December 31, 2022

Netherlands - Christmas Market in a cave?

Facebook in its infinite wisdom brought this into my attention, it was something in the line with - Christmas Markets in weirdest places, so I've skimmed the list and found out that the market in a cave it was close to Maastricht so close to us in Luxembourg. 

For a month I had the tab open on my chrome so I would not forget about it, and I've almost did when in the glue that are the days between Christmas and New Years, we ditched the pyjamas and went to check it out.

Valkenburg is the name of the town where you would find the caves and the caves are not actual caves (Netherlands has a problem with the sea if I remember it correctly so caves?) are in fact old mines which date from the time of the Romans. The town has a castle, the highest castle in the Netherlands and there are not one, but two caves.

Marl was mined in Valkenburg and with my limited geological knowledge the stone's name resonates with something out of a Tolkien novel, but is actually clay hardened into rock. 

First thing first, lower your expectations when going to Valkenburg. It sounds great, the execution is a bit poorly. You can only buy tickets to the caves/mine online, which in itself is a good thing, but be there at the exact indicated time on the ticket, otherwise you might just buy a new one for the time you would reach the actual entrance of the cave. Be expecting queues, for pre-pandemic crowds, and for someone to shout at you in a language only the Dutch and the Flemish understand and not budge as the person shouting only speaks Dutch and nothing else, but nothing. Most probably he is shouting the hour for the tickets so just smile and show him your ticket. If he shouts something back, it means you are there at the wrong hour. 

I personally think the Christmas Market scheme is just a scheme and if they would have decorated the cave and made some instagramable spots and maybe put a mulled wine stall in the middle it would have been fine. The only interesting thing I've bought is a stone bunny with my daughter's name carved by a very nice man. BUT in my defence it was after Christmas and all the gifts were already received. Also, I was visiting the cave alone, because we had Luna with us and dogs are not allowed inside (which is fine and understandable), but our plan of leaving her for an hour in the car while we visited the cave backfired, as the parkings are quite far from the cave and the town centre. 

I keep saying cave and not caves, because the entrance to the second cave eluded me. I think I've went inside the Municipal Cave, might be the Velvet one, but from the pictures on Instagram I think it was the municipal one. It is huge and very nicely decorated with trees that had baubles with messages and names inside. No clue as to what they represented and who were the people putting messages inside baubles, but hey, I guess it's my fault I don't speak Dutch.

Accustomed with the richess of Luxembourg I was expecting a photo-booth, even a payed one, there isn't any, just some Instagramamble spots where if you do take a picture you are asked in English (so they are aware that tourists do come to the caves) to tag the organisers. Not sure why.

As I was visiting the cave, which took about an hour, my husband, daughter and dog visited the castle and a very nice restaurant, which had schnitzels, very good schnitzels. Afterwords we walked a bit in the centre which also had a Christmas Market, had a mulled wine and drove home.

My advice, take the caves as a whole experience with the city and the castle and if you have time with Maastricht, as well. The caves don't have yet the potential of a tourist destination, but as a whole you have what you, maybe, came there for: peculiar Christmas Market, some cheeky shopping, some nice photos, a warm meal, an interesting ruin, a nice history lesson, a jolly city centre walk all wrapped into a nice Netherlands blanket. I am a tat subjective here as the Netherlands is my favourite country in this area. 

And with this, we put an end to old 2022. An year which got me my freedom as I've finally acquired my driving licence and also the year which got as all safe and sound by its end. With the hope of seeing you all in 2023, I wish you Happy New Year! May all your midnight wishes come true! @raluca.caranfil 

December 29, 2022

Germany - Three days, three Christmas Markets

I was a bit hesitant when my husband proposed a quick getaway three days before Christmas, but I was also the one complaining about not going to the Christmas Markets in Luxembourg and not drinking enough mulled wine. I've imagined that the prices would be astronomical, similar to the ones in Colmar or Strasbourg, this time of year, but it was very affordable, so everything fit into place and on December 20th we arrived in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

If you search Christmas in Germany or German Christmas Markets it is bound to appear in the first ten results if not the first one, so I was a bit surprised of how easy it was to get a room and to make the 5-ish hour drive. The bad part was that it rained a lot, but not a drizzle, rain that would get you wet within the first 5 minutes. So although our plan was to stay in Rothenburg and visit its museum and walk on its walls, we had to plan according to the rain. 

In Rothenburg there were Christmas trees everywhere and the town looked right out of a Victorian Christmas Card

I've tried to take artistic photos, but that is simply a pointless endeavour with a kid or a dog hanging from you, with mittens because it is Winter and with occasional rain. So this is what you get. 

I am a tourist, a traveller if you want. This picture best describes my joy of finding new places and absorbing it all, forgetting to take pictures sometimes, but having my phone in my hand.

Our first option was Nuremberg, a big city with a lot of museums and shops where one could ditch the rain. It was at about 45 minutes to an hour drive from Rothenburg, we checked the Railway Museum, it is nice and at the end the children area is to dream for, but by the end we were all tired and even Ilinca wanted to eat something and not play. So we went to the Christmas Market, as the sun made a brief appearance.

At the Railway museum in Nuremberg. I was hoping they had more than just one or two trains you could go inside, but it is a museum I would recommend. 

If you are wondering who is listening to all those recordings in German, well Ilinca was. That is what I would tell the people at the museum, to at least add some English explanations. 

At the children area they could go on a miniature train, they could ride those things shaped as a train, they had train sets to play with, they had a clues solving circuit where they would learn things about trains, I assume. It was all in German. Next time I would come only for the children area.

