Friday, March 27, 2015

7 Years of Blogging!

Well, happy blog-birthday to The Ts!
first blog photo I ever posted
Yep, I started this blog March 27, 2008.  I have to say, I'm glad I've stuck with it.

I looked up my blog stats to see which posts have seen the most "traffic" since the beginning.  The internet is a funny place, so the list is pretty random.  Still, as you might expect, all of them are from since we moved to Luxembourg in mid-2012.

So here they are, the top 7 posts in 7 years:

7. The Great "Creche Vivante" Adventure
6. No-Car Update: We Bought a Car
5. 2012 Holiday Recap: Our First Christmas and New Year in Luxembourg
4. Luxembourg Museums: Mudam and Dräi Eechelen
3. Nancy, France
2. The 3 Magic Cs of Luxembourg

(drum roll)

1. Why Minimalists Bought a Ping-Pong Table

Friday, March 20, 2015

Easy Hike in Little Switzerland, Luxembourg

We stumbled upon a lovely little hiking loop in the Little Switzerland region of Luxembourg last month when Grammy was visiting.  If you are visiting Luxembourg, or you live here and have family in town and are looking for something "Luxembourgish" to do, this could be the post for you!

Hiking in Little Switzerland is popular among both residents and visitors, but it can be difficult to get to the trails without a car.  We drove to this spot in Beaufort, but as my pre-car days in Luxembourg aren't too far in the past, it occurred to me afterward that this could be a good option for public transport users looking for a walk in the woods.

The hike starts at Beaufort Castle, which is quite close to the town and the key to its accessibility.

The national public transport site/app is, which I honestly find a bit difficult to navigate at times, even when it's set to automatically translate.  There are a few bus lines that go to Beaufort from the city center; some have transfers, but a direct line is 107 and takes just over an hour.
Stop "Beaufort Härewiss" was about as close as you can get to the castle as far as I could tell, so you can use that as your destination stop
Härewiss stop shown near traffic circle on the right.  Castle is just above the CR 128 sign on the left.
Here you can see the castle walls and and the parking lot just across the street from it
It's about a 10 minute walk to the castle from the traffic circle
You can visit the inside of the castle (which we haven't done yet, and it was closed this last time).

here's the castle website
At the parking lot directly across from the castle there's the entrance to a trail.  The hike we took was basically this route which is mapped on the posted trail sign:
I can't remember if it was this exact image, but this is close enough.  And, I realized we totally heard a woodpecker in the spot marked with a woodpecker!
I'm afraid I also can't remember the loop's exact distance, but I can tell you that it took us an hour and a half, and that we were not breaking any speed records.
starting down the trail
The first half the hike follows the stream and is quite flat and easy.  Choose a partially sunny day for the best effect of the light through the trees as you walk.

Halfway through you make a turn up a hill to loop back around toward the town.  It's fairly obvious where to go so you're not likely to miss it if you're paying attention.  Follow the little wooden signs with birds on them.  There are also some purple trail dots painted on trees, as well as lamp posts when you get back to the town.

looping back, stream is below

the hill back up isn't too steep at all
When we had nearly reached the town, we were met with this sign blocking our trail but pointing the other direction.  Danger of Death!  Hmmm.

The only thing we can figure is that there were several fallen trees partially blocking the path along the way which we had to go around, but it wasn't anything drastic that we couldn't climb past with relative ease.  There must be workers there during the week to take care of this, hence the "travaux forestiers."  There was no sign stoping anyone from the other side of the trail.  Anyway, full disclosure:  I am recommending a hike with a death warning.  Just be careful and maybe stick to the weekend for now?

At the end of the trail, you emerge from the woods and walk through the town and back down the hill a bit to the castle.
you'll see one or two purple dotted trail signs as you go through town
You can walk back to the castle if you parked at the lot, or head back to the bus stop.

And there you have a bus-friendly hike!  I have vowed not to forget my carless days!

For more of our Luxembourg castle visits, see my Where We've Been page.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

When Pete's mom visited over the Carnival school break in February, Pete took Monday off and we headed to Bernkastel-Kues for the day.  It's been on our list of "cute, Europe-y, half-timber-y towns to visit in Germany" for awhile.  Bernkastel is on the right bank of the Moselle River, Kues on the left.

just over an hour's drive from Lux
Bernkastel-Kues was indeed cute, half-timbered, and Europe-y, but it was also very, very closed.  In fact, it slowly dawned on us that the entire country of Germany was probably closed, and Google later confirmed this.  Who knew that Germany observes public holidays not only on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, but Shrove Monday as well?  Luxembourg actually has none of these public holidays (only the kids are off school for the week).  You'd think after nearly three years in Europe we'd learn to check if the neighboring country is closed before we went there, but you'd be wrong.  I still get caught out on trips to IKEA right across the border in Belgium all the time.  Also, public holidays in Europe are different than those in the US in that restaurants and retail often also close down.  So yeah, no big Shorve Monday Blow-Out 70% Off Sales to be found.

