That’s right, Luxembourg.
This trip was booked a month and a half in advance. To be honest, the first urge of visiting Luxembourg dated back to last year when I was in Hong Kong and my uncle jokingly said he wanted to go to Luxembourg. He even admitted that he didn’t really want to go, but it was then that a seed of desire to see this unknown land was planted in my heart. Why Luxembourg? Well, why not? It’s not the first time that spontaneous wanderlust has materialized into an actual trip, though I do admit that Luxembourg as a destination was pretty random. It’s a small country, literally a dot on the map, and so mysterious. So heck, the voice in Annie’s head said, “Go for it.”
This would be the second Benelux country to visit, although I haven’t officially “visited” Belgium yet, other than living here. It took approximately 2.5 hours to get from Louvain-la-Neuve to Luxembourg City, the capital of Luxembourg the country (I will just refer to the city as Luxembourg from here on), and the good thing is that I didn’t even have to go to Brussels first. Normally, going anywhere from LLN would require me first going to Brussels, but as Luxembourg was in the opposite direction, only one transfer at Ottignies was necessary, and 2.5 hours and a short nap later, I found myself in a completely different country.
The first thing I needed to make sure when I got off the train: Am I in the country of Luxembourg? I sure hope so, because it would not be cool if I got dropped off at some unknown village in the PROVINCE of Luxembourg in Belgium, which is right next to the country. I headed directly to the information desk for a city map, and lo and behold, it looked quite similar to Luxembourg as Google Maps showed me, so that was one paranoia dissolved.
Next: What language do they speak here? Walking through the train station, I heard an unfamiliar language that I could only assume was Luxembourgish. Uh oh. I would have to choose between English and French as the language of communication, but since French is one of the official languages of Luxembourg, I decided to respect that and try my best with French. If all else fails, most people know English anyway, so I’ll save that as a last resort.
What to see and do in Luxembourg in two days? Well, I’ve decided to not only wander and explore, but to get to know a bit of the history of the city/country as well. That calls for a simple guided tour just to get some background information, and it was readily available at the tourist office. I figured once I learn some basic history of this new place, discovering the city on my own afterwards would be more interesting with the knowledge in mind.
With the brief research I did beforehand, I made a list of the placed I thought I’d visit (most them were on the city map, thankfully). Let’s take a look at this list and check it off as we go along.
- Adolphe Bridge
- Bock Casemates
- Petrusse Casemates
- Three Tower
- Grand Ducal Palace
- Petrusse Valley
- Fish Market
- Holy Ghost Citadel
- William Square
- Chemin Corniche
- The Red Bridge
- Notre Dame
Warning: Lots of photos coming up. Mouseover the small pictures to read a brief description and click to see the full version.
Day 1: First impression
Luxembourg is perfect for walking. As every attraction is so close to each other, it’s quite easy to find what you’re looking for. You only really need the map for about half an hour and afterwards, unless you’re completely direction-blind, you should be able to navigate smoothly through the city. The following is a walk-through of day 1, with brief historical recounts thanks to my trilingual tour guide (English, French, and German). He was very informative, but three languages with a group of 37 may have been overkill…kudos to him!
First impressions of Luxembourg, as I walked from the train station to the tourist office. In a nutshell, Luxembourg is separated into the upper town and the lower town, where the lower town literally dwells in the valley. This will become apparent in later promenades.
Fish, meat, cheese, vegetables, fruits, bread…anything you want!
And of course, lots of flowers! According to my tour guide, horticulture is quite huge in Luxembourg.
A street-performing quartet. They were quite good!
A market at the William Square. Luxembourg was under Dutch rule for a period of time in history, and this public square was named after the Dutch king William II. I believe the market only runs on certain Saturdays, so I was there at the right time!
This is part of the remains of the fortress built in the 10th century known as the Bock Promontory. Since Luxembourg is located on a rock landform, the rocks were transformed into a gigantic fortress that was used as a natural wall to defend against intruders. Below the remains of the fortress, we find the Bock Casemates, a set of underground tunnels built overtime as a base of protection for the city. More about the casemates will be revealed later!
