charmed by you, a petite enclave of style and grace

Early Morning Sunrise over Amsterdam

It was early in the morning as we softly glided right over Amsterdam all sleepy and foggy from a night spent on the plane.  The sun was soft and swept across the flat horizon with the most wonderful honey colored yellows with slender swipes of silver that added a touch of glimmer to the horizon.

I pinched myself as I eagerly peered out the window, so thrilled to set upon a week long adventure starting in Luxembourg and then journeying on to the Alsace White Wine region, La Route des Vins, along the Vosges mountains of eastern France.

Getting Ready!;  Flash of Amsterdam airport
 a Medoc red?? in the hotel??;  Place d'Armes hotel

It is at moments like this, when I look at Patrick and realize with happiness as well as heavy sadness that life is coming full circle.  This would be our first vacation in 20 years for just the two of us...without our children.  We've had trips without the children, but Patrick is usually tied to work and I go off to explore on my own.  This one would be just the two of work allowed.

The kids, thrilled to stay on their own, do their own thing, not shuffle behind their parents, had no qualms with holding down the fort, the pets, cooking their own meals, doing their own shopping, going out to their favorite restaurants in town, reading piles of books, and generally relaxing undisturbed for the Spring Break week.

Most people dislike layovers.  I don't.  Amsterdam airport is a fantastic airport for a layover.  The mood pulsates with an energetic upbeat vibe, the modern bright style is colorful and attractive.  One shop after another spills its goods in a stylish array.  I always hope for a 2-3 hour layover.  One hour to sit in the huge blue & white teacup café, sip on a strong cup of coffee and absorb the crossroads of humanity as it passes before me.  Another hour (or two) to roam in and out of the many shops that fill this fun airport.  In our terminal, there was a wonderful museum open to travelers that showcased some of the Dutch masters.

From on Top of "Le Bock" looking down over into "The Grund"

We arrived in Luxembourg, less than an hour's flight from Amsterdam, with fairly mediocre expectations.  Our minds were mainly focused on getting to the Alsace Wine Route, about 2 hours south of Luxembourg, so we could amble from village to village and get to know and enjoy the six or seven varieties of white wine made from the grapes that grow in the fertile soil at the base of the Vosges Mountains in France.

Upon arrival to the main square of the old city, we realized we had a treat in store.  Luxembourg charmed us completely.  I said several times during our stay in this city, that I was so glad we didn't rent our car and take off quickly without having absorbed the city.

Snippets from the hotel Le Place d'Armes

I booked us into the lovely Le Place d' Armes  hotel right in the middle of the old city looking comfortably out onto the main square where all of the hustle and bustle of the weekly "brocante" ,or flea market, sets up its dizzying array of bric a brac to tempt and lure...well, people like me.

In the dining room of the hotel, Le Place d'Armes

The hotel was charming...a mix of old world style with huge wooden beams  criss crossing the ceiling, mixed with contemporary flashes of elegant artwork and decor that all blended together with ease.

Our room was so entirely quiet that we had to set alarms in the morning to get ourselves moving.  We were on the interior courtyard side and the street noise is buffered almost completely.  

Hotel Le Place d'Armes

I was immediately captivated by the city upon arrival and couldn't wait to get our bearings and meander from one end to the other.  Our hotel was truly an ideal location.  We could walk all over the city and then tumble back home late at night easily and safely.

It is difficult and exhilarating at the same time to vacation as a couple once more...I missed the kids dearly and wanted them to see and experience everything with me.  I immediately found myself commenting that, "Madeleine would just love to see this..." or chuckling "Riley would certainly be intrigued by the way this shower works...".  It is a bittersweet time of life, but a time that I consider with pride, as I realize our kids can stand up on their own, without worry to their parents, and give Patrick and I time away together.  But it is also a time that makes me look forward to and be sure to appreciate the future trips when we are a foursome once more...which will be soon...

So, the first morning in Luxembourg, we tucked ourselves into the charming breakfast room which looks right out onto the main square.  The Saturday brocante was already set up and filled the square with all manner of enticing bits and bobs.  I was having a hard time focusing on the market activity because a couple came out of the hotel and the bellboy loaded all SIX large pieces of their Louis Vuitton luggage into the car.  The air was fresh and crisp, the sky bright blue, and the hubbub outside was busy but hushed as the early morning promised to be a stellar one.

Breakfast at Le Place d'Armes

Not for a minute do I take these trips for granted.  I have always, from a very young child, wanted to travel.  Each time I visit a new location, I am so grateful, amazed that I am there, absorb every sight and sound that I am able, and then hope, hope, hope, that I  am fortunate enough to travel more.

