Luxembourg had won.
We could not resist the urge to descend upon an entirely new country, and thus, Liège had proved the loser. The waffles would have to wait – we were headed to Luxembourg City.
On the way, we would pass through the historic small commune of Wiltz, which featured its own World War II history, and also through the picturesque hamlet of Esch-Sauer (or Esch-sur-Sûre, in French).
Our last day could not have begun on a more auspicious note – it seemed that our friend had returned, and as we headed out the door, we devoted the necessary time to entertain him a bit Taking our reluctant leave from the cat, we started on our drive toward Luxembourg. After a pleasant 40-minute trip, we found ourselves in Wiltz, a small commune on the way to Luxembourg City, that was a participant in the Battle of the Bulge, toward the end of 1944. Wiltz was liberated by American troops in January 1945, after being under German occupation for five years.
As we were driving into this small place, unknown to us, we noticed an interesting-looking cemetery next to the main road. It turned out to be the Cimetière de Wiltz, or the town cemetery. We decided to check it outAfterward, we headed to a nearby clearing to take a look across the Wiltz river at the scenic landscape. An old chimney, a remnant of what looked to have once been an industrial complex of sorts, stood aloneWe stopped at the Notre-Dame de Fatima sanctuary next. Not only was the view of the town beautiful, but the sanctuary itself, as well as the memorial to Luxembourgers that fell in the Second World War were impressive, as well Blood and guts was next. Blood and Guts, the World War II tank, that is! Because of our hectic schedule so far, we hadn’t had any time to prepare for our Luxembourg journey the night previous, and we knew next to nothing about Wiltz. It turns out, with its somewhat extensive (for a small town, anyway) war history, the place actually had its own American tank. This M4A4 Sherman took part in the Battle of the Bulge, and entered strange circumstances after the hostilities. Sliding down a hill, it was apparently so mired when it reached bottom, that it could not be pulled out. After numerous tries, it was left in place and considered done for.
In later years, the tank was in fact rescued from its predicament and duly restored. It resided in a different part of town, as a monument to the war, until it was moved to its present position, right off of the main route number 12. Years later, the tank’s commander during the Battle of the Bulge, returned to the city and recognized his machine. Miraculous story and circumstances, surely. The historical tank looked marvelous, rendered in FujicolorWe moved on from Wiltz and continued down Route 12, toward our next destination – the small town of Esch-Sauer. It was lunchtime when we arrived, and we decided that the beautiful area down by the Sauer river would make a good break and snack spotThe day was clear and warm, and the river view was excellentAfter our pause, we left the car at the lot nearby and headed on foot onto the Rue du Moulin. The first attraction that caught our eye was this unique-looking vehicleWell-restored as a wartime ambulance car, it was also an alluring bait for tourists wishing to stay at the Hotel de la Sure nearby. It appeared one could also “rent” the little ambulance and drive it around, for some extra eurosSnaking up the quiet alleys, we made our way toward the Schloss von Esch-Sauer – the old castle atop the nearby hills, dating back to 927. We passed by charming buildingsAnd more vintage vehicles in perfect conditionThe catholic church was a stop on the way. It was open, and, as was often the case in this part of Europe, it included a memorial to those killed during the Battle of the Bulge and other conflicts from the Second World WarThe inside of the church was very atmospheric and featured an ornate altarAll was quiet in the streets and the surroundings were perfect for photographyThe alleys became more narrow and the inclines greater. Cobblestone pathways were slowly leading us to one of the gates of the old castle. Very soon, its well-preserved ruins showed. We made our way under this archToward what seemed like another church building belonging to the quite large complexOther stone towers stood nearbyAnd magnificent views of the valley and town below soon unfoldedAll excellent places for a panoramic shot of the sceneryThe rooftops formed an intricate patchwork, weaving into a tapestry of muted huesWhile the multiple stone tower remains all around us reminded of the Tsarevets Fortress back home in Bulgaria The Schloss von Esch-Sauer did impress – it was an excellent place to spend some while in solitude, observing and photohgraphing the scenic nature and history all around. We were already very much liking Luxembourg, and specifically, the quiet charm of this small townDown the narrow alleys we went (and some of them were definitely narrow!)……following a slightly different route back to the car and enjoying the quiet town scenes all the whileWe noted something else also – for the first time on this trip, we had ventured into territory that was starting to look and feel decisively more Germanic – an interesting contrast to the predominantly French culture and surroundings that had been our lot so far. Esch-Sauer in specific was definitely a location we very much enjoyed – so much so, that we discussed it as a possible place to stay in on our next trip to the regionOver fifty kilometers of driving still separated us from Luxembourg City and we needed to head out. Bidding adieu to Esch-Sauer, we took again to the road. Nothing now stood between us and the final destination of this trip.
The scenery soon began to change
as we neared the capital, becoming decidedly more urban. The feel of a large city was in the air. As we drove past the city limits, we noticed an interesting mix of old-style European architecture and more modern, almost Brutalist-type buildings. An underground lot near the city center accomodated our Peugeot and after gathering our backpacks and camera gear, we were ready to explore. Up the stairs we went, only to come face to face with thisIn what was to become a trend on this short trip to Luxembourg’s capital, we encountered a perfectly-playable piano, right in the middle of everything. The large, empty square amplified the sound nicely, and the rushing waters of the fountain nearby provided accompaniment.
