Moien From Luxembourg
“It’s all so neat and tidy” was my first thought.
The streets were impeccable, houses too with gardens perfectly manicured, sculptures in stone and topiary bushes in elaborate spiral shapes. Everything was clean and quiet, the picture perfect suburban neighborhood.
“I wonder where teenagers go for fun?” was my second thought.
It didn’t seem like the kind of place you could get into trouble and it amused me that I was even thinking about that, but such are the random things that ramble through your mind the first time you get to a new place.
We’d made it to Luxembourg, our first country outside of France in almost two years and it felt like a monumental step. After so much planning and thinking, starts that turned into non-starts, and bumpy obstacles that almost turned us back we’d finally made it “somewhere else”!
The trip was real now in a way it hadn’t been before. We were properly on the road again with new experiences at our fingertips, and all the joys of the unknown ahead. This is what we’d left the comforts of home for, and the fact that we’d finally made it was both exciting and invigorating.
Our First Real Time In Luxembourg
Luxembourg has always been a bit of an enigma for me.
It’s such a teeny spot that I’ve only ever driven through it before. It’s one of the smallest Sovereign countries in Europe measuring only 82 km (51 mi) long and 57 km (35 mi) wide, pegging it at a mere 2,586 km² (998 sq. miles) in total area. That’s around 0.8 the size of Rhode Island (for my American friends), or just a smidgen smaller than Dorset (for my UK readers).
Since EU borders aren’t really controlled here, you can easily end up zooming through the place without even noticing.
We completely missed the border sign, so the only indication we got that we’d actually left France was the SMS message on my phone welcoming us to Luxembourg. Plus of course it’s both a capital city and a country, so even when you’re actually inside Luxembourg you still see signs directing you there, which is kind of a mind warp.
Other fun facts; Ranked by GDP per capita it’s the richest country in the world, thanks to shall-we-say very favorable tax and financial regulations, and a small core population (most workers commute in). No wonder everything looks so darn perfect.
Plus it’s the only Grand Duchy in the world, which means it’s still officially ruled by a Duke or Duchess. This is celebrated every year on June 23rd, also know as the Grand Dukes birthday despite the fact that no Duke has ever actually been born on that date. Go figure….
Finally, they have their very own language which is something I somehow didn’t actually know until we stopped here.
Luxembourgois is a Moselle-Franconian dialect of the West Middle German group, basically a mix between northern French and Germanic which makes it a real brain tease. The majority of the local population still speak it, although most folks are bi or tri-lingual with German and French so you may hear all three languages as you’re walking around. Yet another mind warp.
“Moien” is the basic greeting, technically a “good morning” but used causally throughout the day. I adopt it confidently and throw it around like a flower bearer at a wedding, with a big beaming smile. Learning how to say hello is something I always try to do in every new country as I find it breaks down barriers even if you don’t know another word of the local language.
Everyone feels better after a hello and smile, don’t they?
We Stay By The Moselle River
Paul has scouted out a neat little municipal campground (Camping Schützwiese) in the Eastern corner of the country by the Moselle river, just across the border line from Germany.
It’s a fairly basic place, but with all the necessary amenities (showers, laundry, dishwashing area etc.) and it has a large green, grassy parking area, the front of which overlooks the river.
Despite the alluring views, we’re not keen to park on the softish grass, especially after our mud-lubbing experience in France and a story that the host casually shares about how a whole row of campers had to be towed out last year after the big rains.
Errr, yeah, nee merci….
Thankfully there’s a few sites with stone pavers in the middle, so we grab one of those. We have no views, but zero chance of sinking either, a fact we’re even more thankful for after it rains heavily again that night**.
We Decide To Take A Day
We decide we like the spot enough to make it a rest-stop in our driving schedule, a little repose before we make the final push through Germany to Denmark.
The campground location is perfect.
It’s walking distance into downtown Wasserbillig which is a teeny place with not much to speak of other than a rather nice church, a few restaurants, a mini-sized aquarium (much touted in the local tourist handouts) and some grocery stores with insanely low alcohol prices (thank you low taxes). It’s a nice spot, but I don’t get much of a vibe from the place until I get to the river.
The Moselle is clearly where it’s “at”.
The Moselle is the heart of this place, its flowing lifeblood and where everyone goes to hang out. It’s a beautiful river of course that runs for over 330 miles (~545 km) across northeastern France and western Germany.
Here in Wasserbillig, and along the SE part of Luxembourg it’s also the border to Germany so you can “pop across countries” on the bridge or any of the many ferries that take just a few minutes to make the crossing. A greenway path runs for hundreds of miles on both sides so it’s also popular spot with hikers and bicyclists, many of which crisscross the Moselle to make a circular route around the river.
There’s wine here too!
Fields of pretty vineyards cascade down the hills leading to the river, with a rich history that date back to 2nd century (when the first vines were planted by the Romans to supply their Garrisons, so they say). These days the most well-known grapes from this area are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Elbling all of which produce white wines, from dry to sweet and sparkling too.
A crisp glass of Riesling on a hot day is a thing of beauty.
Ein Große Bier Bitte!
In the afternoon we walk with Polly to a small cafe where Paul, superbly happy, gets a sparkling beer the size of his head. It’s a Luxemberg pale ale which is both tasty, light and refreshing, perfect for a sunny summer day.
Afterwards we wander back to camp enjoying views of the river and the many people bicycling and walking around.
There’s an old couple sitting in the shade holding hands, a young gal with her pug, smoking and playing by the bank, a family set-up picnic style with music playing and their young daughter rollerblading around, and of course there’s fishermen lined up all along the banks in search of a lucky catch. Come sunset the day crowd thins out and a small crowd of teenagers gathers, sharing clandestine kisses and cans of cheap beer.
I finally know where they go to get into trouble….
The next day I discover a little bike trail that heads up into the vineyards. It’s a lovely ride with almost no-one around and spectacular views along the river. I take a moment to stop and enjoy a brief burst of sunlight at the top, relishing in the newness of it all and that sense of exploring once again. It’s such an energizing feeling.
Even Polly has gotten into the travel-groove again.
She spends her days sniffing in thousands of new smells along the trail and then sleeps like a log snoring soundly from the exhaustion of it all. We can’t do the multi-mile hikes we used to with our old girl, so it’s more like a meandering sniff-walk these days, but she’s just happy to be a part of the adventure. And of course we’re always happy when she’s along.
Ready To Push On
We don’t do anything much else during our stay other than work a bit, relax and recuperate from our last few days of driving.
You could say we stayed in Luxembourg without really seeing the place which would indeed be true. We didn’t make it to see the Capital with it’s old fortress walls and miles of underground Bock Casemates tunnels hewn directly into the rock. Nor did we see the forested plateaus of the Ardennes with its fairytale Bourscheid Castle. Alas, traveling is almost always like that. You visit a place only to realize there is so much more to see.
Perhaps some other time we’ll come back to explore this enigma of a spot again, but for now we’re driving with a purpose. Tomorrow we hit Germany and a few days after that we’ll be home. Well, home for me anyway. And I simply cannot wait to share it with you!
See you there, my friends…
** Devastating Rains: We didn’t know it at the time, but the rain we saw our first week on the road was just a small precursor to the devastating floods that hit Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and some parts of Luxembourg just a few days later on July 15th. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, and many tragically lost their lives. We were incredibly lucky that we passed through Germany just prior to this, but our thoughts remain with all those who were impacted. It will take a long time to re-build what has been lost.