During my whirlwind week in Europe, I visited so many different places! From Madrid to Luxembourg to France to Germany, I covered a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. However, Luxembourg and Trier hold a special place in my heart because they were the first two places I visited, and they were the places that I got to visit with my hosts!!!
If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I chose to travel to Germany because I wanted to visit Kerstin, who was my au pair growing up. She and her husband, Marco, live in the Frankfurt area with their two boys! I’d never met their kids, and could not wait. I had the best time with them exploring Luxembourg and Trier, it was absolutely a highlight of my trip to be able to spend this time with them.
I flew in from Madrid on Saturday night. I was thoroughly exhausted. I had left Chicago at 4p.m. on Friday, and had been in transit almost a full 24 hours by the time I arrived and met them at the airport. After dinner, by the time we got home, it was almost 10 o’clock at night! And I still had to shower and unpack a bit before I could get to sleep. I told them that I would set an alarm for 9a.m. the following morning, because I didn’t think I would need that much sleep.
At 9:30 the next morning, Kerstin and the kids had to wake me up! My alarm didn’t go off, for some unknown reason, and I totally would’ve kept sleeping had they not woken me up. Once I woke up and was dressed, they greeted me with an amazing breakfast. A perfect way to start my trip!
After cleaning up breakfast, we packed and headed out the door to Luxembourg. None of us had ever been to Luxembourg, so it was an exciting day! I chose to visit there because I have a fascination with Christmas Markets, or as they are known in Germany, wiehnachtsmarkt. Luxembourg is known for their Winterlights. I was very excited for this to be the first stop of my European Christmas Market Tour.
Luxembourg was about a three hour drive from where they live, north of Frankfurt. With two kids, we had to make one stop on the way there! We stopped in at a gas station to use the restroom. Something interesting I noted is that you had to pay to use the restroom at the gas station! There was an attendant standing by the doors collecting Euros from those who used the facilities.
It’s something that I continued to see throughout my trip, as well. At a grocery store, I had to feed the bathroom door .50EUR to make it open! I found that to be really interesting because in all my research about traveling in Europe, that wasn’t anything I had ever read about, or expected. Along these lines–paying for water in restaurants?! Also a totally foreign concept to me.
After our bathroom break, we cruised on to Luxembourg. At the border, there was no security or any sort of border control, you were able to drive right through. I was saddened by this because I was hoping to add some new stamps to my passport. Actually, I visited 4 countries on my trip, and only one of those four countries stamped my passport upon entry! I’m pretty bummed about that.
Once in Luxembourg, we hit a bunch of traffic going into the city. They’re currently in the middle of this massive construction project that will add a tram/trolley through the main streets of the city. We sat in traffic for a long time. I had a good laugh at this taco place… I still look at it in bafflement. It’s called O’Tacos. It’s in Luxembourg. They serve original FRENCH tacos. There is a lot to unpack there! French, Hispanic,and Irish restaurant in the heart of Luxembourg? I actually kind of wish I would’ve popped in and checked it out!
After struggling through the traffic, we found our hotel! Of course, the hotel parking garage did not open automatically, and there was no indicator of how to get the door to open so we could go in to park. Due to traffic behind us, we decided to just drive around the block again while figuring out a plan. I realized I should just hop out and go talk to them while Kerstin and Marco (who had driven separate cars), circled the block.
I walked into the hotel and just planned to ask them about parking. Of course, neither of the guys working the front desk spoke any English! My French and German skills are nothing to write home about, so I had a fun time trying to explain our unique situation. See, Kerstin had driven one car with me in it because we, and the boys, were going to spend the night. Marco had driven separately with the boys because he was actually going to have to go home that night because he had work on Monday! So we had two cars that we needed to park, but only one car was going to have to stay the night.
I’m trying to explain to them that we just need to park the two cars, and that one car would be leaving before nightfall. I’m also trying to figure out how to pay for parking! They told me that two cars would NOT be allowed to park there because they have very limited space. They would only allow us to park one car in the hotel. I tried to call Kerstin and explain, and of course, because I had switched countries for a third time in 24 hours, my service was non-existent as my phone struggled to figure out where it was.
I went to stand outside and wait for their cars to pull up. I had paid for parking for one car, and was going to wait outside for them and then run in and ask the guy to open the door. I’m still desperately trying to get the phone to work and get Kerstin on the line, because I felt bad that they were just driving in circles, especially with two small kids in the car!
