Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hiking in the Our Valley: Exploring Vianden

Sonndeg, 29 November.

I've spent a solid portion of the last two months talking about how much I love hiking in Luxembourg. And it finally come back to bite me in the butt, when a Fulbright friend and her boyfriend came to visit and told me they didn't care what we did "as long as we went hiking." Hiking. On a weekend with a high of 39 degrees. Riiiight.

But on Saturday morning, we decided to brave the cold! We bundled up as we had never bundled before, hopped in the car (or, more accurately, walked to the train, took the train, walked to the bus, took the bus, and only THEN hopped in the car #publictransportation), and headed to the northeast of Luxembourg. We decided to visit the town of Vianden, the home of one of Luxembourg's most popular tourist attractions. I had visited the Vianden Castle when travelling through Luxembourg in November 2013, but hadn't been back since! The area was just as beautiful -- if not more so -- as I had remembered.

It wound up being a chilly but wonderful day ... and hey, the cold never really bothered me anyway! (LOL.)

Friday, November 27, 2015

The First Thanksgiving!

Donneschdeg, 26 November.

I imagine that the First Thanksgiving was a stressful time for everyone involved. Sure, it was a celebration of a successful harvest and sure, the Pilgrims were probably delighted to have (barely) survived their first year in the New World ... but I find it hard to believe that they didn't spend most of the holiday fretting that their guests wouldn't like the cooking. ("Dost thee like the gravy? I brought the recipe with me on the Mayflower.") And you just know that the Wampanoag were arguing in the car on the way to the celebration. ("I told you, bringing five deer makes it look like we're trying too hard!")

But as stressful as this very first celebration must have been, it pales in comparison to November 26, 2015 because ... it was my first ever time cooking Thanksgiving dinner!! And, like any wise beginner, I took things slow by signing up to make a full traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for my entire house of international housemates.

The stakes were high for my roommates' first ever American Thanksgiving!!

Unfortunately, sacrifices had to be made. Pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce were removed from the menu when the requisite canned goods proved too difficult to acquire. Cornbread stuffing was replaced with a baguette-based side of dressing. And -- as the very thought of cooking an entire turkey in my tiny oven had been causing me to break out into a cold sweat -- the traditional fowl was substituted for two of its less intimidating brethren. (In other words, I bought two rotisserie chickens and called it a day.) We ate on paper plates, drank cheap wine from plastic cups, and cut our food with mismatched silverware.

And at times, things were a little touch and go.

Like when we totally misjudged how long it would take for stuffing and candied yams to finish cooking. Or when my housemates realized that being asked to mash a kilogram of slightly under-cooked potatoes is code for cruel and unusual punishment. Or when I revealed my total lack of spacial awareness and dumped a whole bag of frozen haricots verts into a tiny, tiny pot.

But you know what? It turned out perfectly.

The green beans cooked, and so did the stuffing. The rotisserie chickens were devoured with as much enthusiasm as any turkey and the potatoes, once mashed, were doled out and eaten. Roommates and guests from Italy, Germany, and France discovered a previously-untapped love for stuffing and fascination with candied yams. And even though we ate until we couldn't eat anymore, everyone found a little bit of extra room for apple pie and cookie brownies.

Of course, it wasn't really about the food. (Well, it wasn't *ENTIRELY* about the food.) It was about the fact that I got to spend an important holiday, one that I would usually spend surrounded by family and friends in America, surrounded instead by some of my favorite new friends in Luxembourg.

Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving from Luxembourg!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Definitive Guide to Luxembourgish Christmas Markets

Mëttwoch, 25 November.

There is exactly one month until Christmas ... or Chrëschtdag in Luxembourgish! In honor of this important milestone in the holiday season, I decided to share with you THE MOST EXCITING thing I could possibly think of.

That's right. It's time for my definitive guide to Luxembourgish Christmas Markets.

Luxembourg City.
Of course, the Christmas Market that you simply cannot miss is held in the capital of Luxembourg. Or should I say the Christmas Markets? The city of Luxembourg has several small markets spread throughout the city, but the unmissable spots are Place de la Constitution (which features a large ferris wheel and a dozen or so adorable chalets) and the Place des Armes (which includes a stage and live music).

Visit the Visit Luxembourg website to learn more. Want to learn more about how Luxembourg City celebrates the holidays? Blogger Luxessed has some beautiful photos from Christmas 2014 and this page from the Luxemburger Wort has tons of cute photos from this year's market!

