where we've been and where we're going

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Patton and Luxembourg City

On the way to Luxembourg City, in, uh, Luxembourg, we stopped at the graveyard for American WWII soldiers where several hundreds of Americans are buried. The most famous among them was General Patton. I've been to soldiers' cemeteries in the US, but this was my first war cemetery. The difference is subtle, but it was enough for me to be very impacted. The former has people who have died in wars, but also soldiers who served and then died at 85 of a heart attack, plus their spouses who did not serve. Here, these men died in the fight, perhaps nearby, perhaps here. Their markers identify their beliefs in afterlife, or a cross for the unknown. Identical crosses in perfect rows and perfectly cut and watered grass serve as silent reminders. And then there's Patton. The only remarkable grave among them. The marker is the same, but it is separated from the rest...a place of honor at the front.

While I have a tendency to be humbled by such things, and very touched, others do not, including a (very) few of our students who are not only unmoved but are slightly disrespectful. So i was not only moved, but also angry. I guess not everything can be perfect.

What is perfect, though, is Luxembourg. It has the highest per capita GDP in the European Union. When you approach the city center from the highways, the bus curls around mountains so you see deep gorges and the city center looming like a fort with high walls on a high mountain. It was like Sleeping Beauty's castle, except a city, and no thorns. We were only there for the evening, so we weren't able to do anything but walk around for an hour or so, see a church or two, take a photo over the wall, and then head to dinner. The European Court of Justice is located there, and though we weren't able to visit it, two experts came to meet us for dinner and give a talk in this fantastic restaurant, Chiggeri. We had a private room, called the jardin d'hiver, or winter garden, which we certainly filled, with a glass ceiling and hanging antique lanterns to light the room. The duck was lovely (though probably not the best duck I've ever had) and the tea was delicious. Though we didn't see much of the city, due to our short time there and our hotel near the airport and far from the city, the restaurant experience and the accompanying talk were worth the trip.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tartes Flambees and Christmasing

We loaded up the bus and headed to Strasbourg from Frankfurt. On the way, we stopped for lunch in the wine country of Lorraine, on the French-German border. Traditional food in Germany is all meat, particularly pork, and the lunch in this winery was no different. It was quite delicious, but after six weeks in Europe, which ALL loves pork, I was getting pretty full of pork. And I don't drink wine, so the lunch was not as fulfilling as it could have been.

We arrived in Strasbourg, which is so beautiful and perfectly German it was like walking in the town from Beauty and the Beast. Not much to do there, but it certainly was quaint. We went out to dinner, and had some Alsatian food. In particular, I had a tarte flambee, which might be among the top meals I've had in Europe. Those crazy Europeans, with their pizza without sauce and full of fat. Delicious. Then several students when to catch the premiere of the fifth Harry Potter movie, while I went back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, the group from the human rights class attended a trial at the European Court of Human Rights. It was incredibly fascinating, a case of an immigrant accused of terrorist conspiracy was opposing the order to be deported. The issue was not whether or not he was guilty, but the fact that were he to be deported (any immigrant who commits a felony is subject to deportation) he would certainly face torture. Members of the Council of Europe are obligated to never knowingly subject any person to torture, which would occur should he be deported. However, the interesting aspect here is that because he is a terrorism suspect, the country involved argued national security trumped the torture concern. So the court has to balance the life and integrity of one person versus the potentially threatened lives of many. But what precedent should it set--human rights violations are sometimes acceptable? Fascinating. And the students liked it too.

After the trial, a few of us walked through a nearby park with a tiny zoo, and ate lunch overlooking the park--pretty good food, too. After lunch, the group reconvened for a meeting at the Council of Europe, but I was pretty tired by then, which unfortunately means I paid less attention. Just like the undergrads.

Before dinner at the same restaurant from the night before (still delicious), K and I went to this great Christmas shop in the old town area. Strasbourg is known for its Christmas festivals, and even though it was July, there's a Christmas shop, where I of course spent more money on myself and family members than I should have. Most of you will know, I do so love Christmas. So the trip involving a Christmas haul could never be in vain.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fright and Hasselhof

Our next stop was Frankfurt, Germany, for only one night. We were there to visit the European Central Bank, and our hotel was fortunately close to the ECB and unfortunately located in the red light district of the city. This means I did not venture out to see what might have otherwsie been a great city to visit. We had a group meal in this ridiculously German restaurant and ate Pig's Knuckles, which literally are pigs' knuckles. I generally don't have a problem with new or exotic foods, but the idea of what it was seemed so block my ability to enjoy it. Sorry, Germans. We walked through the cool center of the city, but that was really the only chance I had to see Frankfurt as a cultural place. At night, I went with a few students across the street from the hotl to a seedy bar with very few (old) patrons, where the jukebox played a lot of crap, including tracks by David Hasselhof. Yikes. The stereotype is true.

The visits to the ECB, as well as a huge private bank, were very successful, however. I know the students in the human rights class had a bit of trouble enjoying it, but I'm geeky enough, and having just taken the IPE comprehensive exam the year before, informed enough, to get a lot out of it, so it was great.

Frankfurt didn't impress me much, but, really, I only saw the red light district and banks.

Monday, September 10, 2007


We headed to Brussels next. I'd been there before, when studying abroad my junior year of college. It's a beautiful little town, and I think I liked it more this second time around. It's not the most wonderful place in Europe, but it's quite charming and lovely. It has a really nice downtown area, and the architecture is quintessentially Low Country. It's a nice place to exist.

We spent the evenings in local bars tasting Belgian beers while we could get them for cheap. (Let's be honest here...I didn't drink any beer. But the others did.) On our first full day we had a long briefing at the European Commission. After a terrible lunch on the Grande Place, we went to a briefing at the US Mission to the European Union--a discussion on US strategic relations in EU. It was kind of nice to be around Americans in an abnormal situation.

We played drinking games at the bar. I tell you what, whenever at the bar with my friends in the US, we never play drinking games. But the undergrads can play them like crazy. I learned all kinds of new games. Yikes. I'm going to attempt to erase that part of my memory.

The next morning, we visited the European Commission's Executive Committee for Finance. I took the afternoon off.

A few students and I spent Saturday in Brugges! It's among the most beautiful places I've ever been. I just love it there, and I'd love to visit it every year. Gorgeous buildings in a precious little town. Canals snake through the streets. It's perfect. We ate mussels and took a boat tour of the canals. And there's a Christmas store!! Clearly, I spent more money than I should have. That evening we drank in a 1920s bar and then ate at a restaurant with all kinds of Central Asian food. After too many waffles, the trip was a wonderful success.

The next morning, before heading to Frankfurt, I had breakfast with my mom's former French teacher and her son and cousin. She's a fantastic, kind person, and I love to see her. She took me to a huge flea market which was crazy. Blankets were laid edge to edge to edge in this large square such that we could barely walk between blankets, and the blankets were covered with things for sale. Crazy.