartened and sad. These mixed emotions seemed to be an appropriate ending for a day filled with such ups and downs.

 

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The Great Church of St. Bavo’s Haarlem

Please also read Penny Sandford’s comment on the Christian Müller organ. My post contains some factual errors; and Sandford, being a guide in the St Bavo church Haarlem, has kindly corrected my observations.

A distinctive feature of the Netherlands must be its bikes. In fact, bikers seem to rule the streets and sidewalks. Some sidewalks have huge biking lanes which take up three quarters of the path. Pedestrians are confined to a small sliver of concrete:

Every once and a while, we will be surprised by the sound of a bell behind us, as we are inadvertently walking on the part of the path belonging to bikers. It would be nice if we too could ride bikes. However, I am unable to ride them as I am very bad at balancing.

Today, we walked to Station Amsterdam Centraal to get to Haarlem, a nearby city. On our way to the station, we passed the Amsterdam Palace:

There were also a number of streets featuring Chinese signs. This Chinese area seems to be intertwined with the red light district. I am always amazed by the spread of Chinese culture (especially food) throughout the world:

In Haarlem, we went to Grote Kerk van St Bavo. The church was painted by Pieter Jansz Saenredam in his painting titled “Interior of the Church of St. Bavo in Haarlem”, which we saw in Rijksmuseum yesterday:

Seeing the church itself allowed us to compare the painter’s vision with the real thing. From the picture I took below, it seems that the painter may have manipulated the space a bit to highlight the magnificence of the “Christian Müller orgel“. But we felt that the colours and the contrasts between light and dark in the painting were very close to reality:

According to the museum, the painter had wished to emphasize the grandeur of the pipe organ. Having seen the real object, I can see why he was so impressed with the musical instrument. The Müller organ is considered to be among the most impressive of such organs in the world. The church guide says that “In 1766 Mozart, who was 10 years old at that time, played the Christian Müller organ. Händel played this organ too. The organ counts 5068 pipes and is almost 30 metres high.” When we arrived in the church, the organ was being played and the sound was very heavenly:

While in St. Bavo, I was struck by the contrast between it and Canterbury Cathedral. Canterbury Cathedral was much darker and more ornate; its design a little oppressive. The Dutch church, on the other hand, had a very open and light feel to it. There were huge stained glass windows which allowed a lot of light. The light reflected off the white walls to make the whole church feel welcoming and airy. To me, the Dutch design was much better for bringing people closer to God. To be honest, I was moved to tears by the atmosphere.

For lunch, we first had a coffee near a lovely canal:

During this time, a nearby bridge turned to allow a number of boats that had lined up to pass. The accumulating bikers on both sides of the road waited patiently, although had they biked about 200 meters down the canal they could have crossed at a different bridge.

After the coffee, we visited Grote market in the city centre. We tried some local snacks such as patat with curry sauce and the famous raw haring; the fish was very yummy indeed. For me, the curry sauce was reminiscent of the sauce HongKongers put on fish balls (I miss HongKong-style fish balls!):

Tomorrow, we will leave Amsterdam for Middelburg.