EuroTrip 2019: France and Luxembourg

*by Whitney*

Timeline: June 19-29, 2019

If you haven’t already, you can check out my previous posts on our trip timeline here:

 

Hard to believe, but at this point we had already been out of the country for over a month! The first month of our trip was truly amazing. We really enjoyed spending two full weeks in Portugal and 2+ weeks in Spain! Both of these countries were on the Iberian Peninsula, and they had many similarities in culture, language, food, drinks, and also cost!

So when we headed to our next stop, Paris, it was almost like starting a whole new trip! From France and going forward, we would be spending a lot less time in each place, as well as experiencing a lot more languages and variety of cultures. We will be visiting a total of 14 countries on our trip, so since we only went to 2 during the first month of the trip, that leaves 12 more to go in the span of 11 weeks!

Additionally, arriving in France meant much higher costs, so we had to be a lot more conscious of the things we did, where we ate, etc to be budget friendly! I decided to lump France and Luxembourg together in one post because culturally they were similar, and also Luxembourg was such a small country where we only spent about 2.5 days!

Paris

Up until this point, we had been staying in only Airbnb’s, but we had our first hotel night of the trip booked in Paris, and it was an incredible one! We had a free night to use with IHG rewards and were able to use it to stay at the fabulous, 5-star Intercontinental Paris Le Grand Hotel! We have stayed at several really nice hotels in the past using credit card rewards, including the iconic Plaza Hotel in New York City, the Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, and the castle-like Le Chateau Frontenac hotel in Quebec City, Canada. But, I have to say that this hotel truly rivaled all of those for the top spot. It was absolutely, over-the-top, amazing, and we felt like royalty staying there. (It’s always especially interesting, too, when we roll in with our backpacker style, after walking and taking public transportation, to a 5 star hotel, haha!)

So since we had the privilege of staying at such a nice place, on our first afternoon and evening in Paris, we took full advantage of this fabulous hotel. We lounged around in our fluffy robes and slippers, and even got to enjoy some free champagne gifted to us by the hotel, because we were sure to let them know we were “celebrating our anniversary” (which we basically were, as it was our 6 year dating anniversary just a week before)! We arrived to this fancy bottle of champagne on ice in our room, along with a little box of French cookies. We also received additional free “Welcome Drinks” for our rewards status with IHG, which we used at the ultra-fancy hotel bar to get two glasses of free champagne, which came with small tapas bar snacks as well. We were living the high life for sure on our first night in Paris!

We did break away from the hotel for a little while to have dinner and then take a stroll around that part of town, despite it being a little rainy outside. We were actually so surprised to see rain, because we hadn’t had ANY rain at all during the first month of our trip! But I’m so glad that we did make it out that night, because we walked over to the Louvre and got to see the beautiful Louvre pyramids lit up at night, as well as catch our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower from afar, including seeing it sparkle and light up during the lights show at 11pm! There was definitely magic in the air, and it felt quite romantic, walking around Paris that first night!

The next day, we took a free walking tour of the city and explored around the center a little bit. We got to see the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, although sadly it is closed and under construction of course due to the recent fire which ruined the entire roof and spire. Fortunately, the front facade is still present. (Fun Fact: we learned that the name “Notre Dame” is not unique to Paris, and there are lots of Notre Dame cathedrals elsewhere in Europe, including Reims and Luxembourg!) We also walked over to see the Eiffel Tower again, close-up this time. What an impressive structure!

We had to check out of our luxury hotel that morning, so we had left our bags with the concierge. We picked them up that evening and headed to our new digs, an Airbnb a little outside of the city center. It was a room in an apartment, and our host was very kind.

The next day, we took a train outside of the city to see the amazing Palace of Versailles! This is a place we’ve heard about many times, from several history classes, so it was such a cool experience to get to see it in person! In our travels we have seen lots of famous palaces and mansions, but this one definitely takes the cake! It was a massive complex, and the state rooms were just incredible. Every wall, ceiling, floor, and decoration was a work of art. We couldn’t believe the murals painted on the ceilings! I’m so glad we were able to see this place in person, because you just can’t truly grasp its impressiveness from pictures.

After our day excursion, I really wanted to get back to go to the Eiffel Tower at night. The “thing to do” there was have champagne on the lawn in front of the tower. We always laugh how each city has its “thing.” Usually there’s some thing that vendors will push on you, and here it was cold champagne they carried around in a bucket to sell to you on the lawn! But of course we know they’re jacking the prices up times a million, so naturally I bought a bottle at the grocery store on our way over instead! (I later realized I didn’t actually buy “champagne” but instead “cremant” ha- if you know about the rules to calling something Champagne you’ll understand my mistake!) This time of year, the sun was setting so late in the evening, so we basically had to hang around until 11pm to see sunset and then for it to actually be dark. But luckily this meant we got to see the full light show at 11 up close! Also, we saw a marriage proposal during sunset! How romantic! Sadly, no, not our own..ha!

On our last day in Paris, we went to the famous Louvre Museum! This place was insane! We’ve never been to a museum like that before, and there probably doesn’t exist such a large and varied collection of items anywhere else. We spent almost 5 hours there and walked over 6 miles INSIDE the museum! The building itself is a former palace, and it is just massive! Even in an exhausting 5 hours we didn’t begin to see everything there. But it was a great experience, and we’re really fortunate to have gone! Afterwards, we walked around the city some more, and got to see a different part of town, Montmartre, where the Sacre Coeur Basilica is and also where cabaret originated.

