Sally wanted to come to Luxembourg because her sister danced the Luxembourg polka for the Penguin Concert Party. I wanted to come because I always had a fascination with the country since my stamp collecting days.
We had planned to take the train since on the map of Belgium, Luxembourg seemed a long distance away. However, on Friday night we started to chat to a couple in a restaurant who, it turned out, lived in Luxembourg. “How long will it take you to drive home?” Sally asked. “Oh, about 3 hours” they said. (Actually, they said trois heures, since they spoke to us in French”.
“Is that all?” Sally exclaimed. At which point I realized it was foolish for us to take the train…for one thing, it took four hours, and for another, having a car would allow us to explore more of the area. Furthermore, on Monday we were planning to go to Brussels which is less than two hours from Luxembourg.
And so early Saturday morning we set off for Luxembourg, which is both a city and a country…the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. After two hours we stopped to get some gas and use the facilities and who did we see…. our new Luxembourgish friends from the restaurant. C’est vraiment une petite monde. (We now realize that they probably thought we were following them!)
Luxembourg the country has a population of about 450,000 and the city has a population of about 84,000. It sits on top of a sandstone bluff, with deep gorges along a river that separates the old town from the ‘new town’; although it should be noted that the new town was built in the early 20th century. A very impressive 'red bridge' connects different parts of the city.In the early 50’s Luxembourg became the headquarters of the European Coal and Steel Community which was a sort of forerunner for the creation of the European Economic Community or Common Market in 1957. At that time Luxembourg and Strasbourg became the alternating homes of the General Secretariat.
While I had seen images of older Luxembourg buildings, I did not really know what to expect.
We took a ‘hop on hop off’ bus trip around the city and enjoyed some dramatic views and significant differences between the different parts of the city. As a general comment, it feels quite different from the parts of Belgium we have been frequenting, by virtue of its topography and vegetation. But like Belgium, the city is clean and well kept.
Although Brussels is now the primary capital city of the ECC, Luxembourg has continued to be the home of many ECC entities which are housed in some very impressive new ECC buildings located around the ‘European Precinct’ on the Kirchberg Plateau. This area is vehicle oriented and feels quite ‘futuristic’ and reminded both Sally and me of Brasilia, another purpose built capital city.In addition to the government buildings and related private sector offices, there is also a new shopping mall designed by a famous French architect... and very impressive Philharmonic Hall. A prominent site is reserved for this sculpture of 'the thin banker'. (While a fat banker might have been a more appropriate image for the country, I suspect it would have used up too much material and cast too much shadow.)We discovered a new residential area that is being developed for European functionaires and others moving to the city. Some of the buildings were very attractive.While I knew that Luxembourgers spoke both French and German, I didn’t realize that they have their own language…Luxembourgois which is a mixture of both. Students also learn English at school, making them multi-lingual at a very early age.
Luxembourg is expensive. It cost 1.1 euros (about $1.75) to use the public toilet in the train station. While the hotels are fairly priced, (perhaps due in part to a recent government directive that encourages conference calls as an alternative to business trips) we found the restaurants to be more expensive than Belgium…28 euros or $44 dollars is fairly standard for a main course in an average restaurant…and the seafood platter with a half lobster (a Canadian lobster I might add) that we enjoyed on the Belgium coast for 29 euros, was 60 euros in a comparable restaurant in Luxembourg. (Which, I guess is why our Luxembourger friend was eating there too!)
It was impressive, but after 24 hours, we were ready to head off, and explore more of the country. On the advice of a number of people, and our Michelin Guide, we decided to set off for the Moselle and the highly rated Petite Swiss Luxembourgoise.
We programed our GPS navigator and were shocked to discover it would take us almost three hours! But then we remembered that we had re-programmed the unit from 'vehicle' to 'pedestian' travel...in fact it took about 20 minutes to get to the Moselle.