Pilgrimage to Luxembourg Log -- Monday

Monday, 7/29/1996

[Note: my notes from Monday are very sketchy, so I am going to have to just piece them together the best I can. This was the day we drove to Vianden to visit the castle; see my photos and notes about the castle interior and exterior for more detailed information. As I've explained elsewhere, Lucard's castle is based upon Castle Vianden, which is in the Northern part of Luxembourg, about an hour away from Luxembourg City. All the exterior castle shots we see in the series are Castle Vianden; as for the interiors, however, only the pilot was filmed at Vianden--subsequent episodes used sets. Still, even inside, Lucard's castle is similar enough to the real one that it's disconcerting touring Castle Vianden and not quite being able to reconcile the feeling that there's something wrong about Alexander's home being open to the public.]

The Castle and Vianden Dean's neck was still broken today, and yet we went to The Castle. It was easy to get there and took less than an hour; we simply followed signs for towns--Ettlebruck, Mersh, Diekirch and Vianden--and then followed signs for "Vianden haut." When we spotted the castle, we stopped and took a photo of our first view of it. Then we drove up high where there were wonderful views of the castle from a distance. Here, we stopped again to take more pictures and eat sour tongues. When we had enough good shots from this angle, we returned to our original parking spot and walked down to town by following paths through the woods. The town of Vianden is small and rather rustic other than its few castle-related tourist shops. Its streets wind out below the castle, which towers above up on the mountain, overlooking and overseeing everything below.

We walked along the cobblestone street of the town, stopping at a few shops to look for post cards. The first place we tried had an outdoor revolving rack with many castle photo post cards and the post card--the one that Sophie sent to the gang in "Sophie, Queen of the Night"! I bought a stack of these to send to Lucard's Home Page visitors. We also stopped at a second post card/pottery store, where we got a few more post cards with different views, and at a little grocery to see if they had Dreher beer, since they had tons of drinks. (We were looking for Dreher beer because my mother's maiden name is Dreher, and we thought a town close to Germany would be more likely to have it.) There was no Dreher beer, but we got Yes bars and Smarties (the European kind, which are like M&Ms, not the sweet & sour American sort).

Entry ticket As with Lucard's Castle, in order to get into Castle Vianden, you must first pass through the massive defensive wall (56KB image) which surrounds it. The Castle's outer wall On our way in, we were able to purchase post cards with photos of the castle's interior. You can see some of these, as well as some of our photos and more info about the inside of the castle, on my page about the castle's rooms. For lots of images of the castle's exterior, also see my page about that.

It was really astonishing to see the castle's outer walls up close and discover that it is composed of various sized pieces of jagged slate cemented very roughly together. I never would have guessed this by watching the series. [For an even better illustration of what the outer walls are like, see this large (78KB) image.] It was also amazing to be able to sit, myself, in the recess of those famous leaded-glass windows. I wished I had a bow-tie to languidly unfasten. We toured all the rooms including the cellar dungeon, noting many design similarities between Castle Vianden and Lucard's castle.

Still, Castle Vianden feels much less homey than Lucard's castle, and, although it was very interesting to be able to see the building upon which Lucard's home is modeled, it also felt somehow wrong. Rock from the castle's outer wall Walking through the castle wasn't as fun as finding the other spots where locations from the series were filmed... I guess because it's a historical tourist site, complete with velvet ropes and pamphlets, not a genuine environment that is just there to stumble upon. On our way out, I stole a couple of little rocks from castle's crumbling outer wall. Because they weren't prescribed, these felt real, and they are the most special souvenir I have from Luxembourg.

I guess before I go on to non-castle related subjects, I should quote a little from the Castle Vianden pamphlet. It's just a nice folded piece of paper with some historical background written in stilted English on one side and Luxembougish (?) on the other:

Since the Castle became the property of the Luxembourg State in 1977, considerable time and money has been spent in restoring it and re-opening it to the public. During this time, the collection of documentation on the architecture and the archaeological excavations (by the State Museum and the Department of Sites and Monuments) has greatly expanded our knowledge of the historical development of this important castle.

Excavations on the castle mountain have confirmed the existence of a first small fort during the late Roman period (4th and early 5th century). During the Carolingian period (9th century) a first medieval surrounding wall has been built on the ruins of his roman fortification.