Anyway, it was nice to have the town almost to ourselves.

main square
cute and Europe-y enough for ya?
a handful of open shops
We managed to hunt down an open restaurant and have a very German lunch before heading up the hill to the Castle Landshut ruins.

castle ruin on the hill behind
on the way up

you can see how the walk up through the vineyards would be gorgeous in not-dead-of-winter
Well, the castle ruin was so closed off and "under construction" that we couldn't even get to the viewpoints on the hill.  It looked like it will be closed for quite awhile; perhaps they will at least partially reopen it this summer?  There was also a little wine-tasting restaurant on the way up - closed, of course.
hmm...not sure if the new addition blends in all that well
But despite these minor disappointments, we couldn't really complain.  Perhaps we'll come back another day, crammed in with hundreds of other tourists, and long for the day when Germany was closed.

better to be crammed in with Grammy
Daddy's not bad either

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Reading in Luxembourgish

Although most of Daphne's school work is in German and French these days, they do still work on a bit of Luxembourgish most weeks.  It's one of Luxembourg's three official languages, after all!  Daphne must read this story tomorrow at school "with no mistakes."

(if you are getting this post via email, you may need to click through to the actual post to see the video)

Luxembourgish isn't often written, but when it is, it looks like this:

What she's reading
It is often said that Luxembourgish is a dialect of German (but it's generally accepted that this is not polite to say to a native Luxembourger's face.)  To me as a monolingual foreigner, it sounds like a sort of soft German with some French thrown in, and looks like a combination of Dutch and German.

Just for fun, I typed a few of the words from the story into Google translate to see what came up as the "detected language."  Results:

iwwerall - Welsh
iwwerhieflech - German (but it said Afrikaans up until I finished typing it)
nogaang - Afrikaans
Kakiquetschen - German
Lektioun - Haitian Creole
virgeholl - Afrikaans
esou - Haitian Creole
héije - Bosnian (?!)
bliwwen - Welsh

Afrikaans is like Dutch, so I'll buy that.  Haitian Creole is sort of like French, I guess?  Welsh is…uh...

Anyway, I don't get many blog comments these days except for spam, so I thought it might be fun to solicit some this time.

Fellow foreigners: What does Luxembourgish sound like to you?  What does it look like to you?

Native Luxembourgers or fluent Luxies: how's Daphne doing?  Are you offended if people call Luxembourgish a dialect of German?  Have you ever been to Haiti!?!

Please leave a comment!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

School Update: German & French

snuck a photo in James' classroom
We're well overdue for a school update.  I don't think I've done one since the first day of school this year!  As a former teacher, I endlessly geek out over the nitty-gritty of curriculum and pedegogy, so bear with me or feel free to skip this one.

Daphne is in 3rd grade (Cycle 3.1) and James is in 1st grade (Cycle 2.1).  They each have new-to-our-school, young male teachers this year.  Both kids like their teachers, and our general impression is that they are good ones; passionate about doing their jobs well and caring toward their students.  If all goes to plan, our kids will each have the same teachers next year too.

James and Daphne's teachers - we took it as a good sign that they were the only two teachers to stick around and help with crafts at the school Christmas party.
James is our second child to go through 1st grade in Luxembourgish school, so we were quite curious how his experience would compare to Daphne's.  
Letter from the new 1st grade teacher at the end of kindergarten.  He seemed friendly.
Well, as you might expect, some things are the same and some are different!

1st day of school, same classroom Daphne had the last 2 years.
A couple main differences are 1) this teacher is having the students learn to write in cursive from the get-go, whereas Daphne didn't begin cursive until well into 2nd grade.  Children here learn to print capital letters in kindergarten, but James is now doing a mixture, adding new cursive letters in upper and lowercase as they learn them.

vowels - the "King" letters.  More sneaky classroom photos.  I'm assuming it's frowned upon as no other parents seem to do it!  Or, they're just not big nerds who take pictures of vowels.

And 2) this teacher appears to be easing the kids into learning German much more slowly than Daphne's 1st/2nd grade teacher.  There are fewer word lists, fewer tests, and each word list has fewer words to know than Daphne's did.

the first few word lists had less than 20 words
has recently ramped up to a few more at a time.
Overall, this teacher's philosophy feels more "modern" or "international" and less "old-school," even though Daphne's teacher was young as well.  We actually really liked Daphne's teacher too, but it's interesting to see that this variety exists.  James' teacher seems more concerned that his students build on a foundation of enjoying school and equating learning with fun before things get too heavy; the kind of stuff we softy-Americans can relate to.  

Case in point: several weeks ago I was talking to a Luxembourgish parent in the school yard and he asked me if James' teacher is good.  I replied, "Well, I don't know, but he seems pretty good to me.  He cares a lot about his students and is dedicated to his work.  He makes learning fun.  The kids seem to like him a lot." He was clearly a bit puzzled by my response.  I inquired about his child's 2nd grade teacher, and he said, "Yes, she is good. She gives lots of homework and tests.  The most important thing to us is that our children are well prepared for the upper grades!"

