Tiny Luxembourg City has big offerings

t would be just as much folly to visit Luxembourg without taking in its storied capital as it would be to trod the Empire State without managing Manhattan.

And if you are pressed for time, you can do this European town in a day, give or take a museum or three.

When I walked the streets, both modern and medieval, of Luxembourg City, I found a town with one foot placed squarely on a foundation of contemporary commerce, governance, finance and culture, and the other firmly planted in its past as a fortress city (though not a particularly effective one, given that the city has been occupied seven times since 1443 despite three fortified rings and an underground defensive labyrinth).

I started my explorations from the Old-Worldish train station across the street from my hotel, the Mercure Alfa Luxembourg, and quickly headed north on the broad and majestic Avenue de la Liberte.

The thoroughfare, which so resembles 19th century Paris that filmmakers use it for period scenes, leads to the Pont Adolphe, whose 86-meter stone arches span the Petrusse River valley.

Below, the thin strand of river bisects twin banks of green -- one of the city's many parks and a likely spot for picnics, sports and wedding photos.

At the head of the bridge, I veered right on Boulevard Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I note here that Luxembourgers maintain a deep reservoir of affection for Americans that dates to our country's bloody sacrifices during WWII's Battle of the Bulge, and I found streets here named for Gen. George S. Patton and John F. Kennedy.

In just a few strides, I came upon the Place de la Constitution, where the gilded statue of the "Goddess Victory" surveys the city from atop a 130-foot stone column. The Golden Lady, as she is known, was reassembled from bits and pieces that had long been missing after Nazi occupiers, who couldn't very well shoot her, blew her up instead.

From the vantage point of the statue, I could see the Petrusse Casemates, a network of bulwarks carved into a rocky promontory that trace to Spanish efforts in 1644 to enlarge the city's original medieval defense works.

Visitors who want a closer look can take walking tours of the subterranean network or hop on a miniature tourist train called the Petrusse Express.

I crossed the boulevard and entered the Cathedral of Notre Dame, whose three spires have served as a city landmark since the 17th century and which houses the crypt of John the Blind and other members of the royal family.

My next stop was the Place de Clairfontaine, just northeast of the cathedral and dominated by a statue of the Grand Duchess Charlotte, a monarch so beloved by her subjects that they still wedge cigarettes between the fingers of her bronze likeness to satisfy her infamous three-pack-a-day craving.

Nearby is the Place Guillaume, whose attractions include an equestrian statue of Grand Duke William II, which dates to 1884, and the town hall, which is partly constructed of stones from the original Franciscan monastery and whose stairway entrance is flanked by an imposingly regal pair of bronze lions.

The square is the site of green markets every Wednesday and Saturday.

If shopping is your thing, the Grand Rue is but a short stroll from the Place d'Armes, and here I found blocks of boutiques and high-end stores.

A quick left took me to the city's major square, the Place d'Armes, a former parade ground ringed by restaurants and cafes where the locals go to sip La Plume, a sweet draft beer brewed in the town of Echternach; enjoy concerts at the bandstand, and shop for bargains at flea markets.

The Luxembourg City Tourist Office is located on the square, and it was here that I purchased terra-cotta bird whistles called Peckvillercher as souvenirs. Small and inexpensive (about $8 each), they made great gifts for the grandchildren.

Peckvillercher, which come from the village of Nospelt, are associated with Emaischen, a colorful gathering staged annually on Easter Monday at the Fish Market, through whose narrow arteries of twisting cobblestone streets flows the lifeblood of the Old City.

The most ancient of the buildings here is Um Bock, a 13th century structure on whose face is inscribed the motto "mir welle bleiwe wat mir sin" -- We wish to remain what we are.

Other highlights of the Old City include:

  • The Grand Ducal Palace, a 16th century structure that occupies the site of the city's first town. Tours of the building can be arranged at the city tourist office.
  • The Bock Casemates, which along with the aforementioned Petrusse Casemates, are the remnants of the cavelike defensive passages that earned Luxembourg the title "The Gibraltar of the North."
  • The city tourist office offers a free pamphlet guide to the casemates that includes a step-by-step walking tour starting at the Bock Promontory.

  • The Hollow Tooth, a gate tower built by the French military engineer Vauban in the 17th century.
  • St. Michael's Church, founded in 1320, from which I could see such landmarks such as the Goethe Stone, the Three Towers and the Spanish Towers.
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