A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
One of the many benefits of living in Leiden is being able to leave it so easily at the weekends. Not because Leiden is boring, far from it; you only have to scroll through the blogroll here to get an idea of the myriad things we Leideners get up to in our free time. What I mean is that being in Leiden makes you very well placed for darting off and exploring Europe at the drop of a hat. The OV-chipkaart korting gives you a 40% discount at weekends meaning that you can explore the Netherlands easily for around half the usual fare and, as I discovered, trains further afield aren’t so expensive either.
Waking up on Thursday with itchy feet, I brought up Google Maps and had a look at where I’d never been but had always quite fancied going. Having visited its neighbours several times and having lived in France for three years, Luxembourg stood out as being one of those places that I felt I should have been to yet still hadn’t. My mind was made up so I logged onto NSHispeed (the Dutch international rail website and your first point of call for trips to Germany, Belgium, France and further afield) and hoped that tickets to Benelux’s smallest contributor weren’t going to cost the earth. In fact, they were €35 (when using the handy discount card I told you about) and the train was leaving in two hours. I grabbed a bag, a friend and my OV chipkaart and headed to the station, revelling in the fact that in the space of about 15 minutes one can go from having no plans to having international ones.
The train took six hours in total. Yes, you could fly to Dubai in that time however there’s something inexplicably enjoyable about train journeys, especially when you have a carriage to yourself and you’re not 100% sure what your plans are when the train stops. After changing in Roosendahl on the Dutch/Belgian border and once again in Brussels, we arrived in Luxembourg City at around quarter to midnight and headed to our friend’s place, with whom we’d arranged to stay on the journey down, to drop off our things before heading out into town to find out what was left of Thursday night on the town in Luxembourg.
Thenceforth, we began to learn a lesson that would be reiterated throughout our trip: Luxembourg is beautiful but Luxembourg is also dead. Thursday night entailed taking multiple 10 minute taxi rides around the city, trying to find somewhere that wasn’t either closing or no longer admitting movers and shakers. Friday felt more like Sunday with deserted streets, empty shops and an (albeit relaxing) feeling that you were in a little town in Provence. By the time it got to Sunday itself, downtown LXM resembled scene from 28 days later… Friday night was really good fun however, with a host of small bars and clubs to choose from in the ‘Grund’ area of the city. We hopped from ‘Urban’ – a small lounge-style bar overflowing with young professional types – to the Tube – a more student-style watering hole – and then on to Epic; a club set across a series of underground vaults. If you do make it to Luxembourg, try to make Epic one of your late-night destinations; the music was good, the drinks not too outlandishly expensive and the city’s young fun-seekers were out in their droves.
Friday was spent exploring the city which, although small, packs some breath-taking views down from its prime position on top of a heavily-fortified hill. We strolled around the Grund with its cobbled streets and pastel coloured houses that give it a timeless feel and debated whether the ducks we saw bobbing on the water had a sense of what it means to be Luxembourgish or whether then feel more ‘European’. This philosophical question was prompted by us stumbling on Luxembourg City’s ‘European Union Information Centre’ where the recent graduate (wo)manning the desk told us everything we could ever need to know about Luxembourg in the EU. She reminded us that the Schengen Agreement was signed within the country and said that the museum built to mark this occasion was worth a visit if we were interested in European Union policy. Being students of International Relations, we felt obliged to pay homage at the altar of free movement and so Saturday was spent taking a bus into the Luxembourgish countryside in search of the birthplace of Schengen.
Schengen is, in fact, a little village on the border with Germany; about 40 minutes by public transport from the capital. Most Luxembourgers seemed a little confused as to why we wanted to go there but when you arrive you’re met by a small, yet comprehensive, museum marking the signing of the Schengen treaty and a history of European integration. The literature on offer is much the same as that in the EU Information Centre, but the little village’s position on the River Moselle (the treaty was in fact signed on a boat in the middle of the river to really signify the ‘open borders’ ideology) make it definitely worth a trip and if you’re a citizen of a Schengen member state, you can find your country on the steel shrine to a united Europe on the riverbank. Unfortunately being Brits, we felt a little bit left out here. A large bridge connects Schengen to Germany and so we had a wander across it to make the most of the policy we’d just been reading about. The town on the other side had even fewer people in it that Luxembourg City on Thursday night however, so after a brief stop at an Imbissstand, we trotted back to Schengen and headed back.
Luxembourg may not look much on a map, however I recommend it as a must before leaving the Netherlands. The friend with whom we stayed has just started a three-year contract in the city and, although three years is maybe a little long, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit jealous that she’s going to be able to call this picturesque, if not a little sleepy, European capital her home for a while…