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vrijdag 29 november 2013

Snapshots of history

An old area means a historic area. For at least 115,000 years humanoids walk the same paths as I do today, here in the immediate surroundings. Just a few steps from my threshold is a metal knot anchored in the ground; engraved in it are three names: Riemst, Lanaken, Maastricht. That’s where the borders of these three towns cross each other. This is also the place where so many historic paths cross. The knot is situated in the middle of a 2,000 year old and still existing Roman pave-way; the original cobble stones come to the surface at places. Not much is left, just a minor track of the ones mighty main road from Colonia (Germany) over Maastricht (NL) and Tongeren (B) to the French Atlantic coast. Thousands must have walked this way, and still, 2,000 years later, I can still follow their footsteps into even much older history.

Along the road to Veldwezelt (B), a village belonging to the town Lanaken, is an archeological site; still visible in the valley of the former Heser water, a side-arm of the river Meuse. The creek is long gone, just a few ponds left as silent witnesses of the ancient supply route for the Neanderthal people who lived here 115,000 till 30,000 years ago. Loads of artifacts where found here; showing how intense this area was used by humanoids, and this for such a long period in time. I found a flintstone scraper used by these people that is probably older than our species walk the earth.

The ground on which my home is build is soaked with blood; countless battles were fought here, and not all in ancient times. The two bridges (Vroenhoven and Veldwezelt) crossing the Albert canal, were targets not so long ago. People that are still among us were there while it happened. During the early days of WWII British bombers tried to destroy the bridges as an attempt to stop the German army of entering Belgium, and pilots lost their lives. They failed because the Germans were still too strong at that time.

This was also the case for William of Orange when he tried to throw the Spaniards out the southern parts of the Netherlands. The duke of Alva and his army awaited him on the Dousberg, a hill formed by the same Heser water where the Neanderthal people did benefit from. Higher ground and William didn’t trust to attack, but in stead he had to flee all the way to France just to safe himself.

Napoleon fought here and won, no wonder that already the Romans saw how important this area is; is it still a shame that so much blood had to flow because too many and different people wanted to rule the Limburgian hills; a peaceful area today even when a rich series of landmarks tell another story.

woensdag 27 november 2013

Snapshots of a hill side blues

Autumn colors glide up and down the landscape; still animals in the meadows that don’t seem to bother the cold; grazing and looking stupid at me while I pass.

The border, the canal in the valley and poles that mark what is ours and what is theirs in an area that people want unite but separate at the same time. How ridiculous men can be, but nature doesn’t care; it blooms and blossoms, even in autumn.

Some trails still unpaved; for how long still? Down coming water more and more searches for ways to find; end up in rivers on a concrete bed, cascades basements and floods where I live and don’t want to be at times.

But when the sun shines the colors bright and gloom; skies fall in various shades; mainly blue and white, some grey, but like silver roofing where I walk below; climb up and descend to the next valley cut in two by the narrow Jeker river.

A wooden bridge lets me cross with dry and happy feet, ready to stair the ultimate slope for one day; a farmhouse on top, and she signs, offers me a coffee, cream and a rare real French brandy distilled from own grown grapes...

Drunk as a sailor I go off, but stand straight up while leaning on the stick that I found on the long walks up and down the valley-hills. Through autumn colors I glide and find my home and the lazy warmth of central heating

zondag 24 november 2013

Snapshots of Maastricht, capital in the Meuse valley

After almost 10 years living in Spain I came back; not because I was born here. I saw life in a village a bit further to the north, but I lived in Maastricht before: the capital of the Dutch province Limburg; at least over 2000 years old. Ancient; an area filled with Celts at the time the Romans invaded Europe and Julius Caesar finally managed to defeat the local tribes.

Maastricht has history, but besides it is situated at a unique geographical location; forms a triangle with the German city Aachen and the Belgian town Liege. It’s a cross-border place which gives it an international gloom, and at the same time it is that small that it cannot step outside the impression of a village. It never will be a city; even not since it has an academic hospital, university and airport shared with Aachen. Some towns never escape their rural origin; Maastricht is one of them...

Is it because of a mentality, so old that it hardly can be changed anymore? Too much aware of its historical value; as if it lives backwards. Don’t get me wrong: I do not mean it in a negative way. Maybe it has to be like this; maybe some places have so much history, were so important to themselves in the past that they always will ware a self-reflecting stamp. It is not because of a lack of culture; from this there is more than enough in town and the area. It is more like a reflection of wisdom which makes it no longer necessary to compete the future: a happy lazy feeling, a bit slow as well, that characterizes especially the Limburgian people who live here for ages...

vrijdag 15 november 2013

snapshots: Saint Peters’ hill (sint pietersberg)

It’s a 45 minute walk from my doorstep to the summit of St. Peters’ hill; a walk through Wolder, a small farmers village, today a part of the Maastricht agglomeration; one straight line crosses Louw hill and passes winery Apostelhoeve. Downhill again, over Bieslanderroad, one of the “slow-roads” into Belgium. Viticulture on both sides of the path, the grapes already picked; maybe even fermented, ready to bottle.

