The Netherlands

We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part five.

On Sunday, we decided to visit Maastricht.  I really didn’t know what to expect, since I had never been to the city before.  I did know that there aren’t any “coffee shops” open to foreigners in Maastricht.  It’s one of the areas in the Netherlands that has chosen to restrict pot sales to people who aren’t locals.  If you want marijuana, you have to go west.

It was no big deal, though.  Maastricht proved to be entertaining without the benefit of pot.  Not only is the city beautiful, it’s also wide open on Sundays.  Yes, you can go shopping, have lunch, or simply people watch.  There was some kind of race going on there Sunday, so there were several brass bands playing along the route, along with a drum band and a group of violinists.  As a music lover, this really appealed to me.  Despite the bitter cold, I stood there and listened to a group of musicians play “Canon in D” and Vivaldi.  I’m not ashamed to admit that their version of Pachelbel’s masterpiece had me openly weeping.

We parked in a huge lot on the outskirts of town and walked in…

Right off the bat, we heard the thundering sound of drums.  An awesome drum band was beating an infectious rhythm and had attracted a crowd.  The music would be a theme in Maastricht on Sunday, as we ran into a number of bands playing in the street.  

What’s that sound?

 

You can also load up on cheese!  I wish I liked cheese more.

We rounded the corner, just out of earshot of the drummers and promptly encountered a quartet of string musicians.

I often get choked up when I hear really well played live music.  I was listening to these people with tears streaming down my cheeks.  They played so well out in the cold and their music went straight to my heart.

As you can see, other people were affected by the music, too.  

We reluctantly moved on, because it was so cold and Bill needed to get some cash.  I managed to get a few more pictures as we searched for an ATM.  We were looking for lunch and a place to pee.

Our route took us past the runners and several more excellent brass bands!

We walked through one area near a mall and several very touristy looking restaurants.  One alley smelled distinctly of cheeseburgers, which was kind of strange.  But then I noticed we were near a McDonalds.

And these guys were playing jazz… I loved that they had a tray of empty beer glasses nearby.

 

Just as we encountered our fifth musical ensemble of the day, I turned to the left and we found a place to have lunch…

 

I have a knack for finding good places to eat.  There are a few things I look for.  Mainly, I like places that aren’t either too crowded or too empty.  I prefer them to be off the main drags.  And it doesn’t hurt if it smells good outside of the restaurant, too.  A lot of people were sitting outside, despite the cold weather.  I didn’t want to sit outside, but Bill was about to bust.  So we walked inside De Twee Heeren, which turned out to be a pretty awesome bar/restaurant.  They were playing good music and had menus in English, as well as places to sit.  We ended up spending a couple of hours in there, enjoying lunch, good Dutch and Belgian beers, and fun music.

Obligatory menu shot of Bill.  They had a number of appealing choices, everything from steaks to falafel.

 

Bill had what amounted to a “sauerbraten stew”.  It came with a big basket of frites and a salad.

 

I had fish and chips.  I considered a few of the other choices and actually had some trouble deciding, but since the Netherlands is a sea faring nation, I figured the fish and chips would be good.  And they were!  I even tried the fries with mayonnaise.  That’s how they eat them…  Not bad at all, though a little bit of mayo goes a long way.

 

Bill had a double espresso while I enjoyed an excellent Belgian brew suggested by the waiter.

And one more for the road.  It’s probably a good thing German beers aren’t this interesting.

 

It was late afternoon by the time we were finished at De Twee Heeren, so we decided to get some cheese for Bill and head back to the dogs.  I might have liked to have tried another restaurant later, but I just can’t eat as much as I once did.  You’d never know it to look at me, though.

This place had lots of free samples, which Bill was happy to try.

Here he’s trying the gouda with garlic.  I think he brought some home.  I found us some beers and waffle cookies, too.  If it turns out he loves the cheese, we can order more.

We headed out of the city and I took a few more photos.

