Unfortunately I have to be honest here, I didn’t know that Luxembourgish was an actual language until we arrived in Luxembourg. This very small, very prosperous country, is not very well known around the world but we thoroughly enjoyed our experience there which I will try to relay here.
Cycling in on the Eurovelo 5 from Belgium to Luxembourg we noticed an immediate change. The evening before we crossed the border we stayed in Strainchamps, Belgium to break up the journey from Bastogne to Martelange (this is actually a very short and easily doable journey but we were surprised that we couldn’t find anywhere reasonably priced to stay in Martelange). After staying in Strainchamps, which was in the middle of nowhere, and rolling into the very posh Martelange it became immediately evident why Strainchamps was more in our price bracket.
I had an original misconception that Belgium and Luxembourg would be very similar and as a tourist I wouldn’t notice much of a change between the two countries. This was definitely wrong. As described earlier when we passed through Martelange there was a noticeable change in the economy. The architecture also changed substantially, Belgium felt very old and French in influence, whereas Luxembourg was obviously more modern and colourful. The roads were immediately different as well. Although I was a huge fan of the Eurovelo route in Belgium, you often found yourself on gravel, cobblestone or unmaintained roads. In Luxembourg the Eurovelo route that we followed was fully paved and completely separated from other traffic (90% of the time). As you can imagine this was a very welcome change for cycle tourers.
Luxembourg is expensive. Belgium is expensive as well but for us we noticed a major increase in prices as soon as we entered Luxembourg. Because of this we spent 2 of our 5 nights in Luxembourg with warm showers hosts. As I mentioned in an earlier post warmshowers.org is an online community of cycle tourers that help out other cycle tourers with places to stay and possibly a meal while they are travelling. We were incredibly lucky to have this option and as I will explain, it gave us a personalised perspective into the culture of Luxembourg.
We arrived to our first hosts who live in a small town about 30 miles out of Luxembourg City on our first evening. Our hosts offered us a place to camp in their garden and a wonderful evening meal and drink with the family. Much like most of the population of Luxembourg (nearly 50% foreigners), our hosts were not native Luxembourgish. He was originally from Portugal and his wife was from Quebec, thus impressively their two children (12 and 15) spoke Portuguese, French, German, Luxembourgish and conversational English. We were surprised to learn however that neither of them spoke Luxembourgish. They explained to us that in school in Luxembourg the students speak Luxembourgish in elementary school and a mixture of French and German when they are older (dependedant on the subject they are learning) and some English in their high school classes as well. It was interesting to learn that she wanted her children to eventually go to school over the border in Belgium where the language in the education system wasn’t as complicated, which she felt also complicated their education.
Following our stay with that couple we rode into Luxembourg City, staying in Kirchburg, just on the outer edge of the city in an AirBnB. We had the pleasure of speaking with the AirBnB owner, originally from South Africa, about her perception of the city. It is a well known fact that Luxembourg is thought of as a tax haven. She explained that the Kirchburg area has grown because of this very reason. The city has needed to expand because of the amount of business coming in (it is a good centre for European business because of its tax status). Kirchburg used to be an area which the poorer people of Luxembourg City could afford, however, much like the areas of gentrification in London and New York, the areas for the poorer Luxembourgish people don’t exist as much in the city any more as foreigners seem to be continually pushing the housing prices up. She also explained to us that it is difficult for the city to grow outwards because of the green belts in Luxembourg. I could understand how these areas would make expansion difficult but we thoroughly appreciated all of the untouched natural areas in Luxembourg during our rides.
For our final two evenings in Luxembourg City we moved into the Gare district of town, which with the old part of the city make up the city centre. Luxembourg is a fortified city with a beautiful medieval wall surrounding it. You can walk along the wall down to the river which looks up at the higher area of the city. We met our next AirBnB hosts for a drink in the fancy downtown area of the city. Again foreigners, our friendly hosts were from America and Romania. The drinks were similar to London prices, and I would go as far as to say the food was generally more expensive. It was lovely to spend time with them and listen to their story of how they fell in love and got engaged in Trier, a nearby German town, which we then decided to visit in a few days. Both explained to us that neither of them had to speak Luxembourgish at work and neither of them would understand it if it was spoken to them.
We both really enjoyed our time Luxembourg City. It is a beautiful city with access to lots of green space. You can comfortably walk and cycle through the city and there is plenty of nightlife and atmosphere to take in.
On our final day in Luxembourg we left the city to find ourselves mistakenly in city wide race. Unlike the London marathon the race path was not separated from cyclists or runners and we spent a few miles slowly trying to not obstruct runners’ progress. The bike path out of the city, as with all bike paths we encountered in Luxembourg, was beautifully paved and separated from the roads.
We ended our journey at another warm showers, with a romantic adventurer who was an older man that bike packed through Laos and Cambodia. Unlike any of our other Luxembourg hosts he was actually Luxembourgish. He worked in the ministry of education where he actually spoke Luxembourgish at work. Again we spoke with him about the expense of living in Luxembourg and he explained the lifestyle of Luxembourgish people to us further. He noted that generally Luxembourgish people will buy their shopping and supplies in neighbouring Germany because the costs are so much cheaper. Or many times locals will move to Germany or France because of cost of housing in Luxembourg and then only commute into Luxembourg City for work. He also explained that 90% of the people that work for the government in Luxembourg are actually Luxembourgish (in other words jobs are kept internal). He described to us the strain the different languages has on the culture which was very interesting.
My first impression when hearing about the education system and all the languages the children speak, was ‘What a wonderful way to promote multicultural education and language in education’. However, he explained that there is a disinterest among many Luxembourgish people to speak French and that they generally much prefer to speak German as the dialect is easier for them. Further, there are different perceptions of the different cultures in Luxembourg which can cause friction.
The opportunities we had to speak and meet with so many local Luxembourgish people coloured our experience in Luxembourg and helped us to expand on our knowledge of the culture and gain a greater appreciation of the country. I don’t think our experience of the small country would have been at all the same if we had flown in and stayed in hotels as opposed to cycle touring through.
I will reiterate again that Luxembourg was a beautiful, friendly and diverse country and I would highly recommend it to any cycle tourer or traveller. My only advice would be to ensure you take the time to get to know the people and gain a better understanding of what motivates those living and working in Luxembourg.