Country Counter: 10, 11, 12
Cities Visited: Luxembourg City, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Christiania Freetown
Timeframe: May 2016
My parents decided to come visit me and my sister in Europe this May. Since she and I have both been traveling, it was hard to come up with a place we all hadn’t visited before. And that is the answer to the question people keep asking me – Why Luxembourg? Turns out, it’s a great place. The city (and the country) is small, tiny if I compare it to my home, and if you’re up for a good walk, most of the places can be covered on foot. My sister arrived a day before on a Sunday, and found out that public transportation is free on Sundays. The AirBnb we booked was large and comfy for the four of us, and right next to the central station (Tip: always stay near the station. It has the best connectivity). As a habit, I had Googled ‘things to do in Luxembourg’ before arrival, and marked most of the places on Google Maps.
Gëlle Fra – the monument of remembrance
My parents are always up for a good walk whenever they are on an international trip. My mom says walking is healthy but they can’t exercise in New Delhi, which if you’ve been following the papers, has recently been named the most polluted city in the world. My parents keep stressing the fact that they’d love their children to find work abroad, but with all that’s going on in the world now, things are not looking optimistic. That is the reason why I had not caught up with my writing.
The ‘seat’ of the EU outside the parliament
EU member flags outside the parliament
We covered most of the points via Hop On, Hop Off buses and on foot, except the Vianden Castle, which is a must visit just for its sheer magnificence, perched on top of a hill (a 30-minute train ride from the city and then 15 minutes by bus.) The neighbourhood of Grund is beautiful from the bridges above, especially if seen during sunrise or sunset. After covering a few spots, I insisted we check out some places I had listed, but were not on the Hop On Hop Off route. We ended up walking for an hour and discovered tons of beautiful monuments and country side scenery. Luxembourg literally looked empty, even though I’m sure it has its own population. For us Indians, walking on the streets there was like being in a post-apocalyptic world. I’m glad though that my parents got some time off. They worked hard their entire life to put me and my sister through college abroad and they’ve always craved for exploring open empty places like this.
Our next stop was Amsterdam. This was my second visit to the Netherlands, the last time being in December 2015, around Christmas. The sunny weather was a delight, hence. My first impression of the Netherlands was a bit of a shock. I knew the name literally means ‘the land below’, but I didn’t know I’d be greeted with plenty of rain and strong winds. And when I say strong, I mean if you just stand at one spot with your arms out, the wind will move you forward. No need to use your own energy. I guess I see why the obsession with windmills now. The last time I stayed in Delft with a friend, and did the daily commute to Amsterdam (Fun Fact: you can cross the Netherlands within three hours by train.)
Canals at the Red Light District
Although Rijksmuseum is among the world top 10 and impressive in its own right, I had just arrived from the Louvre. The entire tour was long, but nothing compared to what I had done a few days ago. You can find Picasso’s most famous works there, and the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign behind the museum (exit) is clichéd but worth a visit (although you’ll never have a chance to find it empty for that perfect picture). A visit to the Red Light District was suggested. When people mention the area, they are all giggly, but once you visit, the things you see make you feel sadder than aroused. Although prostitution is legal, the condition these women live in is deplorable. To have to spend hours at end in tiny cubicles with a display window and have people walk by and stare is something which made me deeply empathize with them.
Colourful houses near Amsterdam Centraal
It also amazed me to see how much the society has progressed. We keep mentioning that marijuana and hash are available in Coffee Shops, you can pay your driving coach with sex instead of money (and you’ll get a receipt as well) etc, and that is why Amsterdam is a must visit if you’re from a country with restrictions. What we fail to see is how the people and society have an unspoken moral code. The laws could easily lead to abuse and misuse, but a quick Google search will tell you that the country has one of the lowest crime and incarceration rates and one of the highest standards of living. Like I’ve been mentioning before, it’s the people who need to change if a country is to change.
Parents at Keukenhof
Beautiful and well maintained canals, surrounded by vivid, colourful houses, make up the majority of the scene. With my family, we visited the Keukenhof gardens, home to the largest production of Tulips (look up Tulip Fever for more history). My favourite spot was the Heineken Experience (of course). This was my first time in a brewery.
Børsen (Børsbygningen) – historic 17th-century stock exchange
Our next and final stop was Copenhagen, Denmark. Since our first stop was Luxembourg, we couldn’t find cheap tickets to visit other countries via Luxembourg. Another travel tip I’d like to recommend is to locate the nearest ‘big’ city. For us, it was Brussels. Instead of visiting Amsterdam directly from Luxembourg, we came via Brussels, which took 3 hours more but was half as expensive. Similarly, for Copenhagen, we didn’t fly via Amsterdam, but came back to Brussels and took Ryanair. It’s amazing how lost cost airlines are capitalizing on the no-frills travellers’ needs. The airline has connectivity to almost all major Western European city, at amazing fares. The only downside is you’ll have to reach the smaller airports to catch the flights, which are comparatively less easy to access.
Denmark was pleasant during our visit (16 degrees) and delightfully fresh. Again, we were well served with Hop On Hop Off buses plying on three different lines and covering most of the tourist spots. First on my ‘things to see’ list was Nyhavn, which is arguably the most popular tourist spot in Denmark. Bright, colourful houses and shops line the harbour and the best time to visit is around sunset or sunrise. The ice-cream stalls at Nyhavn are also worth a try. One of the routes had Christiania marked on it and upon the recommendation by a tour guide, we decided to check out the place. At the entrance, you are greeted with a huge sign which says Christiania on the front, and clearly mentions that you are about to exit the European Union at the back. Inside, numerous tinker shops greet you and the ‘residents’ warn you not to take pictures, albeit in a friendly way. There I was, thinking to myself, how I turned a trip with my parents into a weed, hash and marijuana fest. First Amsterdam, now this. Things got a bit more awkward when I suggested that the next stop should the Carlsberg brewery. I don’t think I even looked into my dad’s eye when I mentioned it. Oh boy, the joys of growing up in India!
The Black Diamond (Royal Danish Library)
Carlsberg bottle outside a gas station
I got the chance to read up on Denmark’s history before the trip. Apart from the wars and the Vikings and all the bad things, there were also numerous achievements in architecture and society. Each and every building looked like something out of an old fairy tale, well preserved to this age. Notable mentions include the Church of our Saviour (with a corkscrew ladder on its exterior), Frederiksborg Castle (my favourite façade), Børsen, Black Diamond, Kronborg Castle famous for Hamlet (situated on an island of sorts) and the like. Hard to miss if you’re not paying attention, the Weather Girls at Town Hall was really the icing on the cake. An intricate structure to tell the weather made in 1936 by Einar Utzon-Frank, the platform rotates to display a golden girl on a bicycle when it is sunny, and rotates to the other end to display a golden girl with an umbrella walking her dog when it is raining. We could feel why the Danes always rank among the top in terms of quality of life. During our cruise, and this was a weekday, we could see hundreds of Danes sitting outside, enjoying the sun, drinking Carlsberg and merry-making. They raised their bottles as we passed by and cheered us with the traditional ‘skål’, which we later found out was a war cry used by the Vikings when they used to behead someone.
Church of our Saviour
The Weather Girls
All in all, visiting these three countries was an unforgettable trip, and having our parents with us just made it more memorable. A week after I returned, I embarked on another ‘long’ trip and I shall try to find time to write about that as soon as possible. My goal of visiting as many countries as possible, as mentioned in my first post, is becoming more difficult by the day, with countries shutting out foreigners and visa regimes becoming strict. However, I still keep a positive outlook. Fingers Crossed!
Thank you for stopping by.