Pilgrimage to Luxembourg Log -- Friday

Friday, 7/26/1996

Our first outing this morning was to the bank, which is just a few buildings down from our hotel. It was quite like an ordinary bank, except that they conducted business at a very leisurely pace. Curiously, the teller wrote Wednesday in German (or perhaps Luxembourgish?) instead of French, even though French is the official "business" language here. Languages are so interchangeable in Luxembourg; it's extremely odd. You never know who will have a Luxembourgish (which sounds like German) accent and who will have a French accent. The waiters usually tend toward French-ness, but the people at the reception desk at our hotel pronounce things like Germans. I still haven't quite figured out what the difference between Luxembourgish and German is—they must be quite similar, because people supposedly speak Luxembourgish in daily conversation, yet I've only ever heard what sounds to me like German and French. On that note, it occurred to me that if "Dracula: the Series" were "real," Lucard would be speaking French except when taking to the kids. That makes his wonderful accent ever so complicated, doesn't it? (BTW, yes, these are Belgian coins; they're interchanged indiscriminately with Luxembourgian ones. As in the case of the second coin, much of the money here is extremely abstract.)

I wanted to visit a grocery store to compare what kind of products are available, etc., so we drove down our street in the other direction to Alima, which was recommended to us by two different reception desk people (last night and this morning) as being a large grocery store. After we finally found a place to park (Alima has no parking lot), we went through the turnstile into what turned out to be about the size of a large drug store. Even so, it had beautiful fresh fruit, an impressive butcher section, and more varieties of loose tea than my local stores (grrrrrr!!!). Oh, on the tea front, this morning I accepted tea with breakfast instead of "café" (as the girl who brings out the breakfast things invariably calls it, even when she's speaking English), and, much as I expected, it was the old default, English breakfast tea. Not only that, but a bag. How sad. To make up for it, though, I got some nice strong lapsang souchong at Alima, and a beautiful blue tin of Twinings' Queen Mary, which they don't even sell in the USA (as far as I know, at least). I also got lychees, and a bottle of Mousel to bring home. One has to bag one's own groceries in Luxembourg. Here, for the first time, we encountered people who didn't know any English—the uneducated store employees. It's amazing how much one can communicate and understand without speaking, though.

After we brought our groceries back to the hotel, we went for our casemates visit, which Dean had quite been looking forward to. [Note: a casemate is "a shell proof or armoured enclosure with openings for guns, as in a fortress wall."] The Bock casemates, besides being shown many times on the series (in particular, in panoramic shots that eventually zoom in on Lucard Industries), are where Lucard's castle's dungeon scenes were filmed. (The image on the left is from "Double Darkness" and the one on the right is my photograph.)

The casemates' brochure describes their history as follows:

In 963, Count Siegfried built a fortified castle on the Bock promontory, which was to be the cradle of the city. In the course of the centuries... mighty ring walls were added, which did not foil the Burgundians in their attempt to seize the city in 1443, though.... Luxembourg, the country, came into the hold of foreign princes for roughly four centuries. The best builder-engineers of the masters (the Burgundians, the Spaniards, the French, the Austrians and the German Confederation) eventually turned the city into one of the [most] powerful emplacements in the world.... Its defence was bolstered by three fortified rings with 24 forts, 16 other strong defence works and a unique 23-km-long underground network of casemates: it could shelter not only thousands of soldiers and their horses, but it also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, slaughter-houses, etc. In 1867 the fortress was evacuated and... dismantled—which took 16 years—[and in] 1875, the superstructure of the Bock... was razed. Blowing up the casemates proved impossible, however, without demolishing part of the city. They plugged the entrances and the key connecting galleries: all the same, 17 kilometers of tunnels remain—sometimes on different levels of depth—and tremendous staircases penetrate up to 40 metres inside the rock-face. It goes without saying that these galleries functioned as shelter during the world wars, providing space for up to 35,000 people in case of air raids and shelling.
Today was an extremely good day to go, as it was very sunny out, and far more pleasant inside the depths of the stone fortifications. Before we actually entered, Dean took some distant shots of Lucard Industries from on top of the casemates. One has wonderful views of both Lucard Industries and Klaus' chuch, as well as the train bridge. We saw a really adorable Mousel truck parked down near the base of the train bridge's arches, and also photographed that.

As we went into the casemates, there was a large sign warning away claustrophobics and people with heart trouble. It sounded ominous, but we paid our entry fee [this and Lucard's castle would be the only sites that we actually had to pay to see] and took an English-language brochure. I proceeded to act as tour guide for Dean by reading aloud the descriptions of each section we entered, and Dean continued with his mad photo-taking, even though we doubted many of them would come out. [Actually, almost all came out splendidly!] I am not exactly sure how to describe the inside of the casemates any better than the quoted passage above; Dean considered them the coolest site we visited, but they really do defy narrative. It was at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler as we descended inward; the walls are rough grey rock, decorated in some areas with green mold, and, in the upper levels, there are quite a few "loopholes" through which one can look out and admire the panorama across the valley. There are wonderful views of Lucard Industries, the Tower-Building, Klaus' church, the Grund suburb, and many famous towers and inaccessible rocks. Sunlight pours through the openings in the cliff, creating weird contrasts of bright and dark. One walks through narrow passageways, and descends rough stone stairs to view firing slits, a 47-metre deep well, and demolition chambers used to blow up part of the Bock. Incidentally, the casemates do not have leaky ceilings (unlike Lucard's dungeon).