Anyway, he's surely not speaking for all Luxembourgers everywhere, but our conversation illustrates a cultural difference for which we've encountered anecdotal evidence on many occasions.  We'll just have to see if James will be ill-prepared for the upper grades!

With two full years of Luxembourgish already under his belt, James is taking to German quite well so far.  In fact, for the end-of-school party/talent show in which his class will be performing excerpts from The Lion King in German, guess who's been asked to play Simba?

Yep!  His teacher said he's adept at memorizing words and sentences in German so he thought James would be good for the lead role.   You're all invited!

The kids get to take Mila home on a rotating basis.  She helps James study.
Daphne, on the other hand, has no shortage of tests and quizzes this year, at least three per week.  The main exam at the end of the week rotates between German, French and math, and takes two or more hours to complete.  You can kind of see what that Luxembourgish dad was getting at!

In German they've been writing longer sentences and paragraphs, and conjugating lots of verbs.

present tense
some irregular verbs
They've also begun delving into some of the aspects of German that make it difficult, like articles for the same noun changing between der/die/das depending on the context.

Meanwhile, the French studies that began last year have also picked up steam in 3rd grade.  She continues to enjoy it so far.

she drew this just for fun last semester
The teacher gradually speaks more French to them as the year progresses.  I think right now they're alternating weeks - this week he's speaking mostly in French, so next week will be German.

conjugating verbs
This constant conjugating of verbs in various languages is a bit mind-blowing, I must say.  If you grew up in American schools, what grade were you in when you first had to conjugate a verb in any language (or were aware you were doing it)?  I think I was in high school.  And I certainly never thought about conjugating verbs in English.  I often hear Daphne conjugating words to herself in English: "I am, you are, he is, she is, they are…Hey, Mom, in English, how do you know if you're talking to one person or more than one person when you conjugate the "you" verb?"  File that under "Thoughts I Never Had as a 9-Year-Old."

And it wasn't long before full sentences were starting to flow.

Giving directions from one point to another. 
And the most mind-blowing part for her functionally-mono-lingual parents:  When she does her French work, the language she's translating from, the language that makes sense to her, is German.  German!

German to French vocab and sentences.
Bravo, indeed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cologne (Köln), Germany

Call it Köln or Cologne, it's where we went last weekend.

about 2.5 hours drive from home
Daphne's teacher has encouraged his students to ask their parents to take them to Deutschland when they go on holiday so they can practice their German.  Well, we Ts are nothing but a bunch of people-pleasing teacher's pets, so off to Germany we went on our weekend off from church music!

Daphne was our trusty interpreter.  She did a wonderful job ordering all our food, asking loads of questions for us, and even scheduling a museum tour over the phone.

The main attraction in Cologne has to be its impressive gothic cathedral.  It was very crowded and quite loud inside, but gorgeous nonetheless.
sunlight through the stained glass was creating rainbows on the walls, but a photo can't do it justice
I learned about the heavy bombing of Cologne in WWII.  Many postcards in the tourist shops depicted photos such as these.
source: wikipedia
The city center has a large pedestrian-only area (which we always appreciate) and the architecture is "modern," as most of the city was rebuilt after the war.

We visited Cologne's modern art museum, Museum Ludwig

There were quite a few Picassos.  James likes audio guides more than the rest of us.
We also saw a very disturbing exhibit with videos of pianos being violently destroyed.
Here's one being beaten and one falling off a building.  Ah, art.
On a lighter note, Daphne's been reading a book in school called "Moritz in der Litfaßsäule."  A Litfaßsäule, we learned, is a type of advertising pillar covered with event posters that was invented in Germany.  In the book, Moritz runs away from home, taking up residence inside one of these hollow structures.

Daphne was soon spotting Litfaßsäule-s (Litfaßsäulen??) all around the city.

We took photos and sent them to the teacher.  A family of teacher's pets, I'm tellin' ya!
Another highlight from the trip was tracking down some pretty darn good burritos.
So far Germany gets the best score for burritos in our travels to our neighboring countries.
And the last place we went before heading back to Luxembourg was the fragrance museum.

Eau de Cologne, to be precise
The museum is actually a guided tour of the original shop and factory site, given by an actor dressed up as the 18th century perfume maker, who was originally from Italy but settled in Cologne.  Our tour was in English, very interactive, and definitely worth the 10€ total admission for our family.
we were only permitted to take photos and the beginning and end
You can watch a short video about it here:

Free sample of the original formula for each of us.  Accept no imitations!  By the way, Eau de Cologne is gender- neutral

And they threw in this book.  What a steal!
It seems like we packed a lot into our one night stay, but really I probably just take too many pictures.

my 3