The next morning we slept in and made it just in time for the 11AM Luxembourg tour by foot. Our guide for the “free” Luxembourg tour was Maria – actually from Belarus but living in Luxembourg for the last 4 years, married to a Luxembourger, and studying French and Luxembourgish to apply for citizenship. She ultimately wants to work with youth, which was her career prior to moving to Luxembourg, and is biding her time as a tour guide until she learns the requisite languages and can sit for the exam. Apparently it is an arduous process that takes a lot of commitment and diligence – makes sense given how wealthy Luxembourg is (highest per capita income in Europe) and how many services it provides to its citizens. That said, we did notice several beggars on the street – all young, well-dressed, and did not appear to be experiencing homelessness. We did not encounter any Afghan or Syrian refugees in this country.
Maria began the Luxembourg tour in the main square, Place d’Armes, by the Monument of Dicks and Lentz, which depicted some of the scenes described by these beloved national poet. The square was overtaken by another Christmas market (which we were now also not able to enter), so was not as open and picturesque as other times of year.
The tour group was still fairly small in size, with a few American students included as well – the first time we encountered other Americans on our tours, in fact. We actually had lunch together after the tour and met Natalie, from NYC studying art in Amsterdam as a graduate student; a young lady from Seattle studying poly-sci in Germany; Laura from Canada, a tax accountant with an Instagram business, just traveling about Europe while working remotely. They were a lovely group, and we felt thoroughly old. Especially when two of the ladies were talking about “Insta” and it took us a beat to realize they meant Instagram. This is what not having kids does to you – makes you slowly irrelevant unless your keep learning. That’s in part why we travel.
We then moved on to the town’s visitor center square, which had been under construction (a parking garage was being installed) for several years. This square housed the Tourist Information center, the City Hall, and this is where we first learned of the importance of the fox, as depicted on the statue to the left of the City Hall.
On the next stop of our Luxembourg tour, we saw the Royal Palace, where we observed the changing of the guard and all the pomp and circumstance that entailed. The parliament building was also situation to the right of the Royal Palace, and the building was so small that it was relocated to a nearby Marriott during COVID so that social distancing could be practiced between members of parliament. As we walked by this palace throughout our trip, it felt like we were always seeing a changing of the guards ceremony on display.
In this square, Maria also explained some unique art. There were several tall poles with concave faces on the top, looking towards parliament. As you moved back and forth, the eyes followed you given the concave nature of their construction. This was supposed to reflect the eyes of the people being ever watchful over parliament. Here’s a picture of the eyes at day during out tour, and then again also at night, when we were roaming around on our own after our Luxembourg tour.
We continued to the area we ate dinner at last night, and Maria pointed out a few restaurants, including Am Tiirmschen, which was also recommended by the hotel desk. We attempted to try it for lunch the following day before heading to Zurich, but unfortunately they were closed. It served traditional Luxembourg food, consisting of a blend between French and German. Lots of sausages, game meat, stews, and potatoes. Maria also described some of the local beer and recommended that we try Boefferding over Batten – in truth, they both ended up being swill beers and nothing like the Belgian brews we had been spoiled by. At this stop, Maria also explained the significance of the Tierm, or tower, in the alley behind the restaurants. She also mentioned that the State Museum was worth a visit, simply to see the rock architecture on the inside.
For our final few stops we moved to the hill looking down on the valley below, where there was another small town in the valley that was the richer part of town. The area had recently been damaged by the floods that also aggravated Germany over the summer, and the area was still recovering. We liked the valley area also because it had a good deal of green space and open space was incorporated, as well as shops and restaurants. Maria also mentioned it was a good place to party (at least as far as Luxembourg goes).
We did observe that Luxembourg was more of a late night city, and was very much our speed. We enjoyed eating between 8 and 9PM and then walking around for a bit afterwards to take in the city. Apparently, recent COVID restricts coming in to effect just as we arrived forced places to close by 1AM. We still found this quite generous, all things considered, and certainly more generous than what we experienced in Belgium.
Afterwards, we visited the Cathedral Notre-Dame and enjoyed the outstanding early 17th century gothic architecture, which was built upon century after century to display other styles as well. On the interior, we marveled at the intricacy of the organ and stained glass. We tried to visit the crypts, which housed former Luxembourg royalty, but there was unfortunately a choir practice in session.
Our last stop was the Monument of Remembrance, known as the Golden Lady, honoring the Luxembourg people who died in the first and second world wars of the 20th century. It disappeared during World War II and remained unaccounted for until 1980, when she was found under the bleachers in the national football stadium, where she had been previously hidden.
We ended the tour back in the main square near the tourist center, and a few of us decided to grab some hot chocolate (the weather was terrible by now) back near the Duke’s residence and the creepy eye art at a chocolate shop that Maria recommended (Chocolate House). Bizarrely, this was the first time we had hot chocolate on this trip, despite it being more famous in Belgium. Walking in the store, you were instantly overwhelmed with hundreds of different chocolate sticks that you were supposed to choose from, and bring upstairs for it to be transformed into its liquid form via a milk delivery mechanism. I selected a Christmas blend (with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves etc.) and Brendan of course chose the espresso flavored dark chocolate. This might have been the best part of our Luxembourg tour so far – certainly the most indulgent!