All at once, we came to the place where one really begins to go descend, and there was a man standing at the top of a set of winding stairs, his hand on the wall for support, completely out of breath, his face dripping with sweat. We began to climb down a series of long sets of stone steps so steep and sharply curved that they are nearly innavigable. It is impossible to see how long each set of steps will be, as they are so twisted that one can not see more than a few feet ahead. Still, walking down the stairs didn't seem that bad—certainly not worthy of the man's pathetic state—until, of course, one realises that it's not walking down the stairs that could be a problem, but climbing back up them again. (One wouldn't exactly like to be trapped in the depths of the casemates...) However, I am proud to say that despite the fact that I am claustrophobic, and asthmatic as well, I navigated the casemates without anxiety and didn't even need to use my inhaler. I wouldn't recommend them to someone who is old, clumsy, or out of shape, though.

After one climbs back up the great series of steps one has gone down, one comes to an iron gate which leads into the Grund battery, an area with four loopholes for eight cannons to defend the Grund suburb, the walls, and the citadel. Nowadays, the Grund battery is used as a stage for the avant-garde performances of the Casemate Drama Group. I believe the dungeon scenes were filmed somewhere in one of these last sections, because these rooms are larger than most and have doors; I was not able to recognise the precise sections of the casemates that had been used as Lucard's dungeons, though (especially since I hadn't taken TV-photos of the dungeon scenes). Maybe if I go back and review all the dungeon scenes while comparing them to my photographs, I will be able to identify the exact spots. [Highly interesting note... when we got home and looked at the developed photos, we discovered that one area of the casemates must be under the influence of the vortex behind Lucard's fireplace! Apparently there is another opening that Gustav didn't find, and it's in the casemates. These two photos prove it.]

After we left the casemates (where we overhead our first English-speaking people, by the way! They were English, though, not American), we walked to the National Museum, where there was a Smith and Wesson exhibit that Dean wanted to see. It was extremely sunny out, which I did not like at all, and my shoulders hurt from sleeping in about 2½ feet of space on the floor the night before (don't ask… things like that seem logical when one is insomniacal), so after stopping to take the Grund shot from the "A Little Nightmare Music" opening scene, we came back to the hotel and had a leisurely lunch out on the balcony. Once the sun had become less intense, we went down to the reception desk and asked our favourite reception lady to recommend a good German restaurant where we could get schnitzel. She became totally flustered and went on and on about how she didn't know of any restaurants with German schnitzel, or any specific restaurants that had schnitzel… Apparently German style schnitzel is slightly different from Luxembourgish schnitzel, but I didn't care about that—I merely wanted schnitzel in the local style, as Herr Blusen would make it, and we never should have mentioned the word "German" at all. Finally she suggested, rather doubtfully, that we might try city centre, where the restaurants have "cards" listing their fare, and we could check the various establishments to see if they had schnitzel. This sounded perfectly acceptable to us, so we drove to our favourite place—Knuedler square—and found, to our delight, that city centre undergoes a drastic transformation at night that we never even suspected!

La Place d'armes square, which is parallel to Knuedler, is lined with small cafés that are quiet and withdrawn during the day, but at a certain hour they all set out their umbrellaed tables and stacking white plastic chairs, filling the entire square. Each café has its offerings listed on a signboard, and waiters from the competing restaurants bustle among the tables, each trying to lure you into sitting at one of his tables. It's almost indistinguishable where one café's tables end and the next's starts. There are about ten outdoor restaurants on each side of the square, and in the centre is a bandstand. We wandered up and down both sides of the square for quite a while, trying to decide which restaurant to choose. Six different places had schnitzel—some of the restaurants listed it in German, others in French, others in both languages—but we had to choose the ideal one. At one of the restaurants on the Knuedler side of the square, there was an impatient and perturbed waiter who was a dead ringer for the Nazi-looking police officer in "The Vampire Solution." We must have driven him insane, as we walked by so many times before deciding where to go. I can just picture him… folding his arms and tapping his foot… All the waiters in Luxembourg, by the way, wear variations on the waiter uniform: black trousers, white shirt, black bow tie, and (often, but not always) a white apron. Some, especially at the outdoor cafés, wear black vests with inner pockets for keeping little stuffed-full purses. One pays the waiter at one's table rather than going into the restaurant, and he carries change with him. Finally we chose a café on the other side of the square (it would have been fun to go to our favourite waiter's place, but it didn't serve schnitzel) with a very competitive waiter who kept rushing up to us and trying to escort us to a table. This place had a wandering accordion player, which quite tipped the scales in its favour. (Ours was the Café Paris in this picture from the tourist guide.)

I tried to order Mousel to have with my schnitzel, but the waiter explained that there are five Luxembourgian beers and brought me Bofferding instead. Little did I know that we'd chosen a Bofferding joint… (each establishment is loyal to a certain beer that they keep on tap and usually advertise with a sign over the door) but, thanks to the waiter's comment, we spent the rest of the trip trying to figure out what the other beers of Luxembourg are and attempting to taste them all. Bofferding wasn't nearly as good as Mousel. While I ate my schnitzel and Dean ate his salad, a brass band marched into the square wearing straw hats and striped vests. It was Friday night, and we'd come just at the right time! They promenaded up to the bandstand in the centre of the square and proceed to play all sorts of tunes. The French (or, more likely, Belgian) man at the table next to ours was very excited and clapped his hands gleefully in time to the music, enjoying himself immensely. It was splendid. The schnitzel (which was more "warm and crispy" than "hot and steamy") was excellent, though, I am sure, not as good as Herr Blusen's. We had a delicious creme caramel for dessert, and it was still partially light when we returned to the hotel at nearly ten o'clock. The sun sets extremely late here; that must be Hell for Alexander!

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