IR INTERRAIL 2003 > Day 26 > Lyon - Metz - Luxembourg City

Lyon - Metz

There was some relief when I woke up and didn't find the insane Vietnamese traveller kneeling astride me with a machete, readying himself for the first fatal plunge into my chest. In fact, both the worrisome room-mates had departed, along with the other mystery person who had occupied the fourth bed, but who I had never seen. Knowing inside out the laws of Sod by which my life usually abided, they were doubtless an attractive young female naturist with a penchant for exhibitionism. I skipped breakfast as I wasn't feeling particularly zestful this morning, and yesterday's experience had confirmed that it was not worth the short trip downstairs to eat it.

I left my checking out until one minute before ten o'clock, which was the deadline for not incurring extra charges. I noticed that the clock in reception was two minutes ahead, and I cast my eyes scornfully upon the girl working there, should she dare charge me for an extra night. Thankfully, the friends I had met over the two previous nights were also checking out, and charging all of us for a minute's extra stay would not have been a wise move. With the others, the combined strength of their muscle power would be all the intimidation the receptionist might have needed. But with me, I felt that after the viscious display the girl had shown me previously, I could in all probability breathe fire upon her if my feathers were ruffled again. I was not a man to be messed with, especially when I'd not had my breakfast.

I sat with my friends in the hostel, twiddling thumbs for much of the morning. We were all leaving Lyon later in the afternoon, from the same station, but on different trains. The weather had taken a turn and it was rather gloomy outside, and despite the splendour of this city, none of us had enough energy to take in more sights before departing for our respective destinations. Lunchtime arrived, we each had an unfulfilling encounter with the vending machine - borne out of our being too lazy to walk to a proper food outlet - and it was time to head off to Part Dieu station.

We called a taxi and took our final glances at the city we had all enjoyed so much, as we crossed through the centre and over both rivers. One of my companions insisted on paying for the cab, despite my attempts to plunge some coins into his hand. It was a very kind gesture, and the fare wasn't particularly cheap either. Part Dieu was a bustling station in the eastern business district of the city. It was surrounded by unremarkable office blocks, but was a necessary containment of all the drabness away from the more historic sectors of Lyon. I was fortunate to have the earliest departure amongst us, and my friends accompanied me to the platform for a sending off. It had been a good move coming here, and I hoped that Luxembourg would have similar treats in store for me.

First, I had to get there; not difficult to achieve on a TGV sailing through the countryside, but made a lot harder when sat next to France's worst male vocalist. It was a bizarre phenomenon. Here I was on one of the country's classy high speed trains surrounded by quiet, polite and respectful citizens, whilst in the seat next to me sat an orang-utan flailing his arms to the rhythms on his personal stereo. I could hear the melancholy 1980s electro-beats emanating from his earphones, and every fifteen minutes or so, there would be a sudden outburst where the nation's only surviving prehistoric man erupted into chorus, grossly out of tune, loudly whining some depressive lyrics, eyes shut and unashamed. He really meant it from the heart, and his head swayed from side to side as he sung with conviction about his lost loves, or at least those of the lyricist. Each session would last a few minutes before he would retreat into a deceptive sleeping position, only to reawaken with vigour and determination a quarter of an hour later. It was actually rather amusing. The Spanish thought they'd mastered the art of in-seat entertainment on their luxury trains, but they clearly had a lot to learn from the French.

Metz - Luxembourg City

My experience of Metz defined the word brief better than one half of my underpants, as I hopped off the TGV and straight onto a regional train sitting at the next platform. I left the choirboy ape behind and sat down on board an almost empty service heading for a peculiar little land. I had travelled as far today as I had on the horrendous journey across France from Bordeaux to Lyon, but in half the time, such was the effortless glide of the TGV. And it had deposited me at a point further north than I had been since day one of my trip. It was a sad feeling to have left the beaming sunshine of southern Spain behind, and to be so close to returning home, all too noticeable from the dismal skies outside. Nevertheless, it was also a welcome change to see a colour other than blue occupying the upper half of my vision, and to finally have some use for the hooded top that I had lugged around with me over the last few weeks.

