This is the third in a much-delayed series covering my Labor Day (August-September 2019) trip to Paris and Luxembourg. My last post covered my hotel stays in Paris at the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand and the Mercure Paris Bastille Marais.
I had a really nice few days in Paris, which I’m not covering here in any detail, as I didn’t do anything super touristy- just a lot of wandering in parks and relaxing, reading, eating, and going to the gay bars for actually my first time. What I will cover, though, is the day I spent in Luxembourg City, which ended up being a very unique experience.
Getting to Luxembourg from Paris was pretty easy via trains operated by French train operator SNCF. I had splurged for a First Class ticket on the just over two-hour TGV train from Gare de l’Est for 47,50 EUR—not because First Class is much different than Second Class on that route, but it was only 4 EUR more when I booked in advance. There was no service or anything, but I was able to get a solo seat in the 1-2 across compartment, which had a leg rest, power outlet, and large tray table. There were luggage racks on both ends of the train. It was a very empty car, with just some solo businesspeople and it was very quiet, with people honoring the rules against phone conversations.
There was free wi-fi on board, though for some reason I could only get it to work on my laptop, not my phone. The power also kept cutting out, but it was fine for the shortish trip. There was a bar car on board, but I didn’t check it out. We left right on time at 8:13am, and arrived exactly on time at 10:32am. There were a few stops en route, and the scenery was particularly pretty after we turned north from the French city of Metz for the final leg of the trip.
To understand Luxembourg, and my day there, is to really think of two cities divided by a gorge, crossed by a bridge called the Passarelle. To the south of the Passarelle is an urban area, similar to what you’d find in many other European cities. That’s where the train station is, there are lots of mass-market retailers, coffee shops, etc. You also see a fairly diverse crowd there, including a lot of people who commute from the nearby cities in Germany and France with a much lower cost of living. On the other side of the Passarelle are a number of neighborhoods that you’d consider to be classic Luxembourg. High-end boutiques, charming quiet residential neighborhoods, and, very notably, offices of banks and other financial institutions. There, nearly everyone was a white European, except for American and Asian expats and workers at the banks. (This is all a massive over-simplification, but it will just have to do for purposes of this blog post.)
There are not a ton of big chain hotels in Luxembourg, and a lot of the hotels of all kinds are quite pricey—particularly during the week, and I was staying there on a Monday night. There’s a Doubletree in the middle of nowhere and a Sofitel that looked really nice, but was outside of my budget. There was also a Park Inn, Radisson’s more limited service offering, closer to the train station, which was asking more than 200 EUR a night. I have a lot of Radisson points, though, and I figured it would be a good use of 44,000 points. The location by the train station would make for convenient coming and going. And although I was skeptical after my one previous experience with a Park Inn, in Cape Town, this ended up being completely fine.
It was about a two-minute walk from the train station to the hotel. The hotel is above a Saturn electronics store, and you have to take a weird little elevator to get in, but it was well marked. (Picture from nighttime) There’s a small lobby with a bar/limited-service café and a restaurant, as well as a little outside dining area. The very friendly manager who explained my room wasn’t ready (which was fine given the hour), but offered me the handicapped restroom to freshen up. I dropped my stuff and began to explore the day.
Prior to my arrival, the hotel had emailed advising that there was a street closure due to the Grande Braderie bazaar that day on the street in front of the hotel, which is the main shopping street for the lower part of town. There was fair food, cheaper clothing and luggage and stuff, and then some of the stores on the street had set up sidewalk sales. I wasn’t very interested — though it was very crowded, especially with families.
So, I just kept walking across the Passarelle into what’s referred to as the “City Center” which is much older and has all of the tourist stuff. One side of the Passarelle was closed for construction, so it was hard to take in the views, but it was still cool to look down into the gorge. Since it was a Monday, all the museums in town were closed, so I kind of just wandered, past Luxembourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral and into Constitution Square, which looks across another part of the gorge and has some very dramatic views, including of the Pont-Adolphe bridge.
The entire city was being dug up for the construction of a tramway, which is very cool and progressive and I support, but was a bit of a hassle for walking around. One very cool thing is Luxembourg just announced it’s going to make all public transportation free—which is always good but particularly so given the massive wealth inequalities I saw exploring.
When I got to the center of town around the Place d’Armes, that inequality really struck me. What had seemed like a typical street fair in the other neighborhood was a massive, citywide luxury shopping festival. Racks of clothes costing hundreds of Euros were in the streets, and the entire city seemed to be out and about – including a lot of very wealthy women. There were also booths giving out all sorts of random stuff. I had a glass of champagne from the Socialist party. The national radio station was giving out croissants and coffee. And the Luxembourgish EU delegation was giving out…free haircuts. There were also food stands selling fondue and all other sorts of food. It was very weird and cool and not a typical Monday in Luxembourg.
