If you’re ever at a loss for something to do during the holiday season in Europe, chances are you can find a Christmas market (Kerst Markt) to visit nearby. There are eight around The Netherlands. They are bright, fun, and crowded. We decided to visit one in Holland first.
We met up with our friends, the Bendis Family, at the Valkenburg Cave Markets.
The Valkenburg Caves are situated in southern Holland. They are the result of mining efforts of the Romans in the 11th century. They were mining for marl to build a castle, as seen on the hill behind us.
The secret passageways were also used by US troops when they came to liberate The Netherlands in WW2. I’ll write more about that when we go back to tour the caves. This visit was for the Christmas market and the tours were closed. It was quite a unique setting to have booths set up inside the caves. One could definitely get lost through the five kilometers of secret passageways. We were a little disappointed with the selection of crafts as most things were ‘Made in China’. I loved this booth, but I really doubted the purses were locally produced.
However, there was one wonderful booth where a lady was carving clay and molding it right there. She let the children try their hand at it, too. She was from Lithuania and we loved her work. It was the one thing we bought at the Valkenburg Kerst Markt. We chose a rendition of Helpoort which is, as we’ve been told, the oldest standing structure in The Netherlands. Though we didn’t get a picture, one could see it in person when he/she comes to visit. Really wonderful artisanship.
The kids loved seeing Santa walking through the caves as well as seeing his sleeping quarters and room for the elves, triple bunks included.The painted murals were intriguing and I’m excited to come back and learn more about them. We knew we wanted to visit a Christmas market in Germany also, the pride of Christmas markets. Germany boasts nearly 120 Kerst Markts! We had heard Cologne had the best. There are eight just in Cologne. We waited until my brother and his friend, Laurie, were both here then we zipped over to Cologne for the day. The part we all enjoyed best was Cologne’s cathedral. From start to finish, the building process took just over 632 years. It was amazing to walk through this beautiful cathedral.We couldn’t help but think of all the history that had taken place within these walls over the past centuries. The relics of the Magi are said to be enshrined behind the altar.The stained glass was stunning, but that seems to always be one of my favorite parts of a church or cathedral.There are also multiple sarcophagi throughout the cathedral, also dating back hundreds of years. It would have been most helpful to read German to know what was written on the descriptions. Some of our children thought it was a little creepy. I thought it was fascinating, but maybe that's the Indiana Jones-lover in me. Unfortunately the camera, as always, doesn’t quite do the setting justice. If it wasn’t so chilly (and we if didn’t have shopping to do!) I could have sat on a pew for a long time just enjoying the expansiveness of the chapel and the peacefulness of the cathedral.
We managed to make it to two of the markets. They were very cute and more crafty than the previous markets. As always, Emily rode around like the Queen of Sheba.
What better way to entice the kids to shop than to let them enjoy the rides?
The highlight of the Cologne market was adding a nativity to our collection. I love it and was so captivated by the display that (once again) I didn't even get the camera out. I am already deciding on one for next year. Perhaps next year we’ll make it to the floating Christmas market –one that’s actually on a ship.