A Travellerspoint blog

Luxembourg

A Weekend in Luxembourg City

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View from the train upon arrival

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Now we are jumping across the borders of Germany... Luxembourg had long been on my wish list, as the last of our neighbouring countries that was still blank on my travel map. Hotel rooms in Luxembourg City are horrendously expensive, in particular during the week, which limited my stay to one long weekend.

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For convenience I booked at the Best Western Hotel in Place de la Gare, right opposite the railway station. It turned out to be a good choice. I had the cheapest room category, one that faced the inner courtyard or rather light shaft. No views, but also no street noise! The station quarter does not have the best of reputations, but so what. I used the bus stops in the square and the main streets, and did not see much of red light district and such.

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I arrived on Friday in the early evening. The weather forecasts were very promising for the whole weekend. The plan involved a full day of sightseeing in Luxembourg City on Saturday and some kind of day trip on Sunday, in order to see more of the country than just its capital. Originally I had chosen Clerf/Clervaux because it can be reached by train. I dislike long bus rides, which ruled out Vianden and Echternach.

That was the plan, but Luxembourg Railways were against me: track works scheduled for that very weekend between Ettelbruck and Clervaux, trains substituted by buses... one hour on winding roads through the hills of the Ardennes. Not my idea of fun. In the end, Vianden won. But more about that later.

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Luxembourg's beautiful central station

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My favourite view, taken from Bock casemates

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Luxembourg’s cityscape is really something. The centre occupies a plateau surrounded by the valleys of two small rivers called Alzette and Pétrusse. These valleys are framed by almost vertical cliffs. Its geographical and topographical situation gave Luxembourg a high strategic significance.

Starting with the first castle on the point of Bock rock, step by step the fortifications were extended into one of the largest fortresses in Europe. In those times Luxembourg was nicknamed the “Gibraltar of the North”. 90% of the fortifications were demolished in the 19th century. The leftovers are still enormous. The fortress as a whole must have been gigantic.

High bridges span over the deep-cut valleys: Pont d’Adolphe and Passerelle or Old Bridge from the station quarter, the so-called Red Bridge to Kirchberg, the railway viaduct. The city consists of two layers, and usually one moves on the upper level without descending into the valleys.

On the first evening I had no particular plans. Just see what the city is like. I set out on foot from the hotel and walked across the Old Bridge towards the old town. The bridge reaches the town plateau at a huge bulwark called the bastion of the Holy Spirit. A war memorial with an eternal flame recalls Luxembourg’s difficult history in World War II and the many victims.

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The tip of the plateau is known as Cité de la Justice. The vast complex of buildings is the seat of various law courts. Behind, the Corniche begins: a balcony-like promenade walk on the edge of the cllff which offers the finest view of the rocks and the valley below, the valley suburbs of Grund and Clausen and the monasteries down by the stream.

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I did not proceed further that evening, though, but meandered through the old town, past the palace of the Granddukes, and across Place d’Armes. The sun was already setting. It was a mild evening. All restaurants and street cafes were buzzing. I was hungry, too, but finding a table and sitting all by myself would not work. My hotel had a bar that also served small dishes, and I had a light dinner there, rested my tired legs and turned in early.

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Place d'Armes

Saturday: Exploring Luxembourg City

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Bock rock with the casemates

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Saturday was my main sightseeing day in Luxembourg City. In the morning I jumped on a city bus that took me straight to Bock casemates. I arrived there shortly before they opened, so I spent some time enjoying the view from the top in the morning sun. This is the place where Luxembourg’s history started, with the construction of the first castle in the 10th century. The tip of the plateau overlooks and guards the valleys below and has always been of highest strategic significance.

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Bock rock is like a Swiss cheese. During the construction of the fortress, a system of tunnels and casemates was dug and drilled into the rocks underneath the city. Only small parts are still accessible. The casemates served entirely for military purposes, as covered and protected cannon stands, storages, connecting tunnels.

A visit to Bock casemates begins with a small exhibition about their history. Maps explain the growth of the fortress in the run of the centuries. Spaniards, French, Austrians, Prussians added theirs. It is hard to imagine that the impressive walls, bulwarks, towers and forts that we see nowadays are hardly 10% of the original fortress.

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The visitors are free to explore the casemates to their liking. Cannons are placed in the openings, which offer great views into the valleys. (Parts of the tunnels are dimly lit, take care walking on the uneven ground.)

The exit leads across the lower level of the 18th century Schlossbrücke that connects Bock rock with the old town. The German name Schlossbrücke is written on it, that’s why I am using it. – Leaving the casemates, you end up at the beginning of the Corniche.
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The wombats enjoyed exploring the tunnels

Riding Pétrusse Express

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There are two ‘tourist transports’ in Luxembourg, both operated by the same company: the Hop on Hop off bus, and the green choo-choo train named Pétrusse Express. The HOHO bus is, in my humble opinion, of little use because it does not go anywhere else than the normal city buses, and its stops are rather far from many attractions. That bit of superficial commentary you’d get does not justify three times the price of a normal day ticket for public transport.

