Luxembourg may be small (it's the sixth smallest nation in Europe, in fact), but it's grand all the same, a Grand Duchy, in fact, the only such in the world. Moreover, it's headed by a Grand Duke and Duchess, and among many firsts, it has more Michelin star-rated restaurants -- ten -- per capita than any other nation to begin with. It's Europe's most important investment fund market (second in the world, after the USA) and is the eighth largest financial center in the world. There are 156 banks operating here, half of them foreign, employing more than 25,000 people. The country's unemployment rate is only 4.1% and 130,000 commuters check in every day from nearby France, Belgium and Germany. The little duchy plays a part even in Afghanistan, where its army is integrated with the Belgian Forces serving in the UN/NATO contingent there.
Moreover, the Luxemburgers love Americans, even today, remembering that the country had to be liberated twice by American Army troops in both 1944 and 1945, many of whom died here and are buried in an impressive and vast cemetery at Hamm. The town of Ettelbruck, in fact, is known as Patton Town in tribute to the former head of the US Third Army, having a General Patton Museum there. More than 75,000 Americans were killed, wounded or went missing in the Battle of the Bulge.
Highlights of Luxembourg City
The Old Town and fortress, on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list since 1994, should be your first target. It's refreshing to see a political center that is not a gigantic complex designed to terrify its citizens with overpowering bastions and high walls. The Grand Ducal Palace is across a small plaza from the Papagano Pizzeria, the Chamber of Deputies a few meters farther on. My guide mentioned that the Prime Minister has been known to come out and say hello to visitors on occasion, and once interrupted a visit with a foreign VIP to direct traffic there. "Well, it needed doing, and I was there," was the explanation he gave to the potentate.
The Wenzel Circular Walk encompassed about a thousand years of history in the hundred minutes it take to finish. It is named for Wenceslas II, the Duke of Luxembourg between 1383 and 1419, who erected the wall that is part of the walk today. It's thoroughly enjoyable to walk down along the Corniche and other parts of the trail. Highlights include the moat, the Neumunster Abbey (1547), the Jacob Tower, St. Ulric's Church and the Holy Ghost Plateau.
You can also take the Schuman Circular Walk, named in honor of Luxembourg native Robert Schuman, often called "the father of the European Union."
On the second Saturday in October, you can join Museum Night from 6pm to 1am the next morning, visiting one or more of the seven museums taking part. They include the Museum of Modern Art, the Casino Luxembourg-Forum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of the History of the City of Luxembourg, the National Museum of History and Art and the Natural History Museum. Otherwise, visit them during regular hours in the daytime. More information at www.statermuseeen.lu.
Opened in July, 2006 is the Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM), designed by I. M. Pei, out in the Kirchberg district. Light and airy, it also affords nice views across the new part of the capital city. Also on the Plateau de Kirchberg, you'll find many institutions of the European Union, including the European Court of Justice and the European Investment Bank. MUDAM, 3 Park Drai Eechelen, tel. 011 352/4537-851, website www.mudam.lu.
Throughout 2007, Luxembourg and its region are the European Capital of Culture, with hundreds of concerts, plays, performances and other manifestations making it a glorious place to visit right now. Parts of Belgium, France and Germany are included in this Grand Region as Cultural Capital. Two of the highlights for November and December are "Rainy Days" Music, with the likes of the Luxembourg Philharmonic and the Basel Symphony performing, and dance performances to the music of John Adams. The closing festivities of the cultural year take place on December 8, 2007. For more details, go to www.luxembourg2007.lu.
With or without the Capital of Culture events, if you get a chance to attend a concert at the new Philharmonie Hall, do so, as the building itself is worth seeing. Tickets range from 3€ to 100€.
The Mudam Café restaurant, in the brand new Museum of Modern Art, lets you eat inside or out, weather depending. The assiette Mudan for 10€ is a real bargain, with cucumbers, baby squash, bread, fennel, ham, tomato, mozzarella and eggs. A dessert called Il Budino (in the shape of the Buddha) goes for 6€. It's an orange bavarois in heart of mango on a chocolate macaroon. A quiche costs 8€. A refreshing wine was a Mathis Bastian Pinot Blanc 2005 at 4€ a glass.
The national airline, Luxair, doesn't fly from the USA, but has a code-share with Lufthansa, offering connecting flights via Frankfurt and Munich. Many airlines fly to nearby transit points, as does KLM-Air France via Amsterdam, for example. You can avoid the notoriously messed up Heathrow Airport in London if you take, for instance, American Airlines (www.aa.com) from New York to Paris and then board a French Rail (SNCF) TGV super speed train to Luxembourg, taking only two hours and five minutes from the French capital to Luxembourg (formerly three hours 35 minutes). There are five daily trains on the route, with prices averaging about $88 first class and $65 second class, one way (I say averaging, because, like airlines, SNCF practices yield management, meaning the prices rise and fall like ripples in the water, depending on load). You're probably better off getting a French Rail Pass. For more info, contact Rail Europe at tel. 888/382-7245 or website www.raileurope.com.
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