National Park Tour of Germany

As cross-border travel was opening up and looking safer for those living within Europe, we started daydreaming again about the countries and regions we moved here to explore: France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Scandinavia… the list goes on. We’re not yet comfortable flying in the Covid environment, so we started planning a trip that was drivable from Luxembourg, incorporated some of the places we’re excited to visit, and steered clear of Covid hotspots.

We settled on France. We planned a wonderful two week trip that would take us through the French Alps, the French Riviera, and Provence, making a nice loop from our home in Luxembourg. We had recently purchased a used VW, so this was going to be its maiden voyage with the Rusk Family. We booked the AirBnbs and started putting together a list of the sights we wanted to see in each area. Then two weeks before leaving, Europe’s second Covid wave started to hit– and it hit France hard, especially in the areas we were planning to visit. So we scrapped those plans and planned another trip– this time to Switzerland and Italy. We would drive to Zermatt in Switzerland, then past Lake Como on our way to Tuscany in Italy, stopping in small towns along the way.

Then Luxembourg’s Covid rate started to rise. Shelby remembered that last time Luxembourg’s Covid rate was high, Switzerland required Lux citizens to quarantine (regardless of negative Covid tests). So with only a few days before the start of our trip, we scrapped those plans and looked towards our neighbor to the east: Germany. Again. We quickly planned a trip to Germany that would introduce us to new sights, give me a much needed break from work, and be Covid safe. And it was a good thing we pivoted to Germany, because the day before our vacation, Switzerland added Lux to their quarantine list, which would have stopped that trip dead in its tracks. While this trip to Germany wasn’t our first choice of holidays, we absolutely loved it and appreciated the opportunity to see a part of the world we may not have otherwise seen.

Our trip consisted of three different national parks, starting in Eastern Germany in the Saxony region, then heading north to the Baltic Coast and the island of Rügen, then wandering the Harz Mountains in Central Northern Germany before ending back in Lux. We hiked a lot and made nearly all of our meals in our AirBnb- it was perfect.

Part 1 – Saxony and the Saxon Switzerland National Park

Our first destination was the Saxon Switzerland National Park in Eastern Germany, right on the border of the Czech Republic and in the middle of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. Named after Swiss painters that first introduced its sights to the world, we picked this area for its rumored fantastic hiking trails and natural beauty. One could spend weeks hiking here, getting lost in the thick forests, wandering through deep gorges, exploring the fascinating natural rock formations, and relaxing in the many German spas on the banks of the Elbe River. The cozy towns of Bad Shandau, Königstein, and Hřensko on the Czech side are places we would want to return to during Covid-safe times. Our time here is best remembered through the sights we saw.

We hiked along Gabriela’s Trail to Pravčická brána on the Czech Republic side of the park, called the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. We quickly learned the Czech word for hello on this hike (Dobrý den).

Hiking to Bastei Bridge and following the Malerweg (Painters Trail)

Day trip to Dresden

A hike up Pfaffenstein and exploring the town of Konigstein, where we celebrated our anniversary one year of living in Luxembourg

Exploring the cinematic town of Görlitz (AKA Gorliwood) and walking across a footbridge into Poland

Most of the beautiful sights we saw, from the craggy rock formations to the deep gorges, can be seen by following the Malerweg. One day we’d like to come back and hike the length of this 111km trail, stopping in spa towns and at gausthauses along the way.

Part 2 – Rügen and Jasmund National Park

On our last day in Saxony, we were driving to a hike when our car’s dashboard flashed warning signs that the engine was overheating. Shelby and I are complete newbies when it comes to cars, so we frantically pulled off the highway and called a nearby VW dealership and repair shop. We struggled through some language barriers with the first person that answered our call. Shelby was on the phone while I Google-translated different combinations of words that would explain the problem we were having. Then, we finally got on the phone with someone that spoke perfect English and told us to bring our car to the shop. Within a couple hours, they had identified the problem (broken water pump) and we were off to our hike in a new rental car while ours got repaired– gotta love German efficiency!

One day late with our newly-repaired VW, we finally hit the road to the Baltic Sea, skirting Berlin and driving past a Tesla mega factory under construction, while taking full advantage of the lack of speed limits on the autobahn and cruising at a cool 100mph. Before this trip, we thought the fabled autobahn was a single stretch of road. After lots of Googling, we learned that it’s rather any stretch of road in Germany labeled as an autobahn. As long as you see the autobahn sign, and there aren’t signs indicating a speed limit, you can drive as fast as you want to until you see a sign saying otherwise.

When we finally made it to the island of Rügen, which is almost the most northeastern point in Germany, we were hit with a wave of nostalgia and immediately reminded how much we missed living on the coast in Ireland. We were only in Ireland for a short four months, but it created a new love for and appreciate of coastal living. We drove through verdant farm fields, along tree-lined roads, and past fishermen wading out into the shallow waters, to the town of Sassnitz, where we had a cozy AirBnb at the Villa Victoria that looked out onto the ocean. This part of the trip was a chance to slow down and relax with walks along the beach– and some hiking thrown in, of course.