All of a sudden, they’re walking up the street, carrying their bags. Turns out, there was another parking garage not even 50 meters down the road. They had pulled in and I’d somehow missed it! Marco left his car there, and moved Kerstin’s into the hotel parking garage. We all dropped our stuff off into our hotel rooms (they got me my own hotel room which was totally unnecessary, but very appreciated!), and then went downstairs to check out the city and walk to the Christmas Market!
Google Maps said that it was only a 20 minute walk from us to the main downtown area of Luxembourg City, so we just decided to walk it instead of trying to deal with the traffic and parking situations. It was actually such a nice and easy walk, I’m very glad that we walked! It was also a really nice walk, despite all of the construction.
Once we got to the Winterlights Market, it was PACKED. It was like the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago on it’s busy day of the year, times six. It was insanity! The fact that it was it’s opening weekend probably contributed to the insanity. Luckily, the weather was really nice. It wasn’t too chilly at all!
We wandered the market, keeping a close eye on the boys. We let them ride the carousels and the train rides around the market, stopping for cotton candy for me, and other treats along the way. We also got food for dinner, and I was able to get my first Christmas Market mug of the trip! Each Christmas Market has a unique mug, and I was determined to collect a mug from each place I visited.
After eating, we wandered around a little bit more, and rode a few more rides. Then, we decided to call it a night! I was still exhausted despite the sleep I’d gotten the night before, so I didn’t think I really needed to spend any more time wandering around! I got to see most, if not all, of the market, which is all I really wanted. And I got to check out the amazing Christmas lights.
On the way back, we stopped by the Christmas Market that was next door to our hotel. This is the amazing thing about Christmas Markets in Europe… They’re everywhere! I went to Strasbourg and visited 3 different markets in the span of less than a mile. The same with Wiesbaden! But more info will come on that later. So we were able to stop by the small market next to our hotel and just check it out. There was no crowd, so I was able to get cute pictures of the lights. It was a great way to end the night!
We headed up to our hotel rooms and Marco left to drive back to Germany. Kerstin and I stayed up and talked for a bit, and then I let her get the boys to bed. I headed over to my own room where I stayed up for a bit, reading a book. I finally closed my eyes at about 10p.m., ready to catch up on sleep.
Of course, it’s never that easy. The jet lag got me. I woke up at 1a.m., and stayed awake until 4a.m. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that miserable. For the first two hours, I just laid there with my eyes closed, trying to convince my body that it was nighttime. The third hour, I gave up and started reading a book again. At 4a.m., I closed my eyes again, just begging for a bit more sleep. The next thing I know, my alarm is going off at 8a.m., and it’s time to start the day!
We headed down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. Man, I could get used to breakfasts like this one. It was buffet style, and I definitely loaded up on chocolate croissants. They didn’t have any bagels in Luxembourg (why?), so I had some different types of toast with cream cheese in place of a bagel. Why have cream cheese with no bagels? Why? We enjoyed our breakfast, then headed out to explore the city a bit more!
On our walk across the Adolphe Bridge (in French, it’s called the Pont Adolphe, “pont” meaning bridge), the night before, I had noted how there was a valley below and how I wanted to walk through it! So that was one thing we set out to do. The other thing we noticed is that there was a walking bridge BELOW the actual Adolphe Bridge. We also wanted to check that out!
We slowly meandered our way through Luxembourg. It was amazing because, as it was Monday morning, the construction had started up again! This was the kind of thing that could make a 4 year old and a 6 year old’s entire day. We got to see all sorts of neat construction stuff. And yes, I’m a giant nerd too, I could totally watch a construction site and come up with questions and observations for hours on end. So this was no skin off my back, walking slowly and checking it all out!
We walked across the top of the Adolphe Bridge, then decided to try and figure out how to get into the valley. I found out that it was actually called the Vallee de la Petrusse. The river that runs through it is named the Petrusse. This whole park area is absolutely gorgeous! I could have spent days wandering through it. Once you’ve walked north across the Adolphe Bridge, you can find the descent into the valley itself on the western side of the bridge. This is also where you will find the entrance to the neat walking and bike path below the bridge.
There are two pathways down to the middle part of the valley/the base of the bridge. One pathway is ridiculously narrow and steep. The second is much more wide, even, and ADA-compliant (I don’t think that’s the term that would be used in European countries, but it’s the only term I know that will help describe it!). This second path is also clearly meant more for bikes, strollers, and the like. We opted to take the crazy narrow path down, as it seemed to be a quicker route to the bottom! And why not?
We made it down to the base of the bridge, and then walked east. There was a lot to take in! So much greenery and natural beauty. We also got to check out all of the neat rock formations and ancient buildings. We pretended that they were castles that we were in. It was such a neat place to explore, and we didn’t even make it all the way down to the bottom of the valley, where the river runs through!
With two little boys, I knew that they would not last walking all the way down, then walking all the way back up, and then walking 20 minutes back to the hotel. And, that was totally fine with me! So we cut our exploring short, and started trekking back up. We decided to walk back across the bridge underneath, on the lower level of the Pont Adolphe. This was an adventure! I personally thought it was so neat. Opened in 2018, whoever thought of this was an architectural genius! It’s brilliant. The placement and the design are amazing, and it’s the perfect way to help ease pedestrian congestion on the upper level of the bridge. Pont Adolphe is a huge tourist attraction and symbol of Luxembourg, so there are lots of tourists around. The lower level pedestrian and bike bridge makes total sense. However, the boys did not love it. It was a bit dark, but it felt totally safe and was just really cool to check out.
We slowly walked back to our hotel, where was used the bathrooms and then hit the road! Leaving the parking garage was an experience. Marco had parked the car for us yesterday, so we didn’t really get to check it out. But, the parking garage was TINY. Getting the car out was an experience. We loaded the car up and held our breaths as we tried to maneuver around the very narrow corner of the parking garage. Interestingly enough, it was lined with carpet already because so many cars had scraped up against the walls trying to get out! That just contributed to the nerves as we tried to leave.
Then, we ran into an unforeseen problem! Apparently, you were supposed to tell them that you were leaving. That’s how the door would open, it was not automatic. Luckily, after we sat there for about 5 minutes, the guy came out and goes, “Oh, you’re leaving? You’re supposed to tell us! Have a good day!” And he opened the garage door so we could go. It’s just good he noticed, we would have been trapped otherwise! There was no getting out of the car with how narrow the drive was.
From Luxembourg, we headed to Trier, another famous German city. Trier was totally amazing, I wish I could’ve spent more time there! We parked across from Porta Nigra, one of the most famous monuments in Trier. Porta Nigra literally translates to “Black Gate”. It is an ancient Roman gate, built in 170AD. It is one of 4 gates built around the city, and it’s the only one still standing today. And as a history student, this is one of the coolest places I got to see on my trip!
Something really interesting that I found out while reading about Porta Nigra is that New Trier High School (a relatively big deal in Northern Illinois), is actually named after the city of Trier. Their logo is Porta Nigra! As someone from Northern Illinois, this was kind of an interesting fact to learn.
Trier was such an interesting place! We decided to do the Römer Express tour of Trier. It departed every hour, and we tried to catch the 1p.m. tour, but missed it by just a few minutes. It wasn’t a big deal though, I got to check out their Wiehnachtsmarkt and get my second mug while I waited!
Kerstin got the boys McDonalds for lunch while I wandered the market. After the kids ate, Kerstin and I got waffles for lunch!
We wandered back up to the Porta Nigra with plenty of time to make the 2p.m. tour. We climbed into the front of the train and we were off! The announcements and information on the tour plays out in three different languages. German, English, and French. The tour was really interesting, but it would have been nice if it was a hop-on, hop-off tour, so that you could see everything better! Trier has lots of great sites to see, it’s hard to check them out fully if you’re on a little train that continues to move with the traffic flow around the city. But it was still really cool and a good way to get information quickly!
After the tour, we went back to the Porta Nigra. We found out you could climb up to the top of it, so of course we had to go up and check it out! It was really cool to be inside a building that old. And we had it basically to ourselves, which was also pretty neat.
After that, we checked out the statue of Karl Marx! Karl Marx was actually born in Trier. You can see his house on the train tour we did, but you just speed by very quickly! So I had to get my picture with his statue instead. I also bought a Karl Marx-head cookie cutter at a local shop! From there, it was getting time to head back. We had to pick up my rental car!
Kerstin called the rental car place and we found out that it closed at 6. I should’ve done my research. We were going to have to RUN to make it back there in time. Marco agreed to meet us there, that way he could drive home with the boys while Kerstin drove a bit with me, and then she and I would drive home separately. We got to the rental car place just in time, and I was able to get my car!
We did a few practice laps around Wetzlar, then I followed Kerstin back to their house! And so ended my adventures in Trier and Luxembourg.