The grand looking building houses the visitor’s center, which sadly, does not have a public toilet.  Fortunately, I found one at a bustling looking hostel with a huge bar.  It was nothing to duck in, which was a huge relief.

So long, Maastricht.  We’ll be back!

 

I missed the lunar eclipse, but did manage to get a picture of the huge full moon.

 

Yesterday morning, we got up bright and early, had breakfast, let the dogs have one more romp with Yogi, and loaded up the car for the drive back to Germany.  Nel was the most awesome hostess and invited us back.  I think she said we were her first real American guests, although she has hosted Canadians.  I’m hoping a few of my American readers living in Germany might visit Vijlen.  I have a feeling we’ll go back, especially if we stay in Germany for much longer.

I love visiting small towns and talking to locals, getting a feel for the real culture.  While we always enjoy visiting big cities, I find that it’s harder to get a feel for the culture, mainly because so many other international visitors are also there.  So, if there’s anything to be learned by this trip, it’s that small towns are worth a look.  They tend to be less expensive, safer, and the locals are more likely to make a connection.  I felt like we’d made a friend when we left Nel’s place yesterday.  I hope this series will inspire a few others to visit her in lovely Vijlen!

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We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part four.

After we visiting Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, we decided to search for lunch.  I think Cuba must be a popular destination for the Dutch, since our hostess, Nel, had said she was headed to Cuba for two weeks after we departed yesterday.  I also noticed that tiny Vijlen has a Cuban restaurant called Cuba Libre.  I had wanted to try it, but as we were leaving the three countries park, Bill took a wrong turn and we ended up in Belgium.

Oops!

I started thinking about excellent beers and frites, so we looked for a place to eat on our detour.  We didn’t find a place that was especially inviting, but I did manage to take some pictures.

I’m not sure what this is.  There were no signs near it.  I thought it was very pretty, though.  ETA: My German friend tells me this is Beusdael Castle, which is no longer open to the public.  It was purchased by a Dutch family in 2002, although it is located in the Belgian village of Sippenaeken.  It dates back to the 13th century and is surrounded by a moat.  Prior to World War II, people used to visit the castle to see a glass coffin that contained the remains of a young wife of one of the owners, who died still beautiful at the age of 25.

 

Ditto for this…  Bunker with a Belgian flag next to it.  Lots of people were out walking.  The roads were a bit narrow and very country.  I loved it, since I prefer the rural life.  

For some reason, someone was flying the Belgian and U.S. flags.  You don’t see this too often in these parts…

Our scenic joyride took us on a loop that brought us back to the road where our apartment was located.  We decided to head back into Vijlen and have lunch.  The big parking lot in front of Cuba Libre was for a nearby hotel.  We didn’t feel like searching for another place to park, so we decided to eat at the hotel instead.  That wasn’t a bad idea.  The food was good and the interior of the restaurant was charming.

The big hotel in town.  There are a other places to stay, even though Vijlen is a small town.  In the warm months, people come from all around to hike.  This is the most “mountainous” part of the Netherlands, after all.

I loved the little bar, especially the beer taps.

 

And the pies looked delicious, although we didn’t partake!  I think the Dutch must have perfected pies.  I saw them everywhere and they looked so good!

Bill had a burger, which he said tasted alright.  I think it might have been “gemischtes” (mixed) pork and beef.  

 

For once, I was braver and had a chicken sandwich with cashews.  The Google Translate app really came in handy, since only a few Dutch words resemble German.  I never would have known what this was if I hadn’t had the ability to aim my phone at the text and get an instant translation.  Fortunately, the waitress also spoke excellent English.  This sandwich, served open faced, had a spicy sweet Asian dressing as well as a colorful salad.  It was very substantial.

I got a kick out of this.  French wine for a Dutch charity with an English name.  Each bottle sold benefits the less fortunate.  We decided to have beer, though.

 

Bill’s was a little “flute”.

