Welcome to Texel (pronounced ”tessel”; or something like that) where they produce all the annual wind for the Netherlands. Oh, and lots of sheep products too. Dan and I took advantage of a string of four days free to finally this pastoral island way in the North.
I went thinking it was a vacation, with writing retreat on the side. Dan had the opposite idea. Fortunately we came to a compromise that resulted in a bit of writing before breakfast, about an hour at lunch, and until bedtime after dinner. In between we explored the varied environment and bike paths of Texel. Here’s some highlights:
Bikes are the way to get around Texel and on some of the other Wadden Island, they are pretty much your own option. We rented bikes in the port and petalled 20 km to our B&B on the other end of the island. The bike paths are great and weave through the polder, woods, and dunes equally.
De Cocksdorp is the little village we stayed in during out long weekend. It’s a bit touristy, but further from the port than pretty much everything else and not next to swimming beaches. That makes it a bit less obvious in its touristy-ness. According to Wikipedia, 70% of Texel’s income is tourism, so when Dan & I guessed that at least 50% of the houses were probably for visitors we were probably underestimating. De Cocksdorp itself is a bit out of the way for visiting the island throughly, but it was really cute.
Lots of people in De Cocksdorp (and the rest of Texel) spoke primarily Dutch and German. Fortunately enough people spoke enough English, that we didn’t have any problems. It was a little funny to have people automatically assume I was German when I looked confused. A little funny, but not terribly helpful. I’m glad I know a bit of Dutch.
On the northern point of Texel is a red lighthouse. It’s mostly remarkable for being 2 lighthouse; one inside the other. The interior one was damaged in WWII. After the war, the island rebuilt around it to preserve it. We’ve not sure, but we think it is still used as some sort of radar tower. We didn’t notice a light coming from it, but it didn’t get dark until 10:30pm and by then we were in our room.
One of the biggest draws of Texel is their huge beaches. The sand is wide and white and frankly beautiful. Dan forgot his bathing suit and it was a bit cold for actual swimming, but we did go walking along the water a couple of time. The sand is so soft that if feels like walking on custard/oopeck might.
In addition to the polder which dominates the center of the island, Texel also boasts large protected areas of dunes, salt marshes, woods, marshes, etc. De Sulfter was my favorite. It is a failed land reclemation project where the Dutch were unable to completely drain the water. Today its a major mating area for the islands many birds. De Sulfter, like many other protected areas, is literally protected with electric fencing.
Ecomare is a seal sanctuary where they raise and heal seals so they can return to the wild. Naturally some cannot return and so have a permanent place at the sanctuary. They were under construction during our visit (yay, discount), so some of their critters were off-sight but it was cool to visit a sanctuary. Ecomare also has a small nature museum (kind of lame), and a small aquarium with awesome glowing jellyfish (which you can’t pet of course), and a small spiny ray (that you could).
There are lots of domesticated animals on Texel, but they are best known for the sheep. The sheep were out just about everywhere and we tasted the local dishes. The lamb stoofpot was pretty good. Sheep cheese? Not so much. It takes a bit dry and plastic.
I suspect that there is a magical connection between expats and Irish pubs (or at least sports pubs). We happened upon one in Den Burg while hunting for a good meal to make up for an hour of pushing a flat bicycle across the extremely windy polder. Their baked mussels plate was really good and really reasonably price. A Dutch gentleman was busking nearby and it was pretty funny to listen to him butcher American oldies.
On Sunday we had a bit of struggle getting back off the island, since we wanted to get up and eat well before the rest of the island. Naturally nothing was open and we had to get back to Den Berg where we’d left Dan’s bike with the flat. As it turned out when we called the rental shop, we could have exchanged it for a new bike right in town the night before. Annoying, but at least we didn’t have to bike the 15 km back to De Cocksdorp in the wind. We ate breakfast, swapped the bike, and petalled back to the port and back to real life.
I picked up this bit of information when planning our trip to Aachen and it was so handy I felt it needed to be passed on. There are many places near Maastricht not accessible by train, Vaals for example, or that require a long and roundabout route, Aachen and Cologne.
