What's it like?

Luxembourg is awesome, really. In a lot of ways. I love it here.

The most startling differences for a Los Angelino (not counting the obvious things like the age of the city, the fortress ruins, etc):

1- size
The city center (aka Centre-Ville) is smaller than the UCLA campus. I don't have numbers to prove this, but having walked the city, and having walked all over UCLA, I am quite certain. Luxembourg City is probably the size of Westwood. I realize those are really specific analogies, so here are some hard numbers on the country from the CIA World Factbook:

Area: 2568 square kilometers (slightly smaller than Rhode Island)
Population: 480,222 (estimated, July 2007)

Luxembourg City, the capital of the country, has a population of about 80,000.

In comparison, the city of Los Angeles (via Wikipedia) has half the area, but a little over 8 times the population:

Area: 1290.6 square kilometers
Population: 4,018,080

Luxembourg City is a bustling town though, especially since the weather has been warming up, you'll see a lot of people at the cafés and bars throughout the day. Lunchtime in the city center is particularly busy and vibrant. There's always something going on and people all over the public squares, eating, smoking and talking with friends or colleagues.

The hustle and bustle of the city has a fairly strict schedule however, and this brings me to the next big difference I've observed:

2 - operating hours
I suspect this is a European thing, and not specific to Luxembourg -- folks close up shop early around here. Stores are open 9am - 6pm, Tuesday through Friday, perhaps Saturday if you're lucky. Mondays, many places don't open until the afternoon. It is customary for retail establishments and restaurants even (especially family-owned mom-and-pop kinds of places) to close down for lunch.

School kids go home for lunch, which I think is kinda cool. But the whole thing can be rather unsettling if you're not used to it. You have to plan your day. If you take too long getting out of the house in the morning, you might not be able to run your errands until after lunch (depending on what you were planning to do).

There are no 24-hour grocery stores or pharmacies. You can't stop at the store on the way home from work and grab something to prepare dinner with. A few places, like the Auchan are open as late as 7pm. The gas stations stay open longer, and have mini-marts like AM-PMs or 7-elevens. But they close around 10pm, maybe 11pm.

Many places, especially restaurants and bars do stay open later on Friday and Saturday nights.
Very few places are open on Sundays. The places that are open, like local grocery stores or bakeries, have very limited hours. So you better get up and get your stuff done by noon otherwise you're out of luck. If you want to go out to eat on a Sunday, you'll have to wait until after 6pm when Cafés and local restaurants might open up. If they feel like it.

There is a smattering of restaurants, and lots of bars that are open late. After a while, you figure out the patterns and fall into the groove, but it is hard. If you don't have your grocery shopping done by Saturday afternoon, you'll have to wait until Monday if you need anything other than the basic staples or a frozen pizza.

I mentioned pharmacies, so I'll elaborate on that too. You can't buy any of the over-the-counter medications we have in the States from the supermarket or any old store. The supermarket stocks basic first-aid items like bandages and ointments, rubbing alcohol and the like. But for aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, cough syrup, antacids, etc. you have to go to a pharmacy. You don't need a prescription, but that's the only place you can get such things.

3 - traffic
You'd think with such a small population traffic would be a breeze, eh? Not so. The funky geography (topography?) of this country, with all the plateaus and ravines, makes it such that there's often only one or maybe 2 paths to take to get to particular spot in the city. So everyone's going the same way, and it can get busy during lunch, and the morning and evening rush-hours.

But I wasn't too surprised by the fact that there's traffic. Granted it is nothing like LA traffic, but I figured every city has traffic jams.

What I am constantly astounded by is that drivers, including those driving buses and trucks, will stop if I am waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk (at an intersection without a light). Can you see the MTA bus stopping for you to cross Wilshire Blvd. at a crosswalk? Traffic is rather pedestrian-friendly here.

The other notable thing about the traffic is that there are no stops signs here. There are traffic lights, just like LA, red, yellow green. But otherwise it is all based on right-of-way. I've seen a few stop signs in the outskirts of town, on the way to Echternach. But none in Luxembourg City.

There are lots of other little things, but those are the big ones. And of course, the language --- Luxembourgish is the national language. Business is conducted in French and/or German. So you'll often see signs in at least 2 languages, Luxembourgish and French, or Luxembourgish and German. English is spoken as well. You're more likely to find English speakers in the city centre than in the outskirts.

I have been getting by ok with my French. It has certainly improved since my arrival, but I am nowhere near fluent. I can understand better than I can speak it.

Overall, I suppose Luxembourg doesn't differ much from smalltown, USA. In fact, we've come to the conclusion that Luxembourg is much like the American mid-west. Those fields in my Sunday afternoon walk photoset could be Ohio farmland for all you know. :)


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