Luxembourg: more than the EU

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Luxembourg before the EU came

Luxembourg before the EU came

Luxembourg is one of those places that I knew about because of its association with the European Union, but had never visited. The country is landlocked bordering onto Belgium, France, and Germany. An hour’s flying time from Gatwick, the airport is small, and only costs €2 to take the bus into the capital. By the way, Southern Railway goes to Gatwick Airport and if you’re lucky enough to get a fast train the journey isn’t that much longer than travelling with the Gatwick Express, but significantly cheaper.

The city centre is situated on a plateau on one of five hills, and is small with everything within walking distance. Residents and visitors alike are encouraged to ride bikes and there are lots of places in the street where you can hire them, a similar system to the ones in London and Paris.

There are two main squares, side-by-side, accessed by lots of streets and passageways. The majority of this area is pedestrianised, and is supposed to be a wi-fi zone although, for some reason, I couldn’t get internet access. High street shops such as Zara and Mango rub shoulders with designer brands Chanel and Gucci. The State departments are situated here as is the palace of the Grand Duchy, which has guards in front and, although there is a changing of the guards, it isn’t a particular must-see.

chocolate spoons

chocolate spoons

The country has their version of a Royal Family, with a Grand Duke and Grand Duchess who apparently are very informal and can occasionally be seen out shopping.

Cross the road after you have looked at the palace because, not to be missed, is the Chocolate House. Their speciality is chocospoons. These are spoons with solid blocks of chocolate in the spoon, which are then dropped into hot milk  and cost €3.80.

On Saturday and Wednesday mornings, there is a food and flower market in front of the town hall situated in Place Guillaume 11, one of the squares. The atmosphere is very continental, and I heard French, German, and English being spoken everywhere.  This is, of course, because many of the offices of the European Union along with international banks have offices here. The nice thing too is that the locals are trilingual so there is never a problem with the language. The other advantage is that the restaurants are,  generally, of a high standard perhaps due to the EU being so cosmoplitan.

flower market

flower market

I was particularly taken by a display of fresh fish in La Lorraine, a chic fish restaurant that has a terrace overlooking le Place d’Armes, the main square where there are lots of open-air cafes. And for those of you who have to check e-mails wherever you are, in a corner is the City library where its possible to use the internet for free.

In the tenth century a castle stood on the plateau. As time went by the fortifications were extended. Today some of the walls and towers remain with over 17 kilometres of tunnels, which have been dug through several levels of rocks. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, over the years the casements, as the tunnels are known, have been used to defend the area as well as serving to protect the population in wartime. This was one of the major tourist attractions that we visited, which is great as long as you don’t suffer from claustrophobia! In some cases the tunnel widths are very narrow, with cannon still remaining in front of large holes. Fortunately the exit comes out near an entrance to the Museum of the History of the Town of Luxembourg. This building has several floors, which go below ground level so we were able to use their lift to return to ground level without having to pay to go in. In fact, I did visit the museum, made up of four houses enclosed by the city walls, as I found it to be more than interesting. I learnt, among other things, that the city is forward thinking with a pledge to sustainable development in favour of renewable energy sources and greater mobility. Certainly the town looks very clean, and doesn’t have the grime of a big city.

Frank Stelle sculpture

Frank Stella sculpture

In the centre the height of the buildings has been protected, (no building more than nine storey’s high) with many of them made from sandstone with black slate roofs. On another of the hills, the Kirchberg there is an abundance of high-rise buildings. This area is home to the offices of the European Union, an assortment of international banks, and a shopping complex. To make the area visually interesting, each of the buildings is architecturally different, with lots of sculptures arranged at strategic points. I was particularly taken by one made from metal pieces by Frank Stella which stands outside the University of Luxembourg. This area is also the cultural centre. There is a large cinema complex, the Philharmonic Orchestra Hall, and the Museum of Modern Art. The Hall is designed so that no-one can see into it from the outside, although I was told that it lights up at night. Classical concerts are held here on most nights throughout the year although it is closed during July and August when the resident orchestra is on tour.

With so many high tech and high-rise buildings around, Fort Thüngen, built in 1732, is rather hidden away. Within its walls is housed the Museum of the Fortress in which there are such gory things as the last guillotine used in Luxembourg. Designed to meld into the fortress walls, but I am not sure that it does, is the Museum of Modern Art. Know as MUDAM, it bizarrely houses not modern, but contemporary art.  The interior is spacious, and spectacular with a structure of glass and limestone that allows natural light to flood in.

older Luxembourg

older Luxembourg

Although I can’t confess to understanding contemporary art, and some of the pieces were way beyond my comprehension, there was enough to make the visit worthwhile. I was impressed by one of their permanent exhibits – a Baroque-style ink fountain which symbolises words, creativity and a mind in motion.

From the last week in June to the end of August, lots of free events under the banner of ‘Summer in the City’ are to be staged to keep visitors entertained. Luxembourg the capital is also the name of the country. The capital is strategically positioned in the middle, with their public transport making it easily accessible within an hour to other locations within the country.

For more information about Luxembourg, click here.


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