I had looked hard out of the windows for some kind of welcome sign as I entered Luxembourg, but if there was one I missed it. I didn't know what it was about this country that had made me curious for so many years, but I felt compelled to visit it just for reason of its smallness. In fact, it wasn't a particularly small country compared to the likes of Liechtenstein or San Marino, or numerous other states and islands around the world, and it featured at least fifteen youth hostels. I was set to visit just one located in the capital, Luxembourg City.

When I reached the station it was well into the evening, but I was comforted by having already booked my place at the hostel. It was just necessary to find it, and despite its reasonable walking distance from the station, I was embarking upon another nightmare search. It was never going to rival the experience of the medina in Marrakech, but was at least on a par with the confusion of my afternoon in Seville.

The map in my hostel guide was more than useless, and even the tourist maps in the streets were confusing. I crossed from the rather dingy and slightly seedy district near the station, over a magnificent bridge spanning a wide gorge, and into the old part of the city. The cause of my grief in getting lost was some building work which was blocking off a whole street essential to my navigation, but I wasn't to discover this until later, so I went around in circles unable to match any of the street names on the maps to those on the buildings. Even the residents I asked for help consistently pointed me in the wrong direction.

I knew that the hostel was a little way out from the centre, and it seemed wise to sort out my dinner arrangements before I carried on any further. In the spitting rain and looming clouds above which did their best to conceal the last remnants of daylight, a small orchestra was camped out under a marquee in the main square, and many brave folk were sat around outside restaurants trying to show some appreciation. There were a lot of eateries gathered around this place, but I was horrified at the prices, which were by far the most expensive I had seen anywhere, even beating Paris hands down. I had been warned that Luxembourg was an expensive country, but I hadn't expected it to be this severe. My guide book suggested a vegetarian bar as offering good budget eats, but when I tracked it down it was empty, lifeless, and the prices on the menu outside were well into double figures. Accepted, these were the restaurant charges, but I felt too intimidated to even bother going in and asking about take-aways. I would have to resort to something I contemplated rarely, if ever at all. The fast-food joint. The horror.

Thankfully I was spared the discomfort of visiting a McDonalds, an experience that I remained determined to avoid for eternity, but two doors along there was Belgium's answer to the American clown. The Quick chain was familiar in many parts of northern Europe that I had visited, and whilst I couldn't vouch for its ethical principles or have any knowledge whether it held any greater worth than its near neighbour, it offered my only solution for some cheap grub. Armed with a vegeburger, fries and a soft drink, and feeling both teenaged and guilty, I found my path back to the hostel clutching my smelly little bag of dirty nosh.

It had already become cold by the time I got there, but the staff dithered and dabbled on their computer for ten minutes further whilst they tried to locate my booking, which had mysteriously disappeared from the system. After half an hour of undesirable cooling, I gobbled up my now chewy, lukewarm food and explored the hostel. From the image that I must have presented to staff upon arrival with my burger bag and rucksack, all that was missing was the chewing gum and a skateboard.

First impressions of the place weren't good. Although it was situated deep down in one of the picturesque gorges amongst the trees, the whole building was undergoing extensive construction and refurbishment works, and it seemed a bit of a cheek in the circumstances for them to charge such a high price for my night's stay. The dormitory was by far the largest I had been in, containing fourteen bunks and twenty-eight beds. I had been designated a lower bunk in the far corner of the room, which already had a few early kippers snoring away in other beds. It was dark and I fumbled for my pocket torch so that I could spread the absurdly oversized bed sheets out.

There was nothing much to hang around here for so I went back downstairs, finding to my dismay that the television lounge was the only other place to go, and it was empty. Being shown on the box was Luxembourg's first glimpse of the 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' coughing cheat, and it provided my only entertainment until a grumpy hostel worker came and switched it off after ten o'clock, which represented some form of curfew. I could have gone back into the city centre, but the orchestra had wound up by now, and the place had seemed utterly dead when I walked around before. I had to face the fact that whether I liked it or not, tonight would be an early night.

I did everything within my power to delay the forced snooze; reading my timetables by torchlight, visiting the vending machines down in the lobby, having a slow careful wet shave in the bathroom - but it was still only eleven o'clock. I had to turn in and just count the day as a non-event amongst my experiences. The only problem was that the night was due to be the 'event', not the day.

It would be punctuated by the incessant bodily noises of the man above me on the upper bunk. The staff couldn't have selected a worse bed for me if they'd tried, but I couldn't move as every other bed was occupied. The man, or 'Grunter', continually left his bunk, climbing down with next to no clothes on beside my head and flopping his unhealthy bulk onto the floor, before returning and shaking the frame as he struggled to re-mount. He was an obvious long-term smoker, evident from both the stale odour surrounding him and his trophy-winning wheezing. I had assumed that he might be Spanish, based purely on his looks - those of a hairy moustachioed matador, but despite his definite Spanish tone he spoke in English. At least, he spoke this language whilst he was asleep, in endless streams of nonsensical mutterings gruffly forced through his phlegm-ridden throat.

Around midnight, he suddenly climbed down in a frustrated bother, marching over to a high bunk on the other side of the room occupied by a lady. He set his foot upon the bottom rung of her ladder, rested his arms on her bed and darted his hands under the covers with a desperate lunge. He rummaged around and had a bit of a grope, and she sprung up from her pillow with a fright. I heard him ask, 'Can I sleep with you?' to which he received a firm, sprightly and angry 'NO!' He retreated to his position above me, and I worried that I might be next in line if he was that determined. He could have been a serial rapist or a sleepwalker, I had no idea. It seemed from the brief whispers of a conversation between the two of them after his request was turned down, that they were familiar with one another. However, if he hadn't known her, he would no doubt have been motivated to attempt his ambush following the events some moments earlier.

Despite the semi-darkness of the room, from the position of my bed and that of Grunter's above it was clearly visible when the lady - of early middle-age yet obvious bodily pride - climbed out from her bed covers naked, turned to face the window through which the street lights shone, stretched one leg the long distance across to the frame of the neighbouring upper bunk - casting an explicit silhouette in front of the window of a nude rounded woman doing the splits in mid air - and proceeded to draw the curtains closed, leaving all those who may have been watching her from behind gawping with disbelief at the exceedingly personal items which had been flashed at them. Had I been of Grunter's age and held his fairly unattractive bodily assets, I too might have been aroused.

But instead I was just tired. Until I finally found solace in my sleep, I had to endure every grunt, snore, blocked passage, cough, wheeze, burp, fart and attempt at reverse speech ever recorded in world laboratory experiments, from the man above. Somehow, I felt that today just hadn't quite gone according to plan.

HOSTEL REPORT: Luxembourg City - 2 rue du Fort Olisy (Pfaffenthal), L-2261 Luxembourg
The most expensive hostel in Luxembourg, but a bit of a disaster zone when I visited. With a new block under construction next door, the prospects looked rosy for this place, but it failed to offer value for money during my stay. Set in a pretty, peaceful location a short walk from the city centre and at the base of a steep gorge, it was not too far from the capital's attractions and amenities, but was a fair walking distance from the rail station. The dormitories were large but crowded, and the bathroom and shower arrangements varied on different floors. There was little to do of an evening at the hostel, particularly when the TV lounge was locked up relatively early. However, the work taking place during my visit may have disrupted the availability of some facilities. Staff were generally friendly, and cheap postcards were on sale at the reception. Breakfast was good and vending machines were housed in the lobby. The sheets provided were freshly sealed in wrappers, starched bright white and ridiculously over-proportioned, whilst quilts were available on all beds and lockers provided beside the bunks. There didn't seem to be enough showers, toilets or breakfast tables to cope with the number of visitors, which included some large groups of schoolchildren during my stay, but this could be remedied with the completion of the new building. Score: 5/10

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