We snagged a table upstairs and placed our order as our friends from the tour group arrived and joined us. We shared travel stories with a focus on Covid disruption, as we sipped our delicious hot chocolate, and also marveled at the cakes that two of the women had selected (they were HUGE!).
Brendan and I also each got some soup since we hadn’t eaten yet that day. Soups were turning out to be the perfect light lunch meal. Of all of the travelers we were eating with, we were the oldest but also the most well-traveled. Sadly, we are now squarely middle age, but we seem to still travel and tour like university students and younger folks (trains, free walking tours, etc.). What was different of course was our income level and the ability to move beyond a 20 Euro a day food budget. But as we compared notes with the younger travelers, we were pleased to discover that our travel style was still young at heart.
After lunch, we each went our separate ways. We headed to the National Museum since it was very rainy, and we were waiting for a break in the weather to explore the valley below. The museum was free to enter, and also had free Wi-Fi – so civilized! Starting at the bottom in prehistoric times, we took it in floor by floor as the country transitioned to Roman to Medieval to modern. Since a lot of the prehistoric and Roman stuff we’d seen before, we spent more time on the upper floors with the art from the last 300-400 years. Towards the end, we noticed a special exhibit on Iran that we put in our pocket if we needed to kill time the next day. It did require an entrance fee.
After the museum, the weather broke so we walked down to the valley to explore. It was very sleepy, but then again it was mid-day by this point, and a Wednesday at that. We imagined a livelier time, in the evening, in the summer, with good weather and more tourists, drinking and eating by the gorgeous river. With the recent flooding the summer before, additional construction and restoration was happening and some places were still closed.
On our Luxembourg tour, Maria had told us about the purple mermaid named Melusina, which we got to visit down below in the old town. The legend goes that Count Siegfried, the founder of Luxembourg city, met a beautiful woman and fell madly in love with her. He asked her to marry him, and she agreed under the condition that every Saturday, she would have a day to herself without Siegfried following or bothering her. They lived happily for many years, until one day, he broke his promise, and followed her down to the banks of the river, where he saw her bathing as a mermaid. She vanished, but legend has it that she still haunts the river valley.
We took a break towards the end of our walk at La Pipistrelle, one of the hotels we had actually considered staying at near one of end of the valley near the elevator that takes you up to the bridge. It was great to get off our feet and try some of the local beer. I had the Boefferding, which tasted like Budweiser. Brendan had a cider, and Luxembourg cider turned out to be excellent – surprisingly dry given the climate (their wine was sweeter varietals like Riesling). At this point, I started and submitted my Swiss COVID digital vaccine certification process, which also cost 30 Swiss Francs, since we were just seeing that we will need that to enter Swiss establishments. Brendan completed his when we were back at the hotel. We ending up calculating that at least being in the process of obtaining it would be better than no progress, and that it might be produced faster than expected and in time for our Michelin star vegetarian restaurant and trip highlight in Zürich on Friday night. After our rest, we took the elevator up from the valley to the new town, and finally put 2 + 2 together as to why the bar we were just at was called the Updown bar.
After that, we headed back to the hotel for a few hour break before dinner at the Thai Celadon at 8PM. A few hours later, we were back at it, and found ourselves not quite hungry yet and wanting to return to the Octans bar which we had enjoyed so much the time before. So we rearranged our reservation at the Thai restaurant to 830PM, giving us a little more time for cocktails. Tonight at Octans, we tried some different cocktails from the night before and also had a very pleasant conversation with our bartender, again revisiting the topic of Covid vaccination passes, our paper passes, and the inability to get in to the Christmas markets. He said the same thing the Thai restaurant manager had said – that the paper versions should be accepted as long as you can read the vaccine type, the date, and the name, to then compare it with the name on the passport. He said that some people may be lazy and not want to think, but didn’t have an explanation for why our Belgian certificate worked once but never again (he also tried again for us with no success). We said our goodbyes and headed to dinner, after taking a recommendation of a bar in Zurich that we should try called Bar am Wasser (if we could get in!).
The Thai food was excellent as far as a change of pace from meat and potatoes and stew, and offered some nice vegetarian options, albeit not very spicy or complex in flavor. The experience was very good, the staff was very kind, and we greatly enjoyed our experience if nothing else than for the variety. I ordered the vegetarian fixed menu, which came with some egg rolls, followed by a red vegetarian curry with rice, and a sorbet. Brendan had the green curry chicken, which had more to offer than the red curry and came in a little hot pot which was super cute. He also had a side pad Thai, which was ok but not great. The lemon sorbet hit the spot and we both shared it for dessert. I tried the white wine while Brendan had a cocktail. Another great evening and a great Luxembourg tour!