Thursday, March 08, 2012

Back to the bus

 Hotel de Ville de Bruxelles, Vianden, Luxembourg, March 8, 2012

YESTERDAY , AFTER HAVING WALKED eighty-five kilometers on the GR-5 from Spa to Oberhausen — not bad, about what I'd hoped to cover, given that I'm carrying a heavier pack than usual, and developed a nasty cold along the way — yesterday we walked a mere three kilometers, down the steep hill from our German hotel to the bridge across the river Our, then along the river, on a national road, to Rodershausen.

There we waited a little over an hour for the thrice-daily bus — morning, noon, and night -— that would take us to Vianden. It was quite cold, a little above freezing, but there was a bus shelter with a bench. I read the latest New Yorker — I'm so glad I broight the iPad on this trip; it's useful for much more than writing these reports! — and stomped about a bit. National road or no, there was no traffic. Next to the bus shelter stood a small church, locked up tight, curiously low, sunken into its plot of land behind a retaining wall, as if the entire country had risen around it by eight feet in the centuries since it had been built.

Across the road, a single row of connected houses, then a vacant spot or two, then, a little further down, another building incorporating two or three attached houses. In the larger of these two rows there was a café-restaurant, closed in spite of its posted hours. We saw a woman's face in her window directly opposite us; she seemed intent on ignoring us. After a while an old lady emerged from one of the houses down the road, looked at us curiously — the curiosity of old-timers seeing strangers in their villages — dumped a jar or pitcher, I wasn't sure which, and went back inside. Birds sang in the bare branches of a tree behind our shelter, in the green field stretching down to the river.

The café-restaurant continued to be closed; its proprietor must be away. The old lady stood out in front of her house again and I went down to say hello. She was small and pert, missing a few teeth but beautifully smiling, wearing black stockings, a patterned apron, a dark knit sweater, her thin grey hair close to the skull. She seemed to speak only German, and that in a dialect, but with gestures and my poor Dutch we managed the courtesies, the banalities about the weather, and reassurances that yes, the bus would come, half before one o'clock.

Later, say twenty minutes before the bus was to come, the younger woman whose face we has seen earlier was out in front of her house, barefoot, putting trash in her rubbish-can, and the old lady hailed her in a surprisinly healthy voice. Clearly they were used to familiar conversations called acoss the eighty meters or so separating their doorsteps. I couldn't make out a word; their language was completely unfamiliar to me. After a time, though, Younger Woman stepped out her door and addressed us, in Dutch: would we like a cup of coffee, or tea?

Yes indeed, thank you very much, it's rather cold today, isn't it; how can you be standing there without shoes?

She smiled and indicated that she was used to it, and indeed her pretty feet seemed completely free from the disfigurements so often caused by years of wearing shoes. We stepped into her kitchen, a small square room whose door opened directly onto the street. A small table, two stools, and an ironing board completely filled the room. We were offered three choices of tea: rooiboos, camomile, rose-hip. The woman seemed to be in her late forties, rather pretty, blonde. The room was warm; she was lightly dressed and barefoot. 

She apologized that she spoke only Flemish — she'd come here from Belgium a number of years ago — and a little "what they speak here." The ironing board was big and sturdy, and seemed to have a built-in steamer: at one point she murmured an apology, leaned past, and turned something off, and the padded cover of the board gave a little sigh and visibly relaxed, as if it had been stetched above continually blowing air. Ah: that's why the kitchen's so warm, and she can work barefoot all day. Her iron was a huge affair with a steam-hose apparently connected to the table, and a big laundry-basket nearby was filled with what looked like sheets and pillowslips. I complimented her on her professional setup, and she smiled and said her husband had bought it for her a couple of years ago.

The bus came, empty, driven by a smiling little man who maintained an occasional telephone conversation while guiding the bus around tight curves. Gradually the landscape changed until suddenly we were next to serious operations that seemed at first to have something to do with mining: wide galleries had been drilled horizontally into the rock to our right, the Our still running fast on our left. The driver explained that this was not mining: it was a huge hydroelectric operation, profiting from reservoirs on the plateau high above us, and it was being considerably enlarged.

He dropped us in the center of Vianden, where the Grand-Rue rises west from the river Our, ultimately to the huge fortified palace above the town. Our hotel is just up the street to the right. We set our packs down in its café, explain that we've reserved a room, and settle into a cappuccino. Before we know it someone's carried our heavy bags up to our room, a cheerful one on the second floor, its windows looking out across to grassy terraces below spruce forest across rooftops on the Rue du Ruisseau.

It's such a pleasant little town, with so many curious corners, that after visiting the Victor Hugo Museum we decide to stay an extrra night, giving us a full day to explore. We go out for a stroll, a Martini, ultimately for dinner, and return to our little hotel happy with the choice. The WC and shower are down the hall, but there are nice new terrycloth bathrobes — from Ikea!— in our closet, and we're the only guests in the hotel. It seems like we've lost thirty years.


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