After playing for a bit, we began our walk toward the center and the old town, in weather that was beginning to look increasingly like rain. We walked past ancient-looking crestsAnd nastiness like this. The Europeans sure love themselves a smoke…Did I mention those Brutalist, Eastern-European-looking buildings?And then the rain began. But this time, for real. Up until now, we had gotten away with intermittent periods of light drizzle in France and Belgium, but today, Luxembourg City was going to make up for it all. We had no choice but to take refuge in a very-average Mexican-style restaurant nearby and await our fate, while also topping up calories.
The rain was not letting up.
And done with late lunch though we were, we now were contemplating if there was even any point to continue trying to look around. It would be a shame to come all this way, eat and leave. So, we thought we would give it the old college try – despite the discomfort and having to constantly hide cameras in our jackets to keep them dry.
Rainy scenes filled our viewfindersOn top of the bad weather, it was Sunday, and the combination of the two had resulted in almost complete barren streets, even in the center of town – it was unusual to beholdThe rain had not gotten worse, but we were by no means comfortable – even as nice as the small streets and buildings were. We thought we would seek refuge in a church nearby, to dry up a bit and make a plan of attack for, hopefully, seeing the old town nearbyMaybe it was all in our heads, but the rain did seem to have lessened its intensity upon our exit. We continued walking, encountering idyllic, old-world scenes like theseFurther down, and out of the alleyways, impressive buildings stood on empty squares, mutely observing the rainColorful doors broke up the grey monotonyAnd local hipsters delighted in having their picture takenColorful chairs soon appearedAnd then another impressive churchUp and down the steep alleys we went, looking, in vain it seemed, for a thoroughfare to the old town. Energy draining away by the minute, we stopped our wanderings at another piano, to rest our feet and exercise Nikolay’s musical abilities some moreAnd when at last, the panorama of the old town appeared from a clearing, we could see with our own eyes what the Unesco fuss was aboutTo the left, a medieval-looking bridge in superb condition straddled one of the outlets of the Alzette RiverIt truly felt like a step or two back in timeOur energies revived by the sight, we continued to soldier on, trying to find out how one would descend to the old place. A local came to our aid and managed to direct us, wrongly, to a roundabout way that seemed to lead rather to a collection of closed pubs, restaurants and offices into what once used to be a factory or an industrial part of the town.
Walking down the street, and next to one of the old fortress walls did, however, provide a unique photo opportunity – a look through stone into the old townTennis players, utilizing the straight-arm technique on their forehand side, were urged to cross hereWhen we finally did find our way to the vintage town (through a weird tunnel and elevator-in-a-parking-lot combination), we found it atmospheric, but the view better from above. We did wander around some, just to get a feel for how the place looked at street level, but we definitely could not get the full picture when the weather was so poor, and we were in such a hurry, rushing through the last daytime hours of a one-day only visitWe did manage to see a few charming spots along the riverAnd some equally-charming goblins adorned the old wallsThe impression was, that with better weather and ample time at one’s disposal, Luxembourg City and its old town had the potential to be a fine destination to spend some time in. Perhaps another time, on another trip to the region, we might find the opportunity to linger more. But for now, it was clear that our time in Luxembourg, and on our D-Day at 75 trip was officially and hurriedly drawing to a close.
With the coming of the evening hours and the gathering darkness, came also the conclusion of our challenging, tiring, yet wonderfully rewarding and enjoyable eight days in France, Belgium, and the last-minute pleasant surprise of Luxembourg. The Peugeot awaited for the next to last time, and as we packed ourselves into our automotive companion to exit the city, we noticed the weather begin to improve. When we crossed the border back into Belgium, the sunset made its presence known in a festival of colors on the clouded horizon.
The remaining hours of the evening would be spent in packing up for tomorrow’s long drive into Paris, where, after dropping off our car, we would be headed to Charles de Gaulle airport for the return trip home. What started out as a war history trip, ultimately led us through a number of pleasant diversions, from cats to tourist visits in new lands. Though rain and gloom often accompanied our travels, the bright perspective gained by examining the remains of our recent history, in scenic surroundings, more than balanced out the experience.
War and suffering might have ripped through these beautiful parts of Europe not so many decades ago, but the lands once ravaged, now have a valuable lesson to present to those who are interested in listening and learning. The potential for peace and wellbeing on a grand scale is immense when harmony, rather than conflict, can permeate the varied lands of this continent. Where once was death and destruction, we now saw beautiful, vibrant places, filled with happy, friendly people that were commemorating their common, if difficult, history together in peace. One can only hope that in these uncertain times, the atmosphere of good, of unity and rememberance of the lessons of history, can prevail for many decades to come. Not only because we would, somewhat selfishly, like to have the opportunity to embark on many such trips in the future, but also because we would all do well to share, enjoy and peacefully perpetuate our common heritage and culture for the benefit and enjoyment of many generations to come.