The Dutch are very civilized.  They had this sanitizer available in the toilet stalls in case you wanted to clean the seat.  “Clean attack” indeed!  I’m sure there are other places that have this, but I’ve only seen it in the Netherlands.

Below are a few more photos from our excursion.  It really is absolutely beautiful in this part of the country.  When we lived near Stuttgart, we often went to Ribeauville when we needed a short break from Germany.  Now that we’ve found Vijlen, and it takes about the same amount of time to get to and from there as it did for us to go to France, we may declare this our go to spot for breaks from Wiesbaden.  It’s just three hours away and offers proximity to Aachen, Germany and Belgium!

Next time we visit, we will have to visit the Cuban restaurant and the nearby “gelato farm” in Belgium.

Zane took a minor spill on the steep steps.  Poor guy struggled a little, but eventually got the hang of it.

He enjoyed the bed, though.

Since we were full from lunch, this cherry pie was dinner.  Bill found it at a bakery.  It was delicious!  He had an apple pie, minus the fancy lattice work.

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We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part two.

 

Off to the Netherlands!

I had let our hostess, Nel, know that we would be arriving sometime between four o’clock and five, since we needed to check our APO box on post.  Bill is going to be out of town for the rest of the week and I can’t be arsed to go to Clay Kaserne to check the mail.  I don’t even have the combination to our mailbox.  That turned out to be a good plan anyway, since we had a few chores to do before we could head for the Autobahn.  From Wiesbaden, Viljen is about a three hour drive, but most of it is on high speed highways.  And unlike Stuttgart, it appears the the Autobahn up here is pretty well appointed.  There are probably more people here than down there, but traffic isn’t as bad.

We had a mostly uneventful, yet beautiful, drive to the Netherlands.  Here are a few pictures I took on the way.

As we got closer to Aachen, I noticed these signs on the side of the Autobahn.  They were names of trees and years.  My German friend explained that they are “trees of the year“.  The count started in 1989 and every year, a new tree and year is erected.  On the Autobahn, you can see the signs from 1989 to 2014, although I saw no evidence of actual trees planted there.  However, they are planted at the Berlin Zoo.  Since 2010, a German “tree queen” is also elected to represent the project.


Another tree…

 

I also noticed this interesting truck, which had artistic depictions of the Crusades painted on it…  

The art was pretty cool looking, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were distracted enough to have a wreck at the sight of it.

We stopped here for a little late lunch.  This rest stop has a Nordsee, which had pretty good food.  Since we had the dogs with us, we ate in the car.

I always enjoy the reading material on the stall doors in German rest stops.  They’ll let you charge your phone, but you still have to pay 70 cents to pee.

Thanks for being there, Serways.

We arrived in the Netherlands at about 3:40pm and arrived at our apartment less than 20 minutes later.  Our hostess was waiting for us.

I like how some places have a canopy of trees formed by lines of them on either side of the road.

 

Pretty country on the way in, with rolling hills…  this is the most “mountainous” part of flat Netherlands.

One of the reasons I like border towns is that you can see how countries change.  You cross the border and the signs change, the language changes, and the laws change.  In the Netherlands, I noticed a difference in architecture, with many brick buildings and painted shutters.  And yet we were really just minutes away from Germany.

I remember enjoying our first trip to the Netherlands in 2015 and wanting to go back there, but it was so much easier to go to France from Stuttgart.  Now that we’re in Wiesbaden, I predict a lot more trips to Benelux, where the beer and the chocolate is better.

Below are some photos of our accommodations, which were very reasonably priced.  I paid just 336 euros for three nights in this two room apartment in rolling farmland.  We also paid 9 euros taxes in cash on the way out today.

The living room area… note the very steep stairs.  Our dogs had a little trouble with them at first, but then got used to them.  The bathroom is on the first floor, which makes our middle of the night pees a little less fun.  We left a light on in the living room for safety, although there is a hall light, too.

A washing machine, but no dryer.

The master bedroom has what I presume was a queen sized bed.  This room also has a TV.

