Viewing: Limburg

Limburg’s half-timbered houses

The weekend after we went to Prague, Marlon and I were off again—this time to Germany to watch Florence and the Machine in Köln. Coincidentally, the Glee Club‘s first stop on this year’s European tour was Oberweyer, a tiny village just an hour’s drive from Köln, that same weekend. So we decided to drive over to see them. 
On the way to Oberweyer, we had a few hours to stop by Limburg an der Lahn in the region of Hessen. My first tour with the Glee Club in 2000 included a lot of stops in Hessen, particularly in the green, hilly part known as Taunus, where Limburg is. I have wonderful memories of a beautiful Sunday afternoon driving around the hills of Taunus and walking in the cobbled, winding alleys of  Limburg’s Altstadt, or Old Town. 
What makes this charming town so special is its collection of perfectly preserved half-timbered houses, with exposed timber framework, from the 17th and 18th century. 

For me, Limburg’s Altstadt is storybook Germany. Just like a storybook, it’s complete with all the odd little characters you find in old tales.
Take these goofy demons, for example. They adorn a famous bakery that makes such figures out of bread. If I remember correctly, they are meant to represent the fire demons that keep the baker’s ovens roaring. 
While we posed for pictures outside the bread-adorned bakery, this immense, shaggy (and completely adorable!) dog kept passing back and forth in front of the camera. We couldn’t take a picture without the dog in it! It completely cracked us up. Later we went up to the owner and found out that this is called a Black Russian Terrier. #iWant
Limburg is one of those hidden gems I would never have sought out on my own if I hadn’t been touring with the Glee Club. Because of its picturesque charm and the memories I have here, it holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of my favorite places ever. And I was so happy to be able to share that with Marlon. 

Limburg’s famous Dom, or Cathedral, stands on the town’s highest point and beckons from miles away. On our climb, we saw signs of spring (hard to believe with the cold) and took a peek into the courtyard of Schoss Limburg, or Limburg Castle…

… and looked out over charming dormer windows and peaked rooftops tiled with blue-gray slate.

The Dom is just as I remember it, a towering structure made distinctive by its Romanesque features and coral trim.

Inside, it seems to have gotten a lighting upgrade and a good whitewashing over the last 11 years. All the better to showcase its serene beauty.

Before we left, I just had to slip away to find a special place, to see if it was still as I remembered it. A small outcropping beside the church, behind a low stone wall, towards the Lahn… and sure enough, there it was. 

Lately I find that travel has become all about ticking boxes off a “bucket list”, chasing the rush that comes with heady new experiences and exotic, unfamiliar destinations. I had forgotten how powerful it can be to take a picture in your mind—mine includes this 600 year-old bridge, a parting of the clouds, a breathless dash, laughter—and to treasure it for years…

… and return to find it unchanged, beautiful, special. Just as you remember. Just as you wanted it to be.

Almost Belgium

One of the things that my friends and I miserably failed to do during their visit here was go on a day trip to Belgium, which is only three hours from Amsterdam by train. Instead, “Belgium” became our new code word for snoozing/puttering/lolling around lazily at home, e.g. “Nag-breakfast na ba sina Pia? Mukhang hindi pa, nasa Belgium pa sila.” LOL!
I didn’t know about Maastricht when they were here, or else I would have suggested a day trip there instead. One of the oldest towns in the Netherlands, Maastricht is in the southernmost province called Limburg, and is within walking distance of Belgium and cycling distance of Germany. I first heard about it from my friend Leigh, who was positively rapturous about how pretty it was with its Belgian/French landscape and feel, as compared to your typical Dutch old town. “Maastricht has hills. Hills!” she raved. Yes, hills are worth raves in this flat-as-a-pannekoek country—and certainly pointed to a town worth visiting. 
Then I found out about Preuvenemint, an open-air food festival held in Maastricht during the last weekend of August. The promise of good food is one of the things that will get Marlon and myself to hop on a train and travel for two and a half hours, so we thought it was the perfect time to finally check out Maastricht for ourselves.

Preuvenemint was held in the Vrijthof, Maastricht’s biggest and best-known square lined by old buildings, churches and cafes. Looming over the Vrijthof (aside from the ominous-looking storm clouds) are two huge churches: the Sint Janskerk with its distinctive red tower, and the Basiliek Sint Servaas.

The food festival has its own currency called lappen. (O kung tawagin sa atin ay chits. Very high school fair!) One lappen is equivalent to 2 Euro.
After a couple of rounds of the festival grounds, we came to the conclusion that Preuvenemint caters to a very well-heeled and mostly old crowd. The restaurant pavilions were filled with groups of very blond, very distinguished-looking Dutch who looked right out of casting for a Ralph Lauren ad campaign, swilling champagne and picking at tiny tasting portions of very elaborate dishes. 

Here, the lappen function as a very clever way of making you forget that you’re paying twice as much for what is essentially a tiny portion. Most dishes were from 4-5 lappen (€8-10) each! Yes, I know what tasting portions are, but this wasn’t what I was expecting in a food festival. There was definitely something lost in translation for me here. Maybe I was expecting something a little more… down-to-earth? Hearty? Festive? I guess you could say I was disappointed.

However, the trip wasn’t a total loss. I managed to finally fulfill my craving for a crepe (not a Dutch pancake, a proper French crepe!), something I didn’t have the time to do on my last visit to France. And for 2 lappen (€4), I had a hot, satisfying snack in the form of tuutsje, a cone of fried smelt fish with ravigote sauce and lemon.

This twist on Vlaamse frites, or Flemish fries (guess they’re too proud to call them French fries around here!) harks back to the origin of French fries, or at least the origin story that’s generally accepted in these parts. What we know today as French fries began as small fish, such as smelt, fried up by Belgian peasants. When fish proved hard to catch, strips of potatoes took their place… and thus Vlaamse frites were born. 
Disappointment with the food festival aside, we were both just happy to be in this beautiful town. It really reminded me of Belgium. We decided to walk around the historic center a bit, but eventually hunger got the best of us and we sat down for a full meal in a small square beside Onze Lieve Vrouwen Basiliek, or the Basilica of Our Lady. 

A horse-drawn buggy is parked outside the basilica. This is for the hourly city tours of Maastricht that cost €10. Maybe we’ll do that next time. I know we’ll definitely be back.

To go with the day’s Belgian theme, I ordered a hot, steaming helping of moules frites. With a big swig of Affligem Blond, it sure hit the spot!

We’d both been obsessing about rabbit after Masterchef Australia used it in a couple of episodes. So Marlon opted for rabbit stewed Maastricht-style.

Maastricht is definitely on the pricier side, but the food was better than what we’d normally have in a Dutch cafe. (Or were we just hungry?) Whatever the case, we agreed that the day trip was a good idea and we were happy with the chance to explore a new place. Soon it was time to head back to Amsterdam.

This was the weather we had pretty much all day. I really have to accept that summer is over!

Belgium may have its own culture, (better) food and different architecture, a little of which we glimpsed without having to hop over the border that day in Maastricht. But they ain’t escapin’ this weather!