Type of Place: Bed & Breakfast
Location: Rarenderstraat 19; 6291NC Vaals
As hands-down the best bed and breakfast Dan and I have stayed in in the Netherlands, I thought the Raren and it’s owners deserved a special mention here on the blog.
The Raren B&B is a small pension in Vaals located in the home of the owners Ad & Lenny. This beautiful converted farmhouse has three bedrooms upstairs, as well as private bedroom downstairs with its own entrance to the home. The beds are pretty comfortable and the double bed is actually a single piece mattress (shocking if you’d ever slept in a hotel in the Netherlands). Outside the B&B is a lovely private garden with small orchard of many different types of fruit and a fish pond. A pool and sauna are also available for guests to use. Oh, and wifi.
The entire space is decorated in a mix of African and Germany antiques (as well as some Asian touches in the garden), which I imagine reflects the owners tastes very well. The entire effect was cozy and more like staying in the home of a couple of friends than in a B&B.
Ad & Lenny, the owners of the Raren, were wonderful hosts to Dan and I. Upon arrival they welcomed us in with open arms, allowed us to select our room for the weekend, and enthusiastically gave us the grand tour. When we mentioned that we were staying for our anniversary, they gave us a bottle of white wine as a gift and later sent us home with walnuts and jam from their own trees. We had a great conversation about the Netherlands (Lenny is from Chicago originally), jobs, and discovered a mutual interest in comics. They even showed us their massive collection of 1950s German pottery, which they sell online.
Both men were an absolute font of information about Vaals and the local amenities, as well as about Aachen (which is just 5 km or so over the border). On their advise we ate at the Boscafe ‘t Hijgend Hert, which was delicious and gave us a great starting place for hiking on day two of our trip.
Breakfast both mornings was what I consider to be “typically Dutch” with bread and rolls, fruit, yogurt, lots of spreads and a hard-boiled egg. Ad fussed over us as we tucked in, making sure we had everything we needed.
The Raren is located outside of Vaals, so you probably will want a car to visit, and you should know that they have a large, energetic chocolate lab. But with all the amenities we could hope for and frankly two of the friendliest hosts we’ve ever met, I heartily recommend you all to try the Raren for a night or two. You’ll be glad you did.
Dan & I have now been married for 6 years. We’ve known each other for 10, so when I say it “feels like forever” I mean it in the nicest possible way. We’re not particularly romantic people, but this year we took a trip to the Vaals countryside, to relax and do some hiking or biking.
In short, the trip was wonderful. In long, you’re just going to have to keep reading.
When I wrote over the last couple weeks about the differences between Limburg and their neighboring regions to the north, I had no idea just how unique things were a mere 30 minute drive away on the western side of my tiny providence. The area Vaals is in is much hillier and more thickly forested that the area around Maastricht. The architecture also shows a real Germanic influence, with lots of timber frame houses (nearly everything in Maastricht is stone only).
The rolling hills and black and white cows actually put me strongly in mind of my home in Vermont, which made the area feel very restful to me. I love all the city travel we do, but I’d forgotten how much I missed the calm aura of a rural landscape.
Since we didn’t know how accessible Vaals would be, Dan & I rented a car for the weekend. That, in turn, let us pick an out of the way bed & breakfast for our visit. The Raren, a small B&B run by two very friendly guys, was the best of all possible sleeping options for us. Located in a converted farmhouse, the B&B has the typical timber-frame appearance on the outside, and is decorated inside with a beautiful mix of African objects and 1950s Germen pottery. Our hosts were very gracious, eager to show off their home, small orchard and garden, and offering us the use of their pool, sauna, and bikes. When we told them it was our anniversary, they gave us a bottle of South African wine to celebrate with and were absolute fonts of information about Vaals, Drielandenpunt and hiking the the area; which is, of course, what we were doing there.
They also have the most adorable chocolate lab.
Hands down the best, most relaxing bed & breakfast experience I’ve ever had, I would encourage anyone wanting a calm get away to go stay at the Raren. Heck, I can’t wait to go back.
One of the main reasons we visited this area was to see Drielandenpunt, a tourist attraction marking the point of contact between the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Not unlike Four Corners in the US, Drielandenpunt is a bit trumped up. It’s just a spot on the ground of course, but it was a lot of fun to hike too and there’s something special about places where several places meet. An observation tower allowed us to look far out over all three countries well above the forest. Slightly more interesting is that Drielandenpunt is on the top of the tallest mountain in the Netherlands.
In addition to the Drielandenpunt photo-op, an English style labyrinth can be explored. The design is changed occasionally, but the objective always remains the same. Get to the middle. When we explored it, the path was actually quite complex and it took a while to get to the middle. Toss in a few bridges and water hazards, and the maze turned into quite a fun diversion.