Since we had already lost a day here due to the car mishap in Saxony, on day one we hit the Jasmund National Park. It’s known for stunning white chalk cliffs made up of algae skeletons over millions of years and an ancient beech forest. From our AirBnb we hiked to the northern tip of the park before heading back along the coastline. The wind was howling but the sun was shining while we hiked with some of the most beautiful coastal views I’ve ever seen. These pictures won’t do the views justice, but hopefully they give you an idea.

Over the next couple of days we took things slow. We enjoyed walking along the beach, exploring the tiny coastal towns of Binz and Sellin, and loading up on tasty strawberry goods at the famous Karls, a strawberry farm/kids amusement park.

On our last day in Rügen we took a wassertaxi to the island of Hiddensee, a tiny island with only 1,000 residents and no cars. We enjoyed a lazy day of playing on the beach, meandering through little neighborhoods with thatched roof homes, and walking the length of the island. We would love to come back.

Our last coastal stop was Wismar, on the way to the next phase of our trip. It was a bit dreary, but fun to explore a bigger coastal town and I finally got that backfisch sandwich I’d been wanting.

Part 3 – Central Northern Germany and the Harz National Park

The final stage of our trip was to Harz National Park, where we hiked, hiked, and hiked some more. And we had a few sweet half timbered towns thrown in. While the region didn’t necessarily wow us with dramatic views and incredible hikes, it did seem like a perfect area for families. The hiking was relatively easy and accessible, and there were lots of attractions for kiddos. This part of Germany also has a fascination with folklore, and you are reminded of it everywhere you go. From murals of witches and warlocks, to entire witch-themed amusement parks, you can’t help but feel the magic– especially on a dark night with fog rolling in from the mountains. We stayed in the town of Gernrode, and spent each day pairing a hike with exploring a small town. Here are some highlights of the hikes and towns we enjoyed most.

Exploring Quedlinburg, where I ordered chimney cake using German I learned on Duolingo– and got what I was asking for!

I did a solo hike around Gernrode, and while resting on a rock looking out onto the mountains, an older man named Curt walked up and talked to me for 20 minutes about what I can only assume was the geology of the area. He spoke no English, and I only knew a handful of words in German– barely enough to order at a restaurant, let alone have a discussion about rocks and trees. A lot can be communicated through hand gestures and a willingness to engage. 😉 It was a sweet interaction and was topped off by Curt showing me his logbook of hikes from the area. The warmth of German culture continues to invite us back.

Exploring Werningerode

Hiking in Thale

Hexentanplatz- a children’s theme park up in the mountains, complete with an upside down house!

A mural on the side of a building in Thale, depicting Walpurgisnacht.

Hiking up Mt. Brocken along the Hexenstieg (Witches’ Trail)

Exploring the town of Goslar

Hiking along Teufelsmauer (Devil’s Wall)

The one and only Roseburg Castle! Throughout the trip we kept seeing signs for Roseburg, and having grown up in Roseburg, Oregon, Shelby felt a calling to visit. We drove there on our last day to discover that it is a privately owned castle opened to tourists. We arrived at the castle only a few minutes before it was supposed to close. The woman at the ticket booth only spoke German, so we struggled to communicate. After lots of hand gestures and Shelby’s persistence, she finally let us in.

Thus ended a wonderful trip to Germany exploring national parks and developing a greater appreciation for German culture with its warm, kind people and natural beauty. It’s easy to look at these Covid times and think about all the trips we’re not able to take- all the trips we moved here to take. But these times have forced us to get creative and explore parts of Europe we would not have seen otherwise, and we’ve absolutely loved it. When traveling Europe it’s easy to stick to the big metropolitan areas, where you get a lot of bang for your buck, but you miss so much when you ignore smaller regions and everything they have to offer. Even as travel opens back up and we can travel to big cities again, I know we’ll keep this lesson close to heart.


One Year of Life in Luxembourg

On September 30, 2020, we celebrated one year of living in Luxembourg. My ability to track time has been warped by the Covid-19 virus, but this year feels as though it has gone by incredibly fast. Neal and I enjoy taking time to reflect, and we made sure to do some reflecting on what was happening in our lives one year ago.

One year ago, the day started with an early morning cab ride from our coastal Sandymount apartment to the Dublin airport. We were sad to be leaving the Irish culture we had fallen in love with. Our taxi driver that morning was the perfect example. He was an older Irish man, and he had arrived earlier than expected. Luckily, I saw his arrival and greeted the driver while Neal was still upstairs. The man walked right into our apartment and called out to Neal, “Honey, are you ready? Time to go!” I love that humor and warmth.

The day continued to be an adventure. We had a flight delay that forced us to run through the Amsterdam airport to make our connecting flight to Luxembourg. We made it to Luxembourg, although our luggage did not. We had expected to arrive with eight large suitcases and a bike, so we had booked a large van ahead of time. When we walked up to the van driver empty handed, he looked confused and started asking us questions in French. It was likely he was asking about our lack of luggage, but we certainly did not have the language skills to explain ourselves. It was an expensive five minute ride from the airport to our temporary housing in that empty van. We were excited and nervous.

One year later, our language skills still lack and many moments of confusion still happen, but we are so thankful for this opportunity to live in Luxembourg. The city still feels magical. It’s small and manageable, yet there are so many different cultures around us. Just our neighbors alone are from Italy, Denmark, and Sweden. It’s amazing that all of these different cultures have landed in this tiny country.

As we reflect on the year spent here, we always end with the same conclusion. We are so glad we said yes to this adventure. We are so thankful that we get to experience living in a European country, and especially appreciative to be here during Covid times. I’ll save this for another post, but the Luxembourg government has really taken care of us during the pandemic.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, but we feel so fortunate to get to have this experience. Happy one year in Lux, Neal. It seems like yesterday we were walking through our Portland neighborhood, discussing the pros and cons of saying “yes” to living abroad. Now, it’s clear how strong the pros outweigh the cons. So happy we have this opportunity to be challenged and grow.


Bavaria and a taste of Austria

With negative Covid tests in hand, we rented a car and drove into Germany for a week of hiking up steep mountains, swimming in chilly Alpine lakes, and listening to cowbells as we ate bratwurst and drank beer on mountaintops with views of the Alps. We originally had plans to also spend time in the Appenzell region of Switzerland, but that had to be canceled once the Swiss government placed a quarantine requirement for visiting Luxembourgers.

Leaving Luxembourg, we first drove to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (literally Rothenburg over the Tauber [river]) for a couple nights to see the charming, medieval-style village. We stayed in a little AirBnb just down the street from a very commonly photographed location– some of you might recognize this image :-).

We spent our days wandering every inch of the walled city- we walked along the city walls, lounged in the Castle Gardens, dodged people without their masks in the town square, ducked into all of the tourist shops selling everything from souvenirs to full coats of armor, admired the Holy Blood altarpiece carved in the 16th century, and had dinner at a restaurant that could have been plucked right out of Middle Earth. Rothenburg was absolutely charming, and brought out the kid in me, reminding me of all those fantasy stories about knights, dragons, and castles that I read growing up.

After Rothenburg we drove the Romantic Road down through Füssen, stopping for lunch in Dinkelsbühl along the way, and finally ending in the town of Pfronten where we stayed for the remainder of the week.

On our first full day in Pfronten we drove to Neuschwanstein, the grandest of Mad King Ludwig’s castles and the inspiration for the Disney castle we all know so well. We enjoyed picture perfect views of it from Mary’s Bridge. We got there early in the morning, so we had the bridge largely to ourselves.

From Mary’s Bridge we hiked straight uphill to Tegelberg. It was a leg-killer of a hike, but it offered stunning views of the land– from castles to lakes to farmland to small towns– and very few people. The views from the top of Mount Tegel were even more stunning. On one side there was Germany and the endless farmland, and on the other side there was the expansive Austrian Alps, with mountain peaks as far as the eye can see, all cloaked in varying shares of blue. We rewarded ourselves with a couple beers on the mountaintop while we rested for the trek down the mountain (via cable car).

We spent day two primarily in the car driving between different towns and gawking at the towering mountains surrounding us, but it gave us a peak into what a truly magical part of the world we were in. We started the day by crossing the border into Austria, and hiked up to Ehrenberg Castle, just outside the city of Reutte. It’s an ancient castle that’s been occupied, built upon, and reconstructed many times over the centuries, and used to keep watch over an ancient Roman road called the Via Claudia, which was a strategic transportation route between Northern Italy and Southern Germany.

From Ehrenberg Castle we drove on to Innsbruck. Unfortunately there was construction all throughout their old town and unexpectedly large crowds, so drove on to the sweet town of Oberammergau for dinner. Oberammergau is famous for the once-every-decade performance of the Passion Play, which is telling of the story of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. It’s been put on every decade since the 1700’s. It would have been taking place while we were there if not for cancellation due to Covid. Strolling through the town, we most enjoyed the houses painted using a special fresco technique called Lüftlmalerei, containing biblical and fairy tale scenes. You’ll notice the Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel houses below.

Day three was back to the mountains! We hopped on a cable car up to the top of Zugspitz- the highest point in Germany- and got lost gazing into the Alps. It felt like we were on top of the world. From where we were standing at over 2900 meters, we could see Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy.

