“But isn’t it just a service station?” chuckles my brother over the phone when I tell him we’ve just got back from a weekend in Luxembourg.
He has a point. My own last Luxembourgian excursion was tantamount to a drive-thru; a mere strip of motorway that just happened to plug Belgium to Germany during one sorry tour. But on closer inspection, the only country in the world with an ‘x’ in its name has plenty more on offer.
Rain for one. So hiking through the endless acres of resplendent rusty autumn forest is out and we’re (map) pinned to the capital for the most part. Thankfully, it’s an incredibly picturesque labyrinth of fairytale architecture, cobbled streets, gothic arches, iron bridges, reaching spires, incandescent cathedrals, hairpin bends and crow-governed ruins.
Luxembourg has somehow managed what London never even contemplated – to retain not just a sense of its history but its self-respect.
The streets are clean. Shop displays are meticulously arranged with expensive, traditional, conservative fare one can only imagine is aimed at those who keep company with the Grand Duchy. The natives are friendly, greeting you in your own language should you fumble in theirs. No drunks, beggars, traffic jams, dog shit, stag parties, photostat American cafes here. In fact, I find myself ticking off what Luxembourg doesn’t have, conscious that, at the same time, I’m marking down London.
Art is clearly at the heart of Luxembourg. There’s an abundance of galleries whose windows invariably parade quality fine art that beckons you in. Luxembourg doesn’t do trash or hype.
Our last day is spent at the MUDAM, the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art, which currently sits amongst a huge, sludgy building site. Even so, it’s a wondrous place; part ancient fort, part space station, full of sunlight and space and hidden wonder. Rooms, separated by the thick plastic curtains your mother might use to keep out the summer flies, house a variety of the good, the bad and the ugly.
There’s an exhibition by the actor/musician, John Lurie (Down by Law/Stranger In Paradise). His naïve, comic, Dadaist scratches and splatters remind me of a less frantic David Shrigley, whilst his music, piped into a sunny upper chamber framed with inviting rubber couches, is pure 3 AM, bar basement swing; wonderfully displaced.
In our four days there, I don’t manage to find a decent postcard of the city to send home. Perhaps it’s hopelessly underselling itself. Or perhaps it likes the idea of being a well-kept secret, tucked quietly amongst the more boisterous giants of Europe.