First things first; The small bubble all the way down is the south of Limburg. The main cities are Maastricht and Heerlen. Approximately 600.000 live here in the region. Both Belgium and Germany are close at hand, which means that people can profit from three countries, which is great. The area has been used by the Romans and was Charlemagne's (Important European king) backyard in the early Middle Ages.
When asking my grandmother about Limburg, she explains that this southern part of the country was quite the place to be in the 60’s and 70’s. Coming from Rotterdam, she was excited to live here. About 80% of the GDP was earned by the coal mines that were located here, and the population was profiting from that—a sort of golden age of the region.
Even housing and education was taken care of by the mine, and people were getting a good income as well. The brotherhood that existed because of the shared days undergrounds was very strong. This union among people echoed in other domains as well and has been the backbone of the region. Nevertheless, has been challenged in the last decades. About 47 years ago, the mines closed. Since then, many things have changed. The closing of the mines left a hole tough to fill in the region, of which struggle is shown by its shrinking population and degrading purpose since then.
Nevertheless, one will still feel very welcome in the south, still known for its warm character. When entering the deep south of the Netherlands, one will quickly see another plate on the table and be offered some food. That's why it's often compared to Mediterranean cultures. That's also why the word "bourgondisch" is often mentioned when people talk about this region, referring to a more loose focus on good food and drinks. "Hollander" (Dutchmen) is, on the contrary, used for cheap-goat and we talk about "Haagse kopjes", a small amount of coffee that one would get in The Hague.
If you know a few things about Limburg, then one of them might be our “interesting” accent and dialect. The dialect is very different from standard Dutch and is considered a second-degree language (out of three, where the third degree is a full-on language). Many people recognise a certain singing in the dialect. This singing is not just mere singing, rather the result of a complex balance between intonation and tones. It results in 16 different tones, where standard Dutch only has one. It gets even more complicated considering that every town has their own words and expressions. Different town inhabitants are able to understand each other, but one will directly know where someone is from. Let me give a few examples of what it's like:
And let’s not avoid the many cultural associations the province has, from carnival to scouting, from choirs to local traditions (like hiding the largest tree in the forest for others to find). These associations are important to people, sometimes even more important than family. Everyone takes part in them, from teenagers to 90-year-old, which is quite unique I think.
Carnival is the most famous get together in the southern provinces. It's a week full of dressing up, colourful parades and drinking. People prepare their festive wagons (serving in the parades) the whole year-round. In November the season officially starts, and many coming togethers follow. The most important week starts before the Christian fasting period, somewhere in February.
It's these associations, like carnival, and the dialect, that keep the region's culture together. Unfortunately, since individualism also reached Limburg, there has been a decline in the number of these associations. Neither does globalism help with keeping these dialects alive. A big part of the culture will get lost might this trend continue.
What probably won’t get lost are the beautiful nature views in the region. The south of Limburg consists of rolling hills and many sceneries reminiscent of Southern France, which results in an unusual Dutch experience. As mentioned before, the area received the prize for best touristic destination in the world. The region is full of idyllic towns, castles, amazing cycle and walking routes, good restaurants, historical museums and a beautifully designed zoo. The area is also home to many caves that one must see when visiting, for example in Valkenburg or Maastricht. If you travel by car or bike, I recommend touring the "Mergelland route", which takes you to beautiful views and old traditional artisan houses.
What to conclude? Well, the reason why I wrote this article is partly due to the negative reactions places outside the Randstad sometimes get. When corona hit, I kept my travels closer to home, which I enjoyed quite well. I realised that I’m still a stranger to these places, and the folks around here. The negative reactions are mainly “Wat de boer niet kent dat..” (unknown makes unloved) reactions. In other words, I hope to have appealed to you to book a weekend close by next time. Regarding climate change, that’s the best choice anyways :).