Two days after landing in Germany, I found myself on an 8 hour road trip to the capital of Luxembourg. Why? My friend who I am staying with needed to pick up her brother – who had just finished a six month internship there – and his stuff and drive him back. I cheered ‘road trip!!’ and tagged along.
Here are my highlights of what I saw of this beautiful country. It had its negatives obviously, like being way too expensive to imagine surviving for long on a tight budget. But I would return (with a good bank balance) at the drop of a hat:
- The languages
French, German and Luxembourgish are all official languages in Luxembourg, with English widely spoken and lots of English-speaking expats living and working there. Finally, I could understand people again! Whether it was French or English, I could get a grasp of what was being spoken around me. Of course, there was a lot of German, and listening to Luxembourgish made my head hurt. How could something sound so French and so German and yet so…different? Sitting down at a restaurant with our combined languages including French, German and English, we kicked off with a bit of German. We then descended into English when the waiter heard us talking in English amongst ourselves. When a different waiter came over with a French accent, I took over with French. Later, when ordering at a English pub, we spoke English to our American-English speaking Luxembourgian waiter. The next day, I ordered everyone their breakfast in French, but when ordering lunch in a restaurant I started out with French and then realized the man serving me was American. I spent the entire trip completely baffled as to who spoke what and had a constant fear in the pit of my stomach that I was about to launch into French to someone who only spoke German or Luxembourgish.
From what I can tell, here a few good rules of thumb with which you can apply: those in the service industry (restaurants, particularly cafes and bakeries) are more likely to speak French. Therefore, turning up at a restaurant and asking for a table for 4 in French will probably hit the spot. Those in businesses and banking tend to speak German, I learnt from my friend’s brother, so if you are heading over for a business meeting a bit of knowledge on how to say Hello and Thank you in German wouldn’t go amiss. The rest seems to be completely arbitrary. But if in doubt: speak English. We never met anyone who didn’t speak at least some English.
So the languages thing was confusing, but it was also one of the things I loved most. It was a country that felt so French – the road signs, the architecture – but had such bold nods to Germany and the old history of this Grand Duchy, that you could never forget you were somewhere different. The mix of languages has also created a great friendliness and willingness to help. Luxembourgian shop assistants, waiters and people on the street all seem aware that their mix of languages is a bit confusing, and are happy to accommodate and help fumbling travelers.
2. The beauty
Luxembourg City really is beautiful. We only saw the countryside as we drove in, but from what I saw it was lush and green with gentle rolling hills. The City itself had its down at heel bits, and like ‘bad parts of town’ across the world this seemed to cluster around the train station. But the old town was a cluster of white houses with steeply sloping grey slate roofs, with the part we visited sitting huddled under caves dug into a steep face in the land. A river ambled gently through the middle of it all, and I longed for my own little white house by its banks. This is apparently pretty much impossible if you aren’t a politician or banker, unfortunately. We were content with sitting in one of the riverside pubs though, an ‘English’ pub with a fantastic list of beers and ciders to choose from. We went for a local one and soaked up the last of the sun as it dipped slowly away, leaving behind a clear and warm evening. In fact, I would go back to Luxembourg simply to sit by the river, at Scott’s Pub, and nurse a drink as the sun went down.
3. The food
One way to my heart is definitely through my stomach, and Luxembourg succeeded. Although we struggled to find out exactly what Luxembourgish ‘food’ was, we soon realized that the mix of languages, cultures and expats from all corners of the globe had created an enormous smorgasbord of food to choose from. We went to ‘Bananas’, a bar and restaurant, and had an amazing Luxem-burger. The prices are decent and the portions enormous, and we got to try Battin Fruité beer.
4. The other places to explore
The great thing about Luxembourg is that despite being famously small, it’s got a lot to see, perhaps a lot more than most people give it credit. Reading up on Luxembourg shows that there is way more to see than I did in my 36 hours there, but that’s what adds to my desire to visit again.
5. The motto
Any country whose motto is ‘Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn’ – Luxembourgish for ‘We want to remain what we are’ – gains my instant respect.