The high quality and the good preservation of the roman and gothic architecture is due in large part to the history of the ruling family of Vianden. A first Count mentioned in the texts is Bertolph, comes de Vianne. A second family appears around the beginning of the 12th century. By the second half of the 12th century and the first half of the 13th century, the House of Vianden was at its zenith and the Counts had strong relations with the German Imperial Court. From this period date the main constructions which are preserved today, in particular, the chapel and the small and large palaces. In 1264 the dominion of Vianden falls under the Lordship of the Counts of Luxembourg. This loss of power gives a set-back to the construction activities, which since then are concentrated mainly on the different dwelling houses. In 1417 the dominion passes by inheritance into the House of Nassau. From this time, the castle is no longer the official residence of the Counts; it is managed by bailiffs. This situation explains the fact that the rich architecture dating from the period between the romanesque and gothic styles has not been disfigured by subsequent modifications.

Vianden haut, the river Our, and the Castle.After we left the castle, we bought ice cream in town and got a billion more post cards, then we went to Vianden bas (the lower town) which was much more tourist-y than Vianden haut, and not as nice. Dean wanted to go on the chairlift which passes over the Our river. I'm a bit phobic about heights, but he convinced me to do it by pointing out that we'd be able to take really great photos of the Castle from up there. The chairlift of Vianden ("Die Sesselbahn von Vianden") is the only one in Luxembourg. It's kind of like a ski lift, I guess (I've never been on a ski lift, so I wouldn't know), and the ride is about 15 minutes long each way (up and back), with an altitude of 450 meters. Dean was right, we got some excellent photos (see Image 6 as well as many of the others on the castle exterior page), and I wasn't even too scared. In the image above, you can see Vianden bas, the Our river (near the middle of the photo, with a bridge going across) and Castle Vianden (on the right).

Laura on boingy ride at Vianden playground.Before we left Vianden, we saw a really fun little playground near some cute houses, so of course I wanted to stop and go on the boingy round thing. On the way back to our hotel, we passed huge Cactus and Match supermarkets and were utterly amazed, since we thought Luxembourg only had small grocery stores. We plotted to visit one before we left the country. Back at the hotel, we put on nice clothes and went to the Hotel Sofitel for dinner (because the red Luxembourg guide had indicated that the Sofitel was formerly the Hotel Pullman, which was where much of the cast stayed while filming the series).

The Hotel Sofitel The Sofitel is ultra-modern, all smooth white and shining reflective panels, and is right across from Lucard Industries (a.k.a. the "European Hemicycle"). [We actually took this photo on Tuesday, but the illustration goes here!] Our excellent waiter was very snobby, with a chic haircut and gold bracelet, and looked like the sort of fastidious young man who would work for Lucard. The menu was written entirely in French, so I had to use my pathetic French skills to figure out what everything was. I ordered filet de sole and Dean, as usual, ended up with salad, the only vegetarian option.

While we ate, we got to watch as the large group at the next table ordered wine and our waiter went through an elaborate wine tasting procedure with them. We asked the waiter about the Pullman and he told us that the nearby Europlaza hotel, which is managed by Sofitel, used to be called Pullman among other things. We decided to check it out after dinner, just to see where the cast stayed. We also had lots of fun speculating that Lucard actually owns the Sofitel (it's just his style, and is awfully close to Lucard Industries, after all!), and discussing how the waiter would give special treatment to Lucard and his guests (guaranteed garlic avoidance, for one thing). We theorized that most of the people who commit suicide by jumping off the red bridge (see Saturday's entry) are probably Sofitel waiters terrified of having their throats ripped out for committing some minor blunder, such as neglecting to put out a special pineapple on Lucard's private table.

Laura writing zillions of Castle post cards for LHP visitors. Our desserts were completely delicious--especially my creme brulee, which was even better than our hotel's creme brulee. Dean claimed to hate creme brulee (really he just hates the the brulee part), so he turned his nose up at it and got cherry pie. Dean also got extremely good real hot chocolate, and I had a cappuccino that came with ultra cool sugars which looked like different kinds of rocks. I couldn't resist surreptitiously stealing some to bring home. After leaving the Sofitel, we walked over to the the Europlaza hotel and specced it out. It was much less fancy, and in sort of a castle-ish style, with rough stone and a big stone fireplace in the bar. When we got back to our hotel, I stayed up late at the candycane desk, addressing the post card castle post cards to send to Lucard's Home Page visitors who had requested them.

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