We jetted off to Luxembourg in May to meet up with Andrew’s cousin, Nick, and explore. Luxembourg wasn’t originally high on my list of places to go, but after strategizing with Andrew about our travel plans for the year, we decided to seek out destinations off the beaten path: locales we would be unlikely to visit again once we returned home to the USA. So after learning that cousin Nick was in Luxembourg, we booked our tickets1 for a long weekend.
After our two hour flight we found our Airbnb and met up with Nick for dinner on Friday night. Nick’s expat family friends, Debbie and Kevin, were hosting him during the Luxembourg leg of his post-college backpacking adventure. They generously invited us over for dinner. (I love being able to visit people in their homes to see what daily life is like in other countries! This has been a really fun part of staying in Airbnbs abroad) We had a great dinner and got some excellent advice on touring around Luxembourg City.
We got up late because this girl likes to sleep and walked into town. (Our Airbnb was about a 40 minute walk from the city center.)
First stop was coffee then on to Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the only cathedral in Luxembourg. Fortunately there was a church service going on, so while we weren’t able to understand the service because it was in French/Latin, we were able to hear a mezzo soprano sing a gorgeous hymn.
We had some time to kill before our walking tour that afternoon so we visited the Luxembourg City History Museum. The museum structure is made up of four restored houses from the 17th to the 19th century which still bear archaeological traces from the Middle Ages. The structure was just as impressive as the contents of the museum: the museum used glass staircases and partitions so space is open and airy and you can see all the original structures.
Here’s what I gleaned from the museum:
Luxembourg is primarily known for two things: 1) being one of three capitals of the European Union and 2) previously being a tax haven for business. I say previously because after the Great Recession laws were amended which made it a bit less desirable location to headquarter a company. Many companies (Amazon, Paypal, Skype) still have their European HQ in Luxembourg City.
Its capital, Luxembourg City, is, together with Brussels and Strasbourg, one of the three official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest juridical authority in the EU. Its culture, people and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours, making it essentially a mixture of French and Germanic cultures. This is emphasized by the three official languages, Luxembourgish, French, and German. The repeated invasions by its neighbor countries, especially in World War II, resulted in the country’s strong will for mediation between France and Germany and, among other things, led to the foundation of the European Union.
In fact, a few days before we arrived, Kate Middleton was in Luxembourg to celebrate 150th anniversary of Luxembourg’s independence, marked by the 1867 Treaty of London. Some in the media are calling the royal couple part of the “Brexit Charm Offensive” aka “Brexit Ambassadors” to EU countries.
We grabbed some grub before starting our walking tour which began with a short introduction to Luxembourg’s history before delving into the Bock Casemates (literally death house), a complex network of underground tunnels that — because of Luxembourg’s striated geology — also provide an ideal place to attack from. Back above ground, we saw the remnants of the Roman road from Reims to Trier2 and the residual fortifications, the majority of which were ordered demolished by the 1867 Treaty of London. For a fun tangential six minute read, Andrew suggests: Why 1866 Set the Stage for Two World Wars.
On Sunday we took the train to the town of Fond-de-Gras to ride a steam train. The first leg of our journey took us to an old mine where we took a second train into the mine and de-boarded for a short tour of the mine. The tours are run by volunteers who were very happy to answer all of Nick and Andrew’s questions. The train engineer even let them ride in the locomotive car and look in the workshop.
Although my original enthusiasm was not near the level of Nick and Andrew’s for this outing, I quickly got on board (pun intended) and thoroughly enjoyed the ride and tour.
On Monday morning we had brunch at an outdoor cafe facing an open courtyard. There was a band playing classical music in the courtyard bandstand and everything felt just right with the the world. I was even able to coax a cheeky smile out of my adventure mate.
Prior to our departure that evening, Debbie took us to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm (Thank you, Debbie!!). The cemetery honors the fallen US soldiers of WWII including George Patton, who is buried on the grounds. The US essentially owns the plot of land as in 1951 Luxembourg granted the US free use of the land in perpetuity, without tax. This stop was on my list of must see things in Luxembourg. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t make a visit.