Fortunately that’s where the Veolia (Dutch) bus system and Zuid-Limburg Dagkaart/International comes in. These day tickets are good for traveling anywhere in South Limburg including into the naighboring areas of Germany and Beligum for an entire day for just 7 euros. They can even been used on Veolia trains (although not the NS ones). I purchased our tickets ahead of time from the bus office in Maastricht, but you can also get them on board a bus.
It is an especially good idea to travel to Aachen via bus rather than train. The train will cost you more and take twice as long. Instead take Bus 50 from the Maastricht Station. In about an hour you’ll reach Aachen with only one, very quick switch just on the outskirts of the city. The bus takes you to the central Aachen train station, so you won’t end up in some strange out of the way place.
Aachen apparently translates roughly to water, so it is appropriate that it poured down rain during our visit on Saturday. But who lives in the Netherlands and lets a little water stop them? We met up with the another expat couple who have been living in Bonn for a little exploration. For a day trip, Aachen is a lovely city of hot springs, history, and printen.
Before getting started, I thought I’d mention something about the water. Aachen is known for their hot spring. People since the Roman times have been flocking to the area for the benefits of the spa and the spring waters. People even drink the water as it is suppose to help digestion and your skin. However drinking too much is a bad idea since it actually contains a small amount of arsenic. I took a sip from one of the fountains and the water tasted odd, but not necessarily bad. It apparently smells strongly of sulfur as well, but I didn’t notice.
We started our visit with a little walking tour that took us from the Tourist Office by the XX, the largest fountain in the city, past the Dom Cathedral, and to the Market Square and town hall. Along the way we saw some attractive fountains, an old chemist shop, and got to taste a bit of the printen, Aachen’s gingerbread-like cookie. Despite the rain, the tour was actually quite nice and it gave us an easy way to learn about Aachen. Charlemagne of course featured prominently , but the guide also spoke quite a bit about the horse races, which are popular in the area.
The Aachen Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Europe and the original resting place of Charlemagne. The dome inside is the most impressive feature of the church, featuring a beautiful large blue and gold roof and huge chandler. While we were there the cathedral was under construction, so the English tour was unavailable and I was a bit disappointed with it.
I found the Town Hall, built in the 14th century on the ruins of Charlemagne’s palace, to be more impressive; probably because we had the opportunity to explore with with a nifty pseudo-augmented reality audio player. The structure was original Gothic, but was refurbished in a baroque style later. Inside each room had a dome-shaped ceiling and is done up in different colors. The upstairs room use to be used for coronations and is also where you can find the original Charlemagne statue that once stood in the Market square (the one there now is a replica) and replica’s of Charlemagne’s royal vestments. The tour took about an hour or so and was pretty interesting.
The third thing you can’t miss in Aachen is the printen, a spicy, gingerbread-like cookie shaped in a mold and something covered in almonds or chocolate. The story we were told is that the cookie was “invented” after the Aachen city fire when the local people needed to feed visiting pilgrims something. In reality, the recipe is probably from Belgium. We had a taste in one of the many shops in Aachen, and then visited a great restaurant called XX to sample more German confections. This place is worth visiting both for their cookies and the ambiance (but not for the hot chocolate).
After a late afternoon dessert we had run out of things to do in the city, what with the rain and all, so we parted ways and took bus 50 home before dinner. We didn’t make it to a spa, but Aachen has several, and I’d love to check out a public bath sometime. Maybe next visit.
I’m still exhausted, so here’s a quick look at what we were up to last weekend.
We went here…
And promoting this…
Oh, and dressing up for a little Halloween fun…
The Klik! Animation Festival in Amsterdam is coming up soon and we can’t wait!
Just like this guy.
Dan & I attended the Klik! festival last year and had a really good time. Plus we got to see some wonderful, awful, and seriously weird shorts and feature length films. This year we’re only going to be there for part of the festival, but I’m looking forward to catching “Quantum Quest”, a full length animation, as well as the various shorts offerings.
We’ll also be doing some costuming shopping while in Amsterdam, but that’s another story.
The Klik! festival runs from Sept. 15th-19th in several film houses in Amsterdam. Check our their website for more information and if you are attending, please let me know. I’d love to meet up with a few people.
, The “desperate for Klik!” dancing dude above is part of Klik’s Gif Alert and is used here in exchange for props.