Exploring the Weerter- and Budelerbergen

My hometown Weert, in the south of The Netherlands, has two places called Weerterbergen. The first one is a popular holiday park, the second one is the nature area it is surrounded by. Officially, the nature area is called Weerter- and Budelerbergen. It consists of 2300 acres of pine forest, moors and sand drifts in and near the towns Weert and Budel. There is also a prehistoric burial mound from a 1000 BC.

We discovered this beautiful place earlier this year. And it’s only 15 minutes cycling from our house! It’s perfect for a Sunday morning walk, because it’s always very quiet. I think the view is breathtaking. Some of the trees have these odd shapes, I can just keep looking.

I just love these odd shaped trees. Also a great place for a picknick on a hot day.
The vegetation in this area is a combination of pine trees, moors and sand drifts.

Moors and sand drifts in the Weerter- and Budelerbergen.

We tried to walk on the sand dunes, but it’s very tiring, especially when the weather is very dry and your feet just sink in the sand. It’s better when it has rained and the sand is still a bit wet and sticky. But usually, we just to follow the paths through the forest or through the moors.

Part of this nature area is also a military training ground. You can still walk there, as long as you don’t disturb the military practice. A few months ago, we were walking there along the sand drift and there was absolutely no one else around. We decided to look for a place to eat our lunch, so we walked towards the forest. We sat down on a tree trunk, when we noticed a car nearby. Then a young military came up to us, and asked how long we were going to stay there. He told us their shooting practice would start in an hour. We decided to find another location to have our lunch, about 500 metres away. 15 minutes later, we saw a number of soldiers walking by, carrying these huge backpacks, ready for their shooting practice. After our lunch, we walked back towards the holiday park, where we usually park our bicycles. Just as we had left the military grounds, we heard some heavy shooting. Practice had clearly begun!

I really enjoy the peace and quiet of this area.

The surroundings of Weert are ideal if you like hiking and cycling. Apart from this area, there are a number of other scenic areas around worth visiting.

On the road again

It has been about 17 months since I slept in another bed than my own. That was ok for a long time, but once I saw other people starting to travel again this spring, I also began to feel this restlessness to see things a bit further away from my own home. Not that I locked myself up all this time. I walked more kilometers than I ever did, in and around my hometown. Discovered new things as well. For example, there are at least 4 mini libraries in my neighborhood. Plus one mini plant library, where you can find free plant seeds and cuttings. We discovered a nature area with prehistoric burial mounds, and a sand drift, only 15 minutes cycling from home. That’s one of the lessons COVID taught me: you don’t need to go far to see something new and interesting.

I started gardening this year, and growing my own vegetables. This morning, I picked another mini cucumber. This is something that makes me really happy. I picked up my Postcrossing hobby again, sending postcards to people all over the world and also receiving cards. So yes, I love being at home and don’t get bored easily. But I miss being in a different place, even if it’s for only 2 days and not more than 25 kilometers away.

Visiting other countries still doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, since COVID is still a real threat. That’s why we’re starting by discovering more of our own country, The Netherlands.

These are some of the places we’ll be visiting in the next weekends. Most of them are new to me. Can’t wait! I More in my next blog.

Some of the places we will visit in the next weekends.

St. Oda chapel in Weert, Netherlands

It’s been almost a year now since I moved from my hometown, Tilburg, to a much smaller city: Weert. What I love about my new hometown, is that it has such a rich history. Much richer than Tilburg.

For example,Weert got its city charter in 1414, while my old hometown was allowed to use the term ‘city’ in 1809. When I look at my new hometown, it is clear to see that it is old. There are ruins of a castle (I will write more about this later), an old monastery with a beautiful garden. There are the remains of a medieval town wall, of ramparts where people kept themselves safe in times of war.

Recently, I discovered another historical gem in my own neighbourhood. On a cold Sunday afternoon, we decided to go on an hour long walk. We ended up on the outskirts of the city. There were meadows with some horses. I had been here before. I recognised a small chapel we had visited last year, during a walk in the summer. It was built in 1755, but rebuilt twice after this.

St. Oda chapel in Weert.

The funny thing is that I totally missed the other, bigger chapel that is about 200 metres away from the one I visited last year. There was even a big sign, but for some reason we had not seen it before. We had to walk up a small path to get to the building. The red door was closed, but a sign said that the chapel was open on weekends. So we got there on the right day.

The first thing I did when I entered the chapel, was light a candle. I am not a catholic, but I always feel the need to light a candle when I visit a church. There is certainly a lot to pray for in these times.

You can light a candle in the chapel.