The site is meticulously kept and is a beautiful tribute to the fallen. I was very moved by it. My paternal grandfather fought in WWII (Both of Andrew’s grandfathers served in WWII as well) and my grandmother served as a nurse. I imagine they may have known someone buried in Luxembourg.
From the Cemetery literature:
2nd Lt. Nancy Leo is the only women buried in the cemetery. She was a nurse with the 216th General Hospital. She joined the service in hopes of seeing her sister, Angela, also an army nurse. The sisters made arrangements to finally meet in Paris in July of 1945. As Nancy traveled to Paris, she was involved in a car accident and seriously injured. She died on her way to the hospital, never seeing her sister, Angela. Her sister was the first to learn of her death.
There are 25 US cemeteries outside the US. I am hoping to visit the Normandy Cemetery this year.
It was a good trip and I enjoyed getting to know Nick. (We bonded over our shared love of cotton candy). I think we convinced him to make a stop in the UK 🙂
Next Stop: Croatia’s beaches for our anniversary celebration. Luckily the traditional 4th year gift in the UK is fruit so I can totally nail that one.
Right after we arrived in Poole, we drove in to see our Seattle friends Kimi and Charlie who were in London for work. It was a quick day trip on a Sunday to meet up for dinner but so worth it to see our friends!
Girl’s Day Out
Later that week I (Rachel) rode the train in to explore London with Kimi.
We had a lovely brunch at The Albion; it was the best eggs benedict I’ve ever had! We explored Liberty of London’s haberdashery and children’s section shopping for Kimi’s soon-to-arrive little one, walked around Leicester Square, and got Kimi tickets for Phantom of the Opera the next night! And were women of leisure with adequate coffee and snack breaks (Hoi Polloi).
The Long Weekend
Andrew and I rode the train in for a long weekend. Our AirBnb was in Dalston, a neighborhood in the Bourgh of Hackney. It was further north than was ideal but given the price and easy transport via bus it couldn’t be beat. From the Wikipedia entry on Dalston
Dalston has attracted immigrants for over 100 years; at the turn of the century it was a popular area for newly arrived Jewish people from central Europe. In the 1950s and ’60s, as the Jewish community became more affluent and moved out, they were replaced by a large Caribbean community, which accounts for the wide choice of Caribbean food available in Ridley Road. As the Caribbean community slowly drifted out of Dalston it then became popular with the Turkish, as well as the Vietnamese. Recent arrivals include Poles, judging by the numbers of Polish delicatessens now appearing and other stores catering to Polish tastes.
We definitely felt the immigrant influence as there were no shortage of Turkish restaurants in our area.
Our AirBnb host had a very eccentric decorating style. Her living room and dining room were red (including a huge red SMEG fridge!), and our room had a huge lighting centerpiece, for lack of a better term. There was a huge buddah head in the bathroom and a beautiful crucifix in the living room. I suppose eclectic is the word.
Dalston Food Stops
Because I planned this trip and am the foodie in our family of 2 (+ Ezra), the itinerary included a few culinary gems: We had dinner at YUM YUM on the Friday night of our arrival, per a recommendation from our host. The food was amazing and the atmosphere was very posh.
We stopped at Mangal 1, a kebab house on Sunday night again based on the suggestion of our host. We literally and figuratively got some of the local Turkish flavor. Andrew ordered the mousaka and I had the tavuk sis (chicken kebabs). Delish.
On Sunday morning we tried to find a creperie but stumbled upon the Acoustic Cafe. While the food was good and the restaurant was a nice reprieve from the rain and we enjoyed a simple meal.
Holborn: My Old Dutch Pancake House
Oh man, I love this place. It’s carbs on carbs and I love it. If I had no concerns for my mass I totally would have ordered their crazy 2 foot wide pancake with ice cream and snickers bars and whipped cream…but I did get butterscotch pancakes that were prettttty great. And look at this boy I found outside waiting for his date.
