Two Days In Nijmegen

Oldest city in the Netherlands

Nijmegen has been on my bucket list for a very long time. Despite being the oldest city in the Netherlands, with a 2000-year long history dating back to Roman times, it’s also the city that holds the origin of my name. It birthed the story of the woman I was named after. Nijmegen is not a city visited by tourists that often which makes it seem pure and authentic in a way. It’s also a city that housed some powerful women. I will touch on some of the famous, infamous and everyday women from Nijmegen’s past in this post.

Biarro Alto

You can’t live a full life on an empty stomach. I arrived early in Nijmegen, checked in an caught a taxi to Biarro Alto. What a delightful café! After stalking this café on Instagram for a while, the expectation was high and it managed to exceed every expectation. I was welcomed with warmth and ordered a coffee. I nibbled away on a delicious “Parmmham broodjie” and left satisfied. It was the best way to start the day.

Mariken van Nieumeghen

Next I decided to wonder to the Mariken Statue. I was named after the book Mariken van Nieumeghen. The statue was created to honour the late medieval Dutch text from the early 14th century, Mariken van Nieumeghen. The author is unknown. The story is about God and the devil’s fight for Mariken’s soul. It is a fascinating story of despair, witchcraft and salvation. The verses are at times explicit and at times quite humorous. Mariken walked with the Devil for 7 years. He took human form and taught her the seven liberal arts (rhetoric, musica, logic, grammar, geometry, arithmetic and alchemy) and all languages ​​of the world – spoiler alert, God wins because despite it all she is good and her name comes from Mary. The theme of this book is that regardless of the size of your sins, God can forgive you if you repent. It was great not having to spell my name or repeat the pronunciation. In my country people tend to stumble over my name a lot.

Staircase

I have no idea what this staircase is called but I loved the colours and the countdown. This city is colourful in every way and inspires creative energy. It is also a big student city which contributes to that buzzing energy and the feeling that anything is possible.

Mariken Street

Marikenstraat (Mariken Street) is one of the most beautiful and quirky streets I’ve come across in a long time. It was also a fantastic shopping experience and I blew my budget by more than I care to admit. A diverse selection of stores are scattered between two levels. I did a first lap of just browsing and during my second and third laps some serious shopping took place.

Mariken Bread

After spending way to much on books, clothes and presents I set out to Stadsbakkerij De Bie for their famous Marikenbrood (Mariken bread). I was taken aback by how warm the people from Nijmegen were. I was also dying of heatstