Actually, I’m not entirely all that sure why I decided to visit Luxembourg – maybe it was because I wanted to go for a drive through as many countries as possible, and the part of Europe I was in I figured that I could make that five. When I was previously in Europe, I had managed to pass through four countries in a day – Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy, however this time I wanted to add an extra country to my record, and this time I did manged to do five (though only just – it was 11:00 pm when we crossed the border into Luxembourg).
My first thoughts of Luxembourg was disappointment, but that had more to do with wanting to pull over to the side of the road and then look up at the sky. The thing is that it takes quite a long time for it to get dark in Europe during the summer, and the further north you go, the longer that time becomes (until you pass into the Arctic Circle, where during the middle of summer, the sun will never set, but then again at the opposite end of the spectrum, in the middle of winter you basically never see the sun).
So, we managed to creep into Luxembourg in the depths of the night, and after driving around the block multiple times attempting to find a place to park the car, I decided that the only place I was going to be able to leave it was in the car park next to the station. That is the thing with cars – while they give you freedom of movement, you also have the problem that you simply can’t park them Actually, I’m not entirely all that sure why I decided to visit Luxembourg – maybe it was because I wanted to go for a drive through as many countries as possible, and the part of Europe I was in I figured that I could make that five. When I was previously in Europe, I had managed to pass through four countries in a day – Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy, however this time I wanted to add an extra country to my record, and this time I did manged to do five (though only just – it was 11:00 pm when we crossed the border into Luxembourg).anywhere – well, you can, but whether they will be there when you return, or not clamped or covered in fines, is something that you need to consider. Since this car did belong to a rental car company, and that I did want my deposit back, I felt prudence was the best course of action.
The other problem with rental cars, at least the last time that I was using them, was that it can be a bit tricky working out where to drop them off. My travel agent at the time, a guy that seemed to talk much, much more than he would listen, seemed to completely ignore my request that we drop the vehicle off at the airport (because at least I can find an airport) and instead told us that we needed to drop it off at some random spot in the middle of Milan, a city that I had no idea about. In fact I ended up spending my entire time in Milan trying to find out where I was supposed to drop off the car. In the end we just drove to the airport and they were more than happy to take it off our hands.
So, this is what we did that first morning after breakfast – grabbing the car and driving to the airport. Mind you, Luxembourg happens to be in the middle of a range of mountains, which makes you wonder how it is that they built and airport there. Then again, there are a number of mountainous countries that have airports (such as Nepal), so Luxembourg isn’t hardly unique. In any case, they simply lop the top off of the mountains and create a massive flat space.
I probably shouldn’t have been all that surprised that the cab driver at the airport couldn’t speak English – it isn’t as if driving cabs is a highly skilled jobs. Mind you, they do have a habit of rubbing me up the wrong way at time – well, not all of them, just one in particular who decided to be a voice of conscious and criticised me for gambling simply because he picked me up outside of the casino, and also took a huge amount of offense when I went to tell him the directions, and because he was the cab driver and I wasn’t then I wasn’t permitted to choose the direction – no wonder people are going over to Uber.
However, despite not speaking English (or claiming that he didn’t speak English), he did speak a language that I sort of know – the main languages in Luxembourg are French and German. Mind you, with a name like Luxembourg I was half expecting the main language to be French, but it turns out that people speak German as well. Actually, while I was there I saw this Asian girl sticking her head into the Cathedral while Mass was going on, so I decided to tell her, in English, what was going on. She then looked at me and proceeded to speak in German, at which point I then repeated myself in German. This is when the classic ‘I’m sorry, I do not understand what you are saying’ (in German of course – Tut mir leid, ich verstehe Sie nicht) comes about. As a friend of mine has said, if that line it trotted out by a foreigner, they probably do know what you are talking about, they are just feigning ignorance – mind you, I have used that line myself, it is just that if I’m going to use it then I tend to say it in another language.
It turned out that this was probably one of the worst possible times for me to have come to Luxembourg – it happened that the Monday was a public holiday – St Mary’s Day – so pretty much everything was closed. Well, not quite because even though in Europe Sundays and Public holidays are actually days of rest, as opposed to those of us in the Anglo-sphere who simply want the convenience of having everything open when we want everything open, it doesn’t mean you end up wandering around twiddling your thumbs. However, because most of the museums also close their doors on Monday as well, we ended up doing just that.
The cab driver dropped us off at the Museum of Modern Art, and then I realised that I wasn’t all that interested in going to checking out any modern art – I had already done enough of that back in Germany. So, instead we decided to go and have a look at one of the forts, only to discover that it was closed – not only was it a bank holiday, but it was also a Monday. However, we were were, stuck at the top of a hill, with only a Modern Art Gallery to keep us company. So, we did what any self-respecting person would do – we looked for a way down the hill.