I ended up spending a fair bit of a time wandering that area, though I didn’t buy anything. I was kind of tired so I ended up going to a restaurant called Urban in the center, slightly away from the sale area and near the Grand-Ducal Palace, which is actually quite small. It was quite crowded with business people on lunch, and oddly lots of Spanish tourists. I must have heard four or five languages being spoken at the single restaurant, which isn’t that surprising given Luxembourg’s location and its financial industry, but everyone I encountered spoke flawless English. (60% of Luxembourg’s residents are foreigners.) Food prices were a bit expensive everywhere in the city, but I had a decent roast chicken with fries and salad for about 20 EUR.
After lunch, I did some of the more touristy stuff, walking along the Chemin de la Corniche, an observation deck that overlooks the Alzette River, and the neighborhood known as the Grund below. There’s a fortress, Casemates du Bock, you can visit, but I skipped it. I got a little lost, but didn’t mind, as the strange topography of the city made for a lot of interesting wandering. I went down into the Grund, which was charming and felt like a small village, with just a few cafes amongst an otherwise largely residential area.
At 2:10pm, I was back at the Park Inn, where I was told my room was ready and I had been upgraded to a superior room. To get to the room, I had to go through a glass enclosed walkway from the lobby to a rear wing, where I took the elevator up to the third floor. One thing I thought was cute was that there were vending machines throughout the hotel selling beer, wine, champagne, and snacks.
The room was perfectly fine. It was modern and clean, but on the basic and smaller side. As you walked in, the bathroom was on the left and hooks and hangers in lieu of a closet on the right. The main room had a king-size bed facing a long desk with a TV on the wall above it, and a refrigerator below. There was also a small chaise under the single window, which looked over the parking lot. There was a single apple on the cocktail table next to the chaise, and complimentary bottled water in the fridge. The desk had a tea kettle with coffee-making stuff. There were easily accessible outlets on each side of the bed.
The bathroom was compact, probably the smallest of the trip, but there was a huge walk-in shower, probably biggest of the trip. Go figure. There were pumps of Dove-branded soap and shampoo, as well as individual bottles of “Feel Good”-branded cleaning products, though no lotion.
Upon settling in, I laid down for a nap, which was longer than I had planned, partially because I woke up twice due to cleaning noise from the hallway. When I woke up, I found a welcome note and a jar of cheese crackers as a welcome amenity outside my door.
I did a short workout in the gym, which was about what I’d expect from a Park Inn. There was one bench with some hand weights, and about five cardio machines.
After the gym, I headed back towards the old City Center, which had a totally different vibe, now that the bazaar was over. At dusk, I found a table at one of the many outdoor bars that was crowded with young business people, and found myself with a 12,50 EUR Aperol Spritz at a bar called Llama. It was interesting people watching/listening because it became clear how pretty much everyone there was from some other part of Europe or the U.S. working for some financial or consulting firm.
There was a place I had found online to eat that was well-reviewed called Ambrosia, which I found…only to discover it was closed for summer vacation. So instead I went to Charles, a well-reviewed sandwich place with table service, where I had a tasty chicken sandwich, salad, fries, and beer for 19 EUR.
After dinner, I wandered around Place d’Armes a bit, taking in a totally different view than I’d seen during the day, and grabbing an ice cream at McDonald’s before walking back to the Park Inn for an early night.
In the morning, checkout was easy and I stopped for breakfast at a bustling coffee shop, Victorine, on my walk over to the train station where I’d pick up the bus to the airport. It was a little confusing as there were a ton of bus quays in front of the train station and it took me awhile to find the right one. When I did, I had just missed the bus (a public city bus, though called the EuroBus), so had to wait a whole 7 minutes for the next one. Starting this week, the EuroBus, like all other public transport within Luxembourg, is actually free. But when I traveled it was still a whopping 2 EUR, which I paid on board.
The 8:45am bus was fairly crowded as it made its way from the Gare area to the historical area, then past all the banks, then to the more residential areas of Ville Haute I hadn’t been to, and then to Kirchberg, where all the EU buildings were. Some of the EU buildings were cool-looking, and many have exhibitions or public areas – which I would have checked out if I had had a few more hours in town. After Kirchberg, it reached the airport, about 35 minutes after leaving the train station.
In all, I’m glad I got the chance to spend a day in Luxembourg City, even if it was an unusual day even for Luxembourg. There are enough things to do to easily keep you busy for a day, maybe two, in the city—and there are sights in other parts of the country too. We’ll see if it continues to be expensive, with the change in economic conditions. And while the Park Inn doesn’t really have any character, it was a perfectly fine and convenient property I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at again.