Urban Sketching in Luxembourg – MUDAM

One of the things which happens when you move somewhere is that you have to build a new social circle. I have plenty of hobbies so I have options on this front. The first Sunday in January I joined the Luxembourg urban sketchers who were going to the Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known as MUDAM.

Given how cold it was, it was useful to be inside.

I am not really the biggest fan of modern art – it doesn’t speak much to me, so I suppose it’s not surprising that when push came to shove, I found myself sketching a piece of an older building instead.

However, people took many different views.

This is mine:

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And this is the group shot:

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That being said, while the actual exhibition in the MUDAM left me a bit cold, the building it is in is actually stunning. The following Sunday I went to the exhibits in the Villa Vauban which is, I suppose, a great deal more traditional. I much preferred it. This probably says something about me.

den Atelier: Divine Comedy in concert

Monday evening last, I was perusing Facebook for family news as you do when, underneath a picture of my sister was an ad telling me The Divine Comedy were playing in den Atelier Luxembourg on Friday night.

Ooops Somehow I failed to know this.

I had, at some point, last year, done a search of concert venues in Luxembourg and come up with a) the Philharmonie and b) Rockhal. And that was it. But there’s this den Atelier place and it had the Divine Comedy lined up. The Divine Comedy. Seriously, how the hell did I miss this?

So a ticket was procured. The internet is a wonderful place.

 

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He hasn’t changed. Still the utter showman.

They are touring a new album so we got quite a bit of new stuff. But also, we got quite a bit of Fin de Siecle which is one of the best albums of the 1990s and should have sold many, many more copies than it did.

About 7 gig photogs showed up when the band arrived, all brandishing shiny DSLRs. My DSLR is somewhere else, plus, frankly, I’m not in the mood for carrying it around much. What I have here, I took with my mobile. I also took out my sketchbook but you’re not going to see those.

Favourite song of the night, definitely Certainty of a Chance which I think is my favourite Divine Comedy song anyway. But we also got National Express, Generation Sex, and from the rest of the canon, yes, Songs of Love and Something for the Weekend and pretty much every hit he ever had. And an Abba cover.

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The thing about Neil Hannon is from the audience point of view, he looks like he is having a ball on stage. Like he loves playing, loves singing. And while every piece I have ever read about him interviewing him, reviewing his stuff has always focused on his writing which is sharp and extremely witty, the fact remains that he has a stunning voice as well and is well capable of pyrotechnics with it.

I loved every minute of this concert.

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Great band with him as well.

Piano Geekery

My main lot of furniture arrived yesterday, which means I have a desk, a few chairs, a sofa, and a table and a wardrobe. The shelves for the books I don’t have are due to arrive sometime in the next two or three weeks which left only one item on the shopping list and that was a piano.

To be honest, a piano has always been on my shopping list; namely a grand piano and if I am honest, for a long time, the piano in question was an 1882 which you can still, as of today, January 2017, see on the Pianos Plus website. Believe me, it’s a beautiful piano to play but I’ve never had a space worthy of that piano. It’s a big piano. It has a price tag to match. Another dealer also had a really nice 1970s Kawai which I liked as well.

However, I’ve realised that I am now 44 years old and while it could be another 10 years before I get a lovely grand piano, in the meantime, I’m going to need something else to play. I have the space for a piano now and I live in Luxembourg (sorry Pianos Plus). In researching piano dealers here, I discovered that they rented pianos. Not only did they rent pianos, they rented digital pianos, a service which is hard to find in Ireland. So I tracked down two piano dealers which were close to bus stops, and I went to visit the first of them today. Well it was joyful.

I’ve chosen a piano to hire – it is a Roland digital, and it will fit in my living room. I also played a lot of grand pianos. I played a Bechstein which, like the 1882 beauty, tugged many heart strings. Strictly speaking, I have the space for this one. On the other hand, I have neighbours upstairs. Hence digital piano. Sadface. I also played a Steinway and while I tend to find them a bit sparkly bright, this was a really nice one, a bargain at more than a year’s salary; and then I played a piano which I had never seen before. I played a Schultz. I’ve since learned that the pianos are designed in Germany and built elsewhere. I’m told this one was built in China. It was a gorgeous piano to play. I loved it.

