Luxembourg

I don’t know a lot about Luxembourg, and maybe that’s why I decided to go there. It was the unknown, without having to go too far; and it was surprisingly convenient – just an hour and a half away with flights direct out of London City airport.

People don’t tend to know very much about Luxembourg. They know that it’s small, that it’s associated with bankers and the like, that it’s where the “Lux” from “Benelux” comes from, and maybe that it’s mentioned fleetingly in a Smiths song (“Writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg”, in case you were wondering…)

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writing frightening verse…

 

But it’s actually a great place for a weekend break – small and well-connected. We stayed in an Airbnb out of town, but the bus routes are excellent and cheap (in fact it turned out travel was free on Sundays.) You can also get to a huge number of destinations by train very cheaply for day trips. We went to Trier, which turned out to be marvellous, perhaps for all the wrong reasons. It cashes in on the fact that it’s the birthplace of Karl Marx, and in addition to the usual museums and memorials boasts a Karl Marx department store (we hoped the irony was deliberate.) The museum at his birth place was actually very good, well laid out and informative, though our lasting memory of it will be the delightful Karl Marx dolls whose arms and legs move when you pull a string, rather than the displays.

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Aside from the things you can do that aren’t actually in Luxembourg, in the country itself there is a surprising amount to see. The centre is beautiful, with a nice walk laid out for you where you can take in structures from the Roman era onwards. There are a couple of good museums and lots of very fine restaurants and, as you might expect, eye-wateringly expensive but equally fine bars. Our Airbnb host assured us the clubbing scene was good, too, apparently mistaking us for Young People.

So, if you’re looking for an unusual, convenient weekend break that will make your friends raise their eyebrows, consider Luxembourg.

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The Lonely Life of the Long Distance Traveller

I’ll let you into a secret: even though I have visited countries on three continents on my own, whenever I check into a hotel as a lone traveler I feel as though I’m doing something terribly grown up. I feel like I did the first time I got the bus on my own as a teenager: wow, I’m a proper adult!

The novelty ought to wear off after a while, but it doesn’t. One of the great things about travelling alone is that you never need to worry about anyone else. You don’t need to check if they’re hungry, tired, wanting to go back to the hotel, secretly wanting to flop on the beach rather than trek around another gallery. It’s blissful.

I never have very much time to explore when travelling alone, as I tend to be working, but when I do I make the most of it, whether this is grabbing a walk around the local area or booking a trip further afield (unlike some of my friends, I am not a travel snob – organised tours can be a very good use of a small amount of time, and far less stressful than negotiating the unknown yourself!)

My first overseas trip alone was to Salzburg for a conference at which I was presenting. I had to get a 6am Ryanair flight from Stansted in the days when there were no reserved seats, and boarding was like the first part of each Hunger Games: a Darwinesque race where only the fittest would survive. By the time I got to Salzburg I was so overwhelmed and tired that I lay on the bed in my hotel and cried and wondered what on earth I was doing. With only a couple of hours to spare on my final day I made my way nervously as far as Mozart’s birthplace, into the town centre and took a few photos, never straying too far from the familiar, aware that my sense of direction is non-existent and afraid I might get lost forever. To my pleasant surprise I managed to find the right bus going in the right direction (“flughafen” – ahh German makes so much sense), made my flight with time to spare and made it home successfully. Nobody died, and I wasn’t as incapable as I thought.

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Now, in the days of smart phones and GPS, getting around is easy, even for me. Now I will happily wander aimlessly around a strange city knowing I’m just a few clicks away from familiar territory. In Delhi I walked all the way from my hotel in Connaught Place to India Gate (even online maps are deceptive in terms of distance), and by the time I got back my sandals had rubbed so much my feet were bleeding. I may have been shivering anxiously in snowy central Europe while others of my age were already three years on from their gap years in various jungles, but since then I’ve survived 12 hours stranded in an Italian airport (striking air traffic control), lost luggage which decided to have an extended holiday in Kuala Lumpur while I was back in London, and the inevitable bout of some hilarious Indian digestive parasite that had me texting my farewells to my husband at 3am, convinced I was going to die, then texting again sheepishly upon waking at 7 and realising I wasn’t.

And yet, now, aged 34, I still check into a hotel with a feeling that someone is going to call me out, realise that I am not at all grown up enough or sensible enough to be travelling unsupervised.