However, I do recommend the Pétrusse Express. The little “road trains” have their starting point on top of Bock rock, hence a ride can easily be combined with a visit to the casemates. They go down into the valley to Clausen, then up on the opposite side to Plateau du Rham, down again to Grund and the bottom of Pétrusse valley, up Montée Pétrusse and across the bridge, through the old town and back to the starting point.

The ride gives an idea of Luxembourg’s topography, shows various parts of the fortifications and the old quarters down in the valleys – in other words, it saves a LOT of walking and climbing.

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Plateau du Rham

The commentary is available in about ten different languages. It is a conversation between a man and a child, quite well done. I tried it in Letzebuergisch, and found that with knowledge of German and some idea of the Rhineland dialects, this language is understandable!

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Pétrusse Valley

The choo-choo train runs at slow speed (and annoys all the cars behind), so taking photos during the ride is possible. I was snapping along all the time and caught many...

Hint: The best seat for photographers is the bench at the back of the last train car, in order to have an undisturbed view backwards.

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Corniche, Luxembourg's "balcony"

After the ride I sat down on a bench on the Corniche, ate my apple, and wondered what to do next. The views down into the valley, to Grund, Neumünster abbey, the little bridge by the wall and tower, the gardens... were far too tempting to leave this unexplored. My legs said, yes, we can. So I walked along Corniche and then ventured downhill.

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Grund is a picturesque quarter at the bottom of the valley. It has several small restaurants and pubs and looks like a popular hangout. Pétrusse river runs right through. The stone bridge seems to be the centre of the quarter.

Two former monasteries are lined up by the river. The small convent is now the seat of the museum of natural history.

The much larger Neumünster has been turned into a cultural centre. The church was open, and I had it all to myself... I could not resist singing an Easter hymn. Fine acoustics. The vaults answered and threw back my song...

After the closing of the convent the grounds had been used for military purposes. Arsenal buildings surround the wide courtyard behind the church.

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Two Australian tourists in front of Bock rock

From here, the small bridge that I had seen from above leads across the river. The monastery gardens on the river bank are still well taken care of. They even include a tiny vineyard.

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A footpath leads along the river at the foot of Bock rock, and then slowly uphill. Passing underneath Schlossbrücke I finally reached the old town, passing a historical town gate called the Three Towers, and found myself opposite the National Museum.

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Schlossbrücke and Three Towers

National Museum of Art and History

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Now I really needed a rest, a drink, a coffee and some food. The cafe inside the museum looked promising. I had already taken in enough sunlight that morning, so I chose a table inside. The cafe offers salads and other small dishes as well as pastry and desserts. Their white cheese with chestnut puree is to die for!

Batteries reloaded, I went to see the museum. The National Museum of Art and History is herewith highly recommended! Since I was already rather tired, my visit was somehow superficial. I saw just a few parts that particularly caught my attention. One could easily spend hours in there.

On the ground floor they have an introductory exhibition on the history and concept of the museum itself. Its present building is rather new. The presentations begin on the lowest floor of the basement with prehistory, then continues over several floors with the ancient Romans, the middle ages, the early modern, industrial and contemporary era. The pieces that fascinated me most were the archaeological finds from the ancient Roman era, including large mosaics from the floors of a Roman villa. A gallery of Luxembourgian art occupies the top floor. There is also room for temporary exhibitions; they currently had one on the Etruscans.

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Three adjacent historical townhouses are attached to the museum and part of the permanent exhibition. They present the rooms, pieces of furniture and household equipment and, first of all, the history of the families who once owned these houses. The former inhabitants come to life, as representants of the citizens of Luxembourg. Including a very moving love story from the 17th century!

Entry to the museum is free, by the way. It is open daily except Monday.

Website: http://www.mnha.lu/en/MNHA

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There was one last entry left on my “Want to see” list for the day: the cathedral.

Luxembourg’s cathedral is a gothic building that has been extended and refurbished over and over again in the run of the centuries.

The pillars of the nave, for example, are covered in Renaissance ornaments.

The stained glass windows date partly from the 19th century, partly from the post-war era.

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The crypt underneath contains the burial vault of the Granddukes. Since the dynasty came into existence only in 1890, there are still few graves.

The most prominent one is the tomb of Grandduchess Charlotte, who was elected as the country’s ruler (Luxembourg is an elective monarchy) after World War II and the liberation.