Some day, I will own my own grand piano. It may be a Bechstein, or it may be a Schultz. Or it may be a Pleyel or a Kawai. I don’t know. But I realised today, playing that Bechstein, and that Schultz, and also, having a conversation with the sales staff in Kleber, that there’s an element of destiny around these things and that when the moment presents itself, so too will the piano. In the meantime, Kleber are happy for me to explore what they have got and that makes me happy.

Bonus point: cutest thing all day was a daddy explaining to his two small children how it was that a piano made noise.

Saturdays on the buses

Since I have moved to Luxembourg, every Saturday, the city bus service has been free. As in gratis. As in not charged for. I have not yet worked out whether this is a regular thing, or whether it was just for Christmas and the sales

Anyway.

Even if it is not, they have an interesting pricing set up around here. A short term ticket will cost you 2E and a long term ticket will cost you 4E. And they are valid across the entire Luxembourg public network. Buses and trains. The difference is the 2E ticket is valid for 2 hours. The other ticket is valid until 4am tomorrow morning.

A monthly card for the city of Luxembourg will cost you 25E unless you are with a really big employer in which case you may get it free. A monthly card for the entirety of Luxembourg will set you back 50E. You can by annual versions of these passes which I think charge 9 months rather than 12.

The population of Luxembourg is about 550,000. The population of the city is around 100,000. It has 31 local bus routes and another twenty or so of the national network can pick up and drop off within the city area.

What am I driving at here? Why should it matter? Well one of the news stories from Ireland which penetrated my consciousness lately is the Bus Eireann issue. I happened to get a number 51 bus from Cork to Charleville at Christmas. It was packed. The line was on the list of lines threatened with closure lately.

I lived in Dublin for 17 years and to be honest, one of the things which increasingly drove me up the wall was trying to navigate the city. It was expensive, journey times were wildly unpredictable; enthusiasts seemed to think all I needed to know was what time a bus might arrive to me. I wanted and needed to know what time my bus would get to where I was going.

Paris has lately had a few days on which public transport has been free, mainly to try and get people to leave their cars at home and try and keep pollution levels down.

Luxembourg is not a big city. The country is not without its moments of “seriously, you are kidding me. People smoke that much?”. But it seems to me they have an objective of enabling people to move around by public transport. To that end, the buses are seriously prioritised over cars, they are comprehensive, they are regular and generally reliable. They have a pricing system which feeds into enabling people to travel by bus and making it economic for them to do so. I spent 25E a week on bus fares in Dublin and it completely wrecked my head.

In contrast, it seems to me like Ireland isn’t. Public transport is underfunded. There isn’t a coherent supply side structure and i terms of interoperation of fares, it took years and it still isn’t there perfectly. In Dublin, at least, there tend to be ongoing turf battles between bus operators demanding access to the Dublin Bus route network. The building of the tramlines has tended to feature considerations of Yerrah we don’t really need undergrounds anyway. Metro North is still lost in transit. And now this Bus Eireann saga. If I had to make any conclusion from all this, the State, or its government are not interested in the environmental ramifications of getting private cars off the road, not interested in making the lives of people living in the bigger cities better. Owen Keegan is pouring his efforts in Dublin into bike lanes, probably because he doesn’t get to make the decisions about public transport. Sure the Luas will carry 13 million passengers but the re-routes of buses to allow for bike lanes around Trinity College will discommode a similar number of bus users who re already held up trying to get across O’Connell Bridge most days.

At no point is someone going to decide “okay, buses on Saturday will be free because long term it is better that we…”

At this point someone is going to point out that Luxembourg is smaller than…and I know. It’s smaller than County Cork. But

Last time I got a bus in Cork, that Number 51 I mentioned up above, it cost me 12E one way. A similar journey in Luxembourg would have cost me 2E. IF someone, anyone, had vision in Ireland, they would look at applying the Luxembourg model on a county level. Maybe start funding public transport more effectively. That there is the problem. We do as little as we can get away. I know there is only so much money in the pot but seriously, Luxembourg is smaller in population than Ireland is. Maybe a regional model in transport might help. Give Dublin City Council some control over public transport Take regional bus services away from central government. Have a vision for making life easier to organise around public transport and allow our cities to breathe better. StopĀ  using sticks and start using carrots.

