Amongst forests and rolling hills lies beautiful, vibrant Valkenburg, formerly an important mining town. If this were in the US you might well expect to see a decrepit, rusting pile of decay, inhabited by the most desperate and dispirited of humanity. Well, this isn’t America; it’s The Netherlands where life isn’t so cruel and mean. Valkenburg (Falcon Mountain) is now a vibrant mecca for Dutch tourists. Despite being only a few miles from the German and Belgian borders, the town seems to attract only its own countrymen. No foreign car license plates, no menus in various languages, nothing but Dutch spoken on the streets. Certainly no English. Let’s take a look around.

Here they come, a wave of Dutch tourists.

Here they come, a wave of Dutch tourists.

The main street, lined with outdoor cafes, like Paris.

The main street, lined with outdoor cafes, rather like in Paris.

The namesake falcon, perched permanently on the city hall spire.

The namesake falcon, perched permanently on the city hall spire.

A coal mine right on the edge of town was shut down in 2007. It was the last one in the Netherlands and is now open to the public. We took a tour and it was fascinating. Many mineable layers of coal were sandwiched between layers of a beautiful soft cream-colored limestone. When the mines closed, the government set up two new industries to help employ the newly available labor. These have now been privatized and employ 7000 people.

Clean entry to the coal mine, largely a horizontal shaft.

Clean entry to the coal mine, largely a horizontal shaft.

Eva negotiating a limestone corridor.

Eva negotiating a limestone corridor.

The tour leaders are retired miners. They know a lot, but not English.

The tour leaders are retired miners. They know a lot, but not English.

It gets kind of spooky way down underground. Cave-ins are prevented by many  metal supports.

It gets kind of spooky way down underground. Cave-ins are prevented by many metal supports.

The limestone, too, was mined and was used to build lovely buildings all over the country. It is particularly soft and light weight, but hardens in time when exposed to air. Romans who settled here 2000 years ago used the stone for their building needs. Neothlithic peoples 4000 years earlier were interested as well. They particularly wanted the hard flint found at the base of the limestone layers for making tools and weapons. Flint mines have been discovered right in the cliff base of the formerly towering fortress that looks right down onto the town. Unfortunately the fortress was blown up to prevent its capture by Napoleon a couple of hundred years ago when it became clear that the people could not hold out against him, so we have no photos of the castle. But, like most of the other buildings in town, it was built of beautiful yellow limestone, as you can tell from the remains.

As much as the sun shone on us, it did have to rain now and then. What good luck that we got dumped on right at lunch time. We had a delicious meal under a spreading awning while watching people scurry about dodging the downpour.

Great place to avoid the rain shower

Great place to avoid the rain shower

Oh, did I mention that the Dutch favor black, or very dark, cars? We saw almost no silver and white ones anywhere.

Oh, did I mention that the Dutch favor black, or very dark, cars? We saw almost no silver or white ones anywhere.

Valkenburg, seemingly like all towns in The Netherlands, has canals. Here’s one that shows how the buildings are nestled right up to the water.

Even in the "mountains" it seems that all Dutch towns have canals.

Even in the “mountains” it seems that all Dutch towns have canals.

We always enjoy the business signs that hang over the streets. They add a visual delight while advertising in a subtle way. This one denotes a pet grooming service.

I can beautiful your pet, large or small.

I can beautify your pet, large or small.

The largest city in this rather weirdly shaped little province of Limburg is Maastricht. Let’s go visit there. By-the-way, Limburg was never a part of the Duchy of Limburg which nowadays is solely in Belgium, nor is Limburg cheese made there. Those are other stories. Oh well!

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