I was impressed by the beautiful statues of St. Oda and St. Apollonia. The original wooden statues of these saints are in a local museum, so these are replicas.

St. Apollonia is considered the patron of dental diseases and is often invoked by those with toothache. Her statue is on the right side, behind the altar. If you look closely, you can see she has pincers holding a tooth. She is usually pictured like this.

The statue of St. Apollonia is on the right. She is holding pincers with a tooth in it.

St. Oda is patron of the blind and the visually impaired. According to legend, she was the daughter of a Scottish king. She was born blind, but healed after she went on a pilgrimage to Liège. Then she fled for her father, who arranged a marriage for her. She ended up in Boshoven, Weert, – the location of the chapel – where she lived for a while, but was betrayed by a magpie. Then she fled to the village of St. Oedenrode, which is named after St. Oda. There, she lived as a hermit for the rest of her life.

Statue of St. Oda in the frontage of the chapel.

The chapel was built in early 18th century, but there was already a chapel on this spot in 1485. Timber trusses in the current chapel date back to the 15th or 16th century. The chapel is on a rampart from the early 17th century. People used it as a protection against plundering Spanish troops.

Travelling the world in times of crisis

I have found an interesting way of travelling the world in times of crisis: through webcams! I used to watch Belgian tv sometimes, where they had livecams in the morning, and you could see live footage from skiing areas and tourist spots in various European countries. And then at the beginning of the crisis I thought: let’s look up more livecams and see what’s going on around the world.

I used to watch this webcam on Belgian tv: people relaxing in a German spa resort.

The interesting thing is of course to see how these places look when outdoor life has sort of come to a halt. I stumbled upon a livecam in Duval and Green Street, Key West, Florida. Normally, this would be a tourist hotspot, with people sitting in the outdoor cafes and going shopping. But in April and May, there was hardly anyone there. All shops were closed. Now and then, you would see a car passing by or a cyclist. And maybe, once every 10 minutes, a pedestrian. The most exciting thing I saw, was a group of road workers, Installing new pavement, a pedestrian crossing and and asphalt overlay. And honestly, this crisis is a perfect time to do road works.

Empty streets in Key West, but they do have brand new pedestrian crossings.

After a couple of weeks, apparently the local government decided that bars could open again and tourists were welcome. Suddenly, there were groups of people walking around, eating ice cream and carrying shopping bags. I was actually surprised that things opened up sof ast, as cases of COVID19 were still rising in Florida at that time.

I don’t know what happened after that, because sadly, this webcam was taken offline a few weeks ago due to technical problems.

One of my other favorites is the livecam of Bryant Park, New York. Same story as in Florida: totally empty at first, and then cautiously people came out to sit on a bench or on the grass and enjoy the sun and eachothers company – at a safe distance. Sometimes,there were uncomortable situations. I remember seeing an older woman sitting on a a bench. Suddenly 2 girls with a dog come sitting quite close to her. The woman decides to put her feet on the bench, as a protest. Maybe she had smelly feet? Anyway, the girls decide to leave.

Slowly, people go outside to visit Bryant Park, New York.

Another webcam I like to watch is of Port Miami. First of all, it’s nice to see a place with great weather and palm trees everywhere. But what fascinates me, is all the cruise boats laying at anchor there, with nowhere to go. Not a single tourist aboard, only employees with hardly anything to do. I was amazed at the size of these boats, some look like floating apartment buildings. It will probably take long before this way of travelling is safe again and the ships can sail out.

A cruise boat in Port Miami.

To travel or not to travel, that’s the question

The last time we went off for a few days, was in the first weekend of March. We took a train to the south of our province, Limburg, and stayed in a hotel in Kerkrade. The next day, we visited the local zoo, Gaia Zoo. And after that, we hiked all the way to the town of Herzogenrath, which is on the other side of the border, in Germany. There we took a train to Aachen. We had a wonderful weekend not too far from home. Ok, I did take home some bed bugs from the hotel, I found out later, but apart from that I had a great time.

We didn’t have any worries about the virus back then. I remember reading the news in the hotel and it said that people in the province of Noord-Brabant, where I used to live, were advised to stay home. On Twitter, people were making fun of it. Not knowing what was to come. And here we are, in the midst of a terrible pandemic, that is still gowing worse every day.

We had several trips planned this year. We wanted to go to Germany and to Cornwall. The city of Lille was also on our list. It will all have to wait until next year, or later.

