Kerstad Valkenburg

Our exploration of the Dutch bus system continued today as we successfully negotiated the 6 miles into Valkenburg. Years ago, we wouldn’t have had the confidence to use public transport in a country whose language we don’t understand. However, that was before the magic that is Google. We entered our destination and Google Maps gave us three alternatives, including the name of the stop where we were to leave the bus.

Valkenburg’s Christmas Markets are rated so highly because they are held in the towns labyrinthine marlstone caves. The local hills have been mined for stone leaving 70 kms of corridors which provided shelter and refuge during times of conflict. Excavations date back to the Romans and in more recent times provided a safe haven for the town’s Jews and other residents during WWII.

In our eagerness not to be late, we arrived an hour early for our pre-booked entrance into Gemeentegrot (Municipal Cave) and whiled away the time with a cuppa, watching tourists walk up the hill ahead of us, before we joined the queue.

The cave was beautifully lit and dressed for Christmas with stalls selling everything from fleece pants (don’t ask) to ornaments hand carved from local stone. There were plenty of samples on offer – we managed to taste handmade chocolates, peanut butter, cured meats and cheese all before lunch!

After almost two hours underground, we emerged back into daylight and thankfully it had stopped raining. With time to spare before our next visit to Fluweelengrot (Velvet Market) we walked up to the castle. Not just any old castle, the only Dutch castle to be built on a hill. For centuries, the Lord of the Castle had authority over the trade route between Maastricht and Aachen. The House of Valkenburg ended when, with no male heirs, the quarrelling females enabled the Duke of Brabant to seize the land. No comments required on quarrelling females!

The Velvet Cave was a far simpler affair, which initially felt a little disappointing until we noticed the paintings and etchings on the walls. This cave, particularly, shows it’s long and eventful history.

During the Second World War, Velvet Cave served as shelter for 700 residents of Valkenburg until after six days of heavy fighting the town was finally liberated by the Americans with the aid of the Dutch Resistance. Unfortunately the town museum where we had hoped to learn more was closed on Mondays, so we visited a florists instead!

We all know that the Dutch know a thing or two about plants but we did question the need to chop up perfectly good Christmas tree foliage to turn it into fake trees and spray bulbs with glitter.

Walking to the Railway Station to catch the bus, we passed an unattended dragon. He seemed fairly harmless perhaps waiting for a witch? Also a lesson in not riding your broomstick while drunk?

Finally, nothing says Christmas quite like this couple does.

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