To give you an impression of how easy it is to walk and hike in this area, we walked all the way to Drielandenpunt, down to Vaals, and back to our B&B all before dinner; approximately 10-12 km. Rolling hills and lots of walking paths through the woods makes the area pretty accessible.
The other activity we wanted to try in the Vaals area was a bit of hiking through the Vijlenerbos. The Vijlenerbos is one of the Netherland’s protected forest reserves and it covers a pretty sizable area in Limburg. There are tons of crisscrossing trails for hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders to enjoy this natural treasure.
On Sunday we opted to take a short 5.5 km hike from the Boscafe we ate dinner at the night before. The loop trail didn’t go anywhere in particular, but it was a nice, relaxing stroll without many sounds of traffic. The tracks were generally marked by low colored posts, not unlike the blazes you normally see in the US. Of course we decided to follow the “green” path, which faded into the green of the forest a little too often. Lots of tall trees and intersecting paths took us down the hill and back up to the Boscafe where we had a bit of lunch; including our first taste of stroop; an apple-flavored dark spread popular in Limburg.
Of course no discussion of a Potter trip is complete without a mention of the food. Since we were in Limburg, we munched on the usual Dutch fair including friets with zuurvlees and various pork based meals. Our anniversary dinner itself was at the Boscafe ‘t Hijgend Hert which is up in the hills at the beginning of the hiking area we visited on Sunday. The fare is hearty and quite Dutch, but with some definite German overtones. Dan’s ham in orange sauce was very good; my own pork medallions in a Trappist beer sauce pretty dry. But we did get to wash it down in the boscafe’s own Blond and Bruin Hert wheat beers. The blond was delicious and (predictably) strong.
For dessert Dan had a chocolate banana split and I got to try the Dutch variation of eggnog: Advocatt. Advocatt is bright yellow and pudding thick, with a strong brandy flavor. As part of my hazelnut sundae it was perfect.
And then, of course, our wonderful hosts gave us some walnuts and jam fresh from their own garden to take home with us. A little piece of Vaals is currently sitting in my fridge, waiting to be bake into a pie or spread on toast. Yum.
The Fat Tire company seems to pop up everywhere these days, but our trip to Berlin was the first time we ever tried them. The verdict? I’m sold. Although the quality of a tour probably varies greatly with the guide (and fellow tourists), the bikes are super comfortable to use and Berlin is an easy biking city.
Since we had already spent some time in Berlin, we opted to take the Third Reich tour, which focuses on World War II and Nazi-related locations around the city. It overlaps with the more general tour offered, but if you’ve done a little site-seeing already, this tour will take you out of the way a bit more. I includes several memorials, monuments, and even the location of Hitler’s bunker in which he committed suicide. Since each stop is spread out, the entire tour takes about 5 hours and includes a stop for lunch (at extra cost). The leisurely pace was comfortable and gave us all tiem to meet the other bikers and chat.
As you might imagine, any tour about the Third Reich is very serious and heavy. Nicholas, our guide, dealt with this with a dark humor and appropriately timed seriousness, as well as an impressive knowledge of the time period. While you don’t ever really want to “get in the head” of a Nazi, he was able to teach us about the warped thought process of the Nazis and how they misappropriated German culture and prejudices to push their own agenda.
For 20 euros (less with the Berlin Welcome Card), the Fat Tire Third Reich tour is a rich experience and good value for your money. I will be seeking this tour company out in the future when we consider bike tours in other cities.
Last week Dan and I visited Berlin with his parents for the first time. Together, over the course of 4 days, we explored many of the major historical sites and a few museums, and generally had a great time. Berlin is a place with a very sad history and high unemployment, but it also has a growing and vibrant young culture and many important memorials.
The trip to Berlin was my crazy idea first and stems from a dim memory of playing “Berlin Wall” on a beach somewhere back in 1990 when the wall came down. I probably had heard about the actual thing from the news or my parents at the time. But as my earliest memory of a place in Europe, I knew I had to make the trip some day. So finally we did. It was a great experience to finally bring this memory full circle and finally see the ruined pieces of the wall that remain.
After settling into our temporary apartment rental (a great way to stay in Berlin by the way), we set out for a serious day of exploring the Berlin Zoo. This city zoo is one of the largest in Europe and is home to a wide variety of animals from all over the world. Their resident panda has long been considered the star, but he was napping up high and away while we were there.
Instead we were happy to see many of the animals with young and even a bird fight or two. The sea lions were very noisy and we caught two sun bears wrestling. It’s always interesting to see the animals interact with each other.
