June 3, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Europe

Or perhaps it would be more precise to begin with the things I actually did know about Luxembourg. I knew it was a landlocked country in Western Europe that often got lost in the shuffle (in my mind anyway) of the BENELUX acronym. Before leaving on my trip, I was generally met with shrugged shoulders as a response to Luxembourg as my destination. So I departed with no expectations, which, in my opinion, is always the best way to travel.

Upon arriving at its miniature airport, we hopped on a bus and made our way 15 minutes into the city center. With only 500,000 residents in the entire country, “hustle and bustle” would definitely not be a way to characterize the pace of life there. The streets were only sprinkled with cars here and there and the sidewalks empty in comparison to any other major city.

We ventured into the heart of Luxembourg City to visit an old friend of mine whom I actually used to own a flower business with back in the States (who ever would have thought we’d both end up living in Europe!). She and her husband moved to Luxembourg for work and were gracious enough to show us around the 1,000-square-mile country that they now call home.

Luxembourg is pristine and immaculate, period. Its streets are spotless, its flower beds perfectly groomed and its buildings look like they must receive a fresh coat of paint each month. I suppose this isn’t altogether surprising given this country’s high income economy and its ranking as the second largest investment fund center (behind the US). They’ve apparently got euros to spare (I hear Spain could use a hand out 😉 ).

We spent the weekend getting lost in the small city’s windy, hilly and cobbled streets that are lined with homes that recall those of fairy-tales – so perfect that they almost seem like a facade straight out of Disneyland. The city is cut by deep, gaping valleys that are overflowing with lush green trees and speckled with quaint houses and gardens. In one of these valleys you will also find the Grund, a darling neighborhood we visited for dinner that is nestled along the Alzette River (see first picture).

Given that it has changed hands a time or two during the course of history (Spain, France, Austria, The Netherlands, the list goes on…), not to mention its proximity to (rather that it is squished between) so many other European countries, or the fact that 60% of its population are foreigners, it’s no surprise that the cuisine is a conglomerate of cultural influence. From German potatoes and sausages, Belgian chocolate, to French pastries – picking the best from each of your surrounding countries certainly doesn’t make for a bad national cuisine (although my waistline might disagree).

The big question when you enter into any one of its restaurants or shops is which language to speak!? While the most commonly used language in Luxembourg is apparently French, you will just as easily find people speaking German or even Luxembourgish (with all three being considered official languages). Sure, you can get by with some English, but not as much as I’d expected given the English fluency of some of the other multilingual countries in Europe (such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, etc.). We found ourselves in one restaurant gesturing wildly with a waiter who didn’t speak English. After finally placing our orders via sign language and confused facial expressions, we somehow managed to figure out that the fellow was perfectly fluent in Spanish, thus opening the flood gates for communication. I suppose to some extent I’ve gotten used to travel (in Europe, that is) where you can either speak English or get by because you speak Spanish. For example, in Italy, Portugal, or even France, the languages are similar enough that generally people can understand one another. Not knowing which language to even try to speak was boggling to me – I found myself going through a laundry list of thank yous whenever I left a shop – “merci, umm danke, I mean thanks, or gracias??”

I arrived in Luxembourg knowing virtually nothing about the country, but ended up leaving in awe of its charm and livability. Beautiful, clean, safe, centrally located – what more could one ask for? Oh yeah, sun and warm temperatures. Call me crazy, but if it doesn’t regularly reach 85°F, then it’s probably not the place for me. Either way though, I could definitely get behind having a second home there nestled in its green valleys.