Standing on Chemin de Corniche (known as “the most beautiful balcony in Europe”), here is a view of the Grund district. This neighbourhood was historically home to many manufacturing workers, and there used to be a big gap between the lower town (Grund) and the upper town, where merchants and rich people lived. Grund itself looked like a tiny village on its own, quite an astounding sight!
The Neumünster Abbey used to be a prison in Napoleon’s time, but was gradually transformed into what it is today, a cultural center for concerts, exhibitions, and performances.
The arches below where the people are standing are part of the Bock Casemates.
More fortress remains.
There’s a crane for Geoff. And oh, that would be the Adolphe Bridge.
The Adolphe Bridge held a record in 1903 for the longest stone arch in the world, but this record was held for only two years and broken in 1905. After standing for over 100 years, the bridge is starting to deteriorate due to water erosion, and hence a project has been planned to replicate the bridge in steel. The rebuilding of the bridge is expected to take 3-4 years, during which the bridge will be closed to traffic.
YES, THERE WAS FOOD. LS-san would probably only be interested in this section. Yes, I did try Luxembourgish cuisine. In fact, I made sure the restaurant had Luxembourgish specialties (which I looked up beforehand) before entering. Appetizer was lobster bisque, main course was smoked pork neck with sauerkraut, and (intended) dessert was hot chocolate, though it came first. Let’s not mention how much it costs, though it is alright to indulge sometimes…;)
I will just comment on the main course. THE PORK NECK WAS ENORMOUS. But delicious. So delicious. Actually, it reminded me of the German dish Eisbein at first, but I wasn’t surprised, since Luxembourgish cuisine is influenced by German, French, and Belgian food. Anyway, back to the food. I didn’t have lunch, so naturally I would have wished for a sizable portion, and to say that my dish was sizable was an understatement. Don’t judge by the photo, believe me when I tell you that it is one gigantic hunk of meat. What surprised me, though, was that for the first time in my life, I was able to voluntarily place a piece of fat meat in my mouth without feeling disgusted. So the pork neck, I absolutely loved it! The sauerkraut, however, was a bit strange. I remember liking sauerkraut more before, but somehow I didn’t like it as much this time. Oh well, the meat was fantastic, that’s what mattered. I didn’t end up finishing the whole thing though…that’s how huge it was.
The Golden Lady, a statue on a monument commemorating the Luxembourgish soldiers who volunteers in the two world wars.
William Square at night, with the Luxembourg city hall in front.
The Adolphe Bridge at night.
Luxembourg at dusk – a final walk around the city center before wrapping up for the night. All of these are 5 minutes walking distance within each other.
Summary of day 1: This is what Luxembourg is like on the outside. Perhaps if you join a group and explore the city with a tour guide, this is all you would see. At first, I thought that this was a sufficient representation of Luxembourg, but boy, how wrong was I, and how glad I am that I decided to venture within the depths of Luxembourg on my second day. The real gem, lies within the intricately hidden core of the city, and I would only get to that on…
Day 2: The true Luxembourg
After a good night’s sleep and the beginning of daylight savings time, it was time to finish off the trip with some old-fashioned exploration. There were two places that I had to see before I left. One would be the Bock Casemates, and the other, if I found the way, was Petrusse Valley.
On the right is the Grand Ducal Palace, the place where the grand dukes of Luxembourg reside. Also, I’d like to direct your attention to the flag on the left side of the picture. It is indeed the flag of Luxembourg, but don’t the colours correspond to those on the Dutch flag way too much? The blue is lighter, yes, and the red is in a different shade…but still. I suppose Dutch influence in Luxembourgish history holds quite the significance.
And here is my favourite part of the trip – the Bock Casemates! According to the official pamphlet, a casemate is “a bomb-proof vaulted room situated in the actual body of the works leading to one or more embrasures or intended to accommodate troops and equipment”. Basically, these underground tunnels historically served as a defence base, and are now open to the public.
To put it simply, the casemates are a network of mazes that take time to fully explore. I think it would have been so much fun to play hide and seek here! Go in from the same entrance, go separate ways at the first intersection, and try to find your friend within half an hour. Wandering through the caves, I got lost many times, not realizing that the pamphlet included a map. All the better – it was more interesting getting lost and found. I felt like I was in an RPG, digging for treasures, fighting enemies that spontaneously appear, meeting dead ends, turning back to follow a new trail…simply fascinating!