After Zugspitz, we caught another cable car up to Ehrwalder Almbahn, where we hiked to Sebensee lake. It was a scorching hike in the heat with little in the way of shade, but we took our time with lots of water breaks, and were rewarded with one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, nestled high up in the mountains and so chilly it took the breath out of you when you jumped in. We rested at the lake for a while while enjoying the fresh mountain air, beautiful views, and the music of bells from Alpine cows drinking from the lake. We topped the day off by driving back to Oberammergau for a Mexican restaurant that had been closed when we visited the previous day– while not classic Mexican food, it was well worth the drive and scratched the itch that we’ve felt since moving abroad to have good Mexican food!

The rest of the trip consisted of hiking, picnics at lakes, and soaking in the sun.

Partnach Gorge

Picnic and paddle boarding at Forgensee Lake

Hike from Haldensee Lake to Nesselwängler Edenalpe to Nesselwäng back to Haldensee

This trip gave us insight in the raw beauty of Austria– in specific the region of Tyrol and Tannheimer Tal Valley. We come from a region with mountains and wilderness, and we felt particularly drawn to this area because it reminded us of home. The mountains are a bit bigger and the language slightly different, but where there are mountains, there is home. This tops the list of trips we’ve taken since moving to Europe (at least for me).


Exploring the Rhine and Moselle Valleys in Germany

After months of closure due to Covid-19, the German/Luxembourg border recently opened up and we planned a much-needed, socially distanced, trip away from home for a long weekend. We booked a last minute car rental from the only rental agency in town that was open, carefully picked one of the many AirBnb’s that were available, and hopped on the road for a quick two hour drive to a relaxing weekend filled with hiking in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany- a fairy tale land of winding rivers, ancient castles, and terraced vineyards.

Also known as the Rhine Gorge, this 65 km stretch of the Rhine River is a UNESCO designated world heritage site. There are 60 small towns that follow the river and 40 hilltop castles overlooking the valley. Most castles are in ruins, and the dramatic combination of the region’s natural beauty with the ancient ruins strongly influenced many writers, poets, and composers during the Romantic movement of the 19th century. This, coupled with the region’s important role in facilitating trade between the northern and southern halves of Europe for thousands of years, makes the Upper Middle Rhine Valley a unique combination of natural beauty and historical significance.

We stayed in the charming town of Winningen, a stone’s throw from the Moselle river, and a short drive away from where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet. It was a welcoming town surrounded by vineyards, with hiking trails that led from the town up into the vineyards, overlooking the lush valley below. Although almost everything was closed due to Germany’s lock-down measures, a few restaurants had opened up, and you could hear people laughing and enjoying each other’s company late into the warm evenings. It felt like a small step towards normalcy.

The trip was exclusively hiking and driving, as those were what we felt to be the safest ways to explore during a time like this. After three months of lock-down in Luxembourg, barely leaving our apartment except for exercise and errands, we were in need of something to keep our spirits up. This trip was the breath of fresh air that we needed. We spent our days driving to little towns along the Moselle and Rhine rivers, briefly wandering the city centers, then hiking to the nearest castle- nearly every town had one. We hiked through forest, farmland, and vineyards as we soaked in the rich views of the Rhine and Moselle valleys and discovered Germany’s incredible long-distance trail systems, which are well marked, easy to follow, and offer endless miles of hiking.

Because I know we’ll want to come back and spend a lot more time hiking in this region, here are three of the long distance trails we hiked on:

  1. Rheinbergenweg Trail
    • 195 km trail that follows the Rhine River from Bingen to Remagen-Rolandseck.
  2. Rheinsteig Trail
    • 313 km trail that follows the opposite side of the Rhine River from Bonn to Weisbaden.
  3. Moselsteig Trail
    • 365 km trail that follows the Moselle River from Perl (close to the meeting point of Luxembourg, France, and Germany) and ends where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet near Koblenz. Along this trail is the Eltz Castle, which some consider one of Germany’s most beautiful castles.

While we didn’t explore the towns we stopped in for long, we did get a good feel for what they have to offer travelers in non-pandemic times. With how close the region is to our home in Luxembourg, I have a feeling we’ll be back here for many weekends trips in the future. Here are the highlights of the towns we visited.


Sankt Goar and Rheinfels Castle

Bacharach and Stahleck Castle

Cochem and Cochem Castle

Eltz Castle and hike around it

Being in nature rejuvenates us, and scratching the travel itch, however briefly, reminded us why we moved here. This trip was the perfect getaway.

For more information on this region, see the UNESCO website:


Settling into Life in Luxembourg

The process of relocating from our home state of Oregon to a temporary (and too brief) time period in Ireland, and finally moving to Luxembourg has been a whirlwind. Life in Luxembourg has been really good, but it hasn’t been an easy adjustment. It’s now been eight months since we moved from Ireland, and this whirlwind is settling down. We are finding rhythm and feeling more comfortable here. It’s actually more about being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. That being said, I want to document the range of emotions and experiences we had in our early months in Luxembourg. It’s easy to forget some of the silly, simple things that felt so challenging at first.

