One of the largest and best preserved examples of Victorian industrial architecture in all of North America is the Gooderham & Worts whiskey distillery in Toronto, ON. It is one of my favourite places in the city, particularly at Christmas time. During the month of December the cobble stone, pedestrian only streets are beautifully decorated and lined with local vendors selling crafts and sweets. Christmas markets originated in Germany in the early 1400s and thankfully for us made their way over to Toronto.
Being downtown in this pedestrian only village, walking through the Christmas market ignited a special flame inside my heart for all of our exchange students who spent Christmas with my family. My husband and I were down at the distillery on December 5th, the most important day in December for Cleo (one of our exchange students) from the Netherlands. Exactly two years ago on this day, we were in Holland visiting her for Sinterklaas, St. Nicholas’ day. This same celebration, including a procession with Sinterklaas riding a white horse through town happened down at the distillery district. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people celebrating with us. We even bought some dutch sweets from one of the vendors.
There are many other events and celebrations that happen down at the distillery district, check out their calender here.
Valkenburg is Holland’s Christmas town that exceeded all of our expectations and is well worth the scenic drive through the country if you’ve got the time. The town is right at the bottom of Holland between Germany and Belgium. Valkenburg is just as interesting below ground as it is above, with Roman history from over 2000 years ago surrounding the town. Today we visited 3 caves and the ruins from Valkenburg Castle with surprising findings from each.
The two caves, Velvet Cave (Fluweelengrot) and Municipal Cave (Gemeentegrot) had Christmas markets throughout the tunnels underground, all dressed in lights and Christmas decor. Within the Velvet Cave were many murals along the walls as well as an 18th century chapel (pictured right). This secret chapel was during the time Napoleon closed down all the churches and forced Roman Catholic priests to swear allegiance to France. If they did not, they were exiled. Another highlight of this cave is the honour of the U.S. soldiers during World War II who came to Valkenburg to serve. They discovered local and Jewish people who had been hiding in the caves during the war and their names are carved within the cave with the date.
The mining of Velvet Cave began in 1050, the same time the construction of the castle started. Builders used the marlstone from both caves to build, and because of this many secret passageways and tunnels run over five kilometers underneath the town. David had to hold himself back from hopping the fences and gates to see where all the staircases and tunnels were headed. The Valkenburg Castle (Kasteel Valkenburg) is the only elevated castle in all of Netherlands and has been taken over and destroyed so many times throughout history it would take a full blog post. It’s well worth the 4 euros to walk around and you can look over the entire town.
The third cave we went to was Wilhelmina Cave where Europe’s largest sand sculpture Nativity Scene is displayed. The scene measures 30 meters wide and 6 meters high! As you walk through the cave the sand sculptures illustrate the Christmas story and highlights its importance. In the picture on the right you can see the lit up town of Bethlehem all carved out of sand as well as the manger scene.
After an almost 3 hour drive back home we reflected on the day and realized we not only saw some of the most unexpected scenes throughout the day in the caves and ruins but also had some of Holland’s greatest foods! Pictured at the beginning of the post is a girl making Poffertjes in style. Later on we also had a waffle with REAL whipped cream and then had some fries and sauce as well for lunch. Don’t worry though, we got a vegetable on the drive home to eat for dinner to stay “healthy”