This video from SantaTelevision is bound to put you in the holiday spirit!

The town of Aubange in the southwest of Luxembourg is holding their marché de Noël on the weekend of December 11-13. See more information on their Facebook page.

I've been meaning to go to Clervaux for weeks: they have a beautiful castle, some cool museums, and a famous photography exhibition (within the aforementioned beautiful castle). And on December 13, they'll even have a special Christmas market. Neat!

The city of Diekirch in northern Luxembourg holds an annual Christmas market. It is open on one weekend only so if you want to attend, mark your calendars for December 18-20. Photos from Christmas 2014 are available on the Diekirch tourism website.

Dudelange, a city in the south of Luxembourg, has a rather unique Christmas market tradition! Their Marché de Noël Médiéval comprises both a traditional Christmas market and a medieval village. Unlike some of the country's other markets that open in November, this event lasts only two weeks! This year, you can visit the medieval market from December 11 to 20.

You can check out the event on Facebook and see photos from last year's event on the Dudelange city website.

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Echternach, the beautiful city in Eastern Luxembourg where you can hike, explore ancient churches and Roman ruins, and walk to Germany. In December, I'll have yet another reason to love this city: the Eechternoacher Chrëstmoart!

Echternach's Christmas market takes place on one weekend only. This year, it will run December 11-13, 2015. The Christmas market will be open on Friday night from 18:00 to 21:30, on Saturday from 11:00 to 21:00, and on Sunday from 11:00 to 20:00. In addition to the market in the town center, Echternach will also host a medieval market in front of the basilica. To learn more about the event, check out their official website:

Echternach Luxembourg Christmas Market

Home, sweet home! The annual Christmas Market in "my" city of Esch-sur-Alzette is called the Escher Krëschtmoart. (Try saying THAT five times fast!). It takes place in the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, right in the center of downtown Esch. This year, the market is open every day (from noon to 8:00 pm) beginning on Friday, November 21.

To learn more about this annual tradition, visit the official Escher Krëschtmoart Facebook page.

The city of Ettelbruck will be holding their fortieth annual Christmas Market on the weekend of December 11-13 in the pedestrian heart of the city. For more information, look at the event on Facebook.

Heringer Millen.
The Heringer Millen -- a former granary turned tourist center -- is holding its own Christmas market on December 5 and 6. Check out the event on Facebook.

The city of Mersch is holding its annual Chrëschtmaart on November 28 and 29. You can RSVP on Facebook or visit the commune's official website to see photos from the Mersch Christmas Markets in 2013 and 2014.

According to the Luxemburger Wort, the town of Vianden will hold a Christmas market on the weekend of November 28 and 29. (They have yet to confirm the dates, but as November 28 coincides perfectly with a planned hike through Vianden, I'm going to cross my fingers that these are correct.)

The town of Wiltz is hosting a one-day holiday market during the evening of Friday, December 11. (See all the information on the town's official website.) The town will also host a visit from Saint Nicholas on Sunday, November 29 -- the culmination of a weekend of events in celebration of a new documentary, The American St. Nick, about the American soldiers who threw a Saint Nicholas Day celebration for the children of Wiltz in December 1944. (Click here to learn more about this heartwarming chapter on CNN or watch The American St. Nick trailer here.)

In addition to Christmas markets, many cities in Luxembourg put elaborate nativity scenes -- or creches -- on display during the holiday season. You can find a complete list here.

One of the most interesting things about this list is how much it reveals about the Luxembourgish language! As you might remember, Luxembourgish did not become a standardized language until the 1980s and even now, most native speakers are never taught "correct" Luxembourgish spelling and grammar. In France, Christmas markets are invariably marchés de Noël. In Germany, they are Weihnachtsmärkte. But in Luxembourg, the name seems to differ from town to town! Is it a Chrëstmoart (like in Echternach)? A Krëschtmoart (as in Esch)? Or a Chrëschtmaart (like in Mersch and the Heringer Millen)? Although all the names clearly share a similar origin, the fact that differences in spelling persist is weird fascinating to me!

Of course, Luxembourgers don't limit themselves to Christmas markets within their country! Stay tuned to hear more about the beautiful markets just across the border -- in cities like Metz, Trier, and Brussels. And click here to read all of my posts about Christmas in Francophone Europe.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

That Time I Celebrated Thanksgiving at the Embassy

Donneschdeg, 19 November.