For several months, it felt INTIMIDATING to be here. I really believe it all stems from the language barriers. It’s common to speak French here (or German or Luxembourgish) and we unfortunately only know English. The language barrier has caused previously simple tasks to feel stressful and difficult to navigate. Not being able to read our apartment rental contract or government immigration documents just really shook us. I also like to connect with people, and that’s difficult when my only words are “bonjour” and “merci”. We immediately missed Ireland where thick accents were our only barrier to communicate.

This language barrier has forced us to get creative and use our resources. The day I discovered the camera feature on my Google Translate phone app was life changing. I am constantly using it, whether translating the official government documents (written in French) or the washer/ dryer settings (written in German). I use it frequently in the grocery store. Although, it seems the translation might not always be perfect.

Besides Google Translate, I really rely on facial expressions and context clues if I’m trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English. I’ve had some situations where I’m pretty impressed with the creativity of hand gestures. Phone calls with local companies will probably forever remain challenging because I don’t have the luxury of using context clues or hand gestures. It was comical how long I was on the phone with a local rental car company, trying to ask about snow chains. Thankfully, Neal remembers some French from his high school/ college studies which means I sometimes send him texts like this…

Shockingly, the Arlon, Belgium IKEA has been a surprising source of comfort. We’ve been to the Portland, Oregon IKEA many times, but I didn’t expect the Arlon store to feel so familiar. Crazy to realize how much comfort can be found in recognizing brands, but I take it as an indicator of how unfamiliar we had been feeling in Lux. Visiting IKEA in Portland was always a fun idea that turned into a stressful event. It’s a busy, chaotic store. Suddenly, going to IKEA here for our Luxembourg apartment was a breath of fresh air. A place I recognized. A system I already knew. Helpful, because we had a few very successful IKEA trips that resulted in an overly full rental car. Neal’s really good at playing Tetris. Turns out we could have/ should have brought a lot more of our Portland furniture with us.

Of all the countries Neal’s company could have asked us to move to, I am so grateful that we landed in Luxembourg. This country is unique because of how many other expats live here. I have made more friends than I ever expected and it feels so cool to get to know people from different cultures and backgrounds. We have a lot in common. Most people did not know where Luxembourg was before they moved here (like me). Most of my new friends do not have work visas and cannot practice their professions while they are here (like me). Most of them are struggling with learning French (LIKE ME). I am so thankful for those friendships. It’s really nice to start building community.

Because Luxembourg has so many expats, the government gives every new resident a book called, “Just Arrived”. It’s a resource guide on everything an expat could need: from integrating culturally, sorting recycling, navigating administrative procedures, locating nearby health clinics, listing public holidays, truly EVERYTHING. It’s amazing that the government would have such an organized system in place for welcoming new residents and give them resources to be successful in this tiny country.

There really are many reasons to be thankful we’re in Luxembourg. Luxembourg has free public transport (trams, buses, and trains) and it makes Neal and I so happy that we don’t need to own a car. Also, wine is incredibly cheap here. Although we cannot find Mexican food and miss it terribly, we have identified our favorite pizza shop, and it’s only two blocks away from our apartment.

The city is so small, and yet I still discover new things all the time. For example, I’ve walked by a particular museum many times, but I never knew these old fortress walls and a gorgeous view were just behind the building.

One day, I went for a walk in city center and ended up stumbling upon a royal visit from the King and Queen of Belgium. As I walked by the Grand Palace (where the Grand Duke of Luxembourg conducts business), there was security, members of media, and a small crowd of people gathered, all waiting for something. Once the military band started playing, the royalty processions began. Oh, Luxembourg. I can’t believe I just stumbled upon this.

It’s a magical country. I’m so thankful we get to have this unique experience of living here.



A few lessons we learned early on, guaranteed to make us smile as we read this later

  • When I thought saying “Thank you very much” in French was “Merci Voo Cue”
  • We thought Auchan was a German grocery store, and pronounced “Awk-Can”. Turns out, it’s a French grocery store and is pronounced “Osh-ON”.
  • The ongoing discussion about how to pronounce the name of the National Sports Center, “Coque”
  • That time we bought used book cases from a “neighbor” through Facebook Marketplace, not realizing Google Maps doesn’t account for elevation change. Like a scene from The Three Stooges, we (Neal mostly) carried book cases up and down the hills of Luxembourg in the dark back to our apartment
  • Finding comfort tuning in to OPB/NPR and hearing familiar voices
  • Learning people say “Take Away” here, not “to-go” or “take out”
  • Buying tickets for public transport and wondering why no one else was
  • My urge to respond in Spanish instead of French
  • Losing my phone (TWICE) and the process of retrieving it
  • When Google Translate and two nearby people couldn’t help me communicate with the internet installation guy, I’ll never forget that cave means basement
  • The process of finding peanut butter for Neal, ordering it in bulk from the UK


