Friday, August 31, 2007

Life Of Lux-ury

West of Cologne and the Rhine the countryside begins to undulate more and more eventually forming the Eifel and Ardennes ranges. At this westernmost part of Germany lies the city of Trier which prides itself on being the oldest city in Germany with an impressive pedigree dating back to the Romans when it was one of the capitals during the Tetrarchy (like Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia). It was also during this time that Trier's most famous son, Constantine the Great, was making a name for himself. As the one who moved the Roman empire eastwards to Constantinople, reunified the fractured empire and made Christianity the official religion he certainly achieved a lot and is particularly revered in the eastern church as the founder of the Byzantine empire. Needless to say Trier is proud of its illustrious antique past and makes sure that you don't forget it as you enter through the massive Porta Nigra, walk past the solid cathedral (one of the oldest churches in the world) and try not to notice the three museums each with extensive exhibitions devoted to old Constantine.

Follow the Moselle river another 15km upstream and, although you may not notice it, you cross a border into Luxembourg. This region is at the heart of the EU: it was here that the first treaty on steel production co-operation (so that no country could start an arms race) was drawn up; most people speak at least two or three languages fluently; and hundreds of thousands cross the border every day to work in another country (the population of Luxembourg increases by 25% during working days). Luxembourg itself is off many people's radars because of its utter blandness and lack of presence (how many famous Luxembourgers do you know?), and that is how the Luxembourgers like it. As a country of bankers (and not just in the rhyming slang sense) they have a reputation of being rather bland and unexciting and probably too busy counting money, as there is certainly a lot of it about - Luxembourg is the richest country in the world per capita with a GDP of $88,000 a year ($15,000 ahead of number two Norway and double that of the USA). Perhaps the reason they don't advertise themselves so much is that other people might easily get jealous. I don't know if I'd be jealous of their money, but I do envy their rolling hills covered with forests and studded with castles as well as their pretty little villages, a veritable heaven for hiking. The eponymous capital city is also one of the most beautiful (if not most exciting) in the world, built as it is on a plateau above a winding river, so that it is possible to get away from the bustle of the city just by descending to the valley with its village-like feel and be among the trees and little gardens. Another interesting aspect of Luxembourg city is its fortifications. 150 years ago the city was one huge fortress (with the epithet Gibraltar of the North) and much desired by the French, the Austrians, the Spanish and the Prussians, all of whom ruled the unfortunate duchy at some point. Only the extensive underground casemates remain in anything resembling their original condition as most of the above-ground defences were dismantled to stop other countries fighting over its strategic importance.

I don't generally write much about the day to day details and practicalities of travelling - finding food and accommodation, getting lost, getting information, getting from A to B, last minute changes in plans, etc, etc. - since I'm sure it would make pretty dull reading (and I really can't be bothered writing all that crap). Plus it would seem to me an indulgent exercise in fishing for sympathy by trying to draw attention to the difficulties and hardships of the trip (and there have been a few) when it is something that I have decided to do and can easily stop at any moment and hop on a plane home. No, the positives far outweigh the negatives and I have no regrets. However it is certainly not a holiday as every day has to be planned, there are always new things to be learned and experienced and you have to keep moving. Falling ill is therefore particularly annoying as, on the one hand, you are not at home and therefore you don't have all your little comforts that may help you recover quicker (such as being able to make yourself a cuppa as and when you feel like it), and on the other hand you can't just sit around hoping to get better and so you have to just grin and bear it and hope the illness goes away by itself. So for the past few days I've been carrying a cough/cold around with me and feeling somewhat under the weather. Things got a bit unpleasant today as my sweatshirt sleeve risked becoming saturated with my phlegm (I'm not really a hanky person) but I feel I have finally got over the worst of it and should be as right as rain in a few days.

1 comment:

Inihtar said...

I went traveling for a mere four days and, while it was great, I am glad to come back to my own place. I am full of admiration for you for keeping this up for so long. . . I can't imagine that dealing with all the different countrie and people and languages has been easy at all!!