These are two twins pushed together, I think.  There is no TV in this room.

Steep!

It’s a little like climbing a ladder.

The dining area is adjacent to the living room and kitchen.  It does not have a traditional oven, but there is a microwave that has a convection setting.  There’s also a dishwasher.

Another view of the bedroom.  It was a bit chilly during our visit, but the bed linens were warm enough.

 

There is a TV in the living room and a broken DVD player.  The are also a few board games like Rummikub and Yahtzee.

This was a hit at our family reunions when I was growing up.  Nice to know the Dutch like it too.

 

But probably my favorite part about the accommodations was the big fenced in paddock.  Our dogs were welcome to run around in the paddock to their hearts’ content.  They were also allowed to play with Nel’s dog, Yogi, an adorable Shiba Inu.  These Japanese dogs look just like foxes and are bred to hunt birds.  Yogi is just eight months old at this writing and she had a good time getting my 9 and 10 year old dogs to play with her.

Nel also has chickens, which were kept very safe from the dogs and foxes, and she offers boarding for two horses who made Zane and Arran bark.  In warmer weather, we could have walked a route around town, stopping at different restaurants and bars for refreshment every few kilometers.

We decided to stay in on Friday night after Bill made a quick run to the grocery store.  After a good first night’s sleep, we did some exploring on Saturday.  More on that in the next post.

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We went Dutch for MLK weekend 2019! Part one.

One of the best things about living in Germany is being able to access so many great countries so easily.  When we lived near Stuttgart, it was super easy to get to France and Switzerland.  Now that we live in Hesse, we live much closer to BeNeLux… that is, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

It’s our habit to take quick trips over holiday weekends and, boy, was I ready for a trip.  We hadn’t had a good one since September, when we visited beautiful Lesa, Italy on Lake Maggiore.  Although we’ve had long weekends since September, we spent Columbus Day weekend house hunting in our new town of Wiesbaden.  We spent Veteran’s Day weekend celebrating our anniversary in beautiful Baden-Baden.  We had good times on both of those trips, but sometimes I just need a break from Germany.  Fortunately, it’s easy to cross borders in Europe.

A couple of days before Christmas 2018, I started looking for places to go over Martin Luther King weekend.  I went on Booking.com and started looking at my list of bookmarked places.  Bill and I narrowed our choices down to two– the Netherlands or the Czech Republic.  We flipped a two euro coin and the Netherlands won.

We haven’t yet found a local boarding facility for our dogs, nor have we found our local vet, although we do have ideas for both.  We decided this time, as usual, to bring our dogs, Zane and Arran, with us.  Wherever we went would have to accommodate the dogs.  As I’ve mentioned before, when I look for rental houses or apartments, I look for places that don’t charge extra for dogs.  I’ve found that people who don’t charge pet fees tend to be much more laid back about the dogs and welcome them, rather than simply tolerate them.

I had been curious about the eastern Dutch city of Maastricht, especially since it’s not too far from where we live.  Adding in all of my other criteria, I ended up finding very dog friendly accommodations in a little hamlet called Vijlen, which is just fifteen kilometers from Maastricht and only a few kilometers from the German city of Aachen.

The apartment I found in Vijlen, which is connected to the hostess’s house, is called Hoeve Nelderhof.  It’s within walking distance to the St. Martinus boutique winery, as well as the city of Vaals, which is very close to the highest point in the Netherlands as well as the three country border of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands!  I love booking trips near border towns, too.  You get more bang for your travel buck when you can access two or more countries.  Vijlen offers access to three!

I had good feelings about our hostess when I let her know we were coming with two beagles.  Her response was that we’d be very welcome.  And indeed, she made it so.  We had a great time in Vijlen, although the weekend was a little too short.  If you’re searching for a dog friendly place to visit, I hope you’ll come along with me on this multi-part series.  As usual, I’m going to start at the beginning and will include links at the bottom of each post.

Cute shoes!

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