So while we were enjoying our delicious breakfast, I could barely contain myself as I tried to relax and eat slowly but couldn't wait to get out to the square to rummage and poke around the main tables spilling over with this antique item and another.

Poor Patrick, he trekked  through the square in about 10 minutes and then looked anxiously back at me.  I had barely even left the first corner of the huge square  as I absorbed this set of dishes here or that interesting old painting there.  Fortunately, he spotted a gelato shop and slid off to happily enjoy a scoop while I milled around undisturbed for the moment.  Patrick is also a dog lover and he enjoyed petting and admiring the many dogs on their market day outing.

For him, there were underground battle encampments to explore, in an area called "Le Bock", with old cannons still intact, and peep holes dug into the rock for firing across enemy lines, and stories of Luxembourg's shifting back and forth between France and Germany as the border lines were drawn and redrawn over and over.  We would get there...all in good...slow...time...

Luxembourg City:  lovely, clean, refined, and cozy

Not only was I captivated by the stylishness of the people of Luxembourg, I was entirely impressed by the ability of the people to hop from one language to another so effortlessly.  I could hear the deeper sound of rumbling German being spoken right alongside the lilting flow of the French language, with the occasional English phrase being detected as well.

Traveling in Luxembourg is easy...sometimes too easy!  I would bravely begin my carefully thoughtout french sentences, using the best accent that I could muster, only to have the salesperson respond to me in English...almost perfect English too.  They do love to speak English...but I love to speak I forged ahead and tried to use the language as much as I could.  

Scenes of the Saturday Market in the Main Square of Luxembourg City

Saturday is a day for the entire town to meet and greet.  Children were dressed up, dogs were adorned with little scarves and matching leashes, old men and women greeted each other with hugs and kisses on both cheeks.  Pigeons flapped their wings as they tried to pick up morsels of food in time before a little chubby legged toddler raced toward them and a cacophony of laughter ensued as the group of pursued pigeons soared into the sky.

Market Day.  It is a beautiful way to see a slice of local life in Luxembourg.  

Fresh Tulips starting to debut for the Spring season

Once we moved through the Main Square of the city, we crossed over to the second square where the farmer's market is held  every Wednesday and Saturday in Place Guillaume, just a 2 minute walk away.  

Just as grand as the brocante market, the farmer's market made me freeze for a moment.  I grasped Patrick's hand with pure delight. I had to work rather feverishly to take in the colorful sights, energetic movements, spirited sounds, and lovely smells of this beautiful scene.  The entire plaza was filled with stalls from corner to corner.

Bottom Left: Pain d'Epices or Gingerbread

Place Guillaume is a huge square and every inch of it was filled with produce, meats, vegetables, flowers, dogs, children, and families meeting and greeting each other while doing their weekly market shopping.  

For me, everything was pure eye-candy.  We sampled, for the first time, the "Pain d'Epices", or Gingerbread, that is known in this region.  It is thick, dark, dense, and filled with lovely spices.

If I moved slowly through the brocante, it was nearly impossible for me to move any faster through the Farmer's Market...20 or so varieties of cheese, 15 or so varieties of sausages, and items like huge rounds of celeriac that I don't see that often in the U.S.

My own Market Day back home...thinking of Luxembourg City

I daydreamed of what I would fill in my market basket if I lived there and could buy the produce, not just stroll around.  I knew when I returned, I would pluck up my own market basket, reminisce about this beautiful market and recreate something delicious from my experience in this city.

After what seemed like hours absorbing the varieties of produce, sampling the cheeses, laughing at the charming children at play, petting the many MANY smartly attired dogs that were proudly on display, our stomachs grumbled and it was time to sit and enjoy a meal. 

Tarte Flambée with Onions, Bacon, and Crème Fraiche; yes, little fido has his own doggy stroller;
loved the style of this woman as she flew past, and this little girls reminded me of my Madeleine at that age running in the plaza of Florence

I wasn't ready to leave the festive energy of the market area.  Knowing we were probably choosing a prime tourist spot, we sat down right along the hubbub of the market at the restaurant and epicerie, Kaempff-Kohler.  

The sun was now bright and cheery, but the air was still fresh, the market was still in full swing and we had a wonderful vantage point to take it all in while enjoying a lunch.  Every now and then, a group of women would burst into song and clink champagne glasses together.  Apparently, it was "Women's Day" that day!

Here is where we sampled the Tarte Flambée, or Flammekueche, for the first time.  This is a popular local dish that is light and pairs well with a cold white wine or a nice beer.  It is pizza-like dough, rolled out very, very thin and the covered with crème fraiche, slivers of onions, and bits of "lardons" or bacon.  I knew the kids would enjoy this version of pizza so I mentally noted this regional dish to try out in my kitchen at home.