The next day, we had an early check out, but our bus wasn’t until later. Needing some down time anyway to catch up on things, we spent several hours at the “local” Starbucks on our laptops. Then we caught our bus to the next stop, a smaller city called Reims, France, which is in the Champagne Region!

I have to say we really enjoyed Paris. We are usually not huge fans of the big cities, but after all it is Paris! The only negative for us was the high costs, but what can you do!

Reims

After the hustle and bustle of Paris, we were ready to head to a smaller town and see what other parts of France were like. To our surprise though, despite Reims being a smaller city, it was still equally as expensive as Paris! It’s not that far away, and we learned that many people actually take day trips from Paris to there to do champagne tours. We are glad we actually got to stay there for a couple days though rather than just a day trip.

Upon arriving in Reims, we didn’t really have any plans yet, except to check out a champagne cellar of course! To our great surprise, when we got there, we learned from our host that the Women’s World Cup was happening in France (we were seriously out of the loop), and that the UNITED STATES’ team was playing THAT DAY against Spain IN REIMS! Right down the street! We literally had no idea. So, we decided, why not pop by the stadium and at least see/hear it from the outside? Well even more to our surprise, we found out they were selling super cheap “obstructed view” tickets for only 13 euros! So, on a whim, we found ourselves with what actually turned out to be awesome seats to watch the US women’s soccer team play (and beat!) Spain in the World Cup! What an amazing experience that was! Sometimes we have our days really planned out and scheduled with tourist activities, and other times we don’t have any plans. This was an occasion where we were so glad we didn’t have any plans and were able to take advantage of this spontaneous and awesome event!

How do you top that experience, right? Ha! So besides that, we did some touring around the small city of Reims, and we did visit a couple of Champagne “Houses.” We took a tour of the “chalk cellars” at the Taittinger House and learned a little about the champagne making process. This was an interesting experience, but we actually didn’t think the tour was worth the cost. We heard later from friends that they thought some of the other cellar tours in the region were more worthwhile. But this one was a good choice for us at the time because it was just within the town and we could walk there. In addition to the tour, we tried some other champagne at G.H. Martel & Co in their tasting room. I love champagne, so although the cost-benefit ratio wasn’t great in Jared’s eyes, I still really enjoyed the champagne!

We certainly found some fun things to do during our time in France, but I can’t forget to mention the underlying factors that really tainted our experience there. First, everything was expensive and overpriced. So, to be budget friendly, we really scaled back on eating out, and therefore didn’t get a great experience of traditional French food, which I was bummed about. Second, it was SO HOT THERE! We happened to be in France during absolute record highs for the country. The worst of it was when we were in Reims, and our Airbnb, although lovely, didn’t have AC. We thought we would die it was so hot! We were constantly sweating both inside and outside. We spent 5 months in the humid and sweltering Southeast Asia last year, but at least you could seek refuge inside the cold AC there! Not in France! They don’t usually have temperatures that high, so most houses in France (and Europe in general) don’t have AC. This made for a tough few days, and definitely impacted our experiences in France.

Luxembourg

Our next stop after France was Luxembourg City, Luxembourg! The heat wave continued there, but temperatures did begin to drop slightly. (But not before one night in Luxembourg I woke up in a panic from being so hot and feeling like I would suffocate! Ha!) We were excited to see yet another new country. We did some research on the languages and culture there, and learned that it’s a small country highly influenced by the big countries around it. So there they speak some German, some French, and some of the local language “Luxembourgish” (yes, that’s the real name, haha). We found the culture to be similar as well, and saw many things that were just like in France.

We stayed at an Airbnb in the capital city, and our hosts were actually from France but living in Luxembourg. We learned that Luxembourg is a very wealthy country, so yet again we found it to be very expensive just like France! But surprisingly despite the high costs of food and some activities, we were delighted that the public transportation was actually extremely cheap, and we were able to find several free activities to do in the country! The really crazy thing about the public transit system is that the tickets were valid anywhere in the country, not just within Luxembourg City. So we actually used our regular day ticket one day to take a train and bus to another part of the country, to see the charming town of Vianden and the Vianden Castle! This was an awesome perk, and it was nice to see something outside of the capital city!

Within Luxembourg City, we took a free walking tour of the city and learned some interesting history. We absolutely loved how the city is laid out, with its original foundation set on a natural plateau making it an ideal place to build a fortress. We went into the “Casemates du Bock” which are a series of tunnels under the ruins of the old castle/fortress. This was a really neat experience and allowed us some awesome views of the city. This sounds confusing, because generally tunnels are underground, so you wouldn’t see out into the city. But, because the fortress was built up on this huge plateau, the tunnels actually peek out over the city. It’s just incredible, and you have to see it for yourself! It was fun walking around this area, and in the town down below. We also found out some days and times when museums have free entrance, so we checked out a history museum and an art museum. We managed to have a lot of fun on a budget in Luxembourg despite the generally higher costs!

Summary

We definitely had fun in France and Luxembourg, learned a lot of history, went to some great museums, and enjoyed exploring the beautiful cities. But, I don’t think these two countries are top of our list of places we would want to return to in the future. They had a lot to live up to after our amazing experiences in Portugal and Spain! And at the time of writing this about a month after visiting France and Luxembourg, we now have been to numerous other countries that we’ve liked better! We would be interested, however, in checking out some different parts of France in the future, and hopefully next time it won’t be scorching!

Our next stop after Luxembourg was Belgium! Stay tuned for my next post about that amazing country! 🙂

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