• City of Luxembourg: its Old Quarters and Fortifications

Visits: 6th October 2013, 20th April 2014 & 23rd November 2014

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By Tom

In September this year Ross moved from London to Luxembourg with work. It seemed only natural that some of his friends would go over to visit, so after a month or so out there in peace and tranquility, Nowell, Chig and I showed up to ruin his weekend.

Whatever you may think about my motivations for visiting, the main one was to see our friend. It just so happened that Luxembourg is a World Heritage Site, having been inscribed in 1994. We all took a couple of days off work and flew down there from Gatwick for a long weekend. Here you can see the sheep that live opposite Ross’s house.

ross's sheep

Luxembourg is a strange place – it is a city of only about 100,000 people, but plays host to numerous major EU institutions as well as back office branches of most major global financial firms. Most of the workers must live in neighbouring France or Germany, because the place feels empty at the weekend. It’s full of impressive glass and steel buildings like this one, the European Court of Justice.

ecj

On arrival we had a celebratory beer or two at the airport hotel – our first taste of the local brew, Bofferding. It’s a pretty good lager, and one of the most popular in Luxembourg. You can see Nowell holding his here.

nowell bofferding

We spent most of the weekend eating and drinking. We met Ross’s colleagues and went to a German-themed restaurant where we had pork knuckles and steins of beer. We had a terrific lunch at Aime La Fourchette in the town centre, and some terrible sushi in a mall. The buses are all free in Luxembourg, so getting around is really cheap. People say the price level in general is high in the country (it ranks in the top 3 countries in the world by per capita GDP), but I didn’t find it too bad.

After a wild weekend in which one of our group was hit by a bouncer and another spent a rainy night in a park, we reached Sunday, when it was time to actually see the sights we had come for. Nowell, Chig and I walked into town to see the old quarter. It wasn’t as large as we had expected (maybe we missed a big chunk?), but it was medieval and attractive. The city walls were erected when Luxembourg was a major player in Europe, before it was invaded and occupied by the Spanish, the French and the Austrians.

imageThe Vienna Congress of 1815 was held to redraw the borders of Europe following the Napoleonic Wars. Much of Luxembourg’s territory was seized from it, leaving it the tiny country it is today. In compensation it was given the title of Grand Duchy. Not sure they would have been too happy with that, but I don’t suppose they had much choice.

There is a municipal lift that takes you from the upper levels to the lower levels. This is necessary because of the rocky promontories on which the city was built. We found it rather hard to track down, but got there in the end.

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In the background below you can see the church of St Jean du Grund, and you can also get an idea of just how steep the cliffs are. We had a wheat beer down in at the ground level (Gronn in Luxembourgish – yes that’s a language) in a traditional bar called ‘Scott’s Pub’ [established 1985].

tom lux

The grandest building in Luxembourg, though, is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, which is just impossible to photograph in its entirety because of the number of large buildings that have since sprung up around it.

notre-dame lux

It was originally a Jesuit church, its cornerstone laid in 1613, but it became a Roman Catholic church, and then a cathedral in 1870.

notre-dame lux 2

I expect we will visit Luxembourg again, when I want to visit the French fortifications – about 20 miles of tunnels built into the cliffs for defensive purposes. If so, I’ll add more here, so watch this space.

rock box


Addendum:

In April I revisited Luxembourg in order to have a “study weekend” with Ross. It didn’t turn out to be quite as productive as we’d planned, but it was a nice break from all the prep we’ve been doing for our CFA exams coming up in June. I had a nice flight over on BA, getting into Luxembourg airport in time to meet Ross and his colleagues for a BBQ back at his place. The marinated meat really was excellent, so congratulations to the chef.

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After a night on the continental beers, we went out for a ‘clear the head’ sort of stroll around the fortifications in Clausen, near Ross’s house. This is Fort Thüngen, which is pretty much a reconstruction. The original fort was destroyed after the 1867 Treaty of London, which required Luxembourg’s fortifications to be torn down. 

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Across the valley you can see the Bock casements. These were tunnels built into the cliff by the Austrians, with openings every so often for cannon emplacements.

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We walked down through the valley and up the Monteé de Clausen past what looks to have been an old city gate or guard tower.

20140420-113149.jpgI flew back on Easter Sunday into London City. It was my first time on Luxair (making it airline #47 for me). Because the winds were blowing from the east, we got impressive Canary Wharf approach into LCY, which meant I could take the photographs below. It is one of the more memorable approaches in the world – up there in my mind with Phuket and Istanbul. I believe Tegucigalpa and the Washington Reagan “river approach” are pretty memorable, too, but I haven’t experienced them…yet!

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2nd Addendum:

Nowell and I travelled back to Luxembourg for the final time in November 2014, shortly before Ross was due to move back to London. I was keen to return to our old haunt of Scott’s pub, which Ross was only too keen to oblige. There was some kind of all-you-can-drink night on, which suited us perfectly, and we had a good old fashioned WHS drinking session on the cobbled streets of Luxembourg’s Grund area.

The next morning we took a train out into the countryside with the intent being to visit Vianden Castle, close to the German border. After a false start – taking the train in the opposite direction – we turned around and got there eventually. The castle is at the top of a hill, commanding an impressive view over the local scenery. It is the first European chateau-type building I have visited, and if I’m honest it is more impressive outside than in. Luxembourg nominated it as a World Heritage Site a few years ago but was told to improve its interior before coming back again.

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Vianden

Its origins date back to the tenth century, but it has been extensively rebuilt over the years. When we visited there happened to be an exhibition on of Dalí prints, which was fairly interesting (though not a patch on his full-scale paintings, which I had seen a month earlier in Figueres).

On returning to Luxembourg city we spent a cold evening at Ross’s beloved Christmas market before taking a bus into the city on Sunday for a visit to the surprisingly interesting Luxembourg National Museum of History and Art. A highlight for me was a fine copy of a Bruegel’s Procession to Calvary. 

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Ross & Nowell in Luxembourg city

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4 thoughts on “• City of Luxembourg: its Old Quarters and Fortifications

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