Things to do in Luxembourg – visiting the Grand Duchy
We admit that before travelling to the tiny European country of Luxembourg we knew very little about this nation of just over half a million inhabitants. Luxembourg is so small it could fit into New Zealand 100 times, and is dwarfed by the USA at 3,500 its size. Even the exuberantly helpful man at the tourism information office seemed genninely surprised that we intended to stay for 2 1/2 weeks as he handed us numerous brochures with potential activities. Unfortunately we weren't there just to visit the country's many palaces and walkways as we planned to house sit and work on making Richard's software dream come to fruition.
We settled into our suburban 4-storey house where our constant companions Tam Tam and Leo kept us company. Tam Tam is a sweet-natured 10 year old English Setter who has never heard herself or another dog bark. She was originally bred as a hunting dog but returned to the breeder and given away for adoption as a family pet when the hunter realised a deaf dog wasn't very good at catching prey. Leo is a little Yorkie who thinks he's a large Rottweiler. His bark may sound scary until you see him and find out he's an easily excited tiny fluffy bundle of cute energy who likes cuddles and is prone to jealously when other dogs or people get too much attention.
Between our self-imposed work schedule we took days off to explore Luxembourg city, a 40 minute train ride away. Luxembourg is land-locked, surrounded by France, Germany and Belgium. These countries plus Holland all invaded Luxembourg at some point over the centuries, which is reflected in the country's language and culture. The official languages are French, German and Luxembourgish (a local dialect) and all children in the public school system must speak all three plus English, while we found French seemed the most widely spoken in shops and restaurants. Attracted by higher wages, about half the workforce travel from neighbouring countries to work in Luxembourg, and return over the border each evening due to Luxembourg's increased cost of living.
The city's old town contains several locations worth visiting, including what remains of the old city walls, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place was formally so strongly fortified people referred to it as the Gibraltar of the North. Nowdays you can climb steep cobbled stairs and admire the view from its vantage points.
Our next stop was Corniche to determine if this viewing platform lived up to its reputation as the most beautiful balcony in Europe. Admittedly the stunning view of the old town and the 1,000 year old St Michael's Church below impressed us.
On a Sunday afternoon we met a group at the Dicks and Lentz monument at the Jan Pallach Square (below) for a two hour "free" walking tour. Our English speaking Spanish guide who is a PhD student in Luxembourg gave us an informative tour which included some of the sites we had previously visited but known little about at the time. His comments on Luxembourg's status as a major financial district stopped short of calling it a tax haven, thanks to the government's favourable tax laws for foreign companies. We noticed very few Toyota Corolla's or Holden's on the road in Luxembourg. There was a BMW dealership down the street from our house and Audi's and BMWs were the most popular cars we saw on the roads. However, we commend Luxembourg for its very affordable public transport system. An all day pass cost just 4 Euros for unlimited train and bus trips. Other cities could learn from Luxembourg's generous and well-organised travel options.
Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy in the world, which means the monarch is a grand duke or duchess. During several summer months when the current Duke is away from the residence the royal palace is open to the public. We took advantage of this opportunity knowing that the Queen and Wills and Kate were unlikely to extend a similar invitation in London. The only downside is the no photos policy, but the inside of the palace is beautiful with magnificent staircases, sparkling chandeliers and ornate stain glass windows. No two rooms are similar reflecting the diverse cultures who have occupied its interior. If you have a spare 7 minutes, a resourceful person has put together a "YouTube video with pictures that seem reminiscent of a fairy tale.
We also spent a day apart where Richard visited the Casemates du Bock caves, while the more claustrophobic Vanessa choose to spend a few hours at the National Museum of History and Art. Casemates du Bock is a series of tunnels and passages cut into the cliff-face that originally date back to 963 and subsequently added to over the centuries. Only a small percentage of the once 23km long maze like fortress remains, but Richard enjoyed his visit despite some tunnels being very narrow in parts.
The Museum of History and Art spans two buildings connected through a walkway, and contains different collections on each floor including several located underground. The coins and medals weren't particulary interesting, the word masterpiece doesn't describe any of the artwork, but floors featuring furniture and typical rooms over the last five centuries (including one from the 1960s) provided a good insight into how Luxembourgers lived in the past, while the Archaeology section with collections from early man - the middle ages was definitely the highlight.
Luxembourg may not be a destination we will visit again, but we had fun with our doggie friends and recommend this tiny nation to those with limited time who want to experience a place in Europe that is off the typical tourist track.