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Wow Place #247: Luxembourg

Me: “I’d like to buy an Interrail Pass please.”
Travel Agent: “You’re a European citizen then?”
Me: “Well….”

Back in the day, there were two types of train passes for travel around Europe: Eurail and Interrail. If you were from outside Europe, you’d buy a Eurail pass. If you were born in a European country, you’d purchase an Interrail pass. Not surprisingly, the Interrail pass was less expensive – perhaps $100 cheaper than Eurail – which rendered it an enticing challenge for a 20-year-old North American exchange student like me (at the time). “How do I get one of these passes? I’ve lived here (in Paris) for 6 months; doesn’t that make me a European? Shouldn’t I get the local discount?”

With our semester about to end, my American classmates Denisia, Scott, Cinny and I arrive in Luxembourg, THE place to buy Interrail passes (or so we have heard). As we march off in search of what we hope will be a “flexible” travel agent, we take a moment to enjoy the many pleasures of Luxembourg City.

Situated at the confluence of the Alzette and Petrusse rivers, about 130 miles from Brussels, Luxembourg City is perched atop cliffs that drop into the two river valleys, giving the town an interesting multi-level layout. Dominating the skyline is Luxembourg Castle, established by the Franks in the Early Middle Ages. Some interesting facts about Luxembourg include:

• It’s won the Eurovision Song Contest five times.
• The Duchy (as it’s called) was passed back and forth over the years between France, Spain, Austria and Prussia.
• It’s one of the safest countries in the world, with only three jails in the entire country
• The capital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• The national dish is pork and beans.
• It’s the only “Grand Duchy” in the world – a state or territory ruled by a grand duke or duchess.
• It’s one of the smallest countries in Europe – about the same size as Rhode Island in the US.
• It’s the richest country in the world.
• It’s the first country in the world to provide free public transport

Not to mention that Luxembourg has a reputation for being a great place for a non-European to buy an Interrail pass!

Back to my story. As I ponder my answer to the travel agent’s question, he follows up with this comment: “Do you understand that a train conductor may confiscate your Eurrail pass at any time, if he deems it invalid for you to be using it?”

“Uh sure, we understand.”

“That will be $200 each, please.”

Minutes later, the four of us are outside of the office, Interrail passes in hand — rightfully pleased with our purchases but also a bit nervous. Are we going to get kicked off a train in the middle of our month-long jaunt around Europe?!! Is it worth the risk? As it turns out, the trip winds up going smoothly and according to plan. Apparently, the biggest risk is primarily the first time you use the pass; after that, conductors barely even look at it. Whew.

Our act of minor larceny completed, we head back to the train station – barely taking the time to soak in our lovely host city. Historic Luxembourg is definitely worth a visit – and not just for a Eurrail pass!

(It’s easy in life to be myopic, short sighted. You arrive at the Louvres in Paris, intent on seeing the Mona Lisa, then proceed to miss all the wonders along the way. You walk straight from the train station in Florence to the Academy to see Michelangelo’s David, then straight out of town. You see the leaning tower in Pisa, check that off your list, and head straight back to Rome. And so on. In some ways, compartmentalizing is necessary. A place like the Louvres would be overwhelming if you felt compelled to stop and look at each and every piece of art. We could not function in the world if we tried to solve every single problem out there. Occasionally, we just have to focus. Nevertheless, in a place like Luxembourg for example, it’s worth taking the blinders off and stepping outside of the goal – at least for a moment. Notice the elegant, medieval streets…enjoy a pastry at a nearby bakery…throw a pebble off a bridge into the river. Life is full of “quests” and “missions,” but so often, it’s the diversions from our path that are the most memorable.)