I’m in prison! I want to break out!
At times these stairs felt endless…
Not much room for more than one person, that’s for sure.
The end is in sight!
One thing to be aware of when visiting the casemates is that the stairs, of which there are lots, are very narrow and slippery. You’d want to be very careful when going up or down these stairs (I almost slipped twice) and you’d better hope that you don’t meet someone halfway. Unless you both are chopstick thin, one of you would have to backtrack and let the other person through.
Climbing these stairs was definitely a nice workout, though. Some of them went so deep underground that I felt like I was descending into a bottomless pit. Of course, many stairs did lead to dead ends ultimately, so I had to go all the way back up…
(The whole time I was thinking Geoff and Yusuf would enjoy playing hide and seek here. Most random epiphany indeed. I miss my crazy Canadian friends too much.)
After the casemates, I decided to walk along the city to see where else I could go. I leaned over a ledge and looked down, way down into the valley. The first thing I asked was not “What is this place?” but rather, “HOW ON EARTH DO I GET DOWN THERE?” Yup, that would be the next task, to find a route into the valley. Little did I know that I would be heading to Grund, the district seen from the top during the walking tour on day 1.
A little bit of backtracking and detouring later, I finally found the hidden routes that led me from the upper town into the lower town, AKA Grund.
Being in the midst of the valley was a completely different feeling than looking down from the top. Now I had to look UP to where I was before, and I was encased by a huge fortress of stone wherein lied the casemates. Back to the promenade, there was a small pathway right by the river, and I followed along without really knowing where I wanted to go. I stopped frequently to duck-watch, and believe me, there were some pretty fat ducks living in the area.
Just when I thought I had reached the end of the path, I spotted a continuation down the river into an unknown destination. The decision to make was: to go back or to keep going?
I think Geoff and LS-san would be disappointed if I went back, so I kept going.
That’s another thing about Luxembourg. You never have to go backwards (except in the casemates where there ARE real dead ends). The entire city is a maze itself and even if you’re absolutely sure you’ve hit a point of no return, you can always go just a little further and find a turn that would lead you into a completely new area. Yes, you get lost, but you can’t get TOO lost, because everything is so close to each other anyway. Just hop over to the other side of the river – on a bridge, of course – if you’re desperate, and you’re back in the familiar again.
The path eventually led me into a part of the city that seemed rather deserted. It was almost like a ghost town without the spooky atmosphere. I saw maybe three other people, but I was starting to wonder if people actually live around there…
Going deeper into the valley, towards Grund. Left or right – which path to take? In the end I chose to go right, because it seemed like it would lead me into the heart of the lower town of Grund. I think by then I had been walking for several hours, and I felt like I needed a way to get OUT now, not to mentioned I was getting quite tired. So I figured that I’d find a way into the Petrusse Valley via Grund, and then I’d get back to the upper town.
Conveniently, Grund is directly connected to the Petrusse Valley, which is a dip in the very heart of Luxembourg, as seen in the first photos of the entry. I quite enjoyed strolling through the Petrusse Valley. The entire scene was like a peaceful park away from all traffic and noise, but unfortunately what was lacking was greenery, as the leaves haven’t all grown back yet at this time of the year.
In the second photo above, I was standing on the very top of a gigantic hill that I had just climbed. Certainly some adequate exercise, reminding me at the same time of the Warren Dunes in the US that I had visited two years ago. To LS-san, this would be such a fantastic hill for tobogganing…:P
Petrusse Valley was the last stop in Luxembourg before I headed to the train station and returned to Belgium in the afternoon. Afterthoughts? Well, for one, the uniqueness of Luxembourg cannot be justified by photos. You’d have to be personally there, dive in, get lost, find your way out, to discover the entire maze-like feature of the city. It’s not a glamorous place, I assure you of that, so if you’re expecting something like Paris or Rome or Barcelona, you’ll be greatly disappointed. I’ll say that Luxembourg is certainly a humble little place for a short weekend break, or if you want a challenging game of hide and seek with a friend, the casemates can’t be beat!
I think this has been the longest entry so far, and if you’ve made it this far and are not bored, congratulations, I salute you ^_^