Last night was one of the coolest "Fulbrighter" experiences so far -- Thanksgiving at the U.S. Embassy!

Attendees at the Fulbright Thanksgiving Dinner included current American grantees in Luxembourg and former Luxembourgish grantees to the U.S.A. as well as staff members from both Fulbright and the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg. I had the opportunity to speak to several former Fulbrighters who had spent their year studying in the States, in everywhere from New York City to rural Wisconsin!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Notes from the Classroom: The American Dream, Deferred

Méindeg, 16 November.

As you know, one of my teaching assignments is at a local high school, where my role in the classroom varies from course to course. I was given quite a bit of freedom in one of my classes and decided to organize a semester-long course that would give students a thematic introduction to American history and culture. (It's called, creatively, "American History and Culture: A Thematic Introduction.") My goal is to teach them about some of the historical and cultural themes that will allow them to understand why the United States is the way it is today.

So far, we've spent our 50-minute lessons discussing the American Revolution and Civil War and studying the evolving interpretation of the phrase "all men are created equal" through textual analysis of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the Declaration of Sentiments. (Did I mention that these are some smart kids?!) Last week, we began a discussion about the Civil Rights Movement with a lesson called "The American Dream, Deferred."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

That Time I Crossed the Border to Buy Groceries

Donneschdeg, 12 November.

So ... I went grocery shopping in France today.

One of the biggest complaints of my European housemates is that buying groceries (and, heck, just about anything else) in Luxembourg is expeeeeensive. While I'm not convinced that Luxembourgish grocery stores are actually any more expensive than their American counterparts, their prices do appear to be significantly higher than in neighboring European countries.

There are less expensive supermarkets within Luxembourg, but all are quite a hike from where I live and many would be difficult to access without a car. (Looking at you, Cora...) However, there is a Lidl -- a discount German supermarket -- located just across the border in France in a tiny town called Audun-le-Tiche. A train runs between Esch-sur-Alzette and Audun-le-Tiche several times per day. The train takes five minutes to go between the two cities and there are no other stops. You don't even need a special ticket; because it's so close to the Luxembourgish border, I was able to use my national transport pass to go!

Before leaving Esch, I made a mental note to explore the station in Audun-le-Tiche so that I would know at which platform to find my train back home. Which would have been a totally logical plan, if the Audun-le-Tiche station didn't look like this...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Am I Doing Here?

Mëttwoch, 11 November.

I have officially been living in Luxembourg for two whole months (although it occasionally feels like much longer). I thought I would mark this momentous occasion by explaining exactly what I'm doing here ... since I've realized that a lot of people actually don't know.

Well, what ARE you doing?

Okay, so first things first. I am here on a Fulbright grant. (More on that here.) That means that I am given a stipend by the Fulbright Commission that pays for me to live in Luxembourg. In exchange, I work part-time as an English Teaching Assistant at both the university and high school level.

Where are you living?

I live in a university residence in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg's second-largest city. Esch is located in the south of the country, just a few kilometers from France. (As in walking distance from France. As in people go to France to do their grocery shopping.) Esch is smaller and not quite as picturesque as Luxembourg City, but it's very lively and easy to navigate.

Although I was a little apprehensive about living in student housing after four years of dorm life, I'm absolutely loving life in my university residence. I have my own room but share the kitchen, laundry, and bathrooms with nine other students. We come from all over the world -- France, Germany, Mexico, USA, Italy, and Slovakia -- but communicate primarily in English. However, the Italians and Germans are currently learning French and the French girls and I are working on our German ... so who knows what we will be speaking by the end of the year!

Where and what do you teach?

I teach two days a week at the University of Luxembourg, which is located on a brand-new campus in Belval, just a few kilometers west of Esch-sur-Alzette. This semester, I'm assisting with three courses: American Studies I: Ideas and Ideals and two literature courses called "Text and Context" (where we discuss the context of books like Pride and Prejudice and Heart of Darkness) and "Reading and Writing" (where we focus on developing an argument and writing strong analytical essays). The students in my courses are primarily English Studies majors in their first year of university-level study. Many of them want to go on to study English in the UK and become professors, but several are just following the program to improve their level of English.

I'm also teaching at a local high school, the Lycée de Garçons. (Contrary to its name, which literally means "Boys' School," it's a normal co-ed high school.) I work with three supervising teachers and with students ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen. My role in the classroom differs from class to class: some of the teachers will ask me to prepare a specific lesson, while others have pretty much given me free reign for the semester.

