On our second day, after having stuffed ourselves with the large buffet options from our hotel, we went back to the center of Maastricht. This time went didn't dawdle on the Christmas market but had a look at the buildings around it too.
Two massive buildings peak out from behind the market: the Basilica of Saint Servatius and the St John's Cathedral. Because of the Christmas market, though, it was difficult to find the right angle to photograph them. While walking around, we also stumbled upon the Treasury of the Basilica. For a fee it is possible to go inside and visit, but we didn't.
Another building I found pretty was the Faculty of Law. Do certainly not miss the street that, from here, leads back to the Vrijthof, which according to me is the most charming street of Maastricht.
The day before we had tried going to a bar on the Vrijthof square, Café in den Ouden Vogelstruys. Probably because of the Christmas market, it was so busy we could hardly get beyond its porch. Now, around lunchtime, we were even able to conquer a table to sit. It's a really interesting place because of its abundant decorations. The ornaments are probably more excessive now, with the huge Advent wreath hanging from the ceiling, but all the old frames on the walls and the big chandelier on the central table are permanent, I guess. For the Dutch speakers, the menu in itself be entertaining because everything is written in Limburg dialect.
And then we had to hurry for another thing Bart had planned. The details I received, were: "It starts at 15h, it's a group thing and we have to drive a little bit out of Maastricht." I had some suppositions, but the plan remained super intriguing. Only... we had left Maastricht right on time, assuming it would take no longer than 10 minutes to reach our destination. Because of a little deviation and traffic jam for the Christmas market of Valkenburg, it soon became obvious we would not make it on time. I had no idea what we would be doing, but I felt very disappointed. I wanted to find out what my surprise was!
We still drove to the place and I entered already, while Bart would hurry and find a place to park the car. Not knowing where I was exactly, I explained the lady at the reception about our delay and pleaded to hold the group and let us join. It wasn't easy, but it worked! One lady ran to hold the guide of the group and inform her we were still coming. (Yippee!)
We were each given a candle before we went underground into the pitch-black tunnels. When the guide started explaining, it finally became clear to me where I was: the museum of the Roman Catacombs. At first I believed it was real, but it is actually a replica of the Roman catacombs of the 3rd Century. The labyrinth of tunnels has existed for a long time, but the museum had been founded in 1910 by Jan Diepen, a passionate (freak) of Roman culture. He's started this project whereby every grave, every painting and even every damage to the painting was copied with the highest precision. He did such a great job that when damage occured to the original Roman catacombs, they visited Valkenburg to see how to restore the works. Thanks to the clear explanations of our guide, I felt thrown back to Roman ages. I imagined the gravedigger dragging corpses through the dark tunnels, all wet and smelly from the liquids released by the decomposing corpses. Trodding in the decomposing liquid with an uncovered wound on his feet, even insignificant, would surely result in an infection and ultimately his death.
When the tour was over, we left the dark and entered the light exposition 'WISH'; six caves with light shows. To us, the term light exposition brought to mind large, impressive light shows, but it was more like abstract art that involved a subtle play with light.
To round up the day, and sadly enough with that also my birthday weekend, Bart had planned a visit to one more Christmas market - a rather atypical one. This market was taking place underground, in a cave.
The Fluweelengrot is the oldest cave in South Limburg. Block cutters used to excavate marlstone as building material for houses, farms, churches and castles. All year round you can go and visit, but around Christmas time, many stalls are lined up in the festively decorated tunnels. The combination of the atmospheric Christmas decorations, the stalls with unique gift items and the wall paintings (some dating back to Roman times) make for a truly unique experience. Given the 7 euro entrance fee, it felt quite expensive to enter, but it's nonetheless a unique experience.
I'll end with a little heads up: The parcours is quite long and the items on sale are unique gifts, decorations, toys, winter wear... You might be wondering where the mulled wine and snacks are, but don't worry, you'll find them near the end. Your patience will be rewarded.
We had run out of time, but make sure to check out Valkenburg as well. We quickly walked through the center, which seemed really welcoming.