I see a man in overall with a pruning-knife cutting loose branches. He greets while I pass over the track that leads to the Jeker river. Stone walls, built from marl, to protect the slot-house, where the water whirls in wild vortexes. One can drown here in the useally slow floating Jeker. Old buildings alongside on the banks, but what I don’t understand is that no-one exploits a terrace for the thousands of strollers that yearly pass.

After crossing a last small road a muddy path goes uphill; narrow climbing between hedges to the summit of Maastrichts’ highest point. About 10 minutes to reach the top, but it’s steep, breath taking! Wooden poles as stairs for the last meters to make it easier, but not to easy...

At the top are too many strollers to see or hear the wildlife that lives in the tight bushes and on the rich slopes. A ring of stones marks the absolute summit of 171 meters. Several paths lead downhill, back to Wolder or into the former marl-pit, used to dig the commodity as a basis for cement. In the past people used the stone to build; today they grind and mix it until they can glue bricks of clay to get the same result. Old caves like wounds mark St. Peters’ hill as witnesses of where once the stones have been harvest; now a paradise for bats and Europes’ largest: the eagle owl.

A girl on a pony approaches laughing; her horse curious after the lonely hiker, armed with a small and old camera; ready for a museum, but still useful for my goal; just taking snapshots of the steps I leave in the landscape. For the views and marks around; to gather the autumn colors and shades of green. Every day is different; even when shooting the same pictures at the same spot.

I don’t want to walk too far; just after five o’clock it will be dark and I don’t want to get lost in the woods which cover the Dutch, Flemish and Wallonian slopes of the hill, that is not only divided in two countries but also in several languages: Dutch, Limburgian, Flemish and French. It’s a strange  neighborhood I live in...

At the old fort St. Peter, once important to defend Maastricht, but now just an old monument of brick walls looking over the river Meuse, is a cafeteria that sells coffee and cake for just 2€, trying to attract the last tourists.

After the break I walk downhill through St. Peters quarter, back to the Jeker. A few late and lost sheep are left in a meadow. In Spring and Summer the meadows in this area are full of them, but at the moment it is a rarity to spot; back to stables I presume; warm and cosy, like me in 30 minutes with a cup of coffee sitting behind the computer and scrolling today's snapshots to choose what will be posted...

donderdag 14 november 2013

Snapshots of bumpy roads

One hour a day, but often I walk longer, don’t want to stop because I like the hiking and want to see what’s behind the next bend; but I know I have to walk back as well, not the same track, but still I have to reach home again...

Most people believe the Netherlands are flat which is true for the majority of the country, but not this part where I live. This is a bumpy hill-side; left over of an ancient sea from before mankind walked the earth. Marl hills about 170 meters above sea level; not very high, but when you are climbing up and down after a while you will feel your legs.

The old marl exists from the Cretaceous Period and is build from tiny sea-creatures which are still recognizable when digging in the hills. It’s easy to find fossils here, and in the past I brought them back home with me when I frequented this area while living in Amsterdam. The hills took shape because larger and smaller waterways searched its way down to the sea and so worn out the valleys which are characteristic for the region.

Yesterday I went to Saint Peters’ hill (St Pietersberg), the highest summit, and a well known nature-park why a lot of people go there on a sunny day. It is more lonely to walk the other hills, which I mostly prefer; to be feeling in nature with no-one in sight; just alone with the trees, the plants and animals that live here; climbing a stony path up towards the Belgian border which is only recognizable because of the border-stakes planted there in the 18 hundreds, just after the southern provinces decided to free themselves from Holland.

Also this area belonged to Belgium for a while, but there were to many economical motives involved why Belgium had to give back this part. Otherwise the whole of the Netherlands had been as flat as a pancake, and I was probably born as a Belgian, and not as a Dutch...

woensdag 13 november 2013

Farmland snapshots at the Dutch-Belgian border

Not a lot live like I do; at the edge of two countries: the most southern border of the Netherlands meets here the Belgian north-east-side; still the same culture. Once it was one; now called the Belgian and Dutch provinces Limburg; devided in the 19th century because of the commodities found beneath the surface...

My doctor perscribed me an at least one hour walk a day because of a heart-condition, which is no punishment to me. I always walked a lot; in my opinion the best way of transport, because one doesn’t miss details like when one travels by faster means. 
For almost two years I now follow this doctors advice, and shortly I started to take a camera; picturing the walks in a snapshot-diary.

Why not write about it as well, I thought; showing the world in which a fantastic landscape I live in; just stepping outside and culture-land, nature is all around me. Especially for those (which are most of us) who are locked up in urban centers, and can hardly imagine how green the world can be; even in a season as is: autumn for the time being in this part of the world: the northern hemisphere, more precise mid-Europe.

Landscape here is so much different than where I lived a bit more then two years ago: the absolute most southern part of Spain; Andalucia in the Malaga province. But is it less beautiful because of that? I will show you in words and pictures, and write about my walking adventures, so this part of the world will become one of the best known among a broad audience. It deserves it as I will proof... 

Have fun reading these short stories...