Around me, I see people who go on holiday anyway. Most of them have a caravan or camper van. I guess that’s the best way not to be too dependent on the facilities at your holiday destination: take your own toilet, food, bed, kitchen, etc. And be perepared to spend more time in and around your caravan, as visiting an attraction or do an activity may require restrictions and reservations. Doing anything spontaneously, like going to a restaurant, is difficult. A lot of people in the Netherlands love caravanning, so I guess were used to taking our own stuff when we go on vacation.

And then there’s the facemasks. I wore them a few times now when travelling to my family by train. It’s no fun, especially when you wear glasses and they get all steamed. I couldn’t enjoy my holiday if I had to wear a facemask everywhere.

I am surprised about all these people going on holiday again, taking a plane or bus, crammed with other tourists. It doesn’t seem safe to me.

A few months ago, we said that maybe in the fall we could take a weekend break in a hotel just across the border in Germany. But looking at the situation in the world right now, I’m not sure if that is even possible or safe. And if it is, can I still enjoy it?

So I’ll just have to do with my memories of our weekend in Kerkrade and Aachen. And all the other great trips we made in the past years. I’m sure we will be travelling again. But when, where and how? That’s the question.

Comino and the sound of silence

In the last few years, I have visited many touristy, crowded places in Europe. Florence, London, Venice, to name a few. But what always strikes me, is that when you walk just a few miles extra than the rest, you end up in really silent places. In Venice I found alleys that were so quiet I could hear the laundry waving on the balconies.

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This little theory of mine also seems to go for Malta. Or at least for the little island of Comino, situated between Malta and Gozo. It was a sunny and warm day, so that morning we took a small boat to Comino. When we get off the boat, we start walking along the coast, just like all the other tourists. We take pictures of the rocks and the clear blue water that Conino is so famous for. But as we start walking further up the island, all the other tourists seem to have disappeared, like magic. It makes me enjoy the beautiful landscape, barren with some bushes, even more. I see rabbits jumping by. I try to photograph two beautiful birds, I think partridges, but they are too fast for me.

Then suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, we see a tombstone. Who would be buried here? And we encounter more mystery. We stumble upon a desterted building complex. It’s not old, but it still makes me curious. I don’t see any sign that forbids me to go in, so I decide to take a look (the sign was apparently on the other side of the building, I found out when I came back). I am fascinated by deserted buildings. And there’s no other tourist inside, I love it! Twenty minutes later, we visit a magnificent 18th century fort, overlooking the coast. This building is abandoned as well, except for one other tourist that decided to check it out.

I start wondering where everyone is. I get the answer when we get back to out starting point, to get back on the boat. Apparently, all the other tourists didn’t get any futher than the famous Blue Lagoon. But this mass tourism right in front of me, makes me feel uneasy. In the distance, I see a ferry getting closer, with hundreds of other people who want to bathe in the water. Time to leave Comino. At least I enjoyed the sound of silence.

Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord: how industry and nature blended into a tourist magnet

Industry and nature are usually not a good combination. But in some cases, they seem to go very well together. The combination can even turn into something beautiful! This is what I discovered when I was in the city of Duisburg, Germany and visited Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord.

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Chimneys of the former ‘Rheinische Stahlwerke zu Meiderich bei Ruhrort’, now Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord.

Duisburg has been known for centuries as the German city of heavy industry. In the 19th and 20th century, Duisburg became ‘famous’ for its extensive coal mining and industrial metal and steel production. But after the steel-crisis of the 1970’s, the demand for Duisburg steel declined and many steel mills and smelting plants had to close down. Many people lost their jobs. Nowadays, Duisburg still produces more steel than any other city, but not as much as it used to.

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A conveyor belt at the former steel factory, closed down in the early 80’s.

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The ‘Rheinische Stahlwerke zu Meiderich bei Ruhrort’ was one of the factories in Duisburg that felt the crisis during the 70’s and 80’s. Therefore, it closed down 2 of its 5 blast furnaces in the early 80’s. But the end for the factory came not long after that. Soon it became clear tot he owner and the city of Duisburg that no other business would be interested in using this location. They could have demolished the whole thing but instead they decided to turn it into a new man made natural and cultural landscape. It was a way to save this piece of industrial heritage. Professor Peter Latz made a design for the Landschaftspark and in 1994 the park was openend to the public.

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25 years later, nature has really taken over this site. The trees have grown so big they give shade. There are flowers and plants everywhere, growing between the steel constructions and on the walls. There are promenades and gardens. This park is a place for social action, culture, sports, education and pleasure. The railways and old sewage canals have become walking paths. You can go scuba diving in an old gasometer, that is now filled with 20,000 cubic metres of water. Walk in the gardens, that once were concrete bunkers. Or go climbing on the walls of the factory. You can enjoy great views from the top of the former blast furnace no. 5. Occasionally, there are concerts, opera’s and festivals. At night, the site is illuminated beautifully. I was overwhelmed by this wonderful place!

