3 Days in Luxembourg
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend three very busy days in Luxembourg. This trip was particularly special for me in a couple different ways. First, Luxembourg was the 70th country that I visited. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would visit 10 countries let alone 70! When I was a high school student and even a university student, this seemed like a complete pipe dream that could never happen. Each time I travel to a new place, I am always extremely thankful for the opportunity to do it. If anything, it just goes to show that sometimes the most unlikely things can happen. Second, this trip to Luxembourg was also special since I have now officially visited every microstate in Europe (Malta, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, Vatican City, and San Marino). I first got this desire to visit these small microstates when I read Thomas Eccardt's "Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe." It took a few years, but I was finally able to achieve it.
The trip to Luxembourg was easy enough. Of course, it did require a layover in Istanbul, but the layover was reasonable (3 hours), everything went smoothly, and I got to Luxembourg at the scheduled time. Now, usually when I arrive in a new country, I often either hire a taxi or have the hotel set up transportation since I've had my share of bad experiences arriving in a new country and having to take transportation on my own from the airport (Greece in particular). However, I had done my research prior to arrival, and I knew there were a couple buses to the city center. I figured it would be easy and straightforward, and it was.
The bus took about 30 minutes to go from the airport to the stop I had to get off at (Paris/Zitha), and then it was only about a 2 minute walk to the hotel. In addition, I was told that all buses were free on Saturday, so I was happy to save some money.
If I had to be honest, I was less than impressed with the hotel. While it is in a good location since it is close to the train station and relatively close to the historic center, it is definitely is an older and dated place. The room was a decent size, but the desk and plug were on opposite ends of the room. This did not help when I needed to plug in my computer. In addition, the shower leaked water all over the floor, and the glass partition did not do much to keep water from spraying everywhere. Plus, the air conditioning unit put out a barely cold breeze. More often than not, the room was quite hot and humid. However, while the hotel room was not quite to my liking or expectations, the breakfast was quite decent. If I had to be honest, I probably ate my weight in prosciutto and various types of deli meats each day at breakfast.
On my first day in Luxembourg, everything ran smoothly in terms of arrival, but there was one problem. I didn't have much money. I arrived in Luxembourg with about 35 euros total. My original plan was to get to Luxembourg City and then find a currency exchange since I did have some USD, but as I did an exploratory walk through the city, I did not see a single currency exchange. This struck me as somewhat odd since of all the places I have been, currency exchanges tend to be everywhere.
Eventually, I made my way to the tourist office and bought myself a Luxembourg Card (definitely worth it!). I had researched this card prior, and with it, I could use all public transport in Luxembourg (trains and buses) for free and get into many different attractions and sites for free as well. To me, this sounded like a great deal. It was when I went to pay for it that I experienced my first slight crisis.
My credit card wouldn't work. The employee tried three different machines, and not a single one was taking my card. I found this strange since I had notified my bank several days prior about my travels. After the third time failed, I decided to pay the 28 euros with the cash I had on me. This left me with 7 euros total and put me in a somewhat precarious position. When I asked the worker if there was a currency exchange nearby, he looked at me and said there was nothing nearby. I found that strange, and it worried me a little bit, but I decided to walk around on my own for a bit in the hope that maybe I would get lucky and find someplace to exchange money. Since it was Saturday, no banks were open, so I went back to the hotel and asked the clerk at reception if there were any currency exchanges nearby, and I got the same answer. There were no currency exchanges, and only banks could exchange if you had an account with them.
This put me in a difficult position. I was in Luxembourg with 7 euros. It was the middle of the weekend, and no banks were open. On top of that, I did not have accounts with any of them. Therefore, even if I lasted until Monday, I could not do anything. As a last resort, I headed to the train station and asked at the information desk, but I got the same answer. Even though there were many ATMs everywhere, I have always been a bit phobic about using them, particularly if they are outside, or if they have sketchy characters hanging around them. It only takes one time for a card skimmer to get your number, and I certainly did not want to take my chances and have to deal with that headache. However, a solution soon presented itself. I figured I would head back to the airport the next day and check the currency exchange (not my ideal choice because of poor rates), but since I had free access to all public transportation, it would not cost me anything to go there and come back.
The next day, I took an early bus to the airport and stopped at the currency exchange office only to find it was closed on Sunday. After that, I decided to just use the ATM in the airport. Since it was inside with tons of security everywhere, I figured this would be the safest possible place to withdraw money. I could not imagine this ATM inside the airport would be tampered with in any way. In a couple of minutes, my problem was solved.
Now, that I had cash on me, I set out to explore everything Luxembourg City had to offer. Some of my favorite attractions in the city were visiting the Bock Casemates, which were the caves that were used for defensive purposesand bomb shelters during World War II and the Museum of the City, which gave a fascinating history of Luxembourg that I never knew about. If there was one thing I learned about Luxembourg, I learned there is a little something for everyone. The country has a history ranging from prehistory all the way up to its role in World War II and for being one of the founding countries of what would become the European Union.
On my second day in Luxembourg, I was very excited because the plan was to visit Vianden, which is a small town in northwestern Luxembourg. This was honestly my main reason for visiting Luxembourg. I had often seen pictures of this place, and I knew I had to see it for myself. Getting there was easy enough. Because of work on the train tracks, the train was not an option this time, so I got on a bus that was a substitute for the train from Luxembourg City to the city of Ettelbruck. From Ettelbruck, I simply waited for 20 minutes at the bus station before taking Bus 570 to Vianden.
Vianden is a famous town in Luxembourg because of its extremely picturesque hilltop castle and also its association with Victor Hugo since he had apparently spent much time there during his life. Unfortunately, because it was Monday, the Victor Hugo Museum was closed, but that did not matter much to me. My main goal was to see the Castle.
Upon stepping off the bus, I immediately headed in the direction of Vianden Castle, but I could not find the way up to the top. There were several small small alleys that led uphill, but I didn't even notice them the first time and just walked past. It was only when I was coming back down that I realized I had walked right past the first time. I eventually asked a guy who was walking his dog how to get to the Castle in German. He spoke too fast for me to completely understand, but his hand motions and my ability to understand every other word he said was just enough. Apparently, I had taken a more scenic route that came near a tower that was little ways away from the Castle. This was a happy mistake if you want to cal it that since I was given a beautiful vista of the town from below. Eventually, after a little bit of a hike uphill for about 10 more minutes, I finally reached the castle and explored it for an hour or so while getting some amazing views of the town and surrounding countryside.
After I finished in the Castle, I explored some of the other sites in Vianden including a couple historic churches and the small city museum, which was only open on this day because it was still seen as high season. One of the churches (Trinitarian Church) was quite beautiful along with its cloister, which is where monks would go to reflect and contemplate in silence. However, the beauty and silence of the cloister was interrupted by workers next door shouting at each other in French and Luxembourgish and doing drilling work with jackhammers. In addition, there was about 30 years or so of bird droppings all over the floor, so most of my time was spent avoiding the enormous piles of built-up bird droppings. If anyone from the Vianden Tourist Board should ever read this, I would urge you to please clean the bird droppings from the cloister behind the Trinitarian Church.
Eventually, I made my way to the northern part of the town, and it was around this time that all the water I had been drinking caught up to me. The only thing nearby was a historic church with a cemetery attached and a dam (the town sits on the Our River). I made my way into the cemetery not expecting to find anything, but much to my surprise, there was a public toilet in the cemetery in a building that probably functions as the town crematorium, but I have no idea. The cemetery itself was quite beautiful and well-maintained aside for a couple older private family mausoleums near the top of the hill that were rather neglected.
As I looked on the map while standing in the cemetery to figure out my next move, I saw there was a path through the cemetery to a rather remote chapel that is supposedly quite famous because of its historical association with a famous figure from Vianden from the 13th century. However, by this time, I was absolutely drenched in sweat, and my feet were killing me. However, my curiosity got the better of me. I took a different path out of the cemetery and into the woods on the way to this forest chapel.
Unfortunately, I never got to the forest chapel. The walk was only about 1.5km (slightly less than 1 mile), and while that didn't bother me, this was an uphill walk up on very uneven terrain in a forest, and I was absolutely beat. I was hot, covered in sweat, running out of water, being attacked by bugs, and exhausted. Even though I was curious about seeing this place, there was no way I was going to make it there and back. Hence, I made the decision to skip it. I figured I would look for a picture of it online later.
On my last day in Luxembourg, I had a goal to visit two places, Echternach and Clervaux. I first headed to Echternach, which took about an hour by bus from Luxembourg City. Echternach is located in the Mullerthal region of Luxembourg, which is often called "Little Switzerland" because of its similarity to the landscape of the Swiss countryside. The region certainly did look like Switzerland with lots of rolling hills and fields of corn. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was traveling through rural Switzerland.
Echternach is famous because it is Luxembourg's oldest town, and it is the home of Echternach Abbey, which St. Willibrord founded in the 7th century. This town is also famous for the "Dancing Procession of Echternach," which takes place typically in May or June (dependent on the liturgical calendar). During this procession, thousands of people (locals and visitors) dress in white shirts and black pants and "hop" to Echternach Cathedral and process past the tomb of St. Willibrord in the crypt of the cathedral while a lively march is played for hours on end. I have seen several videos of this procession (type "Echternacher Springprozession" into YouTube...some videos are better than others), and it looks quite hypnotic as everyone moves in time to the tune, but not everyone is always synchronized. Hopefully, I will get to see it in person one day.
After my visit to Echternach, I took a bus to Ettelbruck then took a train headed to Clervaux, which was the site of heavy fighting in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge. My main goal here was to see Clervaux Castle, which had three museums in the building, but only two were open by the time I arrived. The first museum I saw in the Castle was the Luxembourg Castle Museum. This museum was surprisingly interesting since it provided scale models of all the castles in Luxembourg (both current and ruins) and gives a history of them. If I had more time in Luxembourg, I would have tried to visit more castles such as Bourscheid, Larochette, and Beaufort but hopefully in the future. The other museum in the Castle is the Battle of the Bulge Museum. It is a definite must-see for anyone interested in World War II since it holds all kinds of memorabilia, such as military uniforms from both Americans and Germans, weapons, regiment pins, and propaganda posters for both the Allies and Germans.
By the time I finished in the museums, I was thoroughly exhausted by all of the walking (Clervaux is a bit hilly), but there was one final thing I needed to see. Right by the train station of Clervaux is a small chapel on a hill called the Loreto Chapel. Because I was heading back to the train station, and since it is located right across the tracks on a hill, I decided to check it out. I had time to kill before the next train would arrive to take me back to Ettelbruck, so I had a fair amount of time to get up there.
Of course, when I got to the chapel, it was locked. When this happens, I will sometimes peer through the keyhole to get a glimpse of the interior. However, I could not do this here because the lock was modern, so peering through the keyhole was not possible. It was not a big deal though. After checking all the doors, I shrugged and went back to the train station and made my way back to Ettelbruck and then back to Luxembourg City.
Overall, the trip to Luxembourg was definitely excellent. It was amazingly easy to get around using the trains and buses, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well organized everything is in terms of its tourist infrastructure. If you ever have the chance, I would definitely recommend visiting Luxembourg in the future.