Cities / Towns Visited: 6
Countries Visited: 4
Steps Taken Today: 22,325
Steps Taken Around the World: 493,110
We awoke to our final day in Luxembourg, and as we hadn’t done it yet, we decided to actually see some of the city we had been staying in, so after breakfast we headed up the steep hill beside the hostel and onto the city walls. We had wanted to visit the Casemates du Bock, old tunnels built into the fortifications of the walls which once housed the soldiers and their horses, along with workshops, kitchens, bakeries, etc. Eventually the many casemates around the city were closed and demolished, but the Bock tunnels are so extensive that demolishing them would have destroyed large parts of the city wall, so they were kept. Alas when we arrived the gate was firmly shut. There was no sign saying is was shut today, and the internet made no mention of a closure period, so we figured we would go exploring and hopefully they would be open later.
Off we went, following the city walls on their route along the very edge of the cliff, overlooking the valley with stomach churning height, the view was broad and breathtaking. We continued past the old cathedral, who’s bells rang out for Sunday morning mass; and over the Adolphe Bridge, a wide bridge spanning the valley below to another part of the city. The bridge is glorious in its arched design, with a footbridge under the road allowing for safer, shaded crossing and spectacular views of the city walls and the river running beneath it.
From here we ventured back into the heart of the city. Now I must say I am surprised how much of the trade of European cities shuts down on Sundays. Major supermarkets close for the whole day, with only small independents available to service the masses, and most retail outlets are shut. It’s bizarre seeing the kind of ghost town feel you only find in regional and rural Australia, in a major thriving city, but I guess everyone needs a day off right?
We strolled through the rabbit warren town, passing the British school group of young sportsmen (we’re guessing rugby or soccer) and their father and coach chaperones who had been drinking all night in the hostel bar, nattering at a restaurant while the dads seemingly nursed their self inflicted hangovers by having another ale. After referring to the map several times we finally managed to locate the royal palace, to take a few quick pictures. You know you’re a small country and a low key monarchy when its easy to walk pass your residence and barely notice it. Understated royal wealth, I think that should catch on. It may look big in the photo, but it honestly just blends in to the buildings surrounding it.
Eventually we headed back to the casemates, but to no avail, they were seemingly just not opening up for the day, much to the disappointment of us and the dozens of other tourists milling around in confusion. I really think they were missing out on a tidy profit there, with clear skies, sunshine, and a steady stream of people with money to burn and a desire to step out of the light and into the depths of Luxembourg’s history.
With all of our visitation options either exhausted or closed we decided to simply move on to our next destination a little earlier than expected, thus we retrieved our luggage and headed for the central train station. Now, as the saga continues, there are track works happening in Luxembourg, so our trip meant a bus through to Arlon, then a connecting train to Brussels. All went smoothly, and so we were delivered to Brunxelles Nord station, where we needed to catch a bus to our hostel. Seemingly the closure of helpful services on Sundays extends to train stations in Belgium, and thus after about 45 minutes of wandering around the entire station following the ridiculously confusing bus signs, and unable to find any form of service desk that could help us, we eventually stumbled across the correct stop in the exact opposite direction of the signs. The whole ordeal was made all the more uncomfortable by the very confronting environment that is Brussels North station; with heavily armed military guards, and groups of either homeless or at the very least heavily underprivileged black people, literally every five metres. Men, with a few women and children in the mix, huddled up in blankets, trash everywhere, and a strong stench of urine in the air, it was upsetting to see such a scene in a city that boasts being the base of the European Union. How united are you when you can have such concentrated poverty on your doorstep, unity and equality go hand in hand, and yet the lack of it in this small space is deafening, all one race and almost all one gender. I don’t know their stories, or how they ended up there, but I guarantee you no one ever grew up wanting that as their future.
Eventually, after a very squished bus ride, we managed to arrive at out hostel, and having gratefully set down our luggage we ventured to try and find food to cook, in a world where almost everything is shut. Luckily for us there was a small, and naturally overpriced, independent supermarket just down from the hostel, which allowed us to slap together a meal that was still cheaper than eating out. After the world’s crappiest shower, we settled down to catch a few winks of sleep before exploring a city that had yet to show us much good. Side note: I’m not kidding about crappiest shower, it was push button water that lasted exactly 28 seconds (yes I counted after the sixth time I had to press it), it never got above tepid, and there was no dry space in the cubicle, you had to precariously place your dry clothes on the stool in the far corner and strategically wash in such a way that you wouldn’t splash them, and they wouldn’t fall onto the soaked floor.
It had been a somewhat disappointing start to our visit to Brussels, but when I stopped to reflect, our issues seemed so small comparatively to those we saw at the station. We struggled with our bags, but at least we have clothes and personal belongings; we struggled to find an open supermarket, but at least we have money to eat; the shower was lukewarm and frustrating, but at least we have access to personal hygiene facilities; and we were exhausted from the journey, but at least we were in a warm bed and have the means and freedom to travel even if it’s not first class, fancy hotels and restaurant meals all the way. We are incredibly lucky, as are you; every one of you reading this on a computer, tablet, or phone; in your home, or at your job, or anywhere you’ve plonked down and found free wifi, you are privileged. If you can read this you are already better off than the millions of people in this world who are denied access to education, or do not have the means to reach it. When your first world problems get you down, remember there are two worlds below you who would give everything to be where you are. Stay humble.