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Solo Stories: “The Luck of the Irish in Luxembourg City”

by Courtney Ries

I briefly looked up from my journal and gave a relieved smile to the 20-something year old man who sat down beside me on the train. Ten minutes earlier, a few dozen boy scouts had invaded my car, on their way to a weekend camping excursion. I could not keep up with their level of excitement or noise. I wanted to sleep, not sing French and English camp songs.

I was on my way to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg for one night, near the end of my two-month tour of Europe. Although I was thankful for the adult, not child, presence, I was a little tired of making new friends. I returned to writing in my journal. The noise made me unable to focus, however, and found myself wondering about the man sitting next to me. He certainly didn’t look like a businessman, and he obviously was not a backpacker. “Hi,” I said, closing my journal and turning to look at him. “I’m Courtney.” The man smiled at me, “I’m Mike.”

Mike and I talked for the next few hours. My suspicions were correct. Mike was on holiday from Ireland, visiting friends in Luxembourg City for the weekend. Like any good budget traveler, he had flown a cheap airline that set him down a few hours from his real destination and missed the last train to Luxembourg the night before. Mike told me an outdoor jazz festival was taking place on Saturday evening and I should stay in Luxembourg another night. Not having any set plans, I agreed that it sounded like fun.

After leaving the train, we wandered through the city. Luxembourg is a small country, with less than half a million people. French is generally spoken in the city, while German is more popular in the country. Both are official languages, along with Luxembourgish, a combination of the two that I never heard spoken. English is also widely known.

Because of its diminutive size (999 sq. km.) and population (less than half a million), backpackers often overlook Luxembourg. There is only one hostel in Luxembourg City, and according to its employees, usually full. However, a trip to the country’s capital and home to a fourth of its people shouldn’t be left off a European itinerary. The city is small enough that you can walk from one end of the business district to the other in less than an hour and there is no need to take public transportation unless your backpack is too heavy to walk a few miles from the train station to the hostel. The main streets and squares teem with cafes and 20-somethings taking their lunch break outside, and a few odd sculptures pop up around the area.

I spent most of my time in two main areas, the city Centre and the Grund. The Centre, in a walled fortress part of the city, is home to the main roads, professional businesses and world-renowned banks. The view from the wall is spectacular and the sheer drop to the Grund, or ground, is impressive. The Grund neighborhood is accessible to pedestrians via elevator (steep stairs if you prefer) and is more intimate than the bustling district above it.

My hostel was located outside of the business area, so after taking down Mike’s number I huffed and puffed my way up and down a few steep hills before arriving at the twenty-five person bedroom, communal shower building that was fully booked for Saturday night. Disappointed about missing the festival, I resigned myself to leaving for France the next day.

That evening I met up with Mike and his friends, Irish ex-pats named Dec and Val. We headed out to an Irish bar where a group of Dec and Val’s co-workers and friends were meeting. Most were Irish expatriates working in the financial sector of Luxembourg, where the business language was English. Within two hours, I had been offered accommodation at four different apartments for Saturday night. Pleasantly surprised, I took Dec and Val up on their offer and headed back to my hostel to avoid missing the 2 am curfew.

On Saturday morning, I wandered back through the city and met up with Mike, Dec and Val. We had lunch at an outdoor cafe and stopped off at the grocery store before jumping on a bus to visit another one of their Irish friends on the other side of the city. There, I was surrounded by a dozen drinking, grilling and shouting Irish watching hurling on satellite TV. After learning the basics of the game, I was prepared for the next day, when we went to yet another Irish bar to watch a sport I had never heard of, Gaelic football.

I spent three nights in Luxembourg City. During that time, I met more than two-dozen Irish expatriates. Although I had never met any of them before, I had to fight to pay for my expenses. The only time I paid for a meal was when I excused myself to go to the bathroom and settled up the dinner bill instead. Because of my hosts, I was given an insider’s glimpse into both Luxembourg City and expatriate culture. Although they had lived there for years, most associated more with Irish ex-pats than locals, but they welcomed anyone, including a stray backpacker. As I left, Dec smiled at me and said, “If you run out of money, you just come back here and we’ll take care of ya, you understand?” After enjoying the beautiful sights of Luxembourg City and the warmth of the Irish, I may just do that.