Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Friday, 14 August 2015

Southern Limburg - Un-Dutch Corner of The Netherlands

Travel is one of the joys of (my) life. Fortunately I am nearly always able to find travel companions; and this time I took my ancient (87, should be so lucky!) mother along. 
Our journey took us to Zuid-Limburg (Southern Limburg), in the farthest of farthest tip of The Netherlands; a land that is so untypical of my flat homeland that it feels like another country.

The locals speak a lingo that is a cross between German and something entirely different, which enhances the 'abroad!' feeling. With my natural feel for languages, I could make out approximately 1 in 3 words. And it is hilly! And it has marl caves and quarries and narrow rivers which actually have (tiny) rapids.

We stayed in a small village called Hulsberg, in a nice country hotel called the Hof van Hulsberg, situated in a traditional Southern Limburg farmhouse. These farms are built in a carré, with a large courtyard in the middle.
From my front door to Hulsberg is a 3-and-a-bit hour drive, a skip and a jump for you Americans-and-other-large-countries-dwellers, but to me quite a trip, which necessitated a break in the middle for coffee and lunch.

Hulsberg is tiny, but like many villages in Southern Limburg it is built around a huge Catholic church, visible from the hotel terrace.

The next day we opted for one of the most touristy towns in Limburg, namely Valkenburg.
Valkenburg was built around a keep, and later a large castle and keep, dating from the 10th century but a ruin since William the IIIrd decided to blow it up to keep it from falling into the hands of Napoleon. Tourist trap though it may be, it is a charming town, with a nice car-free centre chock-a-block with bars and restaurants, and boasting 'the best beer terrace of The Netherlands 2015' right along the river Geul.
Well, too good to resist, right, especially since the weather was great?!

 I had an Emperor Charles V blonde beer, and it was absolutely wonderful. But in case you were wondering what other beers they had, here is only a third of their stock:

Valkenburg was charming, and Mum loved it, although the hilly streets proved too much for her and we had to forgo the planned trip to one of the marl caves.

The next day promised to become a scorcher - up to 29 degrees C, which for us Dutchies is like walking in a desert. Maastricht was quickly abandoned as a destination, and we opted for a day in the zoo instead, as it is laid out in woodland.

Gaia Zoo in Kerkrade is only a 15 minute drive from Hulsberg and in 2015 has won the prize for the best Dutch Zoo four years running.
We loved it!
The architect has made very clever use of the hills and woodlands, and has created a beautiful parkland with plenty of space for the animals. It is subdivided into Taiga, Savanna, Rainforest and Limburg (with indigenous species). Yes, sure, they are in cages...but the cages are large and with greenery, shade and natural bathing water for all of them.
For instance, where in Rotterdam Blijdorp Zoo the huge infamous silverback gorilla Bokito* is banned behind inches thick plate glass and electrified fences and always makes a thoroughly depressed impression on me, in Gaia the 25 yr old silverback Makula sat in the sunshine on his large green island, surrounded by his family with several females and frolicking youngsters and looked sort of peaceful.
(*Bokito escaped some years ago by jumping the moat surrounding his pen and mauled a woman who had been harassing him for months, created havoc in the nearby restaurant by throwing chairs around and caused families to flee in panic. Mind you, he only taught that woman a lesson, in my opinion, as he did not kill her, and he did not harm anyone else. But he has paid his price)

We enjoyed ourselves tremendously and I had a righteous feeling because I walked off the nice lunch in the zoo restaurant by pushing Mum in her loan wheelchair up and down those hills all day in the blazing heat.

This gorgeous Ibis sat down next to us, close enough to touch. But I resisted.

So. Southern Limburg. Whenever you are in the neighbourhood, go check it out!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Fokveedag - Where Rural Meets Suburban.

Growing up amongst cows, horses, goats, pigs and sheep was fun - for awhile. My stepfather was an optician who wanted to live the life of a country gent; so there we were in a converted farmhouse with all the mod-cons, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farmers (livestock or otherwise) who viewed his efforts to keep some goats, chickens and a horse with curiosity, disdain and sometimes outright animosity.
I fled towards Amsterdam at 17. Need I say more?

Somehow this rural life has crept into my blood. I take a walk or bicycle ride around the countryside near to my suburb most days, and always stop to watch the cows and the horses, and I note with interest that the wheat is harvested right now, and that the onions show a good crop.
Going to the local Fokveedag (Livestock Fair) therefor, is a tradition I will probably stick to till the cows come home.

Around Hellevoetsluis, on the island of Voorne, we have a mixed bunch of country folk. There are the dairy farmers (both cow and goat), the crop farmers and the fruit and veg people. 
Fokveedag used to be all about the livestock, but a need for funds urged the organization board to branch out, so last Saturday I saw a farmer's market, huge shiny combines, traditional crafts and plenty of activities for kiddies. The animals, to me, are the pull, though.

I sat and watched the heifer competition for an hour or so. Being a dummy in Heiferland, they all looked fine to me, albeit a bit stressed. But a farmer on the bench next to me explained what I had to look for. He talked with great enthusiasm and at length about udder suspension, dry legs, gait and backbone. Right. They all looked fine to me!

A new part of this Fokveedag were the dray horses. These huge horses are being bred by quite a few stables on Voorne, and they are impressive. They were being groomed with coloured wool and straw, and they... stood there and took it.  

I used to ride, so am not a novice around a horse, but this was a totally different ballgame. Their owners and groomers had thrown themselves into it and wore pristine white. All of them. I don't know what impressed me more; the fact that the horses were so patient or that the people managed to keep their clothes from being soiled.

It was a fun day, especially for the Hellevoetsluis kids who not often get a chance to get up close and personal with, for instance, a gaggle of geese.
And those rural folk? They used the Fokveedag to show off their livelihood and to compete, but mostly to socialize with other rural folk. 

The same day I went to the local free pop festival, Wallenpop, where I socialized with suburban folk. More, even more, my kind of thing. Still, you can take this girl out of the polder, but you cannot get the polder out of this old girl...

All photos © Ren√©eKoopman