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Published: March 23rd 2012
Since someone flatterned Rotterdam in the war (er, not us), they let their architects go wild. The famous Kubuswoningen (cube houses).
*De rekening is actually Dutch for asking for the bill. I just like it as I think it sounds quite biblical to ask for the 'reckoning' at the end of each meal, it's like every meal could be your last...
After a couple of ski holidays to France at the beginning of the year (see the photos, but I won't bore you with the details; you go up, down, up etc), plans for the final ski weekend mutated into a plan for a long weekend in Holland instead. Two fellow snowboarders (although I have to confess the board stayed in this year and I returned to the pure faith of skiing) happen to live in Holland and so you know me, never one to pass up a visiting opportunity, offered to visit them and have a little holiday in one of my favourite countries.
So a quick hop over to the continent after work late on Wednesday evening and I was picked up at Rotterdam airport by Cath Bear (henceforth known as 'Bear'😉 and after a quick 'hello' it was off to bed ready for the start of our Dutch road trip. After a good night's sleep on the
What could have been...
The Witte Huis, one of the first skyscrapers in Europe, pretty much all that survived after...
comfiest sofa (I jest not) in all of Europe we started the next morning with a walk around the highlights of Rotterdam.
Seems that most of Rotterdam was flattened at the beginning of WWII by the Germans so as European cities go there wasn’t much of historical interest to look at, the old Witte Huis demonstrates how the city once might have looked and can also claim to be one of the first skyscrapers in Europe. But then in some ways the fact that the Dutch decided to let the architects go wild after the war has lead to plenty of interesting buildings around the city, the cube houses probably being the most famous. Still, it didn’t take too long to see all the sights (sorry Rotterdam) but we discovered a rather interesting ‘Walk of Fame’ along the river, lots of rock bands, Dutch superstars (er,) and seems Johnny Logan even got a star (who can remember him?).
Right, Rotterdam done, we jumped in to the car heading south on the next stage of our quest to find the source of the Maas, heading into the dangerous southern lands of Holland where the ancient practice of ‘Carnaval’ still
Bridge over the river Maas
With a true explorer spirit, we decided to follow the river Maas to it's source (well, to Maastricht), no matter what perils we encountered on the way.
prevails (the local population go mad and dress up for three days of frenzied beer worship apparently). We decided to make a stop in the town of 's-Hertogenbosch (yes the apostrophe is meant to be there), more commonly known as Den Bosch. Arriving around lunchtime on a Thursday it was clear from first impressions that no one in Holland seems to have a job, the medieval square was heaving and people were sitting around in the sunshine drinking beer, tough life eh? Naturally we joined the locals and had lunch outside, the weather was glorious and then went of in search of the famous Den Bosch balls.
Whilst searching out the native food we came across the famous covered canals of Den Bosch, these ARE a big deal you know, sets the town apart from the rest of the towns with canals, medieval squares, town halls and churches in Europe. Be impressed. And then a quick visit to Sint Jans cathedral which seems to be the coldest building I’ve ever been in, maybe the excess of balls cause a local microclimate in Den Bosch, who knows?
Anyway time was getting on and as it was such a sunny
European Market Square #1
The first of many to come, 's-Hertogenbosch or Den Bosch, take your pick. Europeans do love a good market square.
day we wanted to get down to Maastricht with some time to enjoy the Dutch tradition of sitting outside drinking beer, you’ve got to blend in with the locals on such expeditions. So back in the car and I even got to drive, what fun, we hit the road and covered the distance quickly and arrived at our destination in good beer time. Dropping off the car at our friend Jim’s place (wrong side of the tracks Jim) we headed off to the river and found a suitable place to sit in the sun and sample some beers and some more bizarre round Dutch food, bitterballen. This delicacy is served throughout the bars of Holland and consists of a strange, molten interior which is served at temperatures normally associated with the surface of the sun. I have no idea what they are made of but Wikipedia assures me they are ‘a mixture of beef (minced or chopped), beef broth, flour and butter for thickening, parsley, salt and pepper’. I’m not convinced as I couldn’t make any of those ingredients out, but then I had just burnt 90% of the surface of my mouth, so probably was not in a good
Bossche bollen, the speciality of Den Bosch, the Dutch seem to like round food.
position to judge.
