I’ve just got back from a weekend in Luxembourg. I realised I hadn’t been abroad since I went to Portugal in summer 2011, so I decided to rectify this. I also thought it would be a good time to tick London City Airport DLR station off my tube station list. City is the only airport in central London and the only one (apart from Heathrow) to be located on a tube map. After using it, I would encourage everyone to fly from City at least once. The view over central London – taking in the Thames, the O2, the London Eye and the famous bridges – is not to be missed.
Luxembourg is the world’s only Grand Duchy. It is a tiny little state bordered by Belgium, Germany and France. The inhabitants speak Luxembourgish (yes, that is a real language), French and German and there are several temporary and permanent immigrants contributing other languages and cultures to the place – a real melting-pot.
The flight from City took an hour and twenty minutes. It left at eight so I had to get up ridiculously early in the morning – I actually caught the first Tube train of the day out of Ealing Broadway, which made me feel oddly thrilled. I was surprised at how many people were actually around at that time of the morning. Luxembourg is an hour ahead of the UK, so by the time I arrived and caught the bus into the centre of town it was getting on for eleven – which still left me with practically a full day ahead of me.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the temperature. It is mid-March after all, and I had assumed that the weather would have been vaguely spring like. This was not the case. It was colder than in Britain (although the temperature did improve over the next couple of days), and there was snow on the ground, though it didn’t actually snow while I was there.
I walked into the centre and picked up a Luxembourg Card from the tourist information office. This card is amazing and I recommend it to anyone who visits. For 27 Euros (for three days; one-day and two-day cards are cheaper) you get unlimited travel on public transport, plus free admission to most of the museums in the country, and discounts on the rest. I used mine constantly and, with the exception of the 2 Euros I paid to take the bus from the airport, didn’t spend another penny on sightseeing or transport throughout my trip.
This first day, I spent some time wandering around town and getting a feel for the place. There seemed to be a lot of scaffolding, so I suspect they are jazzing the place up in preparation for the summer. The Old Town – which is UNESCO-listed – reminded me of Bruge, although I didn’t think it was quite as nice.
The first thing I did was visit the Bock Casemates, down towards the eastern edge of the Old Town. These are fortifications built into the rock several hundred years ago which were designed for defence at a time when the castle on the hill was chosen for its suitability in this respect. I found them interesting to explore but got rather spooked at some points and had to make a hasty exit – or would have, if I hadn’t had trouble finding it.
After a quick stop off for a Panini and a cup of coffee, I headed to the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art (National Museum of History and Art). This huge museum was well laid-out and fascinating, with five floors below telling the story of Luxembourg from prehistoric times to the present day, and five above, displaying the fine art collection and temporary exhibitions. There was an English guide available for the information boards on the lower floors, which came in handy, and I particularly liked the impressive Roman mosaic on display.
Unfortunately the medieval galleries were closed, but I enjoyed the others, including an in-depth prehistoric section with details of archaeological discoveries. The fine art collection was wide-ranging and varied: there were even a couple of Turner watercolours there, as well as a sculpture by Rodin and an artwork by Picasso. One temporary exhibition was about Japanese art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was fascinating, and the other was concerned with the Dutch landscape painter Barend Cornelis Koekkoek.
After my visit I walked through the town and came across an amazing café that I just had to go into. You choose a flavour of chocolate, select a block with a wooden spoon embedded into it, and dip it into a cup of hot milk. They should definitely get something like that over here. I had chilli chocolate flavour and it was delicious.
Afterwards I headed towards the station and checked into my hotel. Once I’d unpacked and had a rest, I headed out to find something to eat. I managed to find a nice Italian restaurant, not too busy but not to quiet either, and with other solo diners, so I didn’t feel too self-conscious. I am afraid I took the easy option and went for the mushroom pizza – as much as I would like to sample the local cuisine, I understand that Luxembourgish specialities tend to include meat, so they’re off the menu for me.
Whenever I go abroad, I always like to check out the supermarkets to find out what the locals like to eat. I love looking at all the weird and wonderful foods that are so like, and yet so unlike, the stuff you get in the UK. I saw one lady carrying a Dr Oetker frozen pizza with what looked like salmon on top – it looked lovely and I am disappointed you can’t get that variety here!
I always make a point of trying some local alcohol and chocolate. At least, I try – I don’t think the chocolate I managed to find was from Luxembourg, but I’d never seen it before, so I thought it would do. The wine was local, though.
Not wanting to hang out in a bar full of drunken individuals, I sat in my room with a book, some chocolate and wine, and had a perfectly lovely evening.
The following day, I dragged myself down to breakfast and demolished some rolls with chocolate spread and jam. I also had some waffles, but since the toaster didn’t work these weren’t as nice as they might have been! Sufficiently full-up, I wandered over to the rather impressive station. I had plans to go to Vianden for the day, and knew that I had to catch the train to Ettelbruck and then a bus to the town of Vianden.
It took me some time to decipher all the signs, but eventually I got myself on the right train and enjoyed a relaxing journey to Ettelbruck. I didn’t have to wait too long for the bus when I got there – it was a relatively short journey to my destination.
Vianden is gorgeous. It is a small compact village full of quaint little houses, with a river flowing through the centre and a curved bridge crossing it. Above it all, the castle overlooks the town high on a hill. I decided to visit the castle first, in order to get the climb out of the way. This was a good decision, as it was exhausting, and I don’t know if I’d have been able to manage it later!
Looking over the castle didn’t take ages, as there were few information boards or other things to see, but it was definitely worth it. The castle was apparently sold by its nineteenth-century owner and dismantled, leaving it in a state of disrepair not rectified until the twentieth century when it was rebuilt. It still looks pretty good, considering. The place is just how I would have imagined a fairytale castle to be, with round towers and a stunning hillside location.
After a crepe vegetarienne in a local café I popped into the Victor Hugo Museum for a quick look around. The great writer stayed in the town on several occasions, and some of the letters he wrote here are on display. His study has been recreated in the room facing the castle. Unfortunately the displays were all in French so I couldn’t understand them, but it was still exciting just to be in a place connected with the man.
I caught the bus back to the town of Diekirch, which my guidebook said was full of museums. The major attraction was the Museum of Military History, covering the Battle of the Ardennes (better known perhaps as the Battle of the Bulge) of 1944-45. I knew my mam, who is really interested in the war, would have been fascinated by the museum. I had a good look round, but the place went into a lot of depth (it is used by military historians as well as the general public) and I skimmed a lot of it. The personal testimonies and modelled recreations of real-life scenes (taken from photographs) were moving and really brought home what life would have been like during the battle.
I popped into the town’s own museum too, but the boards were in French and German so I couldn’t actually understand anything. However, the museum is next to the church and you can actually get into the crypt via the museum, which I thought was quite exciting. I then visited a bizarre museum, home to a selection of classic cars and a selection of Diekirch beer glasses. I had planned to sample a beer in the little café, but there seemed to be some sort of event on, with lots of people arranged in chairs and sandwiches wrapped in cling film, so I made a hasty exit.
Though there was no castle, there were several quaint little streets and I grew to quite like Diekirch. Apparently the town’s mascot is a donkey, which explains the fun statue which lets you move the limbs of the donkeys into whichever position you choose.
I had planned to eat in the Old Town when I returned to Luxembourg City, but I couldn’t find anywhere that was both quiet and cheap. On the way back to my hotel I stopped at a decent-looking place and had – you’ve guessed it – another mushroom pizza. Well, it was either that or a cheese omelette.
My evening passed much as the previous one did, with wine and chocolate and books. I had debated trying to get tickets to a concert or a theatre performance, but I couldn’t decipher the leaflets, and thought it would probably be really expensive anyway.
The next day – my last – it was raining. I walked through the Old Town for the last time, taking in the view, and visited the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (Luxembourg History Museum). This has been cleverly built within a number of buildings from different periods of the city’s history, with stone from the old defences forming part of the basement. I loved the video installation exploring the landscape and nature of the city. I could have sat looking at it for hours.
After a couple of floors exploring the city’s past, the museum began to look at different themes relating to Luxembourg, including its role in industry, within Europe and the natural world. Finally, the temporary exhibition was ‘The ABC of Luxembourg’ – exploring the national identity of the Grand Duchy through an irreverent and entertaining alphabet. I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent museum and I’m glad I made the effort to look for it, tucked away on a back street.
I debated whether to catch the bus, but I ended up walking to the next museum, which I’d passed en route to the centre from the airport. The Musée Dräi Eechelen tells the story of this fort overlooking the city, with armour, swords and a frightening-looking guillotine all displayed. I popped into the MUDAM (Museum of Modern Art) next door, too, but the exhibitions were in the process of changing over. The building itself was very impressive, though.
I could have caught the bus back into the centre, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered, so I just went straight to the airport. I spent a couple of hours there recharging and writing up my holiday diary (which I keep religiously every time I go abroad) before going through security and spending far too much on chocolate and liqueur to bring back with me.