Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Rolduc Abbey in Kerkrade, NL

This is the last of our three Christmas Gifts from our mini-vacation in the south of the Netherlands and Germany the second week in December.  First it was the Christmas market in Maastricht, NL, on Friday, and the next day, Saturday, the Christmas market in Aachen, Germany.

On Sunday we stayed in Kerkrade, NL, where our hotel was, and drove to the nearby Rolduc Abbey from the 12th century.

How's this for believing it's the biggest abbey in the Netherlands!
[Trip Advisor image]

It's now a secondary school, a Roman Catholic seminary, and the Rolduc Congress Center.
It even has a hotel where you can stay.
And this is the entrance to the huge complex, on a snowy day.

Once inside the front gate, time seemed to stand still.

But once inside the abbey, the fun and games began next to where we purchased our tickets.
This was like another Christmas market...except inside.

All along the long hallways were artists selling their wares.
Astrid's DIL happens to collect snails, so we HAD to get her the escarGOOOOOOT.  How clever.

Looking out from inside we saw the snow accumulating in the courtyard.

In fact, after purchasing our tickets, we crossed one of the courtyards....
and bought another gift for friends:  Rolduc Abbey beer, which is brewed on site.

We saw the 18th c. cloisters only from the courtyard, but that still worked a treat.

But back inside, what we most wanted to see was the abbey church.

Throughout the day there were different groups performing musical numbers,
so we returned twice to get some images in between performances.

The first performance we attended was of a flute/recorder ensemble.

It was fabulous!
Astrid and I both played recorders back in the day.  Can you imagine playing there?!

After the children's choir, we had the chance to visit the altar, choir and chancel area,
before it became off limits.
It's a different view looking back across the nave to the organ in the back.

On either side of the chancel, on the main floor, is a side chapel.

A stairway leads down to the crypt from the left chapel.
All of the column capitals have a different design!

And as so often happens, I found the crypt space much cozier for my heart and soul.

But that's because these larger spaces are more like museums to me than churches.
I've learned to accept that after my protestant upbringing.

Before we left we had a sweet little lunch of erwtensoep  (pea soup) and brats....

and a last look at impressions.

Once again, it was enough,  We were filled up.
We had our Christmas market "fix" before leaving for home the next falling snow!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Aachen Christmas Market and Cathedral

So, last week I shared our Friday stint at the Christmas market and St. Servatius Basilica in Maastricht, which is way down at the "bottom" of the Netherlands before you cross the border into Belgium (west) or Germany (east).  That was on Friday, 8 December.

See the 3 red dots?  
Our hotel was in Kerkrade, NL, a good home-base between Maastricht and Aachen over 4 days.
The thin gray, jiggly line is the borderline between three countries:
Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Saturday, 9 December, was our Aachen, Germany, day but first...
we decided to see the 3-country point, the highest elevation spot in the Netherlands (large blue dot).

It so happens that we when got to Vaals, 17 km from our hotel, we saw this Euregio tower, 
assuming it was the only spot for viewing the 3 countries.

It was worth paying the money to ride the elevator to the top (353.5 meters).
On a windy, blustery, snowy, icy day, we minded our step, trust me, and almost blew away.
But there you have it:  (l to r) Belgium (in the Ardennes), Germany, Netherlands.

Astrid had been here 50 years earlier and knew there was a monument,
so we drove a few meters further to the real tower and spot of importance.
No need to climb another tower but we did take in the monuments.

Vaalserberg is the name of this highest spot/hill which marks the 3-country point in the Netherlands.
It's 322.4 meters (1,058 ft) above NAP, which refers to Amsterdam, at sea level.

YAY.  We did it.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

From Vaalsberg it was only 7 km to Aachen for our second Christmas market of the weekend.

As we walked to city center, we immediately saw the Dom/cathedral.
You can't miss it.
It's one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, consecrated in 805.

Because it was right in front of us, we decided to "do it" before anything else.
Little did we know we would be in a line of tourists walking the perimeter of the circular nave.
We could look into and across the nave but couldn't enter it.

