I really enjoyed getting out of Leuven for the day and spending the day in another country — although I feel like I’m cheating by saying it’s another country because Luxembourg is only a few hours away and is tiny, probably the same size as Greater Metropolitan Sydney. The daytrip was organised by the Indian Students Association of Leuven, who did a marvellous job and had gone to great lengths to be inclusive of students from all backgrounds.
Our first stop on the daytrip was an old town in Luxembourg called Echternach, which had two attractions: an old church and a basilica…and that was basically it. In the latter there was a small museum with old artefacts and an exhibition about the UNESCO World Heritage listing for their annual religious procession for the local saint. I had to speak French to a woman in the church because that was our only common language and that was great, as I’ve been going to a French conversation group these past few weeks but nothing beats a real-life situation.
And then it was onto the main stop of Luxembourg City, an attractive place we were able to have a wander around in for a few hours ahead of a guided tour.
After spending one day in Luxembourg I’m hardly qualified to express much of an opinion about it, but it struck me very much that our ebullient guide in Luxembourg City gave a brief but somewhat depressing spiel about how there’s currently not much of a future for the micro-state. It was a centre of steel production, and at some stage it was also a centre for banking — note the uses of ‘was’ rather than ‘is’. The only thing going for it these days seems to be that it is currently a centre for European affairs, similar to Brussels or Strasbourg, so that’s a continuing source of income and status — but obviously only part of the population is employed in that capacity.
Tourism is another source of income, though truly I’m not sure that the place warrants more than a week at most. It’s mostly about history, with old buildings and grand homes now repurposed for more modern uses. At some point we walked past a place where Goethe used to hang out back in 1792. 1792! But it’s just as well that I’ve always been a bit of a nerd for history which is why I enjoyed learning a little bit about a country that was so central to the creation of the European Union (EU).
When I was 15, I spent weeks working on a big project for my history class about the birth of the EU. We got to pursue our own topic and looking back, writing about the EU seems like quite an esoteric choice for someone growing up in a Vietnamese family in the western suburbs of Sydney. I really put my heart and soul into that project, at some point even making a long-distance call to the European Commission in Canberra to get them to send me a huge stack of booklets which I pored over alongside books from the library. Who would guess that more than 15 years later I would come to Europe to study funded by a scholarship by that exact governing body which I’d had such a passionate, though naive, interest in. I guess I really just loved the idealism of the EU.
There were lots of enjoyable moments during the day like the delicious pea and ham soup at a popular joint, where we met a bonafide local I was able to ask about the local language, Luxembourgish. And it was lovely to see churches, bridges, architecture, public art (elephants everywhere!) and green spaces. But mostly it was a joy to travel with friends and make new ones too. History is one of the main reasons I enjoy travelling in Europe, but one of the main reasons I enjoy travelling in general is friendship.