Monday, May 20, 2013

Visit to Limburg

The Dutch celebrate Ascension Day (always a Thursday) as a holiday and then have a "forced" vacation day on Friday so we had a 4 day weekend in May.  We drove to Limburg, the southernmost province in Holland.  If you look at the map, it is a long, narrow section of land sandwiched between Belgium and Germany -- often referred to as the appendix of Holland.  In some places Limburg is only 6 km wide.  Due to it's proximity to those countries the culture tends to be somewhat different than the rest of Holland, much more Catholic and a place where "everyone is related".  The geography is different as well, with rolling country side, flowing rivers and real hills.  Holland's highest point at an elevation of 1060 feet is located in Limburg.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the National Asparagus and Mushroom Museum.  It was also the first stop which explains why there are so many more photo's than our other stops.   We expected some little building with a few 4-H style displays.  It turned out to be a series of reconstructed authentic Dutch farm houses and barns with historical farm and Dutch life displays from the past 100 years.  All of this was topped off with a welcome center that opened only last month....complete with a small eating area where we ate vlaai, a baked fruit pie that is a Limburg tradition and asparagus soup.   We weren't the only ones absorbing all this culture;  this place even had a tour bus in the parking lot.

The museum had some old-time hair dryers.  

And they also had examples of what happens when you used the hair dryer.  
The labels were all in Dutch, but as best as we could tell, this was a training device to learn how to milk a cow.  
A potato picking device.  
Mushroom growing display.  I have no idea what the electrical instrument is measuring.  

The beer wagon
An example of growing white asparagus.  As you might have guessed, the technique is to keep it out of the sun by covering it with dirt or plastic.   

This photo shows the built up asparagus bed (about 12" tall).  Shoots are planted in the bed where the dirt and plastic keep the sun away.  White asparagus is sometimes called "white gold", referring to the price.  Early season crops fetch over 20 Euros per kg.  By now prices are down to 5 euros per kg.   

Like all small towns, they have a this case it's the asparagus queen. Luckily they didn't make her wear a green dress or a hat designed to look like an asparagus head.  

In addition to the queen, there is a patron saint of the asparagus, Saint John the Baptist, or in Dutch...
......Sint Jan the Doper. 

Lori enjoys the asparagus soup.

Big crowd at the Asparagus and Mushroom Museum.  We lowered the average age a bit.  

An asparagus field nearby

We spent the first night in Valkenburg at an estate that began as a monastery in the 1200's.  The next day we toured the town cave at Valkenburg.  The caves are man-made, not natural, and were created by digging out the limestone for use in buildings.  It started with the Romans over 2000 years ago and it's been going on almost ever since.  Now there are almost 70 km of cave paths!

When the Allied forces liberated the town in 1945, over 3000 people stayed in the caves for 10 days.  In the 70's an atomic bomb shelter was built that could house 10-15,000 people, complete with toilets, beds, etc.  Throughout the years people have drawn pictures on the walls or created sculptures.  Charcoal on limestone is similar to tomato sauce on your favorite shirt, it stays forever.  

The monastery on the left is now the restaurant (where we ate more asparagus).  The church on the right has beautiful fresco paintings on the walls and ceiling.  

The tomb of Saint Gerlach.  The sand above where he is buried is purported to have healing powers.   They have small plastic bags and a shovel so that you can take some for whatever ails you.  What happens when the sand level gets low?  Do they run to Home Depot to get more?  

The hotel portion of the estate.  

Grant and Lori on our way to dinner.  

In the Valkenburg cave, this "sculpture' was about 2 meters in diameter.

The only American Cemetery in Holland is at Margraten, where over 8000 soldiers from WWII are buried.  The names of the missing are on the wall at the left.  

We spent the last day in Maastricht, the capital of Limburg.  With a rich history, beautiful river setting and good shopping Maastricht attracts a lot of tourists.  It has everything from Roman ruins to fine dining...complete with even more asparagus.  In 1991, representatives from 12 European nations met here to sign the agreements to form the European Union and establish a common currency.  Some folks may be having second thoughts on that meeting today.  

In Maastricht, the Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek, Basilica of our Beloved Lady.  It looks more like a fortress than a church.  Construction began in 1000

Our hotel in Maastricht was an old church from the 1500's. There are more old churches than there are church goers, so they need to find new uses for the buildings.   The monks must have been much quieter than the current guests -- we found it quite noisy.  

The Maastricht Town Hall.  

The carnival in the town square.  Years ago the square was the site of executions -- I'm not sure the carnival was much of an improvement.  

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