Our first trip to Spain was a crash course on Spanish culture- from learning about its rich history, to wandering the streets and plazas of its world class cities, to enjoying tapas and delicious wine late into the warm evenings. We started in Madrid, then drove to Granada, Nerja, and finally Seville, in a jam-packed week with Shelby’s dad Blair and his wife AJ that left us eager to go back, and a bit more rotund than when we arrived. 🙂

In Madrid we were led on a journey through Spain’s history by a delightful tour guide with a Spanish and Scottish accent. I had never heard r’s rolled like that before, but he was wonderful to listen to as he taught us about the triumphs and follies of Spain’s monarchs, its complex past that led to a unique blend of cultures and religions today, and its modern day political struggles. We wandered from the Plaza Mayor to Puerta del Sol, down the Gran Via and through the bustling aisles of the Mercado de San Miguel. We listened to street performers play music while fighting our way through the El Rastro flea market, dined on the local delicacy of calamares (calamari sandwich), and stuffed ourselves on sipping chocolate and churros at San Ginés, a cafe founded in 1894 known for, you guessed it, their chocolate and churros. We even made it to the Prado during their free-entry hours, and appreciated powerful works by Velazquez and Goya, among many others, and got lost taking in Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. We enjoyed lazy lunches in the plazas and late-night tapas and wine every evening, starting off our week in Spain on a relaxed but adventurous note.

On our last day in Madrid we drove to Toledo for the afternoon, and spent hours exploring the narrow streets that wound throughout the city. Toledo is an ancient city perched atop a hill, where it is said that Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious communities coexisted peacefully during the Middle Ages. You can see the influence of the different religions in the architecture throughout the city, such as with the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, an ancient mosque converted to a church in the 11th century.

After wrapping up our time in Madrid, we hit the road to Granada. It was a long drive to get there, but between stopping for lunch in Jaén and admiring the endless miles of olive trees that stretched as far as the eye could see, it passed by quickly.

Granada was everything we had hoped for and more. Resting at the foot of the vast Sierra Nevada mountain range and with the imposing Alhambra watching over the outstretched land, it charmed us with its architecture, friendliness of locals, and delicious tapas.

We spent half a day wandering the Alhambra, an old fortress built by the Nasrid dynasty on Roman ruins as a place of governance, until it was taken over by and built upon over the years by Spanish monarchs. Although the fortress itself was made Christian, a lot of the old Moorish architecture was kept intact, such as with the Nasrid Palace. We had never seen such intricate and beautifully detailed buildings. We wandered the palace for hours, soaking in the rich history of a culture largely unknown to us.

After the Alhambra, we split up and Shelby and I explored the shops filled with clothes, colorful lights, and souvenirs in the Alcaicería, an old Arab-style bazaar, wandered the very narrow streets of the old Arab corridor, called Albayzín, soaked in views of the land from the San Nicolas viewpoint on top of the hill, and sipped sangria while munching on olives to pass by the afternoon heat in the shade of a cafe built into the hill with views of the Alhambra. We topped the night off with a dinner that consisted of wine, tapas, more wine, and more tapas, and a delightful waiter.

Sadly we eventually needed to leave Granada (it was my favorite city that we visited this trip). We drove to Nerja, a small touristy coastal town with lots of charm (and retirees), where we passed the afternoon relaxing on the beach and doing a bit of rock climbing. We stayed the night in Frigiliana, an even more charming town up the hill from Nerja that is home to a lot of foreign retirees. To give you an idea of what that means- we ate at a Mexican restaurant owned by a guy from Scotland, and were served by a guy from England who was talking to us about the number of Scandinavian retirees that live there. It was a sweet town nestled in the hills with views of the ocean.

After leaving Nerja, we drove to Jerez where we saw an Andalusian dressage performance on the way to our final stop, and Shelby’s favorite city of the trip, Seville. Seville was a charming and inviting city, with interesting cultural sites around every corner- some dominating that you can’t miss, and others hidden such that you will walk right by them if you aren’t looking carefully. We stayed in the colorful neighborhood of Triana, a short walk down and across the Guadalqivir River from city center. We explored every inch of city center, meandering through the streets from Triana to the Plaza de España, stopping everywhere in between. We rode scooters along the banks of the Guadalqivir, admired the famous bullfighting ring Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla and the Catedral de Sevilla, the largest gothic cathedral in the world, and enjoyed a powerful and passionate flamenco performance at the Teatro Flamenco Triana. Sevilla is one of the most livable cities we’ve ever visited. It’s pedestrian and bike friendly, there’s no end of things to do and see, and food and wine was delicious, as we’ve learned is custom in Spain.