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Evening on Kirchberg

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After a necessary and, I’d say, well-deserved rest at my hotel I set out again in the late afternoon. I wanted to see Kirchberg, the modern quarter on the opposite side of Alzette valley where the institutions of the EU have their seat. This is a different world!

I went up by bus across the Red Bridge and along till Luxexpo fairground at the far end of Kirchberg, already close to the airport. This is the eastern terminus of the tram line that runs across Kirchberg. The area is too vast to be explored on foot, so the tram came handy.

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I got off the tram at the buildings of the European parliament. While the seat of the parliament is actually Strasbourg, the presidency and administration have their offices here. The flags of the EU and all 27 member countries add a sea of colours to the otherwise sober office buildings.

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The largest and most important institution in Kirchberg is the Law Court of the EU. Their seat is a huge and terribly ugly box-shaped building. The central wing, not visible from the street, contains the trial halls. It is surrounded by a rectangular frame that contains the offices, built on pillars and covered in a facade of dark glass. More offices are located in the tall golden towers next to it. Two towers of about 25 storeys each are in use, a third one is currently under construction. Bureaucracy is expanding.

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There are more construction works going on in this part of Kirchberg, I do not know what for. This quarter appears as one big construction site. In addition to the EU institutions, many large companies have their seat here, there are hotels, there is infrastructure, for example a supermarket for EU employees only.

Cultural institutions are located on Kirchberg, too. The round white building on the other sid of the main street is the Philharmonie, a large concert hall. Walking downhill towards the tip of the plateau, one reaches the Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM), a futuristic glass building. It was built into the ramparts of a fort from the Prussian era, called the Three Acorns after its three round stumpy towers. The fort is a museum, too.

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The bulwarks on the edge must offer a splendid panoramic view of the old town and the valley, but my walking abilities were really at their end... With some effort and pain I made it back to the tram stop, then onto the bus and back to my hotel. Time to call it a day!

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Some Remarks about the Public Transport Network

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Luxembourg’s public transport is easy to use. They have but two types of tickets: a short-term ticket for 2 € which is valid for two hours, and a day ticket for 4 € - no matter where you go, in the whole country.

The city’s public transport network is mostly operated by buses. A modern tram line is currently being built. Elegant, shiny new trams they are. So far, the tram runs only across Kirchberg and ends at the Red Bridge. The line is projected to continue through the city centre all the way to the central station.

On Saturdays the city buses are even free. I made extensive use of them. One big disadvantage, though, is that bus stops are relatively infrequent. The old town in particular does hardly have any bus stops in its vicinity. Coming from the central station, all buses take the same route along Avenue de la Liberté and Pont Adolphe. There are no buses at all that would run across the Old Bridge and Place de la Constitution, which would have been useful to reach the old town.

Trilingual Sunday Service at the Protestant Church

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On Sunday morning I wanted to go to church. The protestant parish community of Luxembourg City, a united evangelical community, occupies a former convent church, I don’t know of which order, in a side lane behind the cathedral. Luxembourg is predominantly Roman-Catholic. A protestant community was founded only in the 19th century, originally for the Prussian military.

The most prominent members of the community are the Granddukes themselves: They are the descendants of the house of Nassau-Weilburg, which is of Lutheran denomination. They have their seats in the box net to the altar. However, they very rarely appear in person. I heard that their major-domo shows up occasionally as their representant, though.

The community is trilingual, just like the country. Their service is trilingual, too. The sermon is done half in German, half in French. Printouts with the translation in the other language are available. Of the hymns, we sang two verses in French and two verses in German. The lectures were done in Lëtzebuergesch. Prayers and Credo were said by everyone in their own language. The liturgical chants were in Latin, chants from Taizé in fact – just like we have them at our church in Karlsruhe.

The congregation was smallish. But somehow I felt at home there immediately. Afterwards there was coffee and tea, and a chat with the preacher and some nice ladies. Very friendly people. They wanted to keep me to join their choir... but unfortunately I was already leaving the following day.

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Bilingual street signs

Being a language freak, I am fascinated by this country’s multilinguality that locals handle so naturally. Luxembourg has three official languages: Lëtzebuergesch, French and German. People constantly switch between them. Usually French is the first choice. (Mine is rather limited, but I happily tried it, as speaking German seemed too lame in these polyglot surroundings.) In recent years Lëtzebuergesch has become more and more popular. Most people also speak good English. Given the international crowd that work for the EU, the many banks and other businesses, a multitude of languages is heard and understood.

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:07 Archived in Luxembourg Tagged luxembourg Comments (3)

Vianden Castle

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Luxembourg is more than just its capital. On Sunday afternoon I intended to do a side trip to a smaller town on order to see more of the country. I wanted a place that is reachable by train, since I am uncomfortable with longer bus rides. That limited my options. I chose Clervaux, the town and castle up in the forests of the Ardennes hills.