Plus Dunkin Donuts!
Since that took most of the day, we wrapped up the evening with a walk through the large Tiergarten and past the Victory Tower (currently under repair). We also tracked down a German chocolate shop with the longest truffle bar in Berlin and a chocolate volcano. Sadly, the volcano was pathetically dormant.
Day two we opted for a museum day and started at the Berlin Jewish Museum. It is so huge that they have a cafe stop halfway through your tour of the exhibits! I found the museum to be very interesting, but confusing to navigate and I found the audio tour to be annoyingly proud of the interior design of the museum. Once I started skipping the architecture sections I found the content to be very interesting and learned a lot that I didn’t know about Jewish history and culture. Plus comics. It was also interesting to be in a museum that didn’t “default” to a Christian theology.
After a whole 6 hours in the Jewish Museum, we went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum which lays just on the American side of the old border and catalogs the history of Western Berlin and resistance and escape activities that occurred when the wall was still up. I was shocked to learn that the museum is almost as old as the wall (founded in 1962) and was actually used to spy on Eastern Berlin patrols.
The entire thing really needs a makeover, but is chock full of interesting information and strange smuggling apparatus people really used to escape East Germany (as well as some of the terrible things used to keep people in).
A mock-up of Checkpoint Charlie is still set up in the street, but it wasn’t until we stopped by the Topography of Terror (the remains of the SS office) that I got to get up close to a fairly complete strip of wall and imagine what it might have been like to live in Berlin before 1990.
Check back tomorrow for Days 3 and 4 of our Berlin Adventure.
I apologize for leaving you all hanging for an update this week, and now this one will mostly be about travel, but hopefully I’ll get everything back under control soon. I left for London with a cold and came back with a new one. But at least the time in-between was fun.
Getting to Brussels to pick up our EuroStar train (included in the ticket price) was uneventful, but when we arrived we discovered that train security can be just as much a pain in the butt as airport security. We went through two checkpoints before being stopped at a third by a surly guard who wanted to know what we were doing in London and how long we’d be there.
We said “5 days for a comics convention and to see the city”. He said, “What are you going to see?” This is the point where we stumbled. Dan & I hadn’t done much planning for the trip (its only 5 hours away after all) and we usually just start walking and see where our feet take us. Who knew we needed an itinerary just to enter the country. “Er…Westminster Abbey…” I say, confused. He gives a nasty look, “You’re going to see Westminster Abbey for 5 days? What else do you think is in London?” We finally stumbled out enough places to satisfy the guard and he finally let us through with snide remarks about the “proper” way to do things. Welcome to London indeed! Next time I’ll bring a guidebook. Maybe we were suppose to tip or something.
Fortunately the rest of the trip was uneventful, even though the EuroStar’s headrests are designed for people much taller than myself. For Americans, it is a lot like riding Amtrak. Maybe faster but not much more comfortable.
Around the Thing!, Dan and I found time to do a little site seeing. Maybe I should send the next overzealous crossing guard to my blog if he needs the full scoop. We were lucky enough to receive an excellent walking audio tour from a good friend and it lead us all over Central London. We were impressed by how monumental (and large) the city is.
Of course the main reason we were in London was to attend the UK Mini & Web Comix Thing! on Saturday. On a personal and business level it was great fun and an excellent networking opportunity. I’m always impressed by the way comics can overcome pretty much any silence between two strangers who like looking at sequential art. Read my Complete Con Report at Fallen Kitten Productions for more details.
And you might be starting to see comics inspired things here as well. You’ve been warned.
The London Zoo was a good time, with mostly nice and large enclosures for their animals and lots of walking. Its not quite high season (and a Monday), so many eating areas were closed. On the other hand we didn’t have to deal with a large crowd and only a few school groups so I felt it was a good trade off. My favorite animals were the otters. We happened by their enclosure just in time for a feeding and a dozen of the little critters were tumbling over each other, chirping like birds, and crying like kittens in the hopes that they would be fed. Adorable.
On the way back to the Center, Dan & I happened upon an entire street and open air market (Camden Lock) dedicated to alternative clothing and culture (goth, punk, hippies, etc). We didn’t have time to really explore, but it was pretty awesome looking and we’ll be making time on the next trip.
Afternoon Tea (which we had around 5 pm instead of dinner) was lovely with several sandwiches, warm scones, clotted cream, jam, small desserts, and two large pots of tea. As always happens with Tea, there was too much food but it was all very tasty and well worth going to London to have it served in white china.
All in all it was a great trip, but I was happy to come home. My feet were killing me and I like the small space of Maastricht much more than any large city.