Each trip we’ve been on since moving to Europe has outdone the last. We moved here to see a new part of the world, to meet new people, see different ways to live, and continually push ourselves out of our comfort zones while embracing the adventure of it all. I’m sure I am going to finish every blog post this way, but… we can’t wait to go back.

– Neal

A Swiss, French, and German Christmas

No, this isn’t the beginning of a cheesy dad joke. It’s where we spent our first Christmas living abroad! It was also our first trip since moving to Luxembourg longer than a weekend.

Our holiday started in the Berner Oberland region in Switzerland- a magical, mountainous place with picture perfect views everywhere you look. Shelby, Luna, and I drove from Luxembourg to the town of Grindelwald, about 30 minutes past Interlaken as you head up into the mountains. It was night when we drove into Switzerland, and while we had a strong feeling we were driving past some stunning sights, we couldn’t tell with certainty given how dark it was. It wasn’t until we woke up the next morning, excited as kids at Christmas to see the mountains, that we realized just how in the mountains we were. I could wake up to this view every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it.

On our first day we explored the charming towns of Grindelwald and Interlaken, soaking in the mountain views and fresh air, and searching for the restaurant at which Shelby was first introduced to the idea of eating applesauce with mac and cheese, called Älpler Makkaroni. We found it, and enjoyed a dinner of it with some locally brewed beer and lambic.

We spent the next two days in Switzerland hiking, exploring, and enjoying the snow. First, we took the cable car from Gindelwald up to do the First Cliff Walk. On any other day, this would have offered breathtaking views of the Alps, but it was a blizzard at the summit and the walk was closed, so instead we spent the day hiking down the mountain, stopping for hot chocolate and fries along the way.

Our last day in Switzerland was the most magical. We drove to Lauterbrunnen and rode the cable car to Gimmelwald, a traffic-free village hugging a steep cliff that drops off into the Lauterbrunnen valley with a population of just over 100. It felt like stepping into a winter fairy tale. The ground was covered in snow, it was snowing heavily, there were very few people in sight, and we were able to wander through the village with its charming buildings, stopping to take a picture every few feet. People would occasionally ski past us, zig-zagging between the homes down to the cable car to ride it back up to the top of the mountain, as we meandered through the snowy village. We were surrounded by mountains so tall that you had to crane your neck just to see the top of them. We hiked from Gimmelwald to Mürren, another small village at the foot of the Shilthorn peak. Mürren was a bit bigger and more touristy than Gimmelwald, but had all the charm of a quaint Swiss mountain village. After stopping for a snack, we hiked on to Grütschalp where we caught the cable car back down into the valley.

As our time in Switzerland came to a close, we packed up our stuff and headed north to the Alsace region in France. There were a few things immediately apparent about this region: there’s a strong German influence that can be seen in the names of places and in the architecture of homes and buildings, and they LOVE Christmas. Alternating between German and French control over the past few centuries has resulted in a region that, as our AirBnb hosts put it, has the best of both worlds– ranging from cuisine to traffic laws. We stayed in a sleepy little town called Schwindratzheim, which put us in close proximity to a healthy combination of outdoor and city activities. We celebrated Christmas Eve with the Rusk family tradition of making Mexican food (which we miss SO much from the US), and Christmas day with a traditional meal of ham, potatoes, vegetables, and homemade gluwein. This was the first Christmas away from family and with just the three of us. We reflected on our time in Europe thus far, the adventures we’ve been having, and on the new traditions we’re starting as a family. We also thought forward about what we want to accomplish with this incredible opportunity we have to be living here, which won’t last forever.

The rest of the trip was a combination of hiking, sightseeing, and city-exploring. We walked through Strasbourg with its endless Christmas lights and dominating Gothic-style cathedral, wandered the streets of Colmar with its architecture that feels plucked straight from medieval times, hiked the dense Petite Pierre Forest, and drove through the Black Forest in Germany from Baden-Baden to Triburg, stopping at Lake Mummelsee and Allerheiligen Wasserfälle. In Triburg we had dinner family-style at a big table with six people we’d never met. Five of them spoke zero English, while one spoke some English and engaged with us all dinner. Our dinners took the longest to arrive, so one of them shared their pizza with us because we looked like we had “good appetites.” It was an endearing peak in a cultural norm that we are not used to: sharing dinner and conversation with complete strangers. The Black Forest and warmth of its people reminded us of home, and left us making plans to come back in future years.

While the holidays this year were different without family, friends, and what we’re used to from back home, they were magical and full of good memories.


