Luxembourg, A Small Country with Big Surprises
Most countries in Europe have a distinct feature or notoriety about them that makes them stand out from the rest; France is known for romance and art, Germany is known for beer and sausages but how about Luxembourg?
This burning question was what propelled me to exploring the small country of 440,000 inhabitants and learning a thing or two about the countries culture, origins and uniqueness.
I hadn’t read up much on the country before embarking on my journey, so I was obviously surprised with some of the things I came across. I wish I had brought my bike as the compact country had so many bike lanes and I could have saved some money.
I did know that Luxembourg has one of the world’s highest GDPs. This was apparent from the scores of modernly designed buildings and well-constructed streets. People seemed to be in a rush and any chance I got to listen to someone talk so that I could figure out the language. It turned out to be Luxembourgish, a West Germanic language and one I could almost understand to a degree. I read somewhere that the country’s motto is “we want to remain what we are”, a poignant ode to freedom.
The hotspots of Luxembourg that if you blink, you might miss
Luxembourg feels like a new country. However, there are a few historical gems to find. I took a trip to the Gothic Revival Cathedral of Notre Dame. The stained glass windows were impressive but the unchartered crypt downstairs was even better, most of the tourists didn’t realise you could visit. One memorable moment was finding statues of the disciples standing over Jesus, and this monument was huge, life-sized even.
The city’s Old Quarters and Fortifications reflected the country’s defiance against enemies across several centuries, one of Europe’s greatest in my humble opinion. It was repeatedly reinforced every time it was overtaken by a great European power such as the Holy Roman emperors than the house of Burgundy to French and Spanish kings and lastly, the Prussians. It’s incredible how the prominent architecture has stood against time and stayed so preserved.
I couldn’t visit a European city without checking out a palace. The Grand Ducal Palace features motionless guards in their sentry boxes, similar to London’s Buckingham Palace. The palace is the residence of the Grand Duke and his family and located in downtown Luxembourg City. I was fortunate to enter the majestic building (which is around the back) with a ticket and tours around the palace were in different languages. There are also lots of bars, gift shops and restaurants next door and across the courtyard.
As much as I enjoy Palaces, castles seem to resonate with me on an even higher level, and so I had to go to Vianden Castle. I got a fair amount of exercise from climbing so many stairs, but I stopped at a WWII memorial vantage point for an excellent view of the castle, mountains and surrounding areas. I took a step decline from there towards the café for soup and pizza.
The more I explored little Luxembourg, the more I discovered the country’s rich history and origins. Neumünster Abbey is a cultural centre that over many years has been an abbey, police station, prison and even barracks. It was only made public in 2004. I found it fascinating how it’s now used for concerts, seminars and exhibitions.
Sometimes when you are walking endlessly through a city, you often find yourself in a popular tourist attraction. Adolphe Bridge is an arch bridge that over time has become a beacon of independence for Luxembourg City AND one of the city’s main tourist attractions. Built between 1900 and 1903, the design originated from the construction of the walnut lane bridge in Philadelphia.
Luxembourgers are more reserved than their counterparts
Everyone in Luxembourg seems busy, super busy even. Work takes priority in many aspects for the citizens. However, I wouldn’t let this protocol discourage me from connecting with a few people and learning more about the country. I made friends with a guy who was skateboarding near the Palace. He was one of the few people I had seen in the city not wearing formal attire. I was even more astonished at how many languages he could speak.
Many of the citizens in Luxembourg are trilingual, they can speak French, German and Luxembourgish but of course everyone knows English to some level too. The majority of residents in Luxembourg live in neighbouring countries. Expat community is higher than the local population. There’s a high possibility they can speak more than three languages too.
Whenever I went anywhere, I was always greeted with “Molen” followed by the language of choice by that person. If I didn’t understand, the Luxembourgers could easily shift to something else.
The cultural formalities and mannerisms of the Luxembourgers
When I was in Luxembourg, the new set of culture combined with business protocol was something intuitive to expats but not necessarily for tourists. Luxembourgers have an intense national pride. They see their independence and autonomy as the biggest strengths.
Using InterNations app, I arranged to have coffee with a few locals and expats to find out more about this mysterious country. Interestingly, many of the Luxembourger’s present reside in the town they grew up in and only came to the city for work. It means the community has a vital role in Luxembourger’s lives and culture.
With my new-found friends, we went for dinner and thought it was a social event. There were many “rules” that I to abide by. I was firmly advised to remain to stand until invited to sit down, no resting elbows on the table and sandwiches are eaten with utensils. To show I had finished my meal, I had to place my knife and fork parallel across the right side of the plate (this one is quite similar to posh dining etiquette in Germany).
Everything is particularly formal and reserved. Similar to other central Europe cultures, people will hide their emotion. Personal matters are not even discussed amongst friends. People are stoic and sometimes came across as cold.
I felt like business played such a huge role in the country’s culture. So many characteristics associated with business were embedded into citizens personality, such as:
• Patience, honesty and being organised are common attributes to citizens
• When you greet someone, it’s often with a firm handshake. Though after getting to know a few people, I was greeted with a kiss on the cheek.
• If you are invited to someones home, its considered customary to bring a gift.
A small country with big cuisine
Due to the fact that Luxembourg is neighbouring France, Germany and Belgium, the cuisine is heavily influenced by this, even more, when Italian and Portuguese immigrants came.
A great way to start the day, especially in Luxembourg, is with Bouneschlupp. A thick soup made from potatoes, green beans, bacon and served with potato pancakes. Seeing as Luxembourg is a landlocked country, fish dishes are based more on what’s available rather than what’s in the sea. F’rell Am Rèisleck is trout fried and then cooked in a wine and cream sauce. Another signature fish dish is Friture de la Moselle, various fishes dipped in lemon juice and then deep fried in a batter. It’s usually eaten with your fingers (a surprise I found in Luxembourg).
All around the city, I found a popular snack that I had to point at because it’s hard to pronounce. Gromperekichelcher is very tasty potato cakes and one of the most popular snacks of Luxembourg. Made from grated potatoes, chopped onions and egg then deep fried, great with some applesauce on the side.
Everyone says that if you ever visit Luxembourg, the national dish is Judd mat gaardebounen, a hefty dish of smoked pork with broad beans. It’s best to eat this with a big appetite as the portions are massive.
Luxembourg is also famous for its wines and beers with the country has learned how to make wine from ancient Romans. Most popular wines include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot noir, Pinot blanc, Auxerrois, Elbling, Gewürztraminer, and Crémant de Luxembourg. A wine that is authentic of Luxembourg is usually identified by the National Park.
I still have lots of good memories about Luxembourg, but this post is too long already. So I’ll probably write about it another time. My conclusion, do not be afraid to visit Luxembourg because Luxembourgers literally speak at least three languages. Have a wonderful trip!
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