If you ever meet anyone from Luxembourg in the future, my host tells me, just say you went to Namur’s.
Immediately such a comment should conjure up vivid images to any native: old, bourgeois ladies in fur coats, huddled over mugs of divine hot chocolate, gossiping, or even better, talking about money and the fastest ways to get rid of it.
Luxembourg is rich. Really rich. It’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world, thanks to, apparently, its banks. In the delightful City of Luxembourg, you can feel the money dripping from every bourgeois cafe packed in the daytime.
Enter one of these establishments, like Namur, and you can expect a lovely afternoon of potentially snobby people watching. You can also expect to speak French. I only say this because people in Luxembourg speak three languages: French, German and Luxembourgish.
Luxembourgish. The official language. It’s actually called “Luxembourgish.” Amazing.
In any case, the culinary world is predominately influenced by the French. Thus, in eating establishments, you speak French. But if you enter a supermarket, you might be speaking German. And with your friends, or at a casual pub, you will most certainly be speaking Luxembourgish. Simultaneously, you’ll hear English everywhere. Conclusion: it is quite easy to have a conversation that illogically switches between all four.
The mass amount of English being spoken is probably because of the City’s high number of foreigners. According to my host, less than half of the City’s population are natives, with about 40 percent of the entire country’s half million being foreign. This is largely due to the international institutions based in Luxembourg, like Brussels, and my host wasn’t concerned about this at all, unlike many Belgians.
It’s a common feeling amongst Belgians in Brussels that the city is being overtaken by foreigners. It’s international — incredibly international — which can be great. At the same time, the local culture can get lost. There are vast Turkish and Moroccan burros in Brussels and they’re growing fast, with seemingly no desire to integrate. This is where some are concerned.
My host, while not concerned, did mention that foreigners and locals tend to stay separate. Foreigners, after all, don’t generally speak Luxembourgish, and the Luxembourgish enjoy speaking Luxembourgish. Or maybe the Luxembourgish just want to ensure they have purebred Luxembourgish children.
The Luxembourgish are fiercely proud of their little country. My host bragged about being able to travel anywhere in the world and automatically be fascinating (how often have you met someone from Luxembourg?). And with his country’s pacifist disposition, he never has to feel shame or defend himself, like, say, me.
But on to things you actually want: pictures.
The City of Luxembourg is stunningly beautiful. It’s layered, with a High City and Low City, creating magnificently picturesque views of both. History literally encloses you in the Grund (see above), in the form of fortresses, and you are always surrounded by greenery.
By night, the city looks even more like a storybook.
And to my great surprise, it is in the most picturesque part of the city, the Grund, where locals congregate for debauchery. I couldn’t believe anyone actually lived in the Grund, let alone partied there. Then I walked by a random bar, peeked through a window, and saw six shirtless teenagers in neon green wigs swinging pints. Even though my companion for the evening said that was a typical Luxembourgish joint, the next pub we went to fit my perception of Luxembourg far better: folks in their 50s in smoky candlelight, swaying and singing around a lively pianist.
The capital has life, indeed. And it should, when it’s the only real city in its country. Most of Luxembourg is small villages, rolling hills and forests. As Lonely Planet aptly put it: it’s the stuff of fairy tales.
I ventured up to Vianden for my final afternoon, a picture-perfect village about an hour north. That hour of train and bus travel was easily the most beautiful public transportation experience I’ve had in recent memory. I didn’t even nap.
Vianden was everything it was supposed to be — a visual dream. Cute homes lined a river. Greenery was vast. A large medieval castle hovered.
I circled the village and hiked through the forest to reach the chateau. In the middle of trees, with a perfect view of swans basking in the river, and a castle getting larger and larger with each step, I was simply in awe. Besides my own crunching of leaves, I could only hear birds singing, and I thought surely this is the moment I’d finally meet a real-life clan of deer, bunnies and princesses.