On Thursday morning, we packed up our bags, retrieved my car, and made our way to what I call the "chicken strip" of the Netherlands, a narrow projection of land between Germany and Belgium. Our destination was Valkenburg; we were to visit the Christmas market in the city's caves.
We parked up the hill from the city at the parking lot for the Holland Casino (Cauberg 28, Valkenburg). I think it was about 7 euros to park for the day. The casino is at the top of a very steep hill so it might not be suitable for everyone to walk up and down it to get to town.
We found the Gemeentegrot at the bottom of the hill. It is one of the caves and we bought combo tickets to enter that cave and the second cave, the Fluweelengrot (the Velvet Cave). As we entered, we realized that this is no German Christmas Market. Well, of course, as it was the Netherlands, but...the Christmas markets in the caves were very disappointing. Pretty much everything was cheap quality and most items weren't related to Christmas! I felt as if we had descended into an underground flea market, almost as cheesy as Traders' World is.
One of the only true Dutch things we saw in the caves was stroopwafel, which are thin, round waffle discs filled with caramel. There was a vendor selling fresh ones so we each had a tasty waffle, hot off the grill.
The other cave, Fluweelengrot, was no better. In fact, it seemed as if most of the vendors were repeated. My cousins said that they were glad to have gone to the beautiful Christmas markets in Germany first; if they had first impressions from the Valkenburg markets, they would have been concerned about the other markets.
I have heard that on the weekends, it's unpleasant in the caves because it gets so crowded that it's hard to move. I have a colleague who said when he was there, police were walking through the crowds, reminding people of pickpockets. I'm glad that it wasn't insanely crowded when we were there because the caves are a little claustrophobic as it is.
Exiting the market, my cousin D said that she had to satisfy a craving she gained from a previous trip to the Netherlands: Dutch soft serve ice cream. She said it is amazing and delicious. I needed no prompting (ice cream is my favorite treat) so we found a snack shop. I was totally amused by the snack shop we visited; it served Asian snacks, Dutch snacks, ice cream, and even döner!
We each had a cone. Oh my goodness, was it ever good! It was so rich and creamy. I don't know what the difference is from regular soft serve; all I can guess is that it has a higher fat content or something. Anyway, I highly suggest getting a vanilla cone for those passing through the Netherlands.
Walking off the ice cream we ate, we visited more of the town and found very expensive restaurants. After a disappointing and salty dinner of ravioli, I suggested we pack up and make our way to our next destination: Brussels.
On the way out, we reflected on our visit to Valkenburg. The Christmas markets in the caves are not recommended at all. However, if one were passing through the area, she might want to consider visiting the caves during their regular opening season. There are tours through them, either by foot or by train. The caves were mined by Romans looking for building materials and there is interesting artwork inside.
This snowman is so embarrassed by the cheap junk for sale in the caves that he's trying to hitchhike out.
Entrance to the Gemeentegrot.
This was one of the few booths that had Christmas stuff, and even then, it was cheap Walmart-style stuff.
It's 007 Santa!
Somewhat creepy artwork, yes?
I didn't understand this one. I don't really care if Santa Claus likes hot showers!