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Days 7-9: Luxembourg
The next morning we had a typical European continental breakfast in the bistro of the hotel and munched on hard-boiled eggs (which we didn’t have to do ourselves this time), bread, and deli meats and cheeses. There weren’t any souvenir shops around, so we had to drive back to the war museum to get our magnet before hitting the road for Luxembourg.
Much like France, the roads of Luxembourg are winding and cut through a number of ghost towns. The big difference is the size of the homes; you can tell that Luxembourg is a super wealthy country because the “village” houses were just massive. The country is also so small that you could live on the opposite end of the country and commute to Luxembourg City in an hour; most people in big cities would kill for that kind of commute. It took me an hour just to drive seven miles in DC; imagine being able to live in DC and drive to work in California in one hour! Uh, Jetsons’ cars, where the hell are you???
After many turns and a few detours that GPS was able to help with, we saw the signs that pointed to our first stop, Vianden Castle. As we pulled out of the heavily forested portion of our journey, we emerged onto a cliffside road that overlooked a green valley and river below us. Perched up on a mountain, overlooking the town, was this incredible “Sleeping Beauty” castle. It was described as very “fairytale like”, and the Internet wasn’t screwing around. The entire scene was beautiful, and the overlook gave a perfect vantage point of the entire scene.
We parked and toured the medieval castle that was originally built from the 11th-14th centuries. For the longest time, it lay in ruins and was only fully rebuilt in the 1970’s. As a result, everything felt newer inside, but there were still interesting tapestries, a weapons room, and hall of arms that harkened back to an older time. In addition to standard castle rooms (sounds totally snobby, but we’ve been to a number of them by now) like a bedroom and dining room, there was a kickass wine cellar and a temporary blacklight art exhibition in the gallery. Yeah, it was just as odd to see as it sounds to read. Although the castle was pretty impressive, it was the view of the hillside, town, and river below that really stole the show.
We hopped back in our car and drove about thirty minutes to Luxembourg City. We were starving along the way and stopped in McDonald’s for lunch. Unlike the UK, the portions were massive (American sized!) and they served restaurant quality waffle fries that were a-ma-zing. They were also running a promotion for the Deutschland Burger, which makes sense given Luxembourg’s proximity to Germany. The official language of Luxembourg is a combination of French and German, and almost all the people there speak both those languages as well. It makes sense when your entire country is the size of Rhode Island.
Once we finally got into Luxembourg City, a city of colorful buildings set up on a series of hills, we drove around for a spell before being able to find parking. It was almost rush hour time, so there were plenty more cars than the old city could really handle. Once we found a garage spot in the theatre district, we wandered around the numerous pedestrian areas lined with designer stores, until we found the Place du Armes. The downtown area was a mix of modern and old, with cobblestone streets on which women with Hermes handbags walked. There were plenty of cafes and restaurants that lined the streets, and there was no shortage of shopping options to be seen.
Our Airbnb was located in the main plaza, the Place du Armes, above a classy Pizza Hut that served wine. Yes, those actually exist. We immediately dropped off our things and got back in the car for the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg before it closed. Traffic was just ludicrous with the amount of roundabouts holding up cars, but we made it to the cemetery with about an hour to spare. Once again, there weren’t very many people walking around the immaculately manicured grounds, so we could pay our respects in peace. Although smaller than the ones we’d already visited, Luxembourg has a pretty famous resident: General George Patton. It may seem bizarre that he was buried so far from home, but his will indicated that he wanted to be buried with his men. His grave stands alone, between two flag poles, and in front of the cemetery memorial. While there, we also found a Medal of Honor headstone (something I’d never seen before) and a gravestone of one of the Easy Company Band of Brothers guys. Turns out there are five of them buried there, but we were only able to find the one. The crazy thing is, El knew him by name and just happened to walk by his headstone.
After leaving the cemetery, we had an unsuccessful attempt at returning the car to the airport and made our way back to Lux City. We shunned the theatre district garage (It would’ve been like 150 euros to park there) for the 1 euro, open-air lot about a kilometer away near the university. While walking, we heard so many American/possibly Canadian accents coming from college age kids, and we wondered who studies abroad in Luxembourg. It’s a cool country and all, but it’s not the first place that jumps to my brain when I think of cool European places to party. Womp womp.
