Thursday, 11 September 2014

In Luxembourg...and letting the trains take the strain

I set off on Wednesday morning by car (I was the passenger). We were headed for Folkestone where we picked up a train – the Euro Shuttle – that took us across the English Channel. The journey took approximately 35 minutes. We simply sat in the car and when the train emerged in Calais we drove off and followed the road signs to Rheinberg, a small town not a million miles from Duisburg from where I would later catch the first of three trains to Luxembourg.

Exactly how Luxembourg is spelt is anybody's guess: is it 'Luxemburg' or is it 'Luxembourg'? Or, indeed, is it Luxemborg? It's a mystery, and while I initially made a decision to go for the former, I saw the word 'Luxembourg' on Luxembourg station so that is how Luxembourg is spelt. It has to be. If the station gets it wrong there's no hope for any of us. So, for those not completely clear, it's 'Luxembourg'.

This is the first time I've been to Luxembourg and sadly I'm not going to get much time to look around. Up until today, my only connection with Luxembourg has been Radio Luxembourg when I used to lie in bed as an early teen listening to the Emperor Rosco on my crackly old transistor radio.

The Orsoyer Hof hotel near Rheinberg
Last night was spent in the Orsoyer Hof hotel in what I can only describe as a small hamlet on the outskirts of Rheinberg. It was what I would call a 'blast from the past'. Very mid-to-late seventies, the Orsoyer Hof's restaurant bore a strong resemblance to the old UK steak houses and the past was reinforced by the music on the sound system – Procol Harum and Hot Chocolate. I chose beef stroganoff as it was the only thing I could recognise on the menu, but the portion size was such that I couldn't finish it all. Rare for me, I know, but it was just too much.

The hotel room was sort of okay, although I'm not a great fan of rooms that open directly on to the outside world as those in the Orsoyer Hof did. The rooms were below street level and accessed by a single flight of stairs.  In all honesty it was a bit dingy all round. The breakfast was piss poor – rolls and processed cheese, no tea, no cereal – and overall it wasn't really my scene. Having said that, bed and breakfast was only 47 Euros so there was little room for complaint, although I wouldn't return.

We enjoyed an amazing lunch in Restaurant Caruso in Rheinberg, the only restaurant I've ever visited that doesn't have a menu (the chef/proprietor simply comes over and asks you what you want). We chose sole and pannacota, not forgetting a decent bottle of wine. Unbelievably good. The sole was filleted in front of us and was as tender as you like and accompanied with some al dente pasta and a rather delicious tomato and garlic dressing.

View from the train to Trier Hbf
After lunch I was driven to Duisburg where I hopped aboard the 1612hrs train to Koblenz. There was a 20-minute wait for the 1822hrs from Koblenz to Trier Hbf and then a short walk across the platform at Trier Hbf to catch the 1952hrs to Luxembourg.  The second part of the train journey from Koblenz to Trier HBF was wonderful as the train hugged the northern banks of the Mosul – some great scenery as the train passed through Tries Karden, Cochem and Bullay where quaint houses nestled on green hillsides leading down to the water's edge. The train arrived in Luxembourg after dark at 2045hrs and I crossed the road to my hotel, the Best Western International, which was across the road from the railway station – the most conveniently located hotel I've ever had the good fortune to check in to.

The hotel was fantastic from the word go and there was good news from the moment I checked in: a complimentary glass of wine, 10% off my meal and free WiFi. Perfect! Room 304 was good too: an LG ('Life's Good') flatscreen television (Pistorius not guilty of murder, said CNN, but he could be guilty of culpable homicide*), a decent double bed and a gleaming bathroom, unlike last night's gloomy looking shower room in Rheinberg.

When I reached the restaurant it was full of Japanese people and I feared that I was invisible to the waitresses, but I was wrong and soon I had my free glass of red wine. I ordered roasted salmon with potatoes and carrots – good old 'hospital food' – and ordered a second glass of wine and some sparkling mineral water before signing the check and heading back to the room. It was 2200hrs and I was considering a walk, but in all honesty I needed to relax, and, besides, it was dark so what could I possibly see other than closed shops and shadowy people making their way here and there, to and fro.

Room 304, International Hotel, Luxembourg
If I'm up early enough I'll have time to take a stroll around Luxembourg, but after the meeting there will be just one hour before I catch my train back to Brussels Midi and then my second train to London St Pancras International.

It's been a rushed trip in many ways. I've got a meeting tomorrow at 1100hrs and I've got to be on the 1324hrs train to Brussels Midi in order to catch the Eurostar to London.

I'll take a stroll tomorrow morning, albeit briefly, and I'll see if I can find some 'Boris Bikes' but I doubt I'll have time to ride anywhere as another day of train travel beckons. You're probably wondering why I didn't fly back home. Well, the price was roughly the same, but flying means a taxi to the airport, it means hanging around beyond passport control for an hour or so spending money on food and drink in the process, so I figured it would be cheaper and more relaxed to simply jump on a train and the fact that my hotel is right across the road from the railway station makes the train the best option.

The view from room 304...
I've got about an hour to explore Luxembourg so I better make the most of it.  This is one of the most rushed trips, as I've probably said before.

I had a pleasant breakfast this morning consisting of cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit and a cup of English breakfast tea and now, here I am, putting the finishing touches to this post. Outside the sun in shining and I'm about to go out for a walk prior to a meeting and then, after the meeting I'll head over to the railway station, which is visible from where I am sitting now, and catch the 1324hrs train to Brussels Midi and then I'll find the Eurostar to London. I've probably said all of this before, but I don't want my blog to look too untidy, hence the extra words.

Back in the UK...
I'm now back in the UK, meeting over. Before I embarked upon my journey home, however, I had lunch in the Alfa brasserie across from Luxembourg station – not brilliant, it has to be said, apart from the Leffe Brune and the bread rolls. I took the train from Luxembourg to Brussels Midi and it took an age. The most frustrating part of the journey – actually, the only frustrating part of the journey – was when we approached Brussels and I discovered that there were loads of Brussels stations: Brussels-Luxembourg; Brussels Schuman; Brussels Zuid; Brussels Nord; Brussels Central; and, of course, Brussels Midi.
Yes, Luxembourg has Boris Bikes...

I had an hour to kill on Midi station and wandered aimlessly around looking in shop windows and getting generally bored. I didn't want to spend money in a café or drink a beer in a bar so I window-shopped and never bought anything (that is, after all, what window shopping is all about). But then, fed up to the back teeth with Brussels Midi railway station, I decided to go through the motions of international travel: putting suitcase on conveyor, ensuring lap top is in a basket of its own before sending it through, then putting laptop back in suitcase and, of course, I almost forgot, showing my passport twice to French and then British passport control. The only bit of good news was that I managed to transfer from the later train (the 1856hrs) to the earlier train (the 1756hrs) and got home earlier than expected.

Oh, and talking about the spelling of Luxembourg (as we were earlier on in this post) I have photographic evidence that Luxembourg is spelt 'Luxembourg' and here it is. If you're going to get the spelling of a place name correct, the solution is very simple: go to the railway station.

* Pistorius is guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) and is awaiting sentencing.

Proof the Luxembourg is spelt 'Luxembourg'

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