As the beer sampling continued (I even found my favourite beer, Straffe Hendricks, yum) thoughts turned to the cycle route we’d take the next day. Apparently the area around Maastricht known as Limburg is called the ‘hilly country’ and we were warned that they could get quite steep in parts, pah! Hills? In Holland? Don’t be silly, I’m from Wales, they have proper hills there, so we planned our route safe in the assumption that it would be easy peddling all the way.
Next morning at it was off the Maastricht station to procure some bikes and off we went in the direction of Valkenburg, one of the tourist highlights of the local area. The weather was hot, the roads were flat and we arrived swiftly and took a stroll around the town. The town is famous for some caves and a castle ruin, but being on a tight schedule we just had a quick meander and then got back on our bikes ready to ride to Gulpen for lunch. Unfortunately we took the wrong road and found our first big hill, still it wasn’t too steep although quite long and we managed to make
Canals? In Holland?
But these aren't just any canals, this are Den Bosch subterranean canals, the cream of the crop for canal enthusiasts don't you know.
it to the top. Arriving in Gulpen for lunch, it was pleasing to see another market square and sit outside again and we counted ourselves lucky that we had come down the big hill in to Gulpen rather than having to go up it. After lunch we decided we needed to take a route so we could cycle over the border in to Belgium on our way back to Maastricht, so we took the road down to Slenaken. The scenery was now starting to resemble England and getting a little bit too hilly, at this point I considered that we may have been a dismissive of the warnings of the previous evening as I struggled up the hill out of Slenaken. Still, how many hills could they have here? Quite a few it seems and the fact that most of the other bikes seemed to be going in the other direction made me think we may have picked the wrong route. Still, not to be beaten we carried on until we crossed the border in to Belgium and the town of Vise on the (flat) banks of the Maas. On crossing over in the Belgium the roads and cycle routes
Suffering for your religion
Inside Sint Jans (St John's) cathedral in Den Bosch, the air temperature was close to absolute zero for some reason (spooky...)
deteriorate and we soon headed back in to lovely Holland on the final leg of the ride. By this point certain parts of the anatomy were getting very sore and the last 10km seemed the longest of the day and the last KM even had cobbles just to add insult to injury, thanks Maastricht! Still, we managed 66km and a lot was NOT flat, but the weather was gorgeous and the ride fun.
Next morning in a small amount of pain, a trip to the spa in Spa, Belgium (the place they make the water) was planned, seemed the sensible thing to do after the exertions of the previous day. 3 hours of spa wallowing later and we were back to our normal selves. So as to not break the habit of the holiday we decided to visit a town with a medieval square, over yet another border, the German town of Aachen.
Aachen has a great cathedral, one of the best I’ve been to for a long time, really amazing stain glass and a gold mosaic section, really cool. The town hall is also really impressive, overlooking a large square. Sadly the weather was against us now
And lo, the souce of the Maas
Well, not quite but about as far as we were to go. The St Servaasbrug, and it was beer time.
so we had to retreat inside for some chocolate and waffles, nice to have some square food for a change.
The last evening in Maastricht was spent doing what Dutch do best, eating (round food) and drinking, although I realise now we didn’t really see Maastricht in the actual daylight, oh well, we saw plenty of other Dutch market squares. Finally on Sunday morning it was time to head back with a drive through Belgium to catch the ferry from Dunkirk and back home. Five countries in 4 days, sometimes it is fun to live in Europe, you can fit quite a lot in. Big thanks to Bear and Jim for making it a really fun weekend, dank u wel!
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