Even though we weren’t able to eat at Dishoom, I did get a peak at their restaurant. Dishoom is a 1970’s Bombay style restaurant with gorgeous verandah seating that I desperately wanted to experience. It wasn’t in the cards for this trip as we decided to make haste and grab some pastries at The Albion across the street instead of pushing back our timetable. The pastries were great!(Or as they would say on The Great British Bake Off – the lamination was perfect!!!) The Albion and Dishoom at are at the top of our list for next time.
Believe it or not, we did do more than just eat in London!!
Andrew and I split up for a bit on Sunday. I attended an Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve found I enjoy visiting churches more when you can participate in the service and you usually get to hear someone sing, which is a real treat for me.
In his pursuit of all things engineering, Andrew visited the London Transport Museum. He reported that while it was interesting to see and learn how fast London’s transport system developed, it wasn’t as fun as the Science Museum. He plans to visit the Depot later this year.
We met up for dinner and had to settle for shake shack because the UK does not have Chick-Fil-A (yet). After dinner we went to the production of 42nd Street at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane West End Theater. The show was based on a depression era movie. The dance numbers were huge and phenomenal. Wow, what a production!
If you get the chance, go to Novelty Automation! It’s well worth your time. It’s a tiny “museum” full of quirky arcade style games you can play, or rather experience. Very fun and right up my alley.
Before we left on Monday we stopped at the Geffrye Museumof the Home because it was super close to our Airbnb. We only spent about a 1/2 hour there but enjoyed looking at the displays of living rooms from different periods in time.
We spent a lot of time riding the bus. Initially I was planning on taking the tube because it’s novel for me, but Andrew pointed out that there were new caps on the transportation costs so we were able to ride the bus all day for no more than 4.50 while the tube would cap out at a higher amount. It was great because were were able to see more of the city above ground. And once we figured out that we had to hail the bus (instead of simply passively waiting at the stop) we had great success. While I appreciated their text system (text a number and receive a text back with the bus schedule), I was mentally praising Seattle’s OneBusAway App that always shows the real time bus delays. Watch this short video Andrew made!
I enjoyed doing a bit of shopping. I’d never heard of Fortnum & Mason but really enjoyed my time there. It was originally a food shop opened in 1707 but later grew into a department store. My favorite areas were the vast array of teas for sale and beautiful tea pots.
I also explored the Shipping Container Pop Up Mall in Shoreditch. Lots of hipster, cute shops.
Here’s our itinerary by day if you’re interested (I really enjoyed creating it!)
Next Stop: Luxembourg….
Sidenote- I’d love to know if anyone has thoughts or info on how common it is for public transport to gentrify an area because I’m reminded of reading about the same thing in Seattle. Here is one of the articles talking about gentrification in Seattle as it relates to the Link LightRail ↩
We arrived one week ago today — mostly in one piece. I’m not exactly sure how we did it, except to say it was by the grace of God and a lot of stubbornness. Here is where we are:
Here what we’ve been up to (rewinding a bit):
Saying Goodbye for Now
On Wednesday (3/8) night we met up with some friends who weren’t able to make it to our going away party at the beginning of the month. It has been really touching to have everyone rally around us, but bittersweet given that we will not see many of our dear friends for many months.
The Tuesday (3/7) before our departure I fell ill with what I thought was food poisoning: I spent Wednesday alternately packing boxes and recovering in bed. I thought the storm had passed by Wednesday afternoon and felt pretty much back to normal. (Enough so to see some friends for Tacos and Beer (see above)). Unfortunately we discovered it was not food poisoning but a stomach bug that I passed to Andrew BECAUSE he spent the plane ride across the pond (3/9) vomiting. Luckily Andrew has gotten good sleep and is all better now.
Mr. Ezra, The Dog
Ezra is in quarantine 🙁 Unfortunately we didn’t realize there was an eight day lapse in his rabies vaccination in 2015 so he has to be vaccinated1 and stay at the doggie jail for 21 days. We visited him Tuesday at the kennel, which is basically a farm that boards animals and is authorized by the UK government to house dogs who are quarantined2. He is being well taken care by of so our minds are at ease but I am disappointed that both our local Seattle veterinarian and the USDA vet inspected and signed off on our paperwork and did not catch the lapse. I also miss him and am counting the days until he can come home.
On Saturday we ran a few errands after sleeping in. We picked up my Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card which serves as my ID and work visa while I’m in the UK, thus allowing me to work (or volunteer) in the UK during our stay if I choose. We also picked up Andrew’s city bike that he got last here when he was here, so we’ll have a bike to use before our bikes arrive in our shipment from the US.
On Sunday we went to church in Fareham (1 hour away) at Our Savior Lutheran Church. This is the same church Andrew attended last year while in the UK. We received a very warm welcome from the congregation and are looking forward to getting involved in the church once we settle in. We tried to make a Costco stop at after church but unfortunately they experienced a power outage so there were no free samples for the Fergusons.
On Monday Andrew had his “first day of work3” so we took an obligatory photo.
I am very relieved to be in the UK. This transition has been a long time in the making and I’m grateful to God and to all our friends who have helped us and supported us. Now if we can just get our puppy home everything will be right as rain.
In just ten short days, Rachel, Ezra (our cocker spaniel), and I will board a plane with a one-way ticket to the UK.
If that sounds dramatic, well… it is! Life was chaotic in 2016 and there’s lot of chaos happening now as we prepare to move!
I ended up spending almost 180 days abroad last year for work (most of that in the UK) on a challenging three-weeks-in-the-UK, one-week-in-Seattle rotation. We ended up tapping out of that in November because it wasn’t working for us to do life in two different places; I was also physically and mentally exhausted from all the flying (100k+ miles flown). The plan for 2017 was to reduce my work travel to two weeks trips every 6-8 weeks but in December I was offered the opportunity move to the UK for 10-12 months in my current role!
While we were excited about the prospect, there were a lot of emotional and logistical things to think through, so we took time over over Christmas break to process everything. In mid-January we officially accepted the offer!
So, what’s on our to do list? It includes getting life squared away for the next year, tidying up some logistics, and packing…lots of packing.
Visas: I received mine at the end of last year in anticipation of my continued travel to the UK. Rachel received her visa last week
Ezra’s Paperwork: Ezra needs to get a vet checkup, and his paperwork has to be signed-off by the USDA Veterinary Services Office in Tumwater, WA. The catch is that the paperwork has to be completed in a window of 24 hours prior to departure, but no more than five days before.
Stuff we are taking: Sorting and packing everything we need to take with us. We are allotted 750 lbs to ship via air, plus a total of seven suitcases. We’ll be in a furnished apartment, but we don’t know which one yet.
Appliances and Electronics we’re taking: There’s the issue of the electrical grid being different (120V/60Hz vs 230V/50Hz). Many consumer electronic devices are actually capable of working both the US and UK, thanks to switching-mode power supplies, so we just need socket converters. However, appliances that have large motors or heating elements usually aren’t capable.
How long is Ezra in quarantine? There isn’t one anymore! It takes a couple hours to clear his paperwork and then he’s released!
Where are you going to be? Bournemouth, a wonderful sea-side resort town about two hours southwest of London.
Can I come visit? Yes, absolutely! We’d love to have visitors!
How long are you gone? 10-12 months.
When are you leaving? We fly away on Thursday, March 9th.
We were in Hong Kong to attend the wedding for Rachel’s brother, Mark. I’m not sure going to a single wedding in Hong Kong allows me to extrapolate fully, but from what I gleaned most weddings are very similar to this: suits tailored the week before, shoes for the bridesmaids custom made in two days, and a full day of pomp and circumstance with both Western and Chinese tradition.
It’s quite the show. Here’s part two of three (see part 1 and part 3).