There's that elusive White Asparagus that is just coming into season

While we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of Tarte Flambée, we also indulged in a plate of the most delicious, soft, pillowy gnocchi with slivers of black truffles and melted gruyère cheese.  Wonderful!  I don't think it is a traditional Luxembourg dish, but it's going on my to-make list.

My own Market Day recreation:  Fresh local eggs: first pears of the season:
 Crème d'Asperges (White Asparagus Soup)/ spring flower bunch with clams from of the Gulf Coast

One vegetable that always grabs my attention when in Europe is the enigmatic white asparagus.  This is not something commonly seen until very recently in the U.S.  I do like green asparagus but am so curious about this oddly opaque white version.  

Asparagus comes into bloom in spring.  The markets were just laying out their first crops of white asparagus.  Back home, Whole Foods market is able to bring some in from Peru.  They carry the green, white, as well as the beautiful dark purple asparagus from Mexico. I'm afraid that is the nearest to us I have managed to find it.

Soupe d'Asperges Blanches  or White Asparagus Cream Soup with Fresh Clams

I picked up several bunches of white asparagus, made a cream soup, and added some freshly harvested clams to it.  White asparagus have a decidedIy milder flavor than the green variety.  I added a splash of dry white wine to the soup and with the brininess of the clams, the flavor was light and creamy, with a bit of saltiness.  I thought this soup would be a nice accompaniment to a more fun and easy Tarte Flambée.

So we were off to explore the rest of Luxembourg City.  Luxembourg City is entirely walkable.  We walked from sun up to sundown and saw almost everything, I believe.

Right in the same square, Place Guillaume, where the Saturday Market takes place, is the Tourist office.  We signed up for a historical walking tour.  

One of our first stops on the tour was to what is known as "Le Bock".  This is a rocky cliff, not far from the historical center of town that offered natural protection from all of the years of war that the area experienced.  A castle was built at the top and essentially that was the beginning of the city of Luxembourg.  The castle was attacked and reattacked many times and is only in ruins today.

However, the rocky cliff contains many burrowed passageways built into the sides of the cliff that can be toured.  During times of attack, the entire population, animals, children, soldiers...everyone, would live down in these dark enclaves until it was safe to re-emerge.  Old cannons are still in there and peep holes are carved into the rocky outcrop for shooting at approaching enemies.

It's a fascinating area to tour. Our guide, Robert, was fantastic, and it was a great way to walk for hours while being enchanted by stories of the city's history.  

At the very top of the cliffs, they have built a beautiful walking path.  The views of the city below are charming with a lovely river flowing through and several churches adoring the tree lined walking paths below.

Wood-Fired Pizza;  another Luxembourg favorite...and it was wonderful

Late the next evening, we wearily found ourselves  collapsing at a little bistro in the main square Brasserie du Cercle  We just wanted to eat something easy.  The pizza menu was extensive so we ordered a ham and mushroom pizza.  The pizza was hot, smoky, and delicious. With a few more glasses of chilled white wine and beer samplings, the smoky wood fired pizza hit the spot. 

We were so charmed by Luxembourg.  We throughly enjoyed or two days spent roaming easily through the city.  The shopping area reminded us a bit of the upscale scene in Geneva, Switzerland.  The people on the streets were dashing, chic'ly dressed, and seemed so at ease in their lovely city.

After this wonderful introduction to our vacation, I was beyond tickled that we still had days ahead of us filled with ambling drives through the french wine country, small villages to explore, and delicious meals to indulge in as we tasted the fruits of the Slyvaner, the Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Noir grape varieties.

So over the weekend, I did my own local market shopping down here in Texas.  I saw some delicious looking clams from Florida.  I added them to my Asparagus Cream Soup.  

I rolled out some dough for the flat and thin crust of the Tarte Flambée, put my pizza stone in the oven and set it on blazing hot...  

The tarte only took 5-7 minutes to bubble up and fill the house with aromas of caramelized onion, Gruyère /cheese and smoky bacon.  The crust was nice and thin and crunchy with just enough crisp.  Fortunately, we have the other half of the dough in the refrigerator for another round tomorrow night.

We also managed to acquire a stash of Villar Swiss Chocolate bars filled with fruit liqueurs.  We don't see this brand of chocolate often in Texas.  We opened a bar and passed around a few squares of milky smooth chocolate with a sweet but strong kirsch filling inside.  I've hidden away the Apricot-Brandy and Williams-Pear varieties for an Easter indulgence.

From the Top of the Brock Casements overlooking "The Grund" or lower section of the Old City of Luxembourg

The beautiful "Cercle Cité" building located right on the Main Square...lit up at night

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