Perhaps it’s not an obvious destination for a European road trip but we have friends living in the Grand Duchy and wanted to visit them. So after breakfasting on Belgian waffles in the main square in Bruges we hit the road south. Our first problem was that an inconsiderate hotel guest had parked his SUV next to Speranza at a jaunty angle, blocking access to the driver’s door. Mrs P came up with the solution of lowering the roof from the passenger side so I could climb in and we were soon on our way. Apart from some traffic jams on the Brussels ring road, we had a splendid journey south in beautiful sunshine.
Belgium has good infrastructure but you can tell when you’ve arrived in Luxembourg by the quality of the roads on the approaches. The charm of the eponymous small city is only marred for the moment by enormous construction works to install new tramways to provide eco transport for a population planned to double.
The Grand Duchy was an industrial economy when it joined the European Coal and Steel Community that was the precursor of the EU. It has since exploited its membership to provide a corporate haven to allow its neighbours’ citizens to mitigate the costs of business in their highly-taxed homelands. It has a smug sheen of wealth but has not become a nowhere place like Monaco because it’s not a tax haven for individuals. The wealthy keep their corporate vehicles and some of their money there (and visit them) but otherwise leave the country to the locals. They have opportunities to work alongside the foreign bankers, lawyers and other professionals servicing the foreign money or join the highly-paid and lavishly-housed civil service. It works well for them.
Our local friend, a former client of mine when he was with a German bank doing business in my old stamping grounds of Eastern Europe, gave us the guided tour of the city after hosting us to lunch at his club. Then he picked up his lady friend and led us out to the German border for a wine tasting. The modern winery had a terrace from which we could see Germany and France on the other bank of the Mosel, separated by a bridge. The Schengen accords that removed most internal EU border controls were signed nearby and the winery celebrates this with one special wine made from the grapes of the three countries.
We then drove through France (for a few yards) into Germany and to our nearby hotel where we hosted our friends to dinner on another terrace with leafy views of wine country. Over an agreeable meal we inadvertently gave Mrs P II insights into the dynamics of the relationships (and the inaccuracies – or otherwise – of the stereotypes) between the European nations represented at table! Now onward to Switzerland.
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