We didn’t have a set itinerary (shocking for me), so we spent the next few hours wandering around the city. We passed the Grand Ducal Palace, strolled down some side streets, and walked along a stone walkway that was elevated high above the river. Luxembourg is the land of incredible views because everywhere we went, we were greeted by another photo perfect moment.
We were getting hungry at this point, so we descended the stairs from the stone walkway and ended up in this pedestrian street that we nicknamed the Party Zone. It was lined with tons of bars and clubs, and there were two outdoor TV’s set up to play the impending Euro Cup game between France and Romania. We popped into a German beer hall looking place called Brauerei and had a “meh” Clausel beer, which was the beer of Luxembourg. The menu didn’t really appeal to us, so we went a little further down the party street and sat at an outdoor table at a place called Zulu. The game was starting up, so before the crowd got too overwhelming, we ordered some potato skins and “spicy” wings that weren’t spicy at all. It’s a good thing we did because the waiter got more and more overwhelmed as the crowd started to thicken. By game time, people were standing in the street, ready to watch the game, and Zulu had to set up temporary bars to handle the demand.
The game ended up being really entertaining, with France getting a game winning goal with two minutes left in the match. The crowds outside were cheering, and the random group of Romanians hanging around were particularly entertaining to watch. Everyone was sucked into the game, including the security guard who, instead of doing his job, sat down at our table and just watched the TV. Once again, there were so many Americans, and Elliot and I couldn’t help but laugh when we overheard two having a conversation about how “you can’t ship a dildo to Saudi Arabia”. Uhhhhh okay? I’m not sure how he learned that lesson, and I don’t think I want to know. After a little more food, we were pretty beat, so we took a cab back to the apartment. Since we were in the main area, we could hear the whole city hopped up in excitement from France’s victory, and we were awoken more than once by the off-tune singing of drunk people outside our window.
The next morning, we woke up and relaxed a bit before showering, grabbing a croissant and coffee, and heading to the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Now, you’d think after a few years of living in Europe, we’d be desensitized to visiting cathedrals/churches. Totally not true (well, at least for me). Whether it’s my first or 1,000 church, I can still appreciate the beauty and man hours that went into its building. Notre Dame did not disappoint on the beauty front: there were plenty of stained glass windows with intricate figures and the coats of arms for the the kingdoms of the duchy of Luxembourg, Bastogne included. There was a huge altar centerpiece, a golden picture of St. Joseph, and tapestries hanging everywhere. Even though it was in German, I still went to church there the next morning because I wanted to sit and admire its beauty a little longer.
We then walked along the tree lined gully and through the shopping area of Garer, where we saw people giving out flowers for Mother’s Day and a random carnival being set up. It was starting to rain a bit, so we went back to Place du Armes and had a sangria at the Chi Chi’s that was next to our apartment. That’s right. Chi Chi’s. Even though they’re bankrupt in America, they still have locations in Europe, Luxembourg City oddly being one of them.
When we realized how close we were to Germany, El got in touch with one of our good friends from Spain, Meeks (actually his last name, but I don’t think I’ve ever called him by his first), who lives in Stuttgart and invited him to Luxembourg. It’s only a few hours drive, and the apartment we rented had two spacious bedrooms, so it was the perfect opportunity to see him after so long. El and he have met up a few times when El was travelling for work, but I hadn’t seen Meeks since leaving Spain. That’s way too long for someone as fun as him, so I was psyched when he said he was coming in. After he dropped off his stuff, we got right to hanging and walked down to this cafe that El had found had good craft beers. Urban had a pretty decent selection but was getting pretty crowded due to the next Euro Cup game. We only had one beer, an Irish one called Notorious Red IPA, before walking along the Bock Casemates to our recently discovered Party Zone. We stopped at a place called Scott’s for some mostly sucky frumanche (I think that’s what it’s called; it’s a German pizza) and pepperoni/mushroom/peppers pizza while we sat and drank our Grand Cru (a popular Luxembourg beer). It was starting to drizzle again, so we briefly stopped in this empty dance club, realized that it was way too early for that nonsense, and crossed the street back to the Braueri Beer Hall. There was a band on stage tuning up their instruments, and they were in the midst of conducting the world’s longest sound check. We were there for a good while, like an hour and a half, and they were tuning and “testing” the ENTIRE TIME. There were also like 1,000 people in the band (okay, so there were only 7), and the lead singer had this warbly voice that you know he thought sounded like Frank Sinatra. They were a UK band called the Surf Cowboys, and watching this sound check was wildly entertaining for me and Meeks. We kept coming up with tag lines for the band, my favorite of which was Meeks’ suggestion of “There are seven of them, but they’re #1 in your hearts”. Maybe it’s a good thing they took forever with the sound check b/c we were having a ball.