Cologne and Monschau

When deciding where to go for our first weekend away from Lux, we had three requirements: be within driving distance, have good AirBnb options, and most importantly, be dog friendly. When searching for nearby cities we discovered that Cologne, Germany checks all of these boxes. Dogs are allowed on public transit and in many restaurants, and there are plenty of green spaces for them to take care of their business when nature calls. TMI maybe, but that’s what drove our decision. And we weren’t disappointed.

We arrived at our AirBnb, only about a 30 minute train ride from the city center, and were greeted by a delightful host who had a bottle of the region’s famous Kölsh beer ready for us in the fridge. The next morning we caught the train to central Cologne, and immediately upon leaving the train station were hit with this view of the stunning Cologne Cathedral.

After taking a few hundred pictures of the cathedral, the three of us wandered through the streets of Cologne, along the Rhine River which runs though the city, and partook in a walking tour. We stumbled upon a carnival, had wonderful sausage and beer, and saw ruins of a Roman-built wall in a parking garage. Part way through our walking tour we took a break at a beer shop. Not to sit and drink beer, but to buy a bottle and enjoy it while the tour continued. When you can drink in public, why limit yourself to a bar? You’ll find a picture below of me drinking a beer next to the previously mentioned Roman wall. I challenge you to find a more enjoyable way to learn about the history of a city.

Cologne was wonderful, but after a full day exploring we were ready for something in the wilderness. The next day we drove to the town of Monschau, Germany. We fell in love with the town and its old, Medieval-style buildings that felt like they were plucked straight from the past. After walking the length of the city and enjoying a lunch of schnitzel and fries, we concluded our first weekend away from Lux with a drive down through Belgium and the north of Lux, soaking in the rich fall colors while we drove.


Hiking in Echternach

Our first and only hiking experience since moving to Luxembourg, other than wandering the fairytale-like streets of City Center and the lower valley, was to a town called Echternach, right on the border of Germany. Also known as the Little Switzerland of Luxembourg for the geographic similarities to its namesake, it is the starting point for Mullerthal Trail, a 112 km trail split up into three sections.

Map from:

We hiked the first section, not venturing far from Echternach. We parked on a side street in the city and walked to the trail head, an easy-to-miss footpath in a neighborhood. After a steep ascent that rewarded us with views of the city and surrounding region, we plunged into the forest.

It didn’t take long to be in the dense, beautiful forest, with brightly colored fall leaves covering the path. It also didn’t take long to start raining. Hard. Being the Pacific Northwestern’ers that we are, we threw on our rain jackets and didn’t break stride. I was sick though, so we only hiked for about an hour before turning around. The beauty left us wanting more– and it left me with an itch to lace up my trail running shoes and hit every one of those 112 kilometers over our next couple years living in Lux.


Hello, Luxembourg

Life has moved quick since arriving in Luxembourg. Before I talk about what’s happened over the last three months of living here, I’ll start with saying that we love it!

Luxembourg is a small country sandwiched between Belgium, Germany, and France. The population is just over 600,000, and there are three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish. The city of Luxembourg is beautiful, with old buildings and ancient ruins mixed in with state-of-the-art infrastructure all throughout town. It has old world Europe charm while still feeling like a wealthy tax haven, which creates a simultaneously adventurous and comfortable atmosphere. It’s divided between an upper and a lower town, with the lower town in a deep valley lined with old neighborhoods, cobblestone streets, and walking paths that follow the Alzette River. The land is lush, with rolling hills and vineyards that produce delicious white wine and a local specialty called crémant. The weather is similar to the Pacific Northwest, so we feel right at home.

Settling into life here has had its ups and downs. We landed in a part of town called Kirchberg, which is the financial district of the city. We were in a big, impersonal apartment building in close proximity to other big, impersonal apartment buildings, within walking distance to work. It was a good place to land while we got oriented to the city, but we were eager to find a neighborhood more our style. Fortunately, that only took a few weeks. Within a month of moving to Luxembourg we signed a lease for a sweet, old apartment in a neighborhood called Limpertsberg. It’s walking distance to city center, cafes, restaurants, a park called Bambësch that feels like Forest Park in Portland, and it’s biking distance to work. And now that our personal belongings from Portland have arrived, it’s starting to feel like home. We’re finally settling into a steady pace of life, creating routine and community as we gear up for the next couple years of living here. Between bi-monthly work trips to London, weekend trips to Germany, Belgium, and France, and short, cheap flights to almost anywhere in Europe, we’re already seeing so much of the continent and its diverse cultures, while continuing to add to the increasingly long list of places we want to visit.

We’ve long dreamed of moving abroad to experience living in a different part of the world, learning about different cultures, challenging ourselves to grow in immeasurable ways, and expanding our worldviews. With our time in Dublin, it feels a bit like we’re already in the thick of it. But at the same time, with our time in Luxembourg just now truly starting, it feels like we’re taking our first steps- or rather leap- into the adventure of a lifetime.