After a little over 3 hours from Brussels, the train pulled in to the Luxembourg main train station around 4:15PM, and we were happy to be able to arrive in time to explore Luxembourg by night. There was nobody to check our Covid vaccines, passports, or anything else since we were coming from a neighboring EU country, and we were relieved. This marked country number 85 for me and 59 for Brendan. There was also some doubt of being able to travel to Luxembourg, given that it was locked down to foreigners up until November 9. Luckily no adjustments were made due to Omicron and obviously we were able to get in, especially since we were coming by train via a neighboring EU nation. We did a little happy dance as we disembarked and made our way by foot to our hotel. Only later did we find out that all public transportation in Luxembourg was free to all travelers, and that we could have easily taken the bus. Even trains within Luxembourg were free, so if you bought an international ticket, you only paid the fare from the Luxembourg border to your destination, but not inside. How civilized!
We were excited for Luxembourg because it was an unlikely country to “naturally” go through via the course of our work, although we did find that many American companies (Google, Amazon) had offices there due to the low corporate tax. It was also such a small country that it was overshadowed by its acclaimed neighbors, and we frankly weren’t sure what to expect. We ultimately found Luxembourg to be an exceedingly livable city, one that we’d consider in the future.
Google Maps was acting a little wonky and had challenges resolving which side of the street our Sofitel Grand Ducal Hotel was on, but we eventually found it, after a kind resident offered directions in perfect English. Upon check-in, we had to show our vaccine cards and passport, were instructed on mask rules as well as having to show our Covid card to enter Christmas markets and restaurants again. The hotel staff could not advise us as to whether or not we could get a Luxembourg digital Covid certificate, but assured us we could enter the Christmas markets. We felt better about the situation, and once upstairs even more so – the room was spacious, comfortable, and well-equipped. The bathroom was huge, and we were happy to have a bathroom with a separate toilet with a door that closed and fan.
After a brief rest and researching restaurants, we made an 8PM reservation at Les Copain d’Abord in the old town. We set out early to take in the sites and get our bearings, and attempted to enter the main Christmas market along the river on the way from the new city to the old city. It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The guards checking Covid certificates at the Christmas market would not let us in with our paper cards, and required a digital certificate. After trying to convince him with no luck, we stepped back and tried to get on internet to do some research. At one point, I decided it was worth trying our Belgian digital Covid certificate, which actually worked for both of us.
The Christmas market was pleasant enough, more so than in Belgium, but as usual offered all of the same stuff. Brendan purchased a black, nondescript beanie that was less bulky than the one he brought, to both stay warm and economize jacket space.
From there, we assumed we were in the clear and able to continue to use our Belgian Covid certificates, so we located a Thai restaurant we were interested in and made reservations for the following evening. While there, we talked to the manager about the Covid restrictions and procedures, and he was surprised that we couldn’t enter the Christmas market with our paper cards. He blamed the guards for being blockheads basically, and too lazy to use their eyes beyond the QR code technology they were given. Another explanation he offered was around politics – implying that maybe the guard didn’t like foreigners, or that the government might have a policy in place around it. We asked him to scan our Belgian QR codes to see if that also worked for him, and it did not. Inexplicable. In fact, we tried a few more times and beyond getting in to the Christmas market, no other places were able to authenticate our Belgian QR code. The only explanation I could come up with was that the guard at the Christmas market was using a previous version of the Covid.lu software that somehow did allow for Belgian reciprocity. The rules were changing frequently enough that this explanation could make sense.
Prior to dinner, we had just enough time to grab a cocktail and found a place that we kept coming back to called Octans. We were tired of beer, didn’t want wine and this offered a lovely alternative, with creative and whimsy cocktail choices and a friendly staff. We had to dash after one drink, but promised to return the following night. We took some pictures around the town on our way to dinner as well, and found Luxembourg by night to be quite lovely. A crisp and dry winter’s night.
We reached our restaurant quickly (everything is centrally located in the old town area) and had no problem getting in with our paper Covid vaccine card. We were offered the choice of eating upstairs or downstairs in the basement, and we chose the basement because it offered that charming medieval ambience. So far, this was the best dining experience we had. The waiter was friendly and the food was excellent, rich French cuisine. We started with a charcuterie plate, followed by the Chicken Fricasse for Brendan and the green pepper steak for me. For dessert, Brendan ordered a lava cake and I ordered an apple crumble. The desserts were playfully named on the menu (Brendan’s was called The Dark and Sinky, for instance) and were healthy in size. We also both enjoyed our aperitifs of Aperol Spritz varietals – something a little different. I also tried a Luxembourg pinot noir.
Full and happy, we wandered around Luxembourg by night for a few more minutes.
And then returned to our hotel for slumber. So far our first impressions of Luxembourg by night were all good ones.