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 

No comments: