Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stuck in Lux: A Short Stay in Luxembourg

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg for a short work assignment. A few quick facts about Luxembourg.... Luxembourg maintains the highest GDP per capita in the world, and it is almost
three times the EU average. It also has the highest minimum wage in the world of nearly EUR 1,600 per month and is the home of the European Investment Bank as well as a number of other institutions
and private sector headquarters. Luxembourg also has pretty good corporate tax schemes, which is why it is known more as a place to do business rather than a place to holiday. Pretty much everybody I encountered or saw walking down the street (which was limited) appeared rich.

The entire capital of Luxembourg is basically comprised of fund managers from all over Europe and they tend to work extremely late and go back to their homes on the weekends, leaving the city entirely empty after dark and on weekends. This means that effectively no one really “lives” here and there is pretty much no noticeable “scene” or vibe, or at least nothing that I was able to locate during my short stay. To be fair, I was only in Luxembourg for one day and one night, but it was among the quietest and dullest European cities I have ever visited. Despite what sounds like an excruciatingly boring experience, it is an extremely picturesque city perched atop a small forested hill overlooking a valley gorge. In fact, there was nothing really unappealing or ugly about Luxembourg other than the pace and atmosphere. After a short, but pleasant stroll through the empty lanes and streets of the city, I managed through a quick and quiet dinner and then retired to the rooftop bar of my Sofitel Hotel accompanied by a couple fairly decent martinis and watched the splendor of the city from afar.

Luxembourg is small, but not a tiny city-state of the likes of Monaco, San Marino, or Lichtenstein. There is a bit of country, but unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to explore aside from driving to the other side of the Belgian border about thirty minutes away. There are some magnificent castles and palaces that are probably worth exploring, but I did not have the time. 

Disappointingly I found out later that there is an American Military Cemetery located right next to the airport where General George S. Patton is buried. That would have definitely been worth a stop had I known at the time. I realize that my description of Luxembourg sounds a bit underwhelming, if not slightly cynical, but you should take the country for what it is, a corporate tax haven for high net wealth entities and individuals which is located in the middle of Western Europe among a fairly attractive natural and historic landscape and setting. I’ve certainly been to worse places, but at the same time I am not rushing back here any time soon. If you happen to come here on business do indeed take the time to wander the streets of the old city, even if it does feel a bit abandoned at times.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Work and Play: Amsterdam

It has been a long while since I posted a blog. Apologies about that. I started a new job three months ago and it is keeping me fairly busy, in a good way though. Overall, I am very pleased for the new opportunity and enjoying the work with my new colleagues. Plus I get to travel around Europe and not to Moldova this time! 

Several weeks ago, I went to Amsterdam for a project meeting. I sure picked one heck of a day to go to Amsterdam. First, crew workers uncovered a 500kg World War II bomb near the runway at Schiphol Airport and had to cancel several flights  until they could detonate the bomb. Apparently, Schiphol was used as a Nazi military  during the war. Luckily, my 7am flight out of London City had no delays -- it was business as usual at Schiphol. In fact, I didn't learn about the news until Keenan frantically texted me when I arrived to Amsterdam. Later  in the day, there was a hijack scare due to a miscommunication between the pilot and the Dutch traffic controller. Two F-16 fighters were sent to intercept the plane causing more delays. 

My day trip to Amsterdam was short and sweet. I spent most of the day in meetings but I was able sneak in a fun dinner with my Amsterdam-based friend who I probably see more often than most of my friends in London. I love visiting this quirky Dutch capital, but unfortunately, I have a bad habit of visiting Amsterdam in the dead of winter. But on  this trip, I got to see Amsterdam basking in the glorious sun -- it was a beautiful day. 

My friend and I agreed to meet at Café Loetje, a well-loved institution located in the bohemian-meets-hipster neighbourhood of De Pijp where my friend lives. The restaurant had a lively neighborhood buzz and packed. We were lucky to snagged an outdoor table and enjoyed our meal alfresco. The menu is limited, serving only tenderloin steak, chicken, and schnitzel with a side order of salad and frites. Simple but overall very good.

After dinner, my friend and I took a stroll through his beloved neighborhod of De Pijp, also dubbed as Amsterdam's Latin Quarter. It has a mix of artists, students, and young professionals, as well as dozens of little bars and cafes. There's also street market at Albert Cuyp, one of the oldest and largest street markets in Amsterdam, located right in the heart of De Pijp. The whole neighborhood reminds me a bit of Spitalfields Market and Shoreditch in East London. 

A token bike ride to the tram stop and short train journey later, I was back at Schiphol airport for my 50 minute flight home to London. Shame that my stay in Amsterdam was so short but I suspect I will be back in no time.