We eventually got to the bottom, after exploring what we could of the fort, and then finding the path that wound down into the valley. The thing with Luxembourg is that the city towers above you, not so much in the way that Hong Kong or New York towers above you, but that the city is built on proper mountains, and you will find houses on the peaks and in the valleys. We wandered along the street, and found ourselves a bar, so I decided to grab a beer, before looking for a way up. Well, it turned out to be quite fortunate because they had built an elevator to take us from the valley floor up to the main part of the city.
Luxembourg, or more specifically the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is one of the throw backs to the Holy Roman Empire – a collection of states and principalities loosely united under an Emperor, who in reality had little power over the rulers of the principalities, but kept the title because it tended to look good on his resume. For some reason, over the centuries, from its foundations as a monastery that was taken over by a prince back in the 10th century, the Grand Duchy has managed to maintain its independence from the power of Germany and France (though of course, it did fall to the occupying powers during the World Wars and the Napoleonic Wars).
While today it is mainly known as a tax haven, and a country in which the companies out number the citizens, this is only a recent phenomena. Luxembourg originally produced steel, and before that it was known for its strategic importance, namely because it happened to be built on top of a mountain. Even though the fortress would regularly change hands, this was not because of it being breached. In fact the only reason that the French captured it during the revolutionary wars was after a seven month siege, and was to prevent a massacre if the city did eventually fall. Prior to that, the fortress had only been captured one other time, by Phillip the Good. There is a reason why it is referred to as The Gibraltar of the North.
After making our way up the elevator, we wandered about the city, and grabbed ourselves another drink. From where we were standing there wasn’t all that much to see, but after wandering through the old city, through the market square, we found ourselves out on one of the first of the Casemates. This was a large open area that looked across the valley to another section of the city, and far beneath we could see the tops of the trees. You can wander down there, and on the otherside we found a grassed area where I thought about rolling down like I would do when as a kid I found a steep grassy slope, but then decided against it. Fortunately this place offered us some seating, since the place we purchased the ice cream from didn’t want us eating it there (and as such I gave them a one star review on Tripadvisor, but half the reason I did that was because they actually asked me to review them).
So, we wondered back into the city, only to discover that the cathedral was packed (due to it being St Mary’s day). However there was another church around the corner which we did get to check out, so at least I got a religious art fix, even if it wasn’t the main cathedral (though we eventually got the opportunity to look inside the next day). The other unfortunate event was that the art gallery was also closed (it was a Monday), which meant that we also had to put that off until the next day. It turned out that we were starting to get a bit desperate with regards to things today. Well, our dilemma was solved when we wondered further along the street and out onto what looked like a bridge, or was it a gate house. What ever it was, it was intriguing, an it was open.
This is another section of the city that is referred to as ‘The Casemates’, but what it happens to be is a series of tunnels buried into a rock outcropping that stretches across the valley. At first it looks like it is going to be a single tunnel, until you discover that there are passages stretching off in all directions. In fact you find stairs going up, and then going down, and passages twisting about, and spiral stair cases, and occasionally a turret with a mock cannon looking out over the valley. In fact these tunnels made me feel like I was crawling through one of the many dungeons that we would explore back in the days of my youth.
Mind you, it isn’t as if you actually ‘get lost’ down there because it isn’t a labyrinth in the sense that once you enter you won’t be finding your way out again. No, instead it is quite easy to find your way around because it is basically a narrow outcropping of rock. Well, once you decide that you want to leave then that can be a bit of a challenge, but not a huge one. We enventally found the exit, after exploring as much as we could, and thus it time to go for lunch, and a snooze during the afternoon.
I’m not sure if I could call Luxembourg a hipster’s paradise, because even though there were some places that fell into the definition of the world hip, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the whole place was hip. For instance, the place we landed up at for lunch had that rustic feel that a lot of the hipster bars in Melbourne have – you know, the type that have an organic, artisan menu, and guys with Ned Kelly beards at the counter. Actually, from what I could remember, the guy in this place had a Ned Kelly beard.
Anyway, it had been a long day the previous day, so after wandering past the ducal place (which had boards up all over it due to it being restored), we made our way back to the hotel. Mind you, the hotel was just across from the railway station, which meant that the area wasn’t as great as one could expect. In fact this seems to be the case with a number of places in Europe – it certainly was the case in Frankfurt. I still remember a bar we would wander past where there seemed to be a number of undesirables hanging out the front. Actually, I did eventually have a drink there, and managed to do so without getting beaten up.
We did eventually get to visit the art gallery, as well as the church, however it also meant that we delayed our trip to Brussels by a few hours. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though since there were multiple trains heading in that direction, and it was only a four hour journey (which isn’t a huge amount of time considering). The only annoying thing was that there wasn’t a dining car on the train, though we did eventually grab something to eat at the station.