In Nuremberg we went to the castle, but managed to visit only its cafe. The panorama was nice with the sunset.

The third day was again raining a lot and I wanted to do some last minute Christmas shopping and where better if not at TK Maxx. Turns out that there is one in most of the towns close to Rothenburg, so we chose Wurzburg. The store was disappointing, but we still found what we needed and then we headed out to the Christmas Market.
I've seen those instagramable wings everywhere, so I couldn't resist a photo

The markets

In Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Market closes precisely at 7 p.m., but there are some restaurants in the area good and affordable and also the whole city is decorated so nicely that walking is an experience in itself. The mulled wine was good and they had some nice sausages. The atmosphere is so nice and cosy, everyone seems to know everyone and the sellers and locals are very friendly.

The market in Rothenburg was, to me, very local with stalls selling cheese and ham and even yarns for knitting.

The market in Nuremberg is worth a whole day. It is huge and with a lot of stalls. It is wonderfully decorated, but it is crowded. Navigating it with a dog and a toddler in a buggy was difficult. But again the atmosphere was nice and the mulled wine was good. 

In Wurzurg was raining cats and dogs and Ilinca fell asleep so we had to take shelter and we did on the terrace of a lovely coffee/restaurant. The market had a lot of stalls selling almost the same stuff as the ones in Nuremberg, the mulled wine was only white, but because of the rain we did not have that many options, they could very well have red wine, we just did not find it.

The first day in Rothenburg

Seeing the iconic place for the first time. As it was the gate we would use to go into town, I've almost missed it the first time, but tourists with cameras gave it away.

It was difficult to take a good picture, so this all I've got.

Ilinca inside the German Christmas Museum in Rothenburg

At the end of the visit we were asked to make Christmas decorations. I haven't spotted any in Romanian so I've made one.

Was it worth it?

YES. YES. YES. Any trip out of your home is worth for the child, for you and even for the dog. You see new people, interact with new cultures and customs and learn a thing or two in the process. I would go back to the area in the summer, to see the coloured houses of Rothenburg decorated with flowers, to check other museums in Nuremberg and maybe go back to Wurzburg as well. 

Although very similar in style to the Strasbourg Colmar area, the prices are normal, the food is similar, but they have schnitzels which for me is always a plus.

The drive wasn't that bad, we stopped once or twice, but we are accustomed to long drives, so five hours wasn't even that long. There isn't any speed limit on some parts of the motorway in Germany, so my husband was happy to test his German car. I wasn't looking :)

Next time I would book a hotel in Rothenburg old town, we chose one next to the walls, it was nice, it was in a house made to look like the old ones, it was close to the centre, but next time, if I find one with parking and allowing dogs, I would like to wake up looking at the coloured houses.

As you know, Germany is very dog friendly. I had no problem finding a hotel that allowed dogs, she came with us in all the restaurants and all the shops. She wasn't allowed inside the museum in Nuremberg, but she was allowed inside the Christmas Museum in Rothenburg. 

That's about it from me. I hope you find this article informing, and I hope you will add Rothenburg ob der Tauber on your travelling list. You will find me on Instagram @raluca.caranfil 

December 12, 2022

France - Small Christmas market in Avioth

It's been so long since I've written anything here that I have almost forgotten the password, but here I am. Does it make sense to say I'm working on a new face for my blog and my social media outlets? Don't think so. You will see it when it will be ready. In the meantime, on our region winter came and with it the Christmas Markets. This year, the abundance of markets made me look for the smaller ones, hopefully less crowded ones, the more authentic ones and so it happened that most of the communes in the area (Belgium, Luxembourg, France) organised markets that last just one weekend or maybe two. It is the case of Avioth in France, very close to Orval in Belgium which is maybe more known to the readers of this blog.

Avioth is a village with few houses, according to the internet, with 144 inhabitants, but a big cathedral dedicated to Virgin Mary, Notre Dame. The village is better known as a place of pilgrimage, as in the 12th century a statue of the Virgin was miraculously discovered. In the 13th century a large Gothic church was build and in 1993 by the decision of Pope John Paul II it became a basilica. 

To me, the church looked imposing and big on the outside, but very warm and cozy inside. We discovered Avioth very early when we moved here (we moved here in November 2012 and according to the blog, visited this place in January 2013), together with Orval and Montmedy, but haven't been there in at lest six years if not more. BUT Avioth evolved and their Christmas Market made it to Facebook and from there on to my calendar so I would not forget to visit it, as it was open for just two days.

The Christmas Marked was a Christmas Market, it had mulled vine and gaufre and it had Santa and houses with small crafts and of course Orval beer which was drank in glass glasses not in paper ones as everything else, it had a big tree and it cost one euro 50 to enter. To me, though, the village looked even more charming than the small Christmas Market. All the houses close to the church were nicely decorated with wooden figurines, there were three or four artist workshops and some small brocantes. It was charming and I'm glad I've convinced myself and my family to brace the cold and go out.

I am well aware that the Christmas Market in Avioth has ended and, at least this year, you can't visit it, but the decorations, I would imagine, stay there at least for the holidays so if you spend your Christmas at home, Avioth, together with Montmedy in France and Orval Abbey in Belgium are worth a visit. Pack your hot beverage and some sandwiches as you know how restaurants are with their middle of the day pause.  

As for us, I hope we will visit more markets, I have my eye on one or two, maybe some in Germany, as to me they have the most traditional ones, and I hope I will find the time and the desire to write something about them and revive this forgotten blog.

Merry Christmas to all! I hope Santa will bring you all you desire!

As usual, I am on Instagram @raluca.caranfil