So...around and around we went, with the crowd, to see what we could see.

How do you begin to describe this!

At the altar, with the choir behind it, we so wanted to go "inside."

The pulpit of Henry II, to the right of the altar inside the choir, blew me away.
What would my preacher dad think of that????

When we got to the side chapel of St. Nicholas, we were allowed to enter.
I think many tourists were glad for a place to sit and worship.

The rest of us saw what we could...and left.
[To be honest, it reminded me of being herded through St. Mark's Basilica in Venice.]

Once outside, we began our Christmas marketing in earnest,
always with the cathedral as a backdrop.

But first, it was time for lunch.
The mobs were congregated around the eatery stalls, so we opted to eat inside a nearby café.
GOULASH and GLÜHWEIN!  Perfect for a wintry day.
[But why, oh why, do the Germans serve white bread?????]

You know we find "impressions" everywhere we go.
Even though we were looking for the Christmassy things, we still got side-tracked, of course.

Then we paid attention.
How can you not become a Child when you see such delights.

The German Christmas villages always grab me.

Can you image "collecting" one new house each year to make your own village?

But nothing cheered me more than this display of whimsy,
even if for a select audience.

By late afternoon, and when the evening crowd would soon descend, it was time to leave.
It was our second "fix" of the weekend and we were fully satisfied.

We had Sunday to go...the day we visited the Rolduc Abbey in Kerkrade, near our hotel,
all decked out for post.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Maastricht Christmas Market and St. Servatius Basilica

Now that we're back from our Christmas Market venture last weekend, you know we are full of Christmas cheer.  We got our "fix."

Let's start with Maastricht, which was our Friday afternoon arrival point.  And since I took only 3 photos before we sat down to eat (it was time!), I'll start with this "fix," which was a must for the trip:  brats! 

Gotta always have a brat at the Christmas market.  It's what you do.

THEN we were ready to start the day.

No Bah Humbugs from us.

Because most European Christmas markets are situated at city center,
the biggest church of the city is usually right there in plain sight.

And because the European churches are more important to us than even Christmas markets,
we pretty quickly veered off from the Christmassy "fix" to make sure we didn't miss this Basilica.

Actually, there are two churches next to each other, separated by a street.
The red spire is the Dutch Reformed St. John's Church from the 14th c. and wasn't open.
The humongous church next door is the Basilica of St. Servatius from the 11th-12th centuries.

It's easy to tell this is a Roman Catholic church.
And yes, I lit a candle and prayed for special people that day!

Opposite the altar view in the former collage is the organ/back of the church.
What a treat to hear it while we were there.

It was the crypt, however, that grabbed me the most.
Soulful.  Cozy.  Meditative.
St. Servatius, the Bishop of Tongeren, died in 384 and is buried there.

That's the reliquary bust of St. Servatius, 15/16c., bottom-left.

From inside the church, we looked out to the Christmas market Ferris wheel....

which, of course, totally got our attention.
We've never seen a Christmas market with a Ferris wheel, so we had to ride it.

The contraption itself always fascinates me...and this time more so because of the colors.

How can you NOT love  it!
And yes, that's how big the basilica is (bottom-right).

I had fun making this collage on my iPad for Facebook.

It so happens the toilets were next to the skating rink,
so we watched for awhile.
I loved this wee family, with mommy showing how and then older sister doing it.

As the afternoon wound down, we sat long enough for stir-fried mushrooms with garlic sauce
and the prerequisite glühwein.  

We were totally satisfied.  We didn't need more.  It was time to leave.  

As we left the market and wandered to our car, past the city hall (top-left and center),
we were reminded that Masstricht is André Rieu's city, for those of you who know him.

In case you don't know him, here's my favorite of all the videos I've seen.
He's Maastricht's favorite son!
To be honest, he's all of Holland's favorite son!

On that note, we crossed the St. Servatius Bridge across the Meuse/Maas River to our car.

Enough "fixes" to last the weekend...but it was only our first day of three....