Cannot see it happening.

7 weeks’ later

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I have been in Luxembourg just shy of two months now, and if you were to ask me what was the thing which caught my attention, I would have to say it was the number of people who smoke. It is quite remarkable.

The photo above was taken some evening I was getting a bus to the shopping centre, rather than doing what any sane person would, which is go home and curl up next to the radiator. It has been cold here in Luxembourg – we had an orange weather alert warning us that temperatures were due to slip down to -10 last night. We have not had much snow since the beginning of January though and what remnants that are left lying around have just never quite got around to melting. You see them in the parks and on the the banks on the approach to the city from Remich. I was in Remich the other day.

On Friday afternoon, I got the bus to art heaven superstore, Boesner. It is just over the border from Luxembourg but not exactly straightforward to reach by public transport. It is, however, one of the best art stores I have been in. It is almost close to Schleiper. I bought a load of stuff I didn’t need but really really wanted which is typical really. It’s like going to IKEA.

From there, I got the bus to Nennig which is the border town on the German side of the Moselle river. It was pretty much flattened during the war, apparently. Nennig is on one side of the river and literally on the otherside, is Remich. I walked across the border several times, and thought malevolent thoughts about Brexit and the saps who want to destroy the European Union. I got my bus back to Luxembourg city from the customs checkpoint that looked like well it was hardly opened from one end of the year to the other. Along the Moselle, under the bridge, was the biggest conflab of swans I have ever seen. It was a stunning afternoon, with a beautiful warm looking sunset. And it was warm. It was 2 whole degrees above city. In the context of a week where the temperatures never got above 0 and where my trip to work was in -7 degrees, 2 degrees was tropical.

Yesterday then was more retail therapy. I needed new trainers, unusually, two new pairs, one for mucking around in, and one for actually running in. I also wanted some basic swimming gear. Having failed to find anything remotely resembling a decent sports shop (I don’t count Footlocker as such) and being vaguely aware that there was a Decathlon or some such out in one of the retail parks (the one that otherwise has a million car dealerships) I wanted to go out. It transpired that it was an Intersport and more to the point, there didn’t seem to be any swimming gear on its website. Knowing Intersport from elsewhere, I found this hard to believe so I wandered out on a bus and had a bit of a look around.

We don’t have ANY sports shops in Ireland like this. This had pretty much everything, and at the moment, it had loads and loads and loads of ski gear with 30% off. I went and found the watersports section and was overwhelmed by the range of swim wear available. My swimming gear is still in Ireland so I have capitulated and decided to start over again. There was a spectacular array of goggles to be chosen from. Somewhat less overwhelming on the noseclip front (Ireland is definitely better on that front for some reason) (do we prefer to make our style statements with nose clips than with swimwear). It’s just occurred to me that I somehow got distracted from buying a pull buoy. That will be changing.

As it happens, I work about a 10 minute walk from the Coque sports centre which has 2 fifty metre polls and a 25 metre pool. Next weekend it has a major swimming meet where apparently I will be able to see Ian Thorpe swim. I don’t really have any excuse facilities wise; it’s just getting my act together to get organised to start swimming again.

In addition to the swimming gear, and the ski gear, and the mountain climbing gear, and the hiking gear, and the many types of shoes and the football section and racket sports section, it had a ballet section which sells Repetto dance shoes (although I did not see any pointe shoes there, sadly). This place was a palace of supplies to enable you to be active. I got a beautiful pair of Asics trail running shoes, despite currently not doing any running plus a pair of Nike tennis shoes to knock about it. Oh and it sold many sleds.

I’ve been in a few sports superstores in my life and always been stunned by how much better they were than Irish sports stores, but this took my breath way. Witness the wall of shoes where shoes were labelled according to what sport you used them for or whether they were fashion accessories. I was mesmerised.

In the meantime, I need to check out the pools sometime soon and get a membership card so I can perhaps go before work if I am up early enough.

In other news, having suffered so far 2 weeks on only having a kitchen and a bed in terms of furniture, the rest of my furniture is due to turn up next week. I am looking forward to that. This week also I plan to join a painting club. I need to check out the knitting club as well. I like Luxembourg so far.