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Climbers on the chimneys of the factory.

 

A Roman holiday in Xanten

We took a short ‘Roman holiday’ and spent a day in the German city of Xanten, that was a huge Roman settlement 2000 years ago. The city is now known for one of the largest archaeological open air museums in the world: the Archeological Park. It is built on the remains of Colonia Ulpia Traiana, as the Roman settlement was called.

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Northern city gate of the Roman settlement.

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View from the tower of the northern gate.

A beautiful park

Do you need to be a fan of Roman history to enjoy this park? No, not necessarily. Because this is simply a beautiful park to walk in. The Roman streetplan is marked by broad lanes of trees. In the park you’ll find a number of marvellous reconstructions of Roman buildings. These reconstructions are the result of profound archaeological research into Roman building techniques and constructions.  Some of these reconstructions are on the exact same place as the original buildings. So this is how they built the amphitheatre, the city walls and gates, the inn and the public baths.

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The amphitheatre

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Reconstruction of a Roman temple.

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A copy of the grave stone of the Roman soldier Firmus found at Andernach, Germany. There are a number of these grave stones near the northern gate.

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In the park you will also find the LVR-RömerMuseum, that was moved from the centre of Xanten to the park a few years ago. The building design is a mixture of modern and Roman influences. The architects took their inspiration from the Roman baths. For a reason, because the remains of the reception room of the Roman city therms are buried under the museum.

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The museum building design is a mix of modern and Roman influences.

The museum shows the history of Xanten in chronological order. It’s interesting to see the many archaeological finds froom 2000 years ago. The remains of the Roman therms are in a separate hall of the museum.

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The remains of the Roman baths in a separate hall in the museum.

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We spent about 5 hours in the park and museum. The park is quite large and you can walk around for hours. Perfect for a day out!

Medieval city centre

The Archaeological Park is not the only atraction in Xanten, the medieval city centre is also wordt a visit. It is centered around the marketplace and (Alter Markt) the cathedral. The Alter Markt is a perfect place to have lunch or dinner in one of the many restaurants.

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Xanten cathedral. The cornerstone was laid in 1263, construction of the cathedral lasted 281 years.

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Travelling on the Eurostar (or how we ended up spending the night on a train station)

The first time I travelled to London was in the 00’s, by airplane. At that time, taking a plane for such a short distance was still considered normal – also by me. Flying was cheap and fast, so why bother? But things have changed. In The Netherlands we now have a word called ‘Vliegschaamte’: shame of flying. More and more travellers think of the environment when they travel from Amsterdam to London. Did you know that there are 1350 flights between London and Amsterdam every week, 209 a day?

But there has been a sustainable alternative since 1994: the Eurostar. Some time after I took a plane to London, I tried the Eurostar. At that time, you had to travel to Brussels to get on the Eurostar, as there were no stops in Rotterdam and Amsterdam yet (this service wasn’t established until spring 2018). So yes, it took us some time to get to Brussels. And the Eurostar tickets were more expensive than they are now. But travelling on the Eurostar was a very positive experience for me: fast and comfortable. And green! Last year, we booked the Eurostar again, and apart from some problems with connecting trains in The Netherlands (HSL-train between Breda and Brussels), we arrived in London perfectly on time.

This month, I travelled on the Eurostar for the third time. It was the first time I did so during the summer holiday season. And probably the last. Travelling to London was perfect: trains were on time, check-in and boarding in Brussels went smoothly. A good start of my holiday. The trip back to Rotterdam – on the hottest day of the year – was a totally different story. We had heard that the day before we travelled, there were severe problems on the Eurostar: a train had a power failure and the airconditioning broke. People had to be evecuated from the train, as temperatures inside the carriages rose to 40 degrees. On top of that, there were speed restrictions as a result of the heat, causing long delays.

We arrived in the Eurostar terminal at London St. Pancras in the late afternoon. Fortunately, we were early, because there were very long lines at the check-in. It was also slightly chaotic. The waiting lounge was very full and there was nowhere to sit, people were sitting on the floor.

We were glad to get on the train. Everything went smooth until Lille. After that, we drove to Brussels very slowly. We arrived in Brussels more than an hour late. Then another problem occurred: there was no driver! He had to come from The Netherlands. Staff kept on making announcements that ‘the driver would arrive in 15 minutes’. Eventually, we ended up staying in Brussels for an hour. When finally the announcement came the driver had arrived, people cheered loudly.