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However, Luxembourg Railways spoilt my plans. The northbound railway line was to be closed due to construction works, substitute buses would be running from Ettelbruck onwards… about an hour on smallish, winding country roads, as a look in the map revealed. Not my idea of fun.

I changed my plans and decided to go to Vianden instead, which meant a much shorter bus ride. Vianden castle had originally been at the top of my wish list anyway.

I caught a regional train to Ettelbruck and changed to a bus there. Timetables are well connected; the change works smoothly without spending time waiting. This means, however, that one should not linger on the way. It’s also good to know that the bus number is 570 and that as final destination it has Stolzembourg written on the display, in order to find the right one quickly among the many bus stops. I did not even have time to take a photo.

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Vianden is a small town in the valley of the river Our, practically on the German border. Its main attraction is the huge castle, which sits on top of the hill above the town as if it had just landed from space. It is a popular day trip destination not only among Luxembourgians but also among people from the adjacent areas of Belgium and Germany. Motorbikers love the winding side roads in the hills on both sides of the border. The little town was accordingly busy on that sunny, warm spring Sunday.

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The bus dropped me off by the river next to the bridge. From there, the castle looks high, high up. The slope towards the river is steep and covered in forest. The easiest way up is following the main street of the old town. It leads steadily uphill into the side valley behind castle hill. The ascent is not necessarily gentle. I think there is not a single bit of street in old Vianden that is horizontal – at least not in the old part. Locals are certainly well trained in climbing these hillsides all the time.

Old Vianden has fine historical houses. The main street does a wide curve with some windings, following the topography of the valley. The number of restaurants and cafes indicates the place’s popularity as a tourist destination.

Halfway up the street passes the gothic parish church. They must have had the First Holy Communion that morning: I saw several family parties with dressed-up kids, and the interior of the church was decorated for the occasion. The church consists, which is quite unusual, of two naves of equal height. The left nave contains the elaborate stone tomb of a Countess from 1400.

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Then the street leads further up. It was warm and very sunny, the cobblestone pavement is anything but smooth – it was a strenuous walk. But at the upper end of the main street, the major part of the ascent was already behind me. A bit further up and around a corner, and there it was: the castle.

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The ancient Romans had already built a fortified castellum on this hilltop. The present castle was built from the 11th to the 14th century with a couple of later additions. Until the 15th century it belonged to the Counts of Vianden, a dynasty of wealth and political influence and, as their residential home proves, ambition. Then, by heritage, it became property of the house of Nassau, in particular the line of Nassau-Orange, Oranje-Nassau, in other words, the very same dynasty who are now the Kings and Queens of the Netherlands.

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The silhouette of the castle is somehow unusual, because it lacks the main keep which we consider a typical feature of a medieval castle. The highest point is the turret on top of the chapel wing. It is an intact castle and claims to be one of the largest and most important preserved castles in Europe.

However, we should not let ourselves be fooled: It is not entirely original. The two largest wings were partly taken down and fell into ruins in the 19th century. Rebuilding started only in 1977, since the castle has been property of the state of Luxembourg.

The castle is open daily; hours depend on the season. Please refer to the website for all details, entrance fees etc.: http://www.castle-vianden.lu/english/index.html

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The kitchen

Visitors explore the castle on their own. A circuit is signposted, and it is wise to follow it in order to see everything without losing your way. An audioguide can be obtained at the cash desk, but there are also enough written explanations to understand without clinging to an electronic chatterbox. The tour is not suitable for people with walking difficulties due to the many stairs.

A side wing was added in the 17th century. Its rooms are furnished in the style of those times.

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The living room, or shall we call it a salon, was probably used for long evenings spent in the company of friends and dedicated to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, as the images on the mantelpiece indicate...

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Dogs are not allowed in. The rules say nothing about wombats, though.

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The most impressive room inside is, to me, the late Romanesque palace chapel. It is a double chapel, like many castles had: The upper chapel is meant for the counts and their noble entourage, the lower chapel for the servants. The altar is placed on the upper floor. An opening in the middle connects them so that those in the lower chapel can hear the priest and listen to mass. The lower chapel is currently (2018) undergoing profound restoration works and thus not accessible. The connecting hole in the middle is hidden under a cover, too – please believe me that it is there.

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The views from the castle are spectacular: the town of Vianden in the Our valley

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In addition to the castle, Vianden’s old towns still has its ring of town walls and towers.

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Aussie tourists and the castle

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After a pit stop at the castle cafe I walked down into town, downhill along the main street and back to the bus stop on very tired legs...

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:15 Archived in Luxembourg Tagged castles luxembourg vianden Comments (0)

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