An unbelievably fun weekend with Khanum. Great to have such excellent company and fantastic sunshine!
Friday night we went for traditional (awful, deep-fried) Dutch food on a sunny terrace, followed by a quick trip through a Haunted House at the funfair, and then some higher grade tapas and people-watching in the centre of town.
Saturday morning we had a decadent hotel breakfast at the perfect table overlooking the river, and then spent the morning pottering around Maastricht. It is a most charming place with many and varied styles of old buildings, endless squares, Roman town walls with turrets and riverfront walkways. It doesn't feel, to me, at all Dutch - more like a little piece of France or indeed Switzerland (what it reminds me most of is Basel).
We had a sunny pre-lunch of cherry pie and coffee and then picked up our bikes and headed off on the short ride to Valkenburg. Navigating in my usual casual style we started down a potentially-closed bike path, only to be rescued by a kind gentleman who insisted the path was really dangerous (correctly: they were digging up the motorway) and instructed us to follow him instead. He put us on the right track, and then warned us about the very steep hills between Maastricht and Valkenburg. Secretly I poo-pooed this... But he was right! Poor Khanum had dodgy gears and was suffering a bit. The hills were made up for however by a drinks stop in a really odd but picturesque village where endless streams of young men, mostly on cycles, continuously passed through.
It wasn't until this evening that we worked it out: far from being the quiet historical town we thought, Valkenburg is actually stag- and hen-party central. We spent the most fun evening imaginable sitting in a restaurant terrace watching the hordes parade up and down the main street in their finest. In truth, some of these gangs may just have been cycle clubs out for a weekend's hill training. But presumably the ones dressed up as gnomes, spongebob squarepants etc were stags. I should think there were 20 separate stag/hen parties, all walking up and down about 200m of street, and mingling amusingly with families, older hiking types, and young couples away for a romantic mini break. At 10pm half the restaurants suddenly stacked up their tables and turned into bars / discos / karaoke clubs. What a weird, but fantastic, place.
Away from the top notch people-watching, Valkenburg is a very old and beautiful town dominated by a ruined castle. It is set at the bottom of a massive hill and has a little river at the bottom, which we were staying on. Sunday dawned even brighter and, based on a quick tripadvisor search / what is free with the Museumkaart, we hurried off to the most bizarre sounding tourist attraction. Well, it did not disappoint!
In essence, in 1912 a very rich local decided to buy up some 2000 yr old mines (caves) and turn them into an exact replica of Rome's catacombs. Complete with frescos, fresco-damage and ancient graffiti. I think they said there is 15km of them.
We were given a candle and accompanied by a massively enthusiastic volunteer guide and a Dutch/English history student. I don't think I can fully do justice to the amusement value of being taught about early Christian adoption of traditional Pagan Roman art by a Dutch atheist in a 100-yr old replica of an ancient burial chamber.
After that sadly Khanum's freedom needed to come to an end, especially because due to rail replacement bus issues it is going to take her hours and hours to get home. So we parted at the station and I headed back uphill (luckily a much gentler one) and away from Valkenburg.
The journey was easy but unfortunately due to some poor gear control going up a hill my bike started to make a really nasty noise. There were tons of super speedy cyclists around but I was too intimidated to ask for help and thought I would carry on to my hotel and take it from there. Well I am proud to say that I *think* (dangerously!) that I have both found and remedied the problem. And without getting any oil on anything in my sparking white room. I'd boast about what it was but of course knowing nothing about how my bike works I can't describe it at all.
My location tonight is a funny town that seems to be split by the Dutch-German border. I am still (just) on the Dutch side which is called Kerkade, and am staying in the most stunning old abbey. I picked it simply for being vaguely in the right direction and almost as cheap a room as I could find, but it is really beautiful and currently full of wedding guests. They managed not to look too askance at an oily cyclist and, contrary to what Khanum says about Dutch dress codes, are definitely not wearing jeans to the wedding.
Tomorrow Germany - my 4th country. All being well, I am hoping to finally meet the Rhine tomorrow, at Cologne where I am booked into a rather glamorous-looking hostel for two nights. I have a lot of time to get to my next friend-rendezvous on Friday, so thought a day's touristing in Cologne wouldn't go amiss while this warm weather holds. Plus I really need to do some washing!
Khanum in Maastricht admiring the walls
Maastricht at night
Beautiful countryside in this hilly corner of Holland
Looking back at Valkenburg from above
My abbey, for the night