We walked out of the party zone to get an uber when this city bus pulled up and told us that the ride was free. Uhh, free public transport? Score! Anytime someone tells me something is free, I think about when I was a kid, and I was in this random records store in Michigan with my best friend, Laura. We were like 12, and there was a magnet or something that we thought looked cool. I asked these two Duck Dynasty looking guys who were working there how much it cost, and they mumbled “-ee”. I didn’t catch what they said, so I said, “Free?”. One guy let out this big belly laugh, and with a caricature of a hillbilly accent said, “FREE?! Nuthin’s free ‘round here!” before turning to his buddy and high-fiving him. “Okayyyyy” I said before slowly backing out of that store. Long story short: I now have a hard time believing that anything in the world is free.
But the bus was! We took our free bus to a place called Tube Bar that was London tubed theme. You can take the girl out of London, but you can’t take London out of the girl. We killed some time talking for awhile before our stomachs rumbled again for dinner. I was really jonesing for Italian, and Il Riccio was one of the top places recommended in Luxembourg. It was a short hop from our apartment and was an adorable, very family style, cozy Italian restaurant. There were family pictures on the wall, and the specials were all out on display in heating pans. Right when we sat down, they gave us a complimentary order of bruschetta (MORE FREE SHIT!) and some bread and oil. Elliot asked the server, who was Italian, if he could get some butter. The waiter laughed, and responded, “You want butter with your bread in an Italian restaurant? What are you? French?” Sacre bleu, mon cherie!
I totally overeat in Italian restaurants, and that night was no exception. I had a simple mixed green salad, penne pesto, and an order of the veal meatballs that were in the display case. The food was delicious, and Elliot’s fusilli with sausage was incredible as well. Meeks only got this squid, and I admired his abstinence while I shoved my face fulla meatballs.
After dinner, we went back to Urban to watch the Euro Cup game and had to stand because of the crowds. We had the unfortunate pleasure of being in the aisle, so we must’ve had 1,000 people say “Excuse me” while we were there. It made for some great people watching though, and we were baffled by the number of girls who looked like Velma from Scooby Doo. We also laughed at this guy’s shirt that just said, “Buda-fuckin’-pest”. Who buys that kind of shirt? Awesome people, I suppose.
Given his skimpy portions at dinner, Meeks was pretty hungry after the game ended, so we went back to McDonald’s so he could try the waffle fries. There was a massive line of drunk young people, including some lads who were there for a stag party and brought their beers from another bar into the Mickey D’s. McDonald’s had these coupon books, so Meeks ended up getting two large waffle fries for the price of one. Not too shabby. While in Mickey D’s, we commented on the number of Americans/Canadians/Brits we encountered, and how we REALLY hadn’t met anyone who was actually from Luxembourg. We really had no clue what people from Luxembourg actually look like or sound like. It was a mystery to us. After a stop back at Tube Bar (which was way more crowded and had both a bachelorette party all wearing bunny ears, a group of prep school boys in their school blazers leering after the bachelorette party, and a group of Microsoft workers ripping shots), we made our way back to the apartment to hit the hay.
As I mentioned, I went to mass the next morning, and it was crazy long. There was all this Gregorian chanting in German, and a second reading that was randomly in French. After 45 minutes, the gifts hadn’t even been brought to the altar, but I had to leave to meet El to go. We walked our stuff back to the car, did some impressive packing of the champagne bottles and glasses we’d purchased, and drove back to the city center, where there was this random orchestra playing in the middle of Place du Armes. We were getting hungry, so we went to Urban (this was like our 90th time there) for lunch, and I had a delicious chicken Caesar wrap and frites. After eating, we sat in the park for a bit before heading to the tiny Luxembourg airport to fly home. Our flight was delayed a lovely five hours, but the airport workers didn’t even charge us for one of the bags we’d checked. I’ll take it.
Like I said in my first blog post, this was one of the most unique trips Elliot and I have ever taken. We saw and walked around places we’d only read about, learned about the war’s impact on so many different groups of people, heard so many personal stories, and were able to pay our respects in locations all over Europe. It was a learning experience as much as it was a vacation, and certainly one we’ll never forget…
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