We jetted off to Luxembourg in May to meet up with Andrew’s cousin, Nick, and explore. Luxembourg wasn’t originally high on my list of places to go, but after strategizing with Andrew about our travel plans for the year, we decided to seek out destinations off the beaten path: locales we would be unlikely to visit again once we returned home to the USA. So after learning that cousin Nick was in Luxembourg, we booked our tickets1 for a long weekend.
After our two hour flight we found our Airbnb and met up with Nick for dinner on Friday night. Nick’s expat family friends, Debbie and Kevin, were hosting him during the Luxembourg leg of his post-college backpacking adventure. They generously invited us over for dinner. (I love being able to visit people in their homes to see what daily life is like in other countries! This has been a really fun part of staying in Airbnbs abroad) We had a great dinner and got some excellent advice on touring around Luxembourg City.
We got up late because this girl likes to sleep and walked into town. (Our Airbnb was about a 40 minute walk from the city center.)
First stop was coffee then on to Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the only cathedral in Luxembourg. Fortunately there was a church service going on, so while we weren’t able to understand the service because it was in French/Latin, we were able to hear a mezzo soprano sing a gorgeous hymn.
We had some time to kill before our walking tour that afternoon so we visited the Luxembourg City History Museum. The museum structure is made up of four restored houses from the 17th to the 19th century which still bear archaeological traces from the Middle Ages. The structure was just as impressive as the contents of the museum: the museum used glass staircases and partitions so space is open and airy and you can see all the original structures.
Here’s what I gleaned from the museum:
Luxembourg is primarily known for two things: 1) being one of three capitals of the European Union and 2) previously being a tax haven for business. I say previously because after the Great Recession laws were amended which made it a bit less desirable location to headquarter a company. Many companies (Amazon, Paypal, Skype) still have their European HQ in Luxembourg City.
Its capital, Luxembourg City, is, together with Brussels and Strasbourg, one of the three official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest juridical authority in the EU. Its culture, people and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours, making it essentially a mixture of French and Germanic cultures. This is emphasized by the three official languages, Luxembourgish, French, and German. The repeated invasions by its neighbor countries, especially in World War II, resulted in the country’s strong will for mediation between France and Germany and, among other things, led to the foundation of the European Union.
In fact, a few days before we arrived, Kate Middleton was in Luxembourg to celebrate 150th anniversary of Luxembourg’s independence, marked by the 1867 Treaty of London. Some in the media are calling the royal couple part of the “Brexit Charm Offensive” aka “Brexit Ambassadors” to EU countries.
We grabbed some grub before starting our walking tour which began with a short introduction to Luxembourg’s history before delving into the Bock Casemates (literally death house), a complex network of underground tunnels that — because of Luxembourg’s striated geology — also provide an ideal place to attack from. Back above ground, we saw the remnants of the Roman road from Reims to Trier2 and the residual fortifications, the majority of which were ordered demolished by the 1867 Treaty of London. For a fun tangential six minute read, Andrew suggests: Why 1866 Set the Stage for Two World Wars.
On Sunday we took the train to the town of Fond-de-Gras to ride a steam train. The first leg of our journey took us to an old mine where we took a second train into the mine and de-boarded for a short tour of the mine. The tours are run by volunteers who were very happy to answer all of Nick and Andrew’s questions. The train engineer even let them ride in the locomotive car and look in the workshop.
Although my original enthusiasm was not near the level of Nick and Andrew’s for this outing, I quickly got on board (pun intended) and thoroughly enjoyed the ride and tour.
On Monday morning we had brunch at an outdoor cafe facing an open courtyard. There was a band playing classical music in the courtyard bandstand and everything felt just right with the the world. I was even able to coax a cheeky smile out of my adventure mate.
Prior to our departure that evening, Debbie took us to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm (Thank you, Debbie!!). The cemetery honors the fallen US soldiers of WWII including George Patton, who is buried on the grounds. The US essentially owns the plot of land as in 1951 Luxembourg granted the US free use of the land in perpetuity, without tax. This stop was on my list of must see things in Luxembourg. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t make a visit.
The site is meticulously kept and is a beautiful tribute to the fallen. I was very moved by it. My paternal grandfather fought in WWII (Both of Andrew’s grandfathers served in WWII as well) and my grandmother served as a nurse. I imagine they may have known someone buried in Luxembourg.
From the Cemetery literature:
2nd Lt. Nancy Leo is the only women buried in the cemetery. She was a nurse with the 216th General Hospital. She joined the service in hopes of seeing her sister, Angela, also an army nurse. The sisters made arrangements to finally meet in Paris in July of 1945. As Nancy traveled to Paris, she was involved in a car accident and seriously injured. She died on her way to the hospital, never seeing her sister, Angela. Her sister was the first to learn of her death.
There are 25 US cemeteries outside the US. I am hoping to visit the Normandy Cemetery this year.
It was a good trip and I enjoyed getting to know Nick. (We bonded over our shared love of cotton candy). I think we convinced him to make a stop in the UK 🙂
Next Stop: Croatia’s beaches for our anniversary celebration. Luckily the traditional 4th year gift in the UK is fruit so I can totally nail that one.