This morning was very frosty and cold, and we had to meet at the Family Support Center at 8:15 am for our tour of Margraten and Valkenburg.
First stop: Margraten - the Netherlands American Cemetery. I wasn't terribly interested since I spent so much time there for Memorial Day. I should've just stayed in the visitor's center where it was nice and warm.
Around 11, we left for Valkenburg, which is a 10 minute drive from Margraten. It was NOTHING like I expected. You come into the town and suddenly you come around a bend, and there are the HUGE castle ruins right at the top of the hill overlooking the town.
After we found parking, our first stop was to the VVV (tourist office) to buy tickets for the Christmas markets. Then we decided that we would all split up and enjoy the town on our own and meet back up at the parking lot at 3. So Lance, Sue, Zoe and I went in search of lunch. We ended up at this restaurant called Au Soleil. I had a kroket with fries...krokets are hard to describe. Basically, it was like this fried, breaded thing on my plate...when I bit into it, there was this delicious shredded meat inside. I think it was chicken, because it reminded me of my Grandma's shredded chicken sandwiches, but it was also dark meat. It's hard to say. A lot of times I'm not sure what I'm eating.
There are two major caves in Valkenburg. You can take tours of them normally anyway, but this time of year they are set up for Christmas with all kinds of goods being sold and beautiful decorations inside and American Christmas music being piped through a loudpspeaker system.
I should mention that the caves were a place where Allied soldiers hid out during World War II. We saw their names carved into the cave walls, with the dates that they were there and where they were from. We even saw names and years from the 17th century carved into the walls. There are also murals painted onto the walls.
The Christmas markets themselves were nothing special. Most of the stuff being sold was flea market type stuff...not the good quality handicrafts that I see in most Christmas markets. There also weren't a lot of food stands. There was a restaurant inside one of the caves, but none of the delicious food smells that we normally associate with the Christmas markets.
Anyway, we bought tickets for both markets, so we spent most of our time in one and just kind of did a quick walk-through of the other. We were supposed to meet back up with our group at 3. But we decided when we met up again that we wanted to stay another two hours. So with some extra time on our hands, we decided to explore the castle ruins. That was really cool...you have fantastic views of the city from there and the ruins themselves are pretty interesting.
After we were satisfied that we'd seen enough of the castle, we went back down into the pedestrian area where there were shops and restaurants aplenty. Lance and I popped into a store called the Treasure Trove, where we found something that his sister wanted...fake Delft stuff. Then we sat outdoors at a cafe in a tented-in heated area, so we could still watch the people going by and hear the hustle and bustle of Valkenburg while staying toasty warm. We had some absolutely incredible hot chocolate with whipped cream (warme chocomel met slagroom). We sat for awhile and watched darkness descend upon Valkenburg and the lights come on around us. Then we met up with the group at 5 to begin the carpool home.
Lance and I decided that we have to go back in the summer, when things are more slowly paced and we're not freezing!