Back to a land of good manners and liberal attitudes

We haven’t had enough holidays this year and decided we could manage another micro adventure. What started as a seven day driving trip to some interesting French museums has been condensed to a few days experiencing the build up to Kerst in Holland. Although, quite frankly, we are here for the Christmas Markets. We visited one in Monschau the year we spent Christmas at Auderath and they are just not the same at home.

It was pouring with rain when we left at 3am and that weather kept us company until we reached Maastricht. Thankfully, it decided to give us a break and became a faint drizzle.

Our plan was to visit the Maastricht Christmas Market today and Valkenburg tomorrow. According to The Guardian, Valkenburg’s Market is the second coolest in Europe. We will leave you guessing why until tomorrow.

Our Maastricht adventure started with a bus ride into the town centre. At every stop, the bus driver announced ‘hotel Valk guests remain seated’ until finally allowing us off the bus at the correct stop with clear instructions on how to catch the bus back.

Our first stop was Vrijthof, the square where Andre Rieu hosts his famous concerts, expecting to see a traditional Christmas Market. To be fair, we could see it behind hoardings. Despite double checking our dates, it doesn’t fully open until 1st December and we made do with some fantastic cheese stalls instead.

Walking back into the pedestrianised area, we came across an unusual looking pottery shop and wandered in for a browse. The shop is run by volunteers raising money for a Children’s charity. The stock comes from a derelict ceramics factory in the town. Decades ago, the owner literally locked the doors and left everything as it was. A ceramics factory had been on the site since the early 20th century as JEMA making lustreware figurines. A useless fact – JEMA made figurines that were very like Hummels until the German Goebel manufacturer sued them.

Next stop was Bookshop Dominicanen. You could lose yourself for hours in this converted church which we resisted. As we left we were caught up in a protest March which was very peaceful despite their flags, drums and posters. Of course, we don’t actually know what they were saying but the police officers on their bikes , escorting the participants, weren’t perturbed.

Exploring the back streets away from the tourist ‘Magical Lights Trail’ we came across a cafe advertising ‘the best coffee in the world’ so John had to stop and try some. We were greeted by a very helpful lady who had obviously been indulging in the local Wiet. Various options on how best to drink espresso were provided followed by a long ramble about the correct way to orientate a table fork. John agreed it was one of the best coffees he has ever tasted and we are now fork etiquette experts.

We do love Maastricht and not just for the free samples we have indulged in – cheese, pancakes filled with lemon and fruit compotes, fruit teas. Friendly bus drivers are included too. Unfortunately, frites and mayo weren’t free so points have been deducted.

John’s experience in Etten-Leur

During my five mile drive to site each morning it’s very noticable how cars give way to bikes, there are cycle paths everywhere, an absence of hills, all bikes have luggage racks and lots of secure covered cycle parking is available……… the UK has a very long way to go.

Cycle parking at the hotel.


Initial concerns about running a training course in a foreign country quickly evaporated, everyone speaks excellent English and seems to understand every word – occasionally the group reverts to speaking Dutch to discuss some detail points but then take the trouble to summarise that discussion in English, probably because I’m looking blankly at them.  Of course the only Dutch words I can remember are ‘Circuit Zandvoort’ and “Arnhem a Bridge to Far”.  Although everyone speaks English they pointed out that they do struggle with a Newcastle accent and for some reason phrases such as “Yer gannin’ proper radgie, man. Caln doon, al mek a cuppa.” seem to cause difficulty.

At lunchtime, everything stops as we briskly head to the site canteen, the idea is to get there early enough to make sure some Kroketten are still available. Dutch Kroketten are about ten times larger than croquettes found in the U.K. and seem to consist of potato together with some unidentified meat in a savoury béchamel sauce rolled in breadcrumbs. This sought after delicacy is then enthusiastically mashed onto a slice of rye bread before being eaten with a sliced boiled egg on top.


Having skilfully avoided Kroketten yesterday, my hosts encouraged me to try them today. As fast food goes it was fine but its unlikely they will feature on our menu at home.
Soup also seems very popular and my hosts were rather surprised when I declined soup to go with the Kroquettes they had acquired for me. Even the hotel has six different soups on the menu, one of which is courgette and we’re tempted to take some home for Matt!


A day in Etten-Leur

Today’s challenge was a two mile walk into Etten-Lear, there was no way I could sit on a bike again!

I do like such easy walking, the pavements are wide and it really is very flat. The main road has a series of watercourses running alongside it, I assume for drainage. They’re neatly planted with lilies, reed’s and bamboo and home to a wide range of waterfowl and amphibians. Obviously I had to stop and check out each one on my way!

The town itself felt very modern with a shiny, new shopping centre surrounded by shopping streets. Everywhere seems very clean and well cared for. I managed to find the main square where I sat opposite ‘Van Gogh’s Kerk’. Van Gogh’s father was the vicar at this church and Vincent grew up in Etten. There is a small museum, disappointingly, it only opens afternoons and not on Tuesdays so I feel I’ve missed the cultural heart of the town.

Intrepid explorer that I am, I decided to take a different route back to the hotel which took me past some interesting sights..

As far as I can work out, the stijloren is a jester and carnivals are held in his honour. If anyone can find a site that translates into English, please let me know, I’d like to know more about this weird looking man.
I walked through many different types of housing, most of which would have me searching Rightmove with a view to living here but I also saw some run down, poorly maintained housing which was a reality check. Until then, everything I’d indicated a country with high standards for everyone. The award for the most unexpected sight goes to what, in the U.K., would have been a poorly maintained grassed roundabout in the middle of a housing estate. Here it had been fenced and was an unusual wildlife haven with a small herd of fallow deer, a turkey, a peacock and a selection of geese. The picture isn’t great but at least I remembered to take one….

To help you remember that John is here with me, here’s his highlight of the trip so far…. Last night we ventured out of the hotel to find a big DIY shop next door, John loves foreign shops and this could only have been bettered by a supermarket! He’s always on the look out for the things you wouldn’t see at home, I’m not sure that we’ll get home without one….

Kim’s cycle trip to Breda

While John was working hard, I decided to cycle the  6-7 miles to Breda.

According to the receptionist, the cycle routes are great and clearly signposted, what could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, not much.  The cycle network is fantastic and, having priority over cars, takes some getting used to but makes for a easy, safe cycling. I would challenge that signage is clear but my new Cycleways app came to the rescue and a few u-turns all added to the excitement.

Breda was very pretty and I’m sorry there aren’t many photos, I was too busy looking at scenery and buildings to think about taking pictures to share. Anyway, here is one of the bike which is typical of those here. I found it very heavy and it took a while for me to realise it had gears.

Despite spending most of the day on my adventure, this is the only other photo of Breda. The cathedral was a stunning and I’m sitting with my back against it!.

I’m not sure what tomorrow’s adventure will be while John is working but I’ll try for better photos!