Walking around a winter wonderland

It snowed in Luxembourg this morning.

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It was a rather lovely, peaceful snowy scene in the park near my apartment this morning so I took a walk around it before going in search of furniture. I wandered over to the lift down to Pfaffenthal but that was closed for some reason. I don’t know why.

This is what you could see from the Ville Haute near the lift anyway so you got the view even if you couldn’t get into the viewing platform.

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The bridge is called the Charlotte or the Red Bridge. I think they like the colour idea because the new bridge in the city centre is called the Blue Bridge. It was built because the main bridge, called the Adolphe Bridge, is in need of serious repair so it had to be closed. Imagine, if you will, closing O’Connell Bridge and building a temporary replacement almost right next to it. That’s what the Luxembourgers appeared to do.

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The glassy thing on the left is the elevator.

Anyway, flickr is not cooperating with me right now so I might add other photographs later.

Impossible to commute by car in Dublin

This doesn’t really affect me all that much any more since I left Dublin a month ago but the Independent had some words from Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan, on the subject of life after Luas Cross City goes into operation. Effectively, it will become impossible to commute by car across the city. This, he says, will be an effective congestion charge. You can read the piece here.

“Increasingly, the private car as a commuting option is going to be squeezed out.

The problem – as I see it – is that the replacement is hardly going to exist for a lot of people who commute by car. I commuted by car and looking at the plans for Dublin traffic post LCC, I’d still have to commute by car as LCC would not have helped me at all, but the planned re-routes would have made my life hell.

I’m aware that Owen Keegan is an advocate for cycling. I hate the activity. I’d prefer a functional public transport system and with all due respect, LCC isn’t going to turn the mess that is Dublin public transport into something usable any time soon. I recognise his hands are slightly tied given that central government gets to decide whether money would be spent on Metro North or not (well not any time soon anyway).

I hated driving in the city of Dublin for a few reasons. The drivers there are unfamiliar with how traffic lights and junction boxes operate. Cyclists have death wishes. People park in buslanes which causes some hassle to buses yes, and the knock on is chaos in the general traffic lanes. I think people like Owen Keegan need to realise that running a double buslane across College Green isn’t going to get the city moving any faster. Reroutiong the 16 bus down the keys is a material disimprovement to a major service. I spent sometime reviewing the College Green plans and came to the conclusion that there was an unspoken policy to favour bikes over absolutely everything else. You could see it in the documentation. Cyclists featured heavily as benefiting from the proposed changes.

When I see Owen Keegan suggest the private car will be squeezed out, I am disappointed. Buslane infrastructure in Dublin is awful. College Green and Dame Street changes, plus the changes knocking on elsewhere (Parliament Street for example), will not improve commuting for many people. Luas Cross City is not going to have a massive city wide impact. In a normal world, I’d prefer to see less sticking plaster, cosmetic things done. I’d prefer to see wider bus lanes and, if we’re not going to get serious rail based public transport in Dublin – which I doubt for the next 20 years t least, serious prioritisation given to bus operations in the city.

This requires cooperation between Dublin City Council, Transport for Ireland and the bus operators where the core objective is to put bus passengers front and centre of change. I can’t see it happening because mostly, these result in turf wars. You can see it already with ticketing. I live in Luxembourg city where 31 bus routes are operated by at least 4 different operators, there isn’t even a single brand identity for the bus service and individual routes can be operated by 2-3 different operators; there is a single ticketing system. A monthly city card costs 25E. A national transport card costs 50E per month. And as far as traffic planning is concerned, the buses are prioritised over everything else. Plus they are building a tram.

Owen Keegan can’t fix Dublin public transport on his own. I appreciate this. But he will have to stop pushing bikes and castigating cars and start dealing with public transport if he and anyone who holds the job in the future want to be doign anything other than applying sticking plasters to their mass transit issues. Owen Keegan is not in favour of an elected mayor for Dublin. You could argue that well he would say that, wouldn’t he. I’m not in favour either because I don’t think the non-urban parts of Dublin would be benefited by it.

But if Owen Keegan and his team don’t start dealing with the mass side of transit, all the bike lanes in the world won’t fix his problems.