Click here to see photos of the University of Luxembourg campus at Belval.

What is the Luxembourgish school system like?

Oh lawd. This one is still a bit of a mystery ... I feel like every day I learn something new about the secondary school system and am a total stranger to Luxembourgish primary schools. Stay tuned for a blog post about Luxembourgish schools!

Name one thing that is different about Luxembourg.

Multilingualism. Americans are, on the whole, monolingual. With the exception of people learning English as a second language and those who speak a second language at home, most of us communicate exclusively in English. In the States, it's common to learn a foreign language in school, but I'd argue that most people who take 3-4 years of French or Spanish don't become truly proficient. Plus, it's rare to see American students take more than one foreign language. Luxembourg, on the other hand, is the poster child for multilingualism. Children who go to school in Luxembourg are taught in Luxembourgish, German, and French before learning English in high school. While French is the official language of the government, Luxembourgers typically converse in Luxembourgish or German. Luxembourgish children with foreign-born parents may also speak yet another language, such as Italian or Portuguese. As a result, it's not uncommon to hear native Luxembourgers switching between languages in the same conversation. How cool is that?!

What do you do when you're not teaching?

A little bit of everything, to be honest! For the first week four or five weeks, I spent a lot of my free time dealing with administrative issues: getting my residence permit, opening a bank account, etc. Now that I've finished with some of the more time-consuming aspects of settling in, I am hoping to get more involved in the community!

I am already involved in a Living Monuments project with the Luxembourg American Cemetery and would love to volunteer at the Musée national de la Résistance (located just around the corner from me in Esch-sur-Alzette) and  In addition to learning more about Luxembourg's unique World War II history, one of my biggest goals coming into this grant was to work on my language skills. This semester, I am taking a German class through the University of Luxembourg Language Center. Next semester, I hope to take an introductory Luxembourgish class and maybe audit a course or two at the university.

Obviously, I'm trying to make the most of this experience and get as much out of it as I can. But I'd be lying if I didn't add that I've spent an afternoon or twelve curled up in my bed watching Luxembourgish Netflix. But that's okay! I learned while studying abroad that it is exhausting to be constantly on the go. Although that mentality works great for a weekend or a spring break backpacking trip, it's not a sustainable way of thinking for a long period of time. Plus, Luxembourgish Netflix is a LOT of fun.

Where have you traveled so far and where are you going next?

I've Skyped with a couple of friends in the past week or two and it seems like everyone has commented on how much I've been travelling. But honestly, I have yet to leave the country for anything but Fulbright-related events!

During September and October, I spent some time in France as part of a trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, and Amiens with some other Fulbrighters. I have also been back and forth to Belgium a few times for Fulbright events. Most of these events have been in Brussels, including my Fulbright Orientation and ETA Training in September and the Ambassador's Reception in October. Most recently, I attended a day trip to Mons with Fulbright Belgium, which a few other Fulbrighters and I combined with a quick visit to Liège. For the most part though, my travel has been limited to day trips within Luxembourg. (This is due partially to the plethora of things there are to see here ... and partially to the fact that I'm actually required to spend most of my grant period in-country.)

Although I don't have any big travel plans for the month of November, I am looking forward to going back to Brussels in December for a Fulbright holiday event and (hopefully) a taste of Belgian Christmas markets! Also in December, I'm hoping to visit a few more cities within the so-called Grande Region, or Greater Region of Luxembourg. Do you have any suggestions?

Click here to see where I've been travelling within Francophone Europe.

Click here to read my Fulbright Bucket List.

When are you coming home?

I'll be home briefly for Christmas. Otherwise my grant ends on June 28, 2016, and I'll be coming back to the States in mid-July. (That means that I'll theoretically have a few weeks to travel, restriction free, at the end of my grant period ... just in case anyone wants to come visit!)

Have any questions about what I'm up to here in Luxembourg? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hello, Châteaux: Esch-sur-Sûre Castle

Sonndeg, 8 November.

I have been interested in "the other Esch" ever since I found out that I'd be living in Esch-sur-Alzette and since arriving in Luxembourg, I've only become more curious. What was the other Esch like? Was it better than MY Esch? Which Esch was the first Esch?

So today, Catherine and I decided to go check it out! And while Esch-sur-Alzette is still my home sweet home, Esch-sur-Sûre juuuust might be the most adorable spot in all of Luxembourg.