It was a short wait until the train departed and the ride was quick and uneventful. A day earlier, I had sketched a quick map of Luxembourg in my notebook, showing the streets I would have to take to get from the train station to the hostel. Luxembourg is pretty small, so I figured it would be enough. Just to give you an idea of how careless/confident I was, here’s that very map:
The asterisk on the left of the page (along those partial train tracks) is the train station, and the asterisk on the far right is the hostel. Do you see just how ridiculous that is? Well I didn’t, at least not until I reached the bridge. You see, Luxembourg is one of those old fortress cities, so it’s a mix of new town and old town, modern and historic. And, in this case, low and high.
So now, on top of deciphering the chicken scratch and fractal drawings of my makeshift map, I had to figure out if the hostel was in the valley or on the cliff. And if it was the former, how the hell do I get down there? The sun was setting and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure it out before things got more difficult.
Across the bridge which connects the old town with the CBD, I spotted a bus shelter. Bus shelters are great places to find maps of cities, even if it’s just a small slice of whatever route you’re on. Unfortunately, this one was more of a network map than an actual map so I was out of luck. I knew there was a bus you could take to get to the hostel, so I contemplated waiting for a bus to show up then asking the driver for help.
But that wouldn’t be very fun, now would it.
I kept walking in the direction I thought I had to go, and then I spotted a Japanese girl wheeling a suitcase behind her and staring at a guidebook. She too looked pretty confused so I approached her and asked if she was looking for a hostel. It turns out she was heading to the same YHA as me, so I shamefully put away my treasure map and we used her guidebook instead. But all the nooks and crannies of the city were still pretty confusing. We reached yet another bridge and according to both of our maps (and to be fair, mine was actually pretty accurate), we would have to launch ourselves off the side of the bridge to get to the hostel. I was right: the hostel was in the valley, and we had no idea how to get down there. It had gotten dark so it was difficult to see if there were any stairs or paths that went down from the bridge. An older couple behind us were having the same difficulty getting off this bridge. Finally, we saw the stairs that led down, and after following a couple switchback streets, we reached the hostel.
It was only when I walked into the lobby did it hit me that the couple on the bridge seemed a bit old to be looking for a youth hostel. Indeed, many of the other people hanging around the lobby were in the 35-50 age bracket, or they were families. Very strange.
I asked my new Japanese friend if she wanted to walk around town with me, and we agreed to meet in the lobby in 30 minutes. Well, I agreed to meet in the lobby. She gave no indication of understanding a word I said, so if she was there, great. If not, I’d understand.
The room was small for six people, but there were only 3 other occupants, and it was clean and new. One of my dormmates was an older Swedish man, who was wearing a suit when he walked in. Yet another out-of-place guest at a YHA. I put the sheets on the bed and unloaded my packs.
The Japanese girl was in fact waiting for me in the lobby, and we headed back up to the high town (that’s actually how they refer to it: high town and low town), which is Luxembourg’s medieval center. It turns out she had spent a few months working on farms in Sweden and Ireland, and was doing a quick tour of Western Europe before heading back to Japan. She was really nice, and despite being shy about her English, spoke it quite well. We wandered around the empty streets of the old town as she looked for something to eat and I just got a feel for the city. She asked if I liked baked goods and then we launched into a discussion about our favorites. She, like myself, had a sweet tooth.
I suggested a drink at a bar near the hostel, so we grabbed a corner booth in an empty pub and had a couple drinks. We talked about our travels, experiences along the way, and plans for when we get back. We even talked about single-serving friends: those people you meet on the road with whom you make no pretense about keeping in touch or meeting up. Travelers whose emails you’d never bother asking for, because their company and conversation at the time is all you’re going to get and all you really want. In fact, as we went to our respective rooms, something finally dawned on me. After saying goodnight I spun around and added, “By the way, my name is Bj.” She laughed and replied “I’m Yuri, it’s nice to meet you.”