We were to arrive in Rotterdam around midnight, 2.5 hours late. We heard people around us calling their family and friends to pick them up, as they wouldn’t be able to catch the last train home. We had nobody to pick us up. Other passengers offered us a place to stay near Rotterdam. But I managed to find a way to get home. Or so I thought. I mentioned the Eurostar-chaos on Twitter, and a webcare person of NS Dutch Railways assured us that they could arrange our transport home at their expenses, because we had pre-booked tickets to the station in our hometown. She gave us a phone number to call.

When we arrived in Rotterdam, we ran as fast as we could to catch the last train home. But it took off right before our eyes. So we called the NS phone number and explained our situation. The woman we spoke to, asked us to wait a few minutes, as she had to discuss the situation with her colleagues. We were baffled by her answer. She said she couldn’t help us, because we should have arranged for a cab or hotel on the Eurostar. She regretted the fact that her colleague on Twitter had wrongly informed us. And that was it.

So there we were, at Rotterdam station. With nowhere to go. We sat down in the entrance hall and decided that was the best place to stay. We spent the night watching what happened on a station at night. We saw people stocking the shelves of the supermarket. People running with luggage to get the 3.15 train to Schiphol Airport. Teenagers coming back from a night out. But it was still a very long night. We were glad when the first train to Tilburg arrived at 5.45 AM.

So, who is to blame here? NS? Eurostar? NS International, the organization where we booked our tickets months ago? My guess is that we should have asked the Eurostar staff for help. But then we got the wrong advice from NS, the Dutch railways. And there was no information/announcement on the Eurostar, that informed passengers about the possibility of free transport to get home.

Recently, the European Commission conducted a research into train journeys, and the result was that most travellers have no idea what their rights are when travelling within the EU. Information to passengers is unclear. About time these EU-rules get an update. It could have prevented us from having to spend a night on a railway station.

So will I travel on the Eurostar again? Probably, because it is still the best and greenest way to get to London. But I won’t go in peak season. And if I encounter a problem, I will turn to Eurostar staff immediately. But the most important thing is that European carriers finally start informing their passengers better!

Potsdam, city of kings

Do you want to be amazed by baroque and rococo style architecture? Do you want to step back in time and catch a glimpse of the life and wealth of Prussian kings? Then Potsdam is the place to travel to! It’s easy to reach by train and S-bahn from Berlin.

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A colorful historic building near the Old Market Square in Potsdam.

For centuries, Potsdam was a small village. But that changed in the 17th and 18th century, when the Prussian kings made the town near Berlin their favorite residence. Thanks to them, Potsdam nowadays is one of the greatest tourist hotspots near Berlin, with the Sanssouci palace as the biggest attraction.

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St. Nicholas’ Church on the Old Market Square. Left of the church a marble obelisk built in the 18th century.

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The City Palace at the Old Market Square in Potsdam.

One of the most important builders of Potsdam was king Frederick William I of Prussia. In about 9 years, from 1721 to 1730, he had a town for 10,000 people erected on the swamp that surrounded Potsdam, quite an achievement. The medieval core of the town was taken down.

Dutch Quarter

One of the, now famous, new builds on this swamp was the Dutch Quarter. It’s hard to believe that this area was on marshy land before, because now it is right in the heart of the city of Potsdam. The Dutch Quarter was originally meant to attract Dutch skilled workers, but that plan failed.

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The Nauener Tor (Nauen Gate) is one of the three preserved gates of Potsdam. It is also the entrance to the Dutch Quarter.

Nowadays, the Dutch Quarter is a very charming and picturesque part of Potsdam. The area includes four squares and 134 two-storey houses. In the houses you find little cafés, galleries, pubs and craft shops. There are also some annual events, like a Tulip festival in spring, a pottery market and a traditional Dutch Christmas (Sinterklaas) market.

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Houses in the Dutch Quarter.

Sanssouci

The top attraction of Potsdam, the famous Sanssouci palace was built from 1745 to 1747 by king Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great. It was his summer palace, built in rococo style. In the 19th century, the palace was expanded further.

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Sanssouci palace

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You can also take a walk through the park around the palace and see many other buildings there, like the Chinese Pavillion, the historic mill and the Neues Palais (new palace). Sanssouci has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990.

Russian village

Also worth paying a visit is the Russian village Alexandrowka, once a Russian colony. The village, located near park Sanssouci, consists of 14 woorden houses and an orthodox church. You can also visit a small museum that tells the history of the village.

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One of the wooden houses in Alexandrowka.