Sunday, October 16, 2005

Thorn, Netherlands

Lance and I celebrate our second wedding anniversary in a couple of days, so we decided that we wanted to take a day trip somewhere nearby. One of my friends has been talking a lot about Thorn recently, which is along the Maas River in Limburg, very close to both the Belgian border (less than a kilometer, actually). She mentioned that there was a fantastic pannekoeken (!!!!) restaurant there. Well, Lance and I love our Dutch pancakes, so I was sold. I suggested to him that we should go there for a few hours, and it was well worth the visit.

It took about 45 minutes to drive there, maybe a little less than that. Absolutely easy drive. When we got there, the town seemed pretty dead. There were no cars parked in the town parking lot and there didn't seem to be a lot of people walking around. I told Lance that perhaps everyone was at mass. It was around 10:30 or so when we arrived. We were on the outskirts of town anyway, but I figured there would be more people at the historic town center.

Thorn is known as "the white village" for its whitewashed brick buildings in the center of town. The only building in the center of town that is not like this is the church. The church was built in the 10th century, and was actually an abbey, or a "stift" for quite some time. But the women who lived there were not nuns. They were just the unmarried daughters of the aristocracy, leaving the stift if they married.

There's your little history lesson on Thorn. :)

So we parked and walked into the town center, and as we approached the church, we noticed a lot of men in Renaissance costumes standing at the church entrance. There were kids wearing angel costumes. It seemed that everyone in Thorn was standing around, waiting for something to happen. It looked to us that a parade was about to start. But I wanted to find the VVV (Tourist Information) office, so we followed the signs to get there. I asked the lady at the VVV what was going on, and she told me it was a religious procession. Just then, we heard music starting to play, so we walked back to the church to see the parade finally begin. We had seen banners placed all around with crosses on them, so we figured those banners were marking the parade route.

De Pannekoekenbakker, the place where we wanted to have lunch, was right across from the church and there were already a few people sitting outside in the sun, enjoying their coffee or tea. It was a bit chilly for us to sit outside, so we went inside and grabbed a table. I immediately liked the place. It had a very cozy ambience, even though the inside was very roomy and the tables were pretty private (we've eaten in many a restaurant where the tables were crammed very close together). It had a nice, rustic feel to it, with a little bit of kitsch thrown in (stuffed animals strewn everywhere). Their claim to fame is 230 kinds of pancakes, so we grabbed menus and dove right in. But as we tried to decide what to have, we enjoyed some lovely hot chocolate with whipped cream (warme chocomel met slagroom).

Lance decided on a ham and cheese pannekoeken. I ordered a bacon, cheese and onion (onions in pancakes, you say? Why, it's delicious! These aren't pancakes like what we're used to in America). We ordered seconds on the warme chocomel met slagroom. That is seriously the best hot chocolate EVER.

Our lunch was very tasty and we enjoyed it immensely. But once we were finished, the doings at the church seemed to be over, so we decided to pay the admission fee and walk around. It is much smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside, but it has a gorgeous altar, and we went down in this little room in a sub-basement that had some religious relics, and the body of one of the abbesses was on display in a glass coffin. She died in the 18th century, but seemed none the worse for wear. There was another abbess on display too, but she was nothing but bones. I don't know when she died. Odd and creepy, really, but amongst the bones, hair, and other body parts of saints, they weren't particularly out of place, I suppose.

After our visit to the church, there really wasn't much left to see or do. Since it is a Sunday, the shops and museums are closed. We decided to look into a river cruise, which goes from Thorn to the towns of Wessem and Stevensweert, but when we looked at the time table for cruises, the next one didn't begin until 2:15. It was only 12:45. So we decided to just go home. We mostly came for the pancakes anyway, and for a bit of a scenery change.

On the drive back, we took a different route home that took us off the autoweg (or what you would call the autobahn in German). We drove through picturesque towns and just enjoyed the beautiful, sunny autumn day.