Been There, Done That: Underground Valkenberg Christmas Market

My wife and I were tired from a busy couple of weeks – we finally mailed out all of our Christmas presents; we’ve been getting our nursery ready for the baby we’re expecting in March; and it’s award season at work (curse those 1206s).

Needless to say, we were pretty stressed out and we needed to get away.

Which is one of the reasons we signed up for the Valkenberg Christmas Market tour from Spangdahlem’s information, tickets and travel. We needed something to take our minds off of the daily drudgery … and this tour left Spangdahlem at 10 a.m. as opposed to the earlier ITT start times. I can’t lie, that’s probably the main reason.

Well, anyway, the trip was a blast.

My wife bought the tickets and arranged everything, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that it was in the Netherlands and the markets were inside some caves. I imagined the caves to be small and dark with hardly anyone browsing through the vendors — it was a cold and damp day after all.

I was completely mistaken.

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There were hundreds of people lined up just to get into the cave. Some were smoking, others pushed ahead of us if we accidentally left a spot large enough for a body. I almost didn’t even want to go inside. I thought, “If this is how it’s going to be inside of the cavern, I’d rather just go home.”

We persisted and finally gained entrance into the cave. Thankfully, it was quite larger than I at first imagined. It quickly opened up and spread out into many tunnels with almost every wall displaying some sort of Christmas decoration or storefront. I heard it was more than 60 stalls. Simply impressive.

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We weaved between groups of people and walked throughout. We darted into stores, picked up some detailed, hand-crafted items and genuinely had a great time. Some of the vendors and booth owners were really getting into it, crying out to passersby with promises of free samples and discounts. These people were good – I mean, they’ve been doing this since 1997 with an estimated 125,000 visitors every holiday season.

I almost bought some gourmet mustard from a man wearing a top hat. Almost.

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After about an hour of walking beneath the earth, my wife and I started to get hungry. It took us a little while to get back to the exit, and the smell of sausage flowed into the cave mouth. We had plans to go to a sit-down restaurant for lunch, but the tantalizing smell of the bratwurst proved too difficult to resist.

For the rest of the trip, we walked around and dipped into stores and sampled some delicious gluehwein, or hot spiced wine, and saw some historic landmarks. The city we were in boasts the only castle ruins that rest atop a hill in all of the Netherlands. They also held a giant parade down the main market street.

As we were traveling back home, we were both pretty tuckered out. It was a long day, but one filled with activities and sights that I know I’ll remember forever. Because of these ITT trips, I was able to temporarily forget those pesky 1206s and create some lasting family memories.

So, if you’re feeling a little stressed, think about the trips our base can offer you. Germany is often called the gateway to Europe – take advantage!

Here’s a list of the current trips: http://www.52fss.com/newfiles/pdfs/itt/itt_mar.pdf.

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