Thursday, October 30, 2008
A few weeks ago I came to an exciting realization. By the end of this year I will have been to 49 countries in my life and 24 countries in 2008. But I wasn’t satisfied. 49? It’s not 50. 24? It’s not 25. Unhappy with the numbers, I immediately racked my brain for an easy trip that would bump up the count to 50 and 25, respectively.
Within seconds, the light bulb in my head lit up and I was on the Eurostar website booking my next trip: Luxembourg! The tiny duchy would have the privilege of hosting my one-day epic journey to country number 50.
A few weeks later, I woke up at 4:15am to catch the first Eurostar of the day from St. Pancras. Off I went, jetting through the English countryside, through the Channel Tunnel, and out into Belgium. I arrived in Brussels with 20 minutes to buy a ticket and some breakfast and hop on my next train. Then came the sluggish 3-hour journey to the fabled duchy of 50th-country lore.
It wasn’t all bad. The fall colors in Belgium rivalled those of beautiful New England as the train chugged slowly through ravines of brilliantly colored foliage. There were tiny lakes and small villages, as well as plenty of cows and sheep grazing lazily in sunny green pastures. When that wasn’t enough, I had The Economist to entertain me.
The train spit me out into the misty rain of Luxembourg City just before 1pm. Walking into the station, I noticed that the lights were off and the power was out. Wasn’t this supposed to be the country with the highest nominal GDP per capita in the world?
Undeterred by the lack of electricity, I walked from the station to the old town munching on a tuna panino and taking in the gorgeous autumn leaves in the deep gorge of the Petrusse Valley. I crossed the Pont Adolphe and headed into the city center.
Luxembourg’s old town is a perfect story-book village, complete with cobbled streets, ivy-clad castle ramparts, and Louis Vuitton stores. I spent some time wandering aimlessly through quiet town squares and past the Palais Grand-Ducal, then found myself at the edge of the city at the casemate walls.
The casemates offered a stunning view of the Grund quarter below, where the city plunges dramatically into a ravine with a quiet river flanked by historic churches and monasteries. I followed the walls until I reached the Cathedral, at which point the sun came out and made the entire city sparkle in post-rain splendor.
Back on the train, I passed three more hours with my trusty Economist on the way to Brussels. It was dark when I arrived at the Gare Central, but I knew exactly how I wanted to spend the two hours before my Eurostar back to London: eating.
I left the gare and took a nostalgic walk past the apartment where I lived when I was working in Brussels, then high-tailed it to my favorite frites stand for a greasy paper cone filled with ketchup-smothered fries.
Frites in hand, I walked through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a beautiful covered market in the city center. Passing by Neuhaus, one of the great Belgian chocolatiers, I couldn’t resist buying some sweets for the trip home. My favorite? The Tintin tins!
I headed out of the galleries and walked to the Grand Place, by far the most stunning site in Brussels. The historic architecture was illuminated in the night by hanging lights, and it made me nostalgic for my days of living in the EU capital.
Stuffed full of fries but unable to resist eating more, I stopped for a Belgian waffle. Munching and walking, I made my way to a restaurant that was one of my favorites during my time in Belgium. There I enjoyed a Kriek beer with my good friend The Economist. Yes, we spent a lot of quality time together on this trip.
My Eurostar back to London felt long after such an extensive day of train travel. Arriving at St. Pancras at 10:30pm with three new passport stamps, three different countries, and 11 hours of train travel in one day, I took the tube home to Hampstead and fell into bed.
Country number 50 was quite a journey for one day of traveling. To prevent myself from repeating it anytime soon, I sent in my passport for renewal yesterday. No international travel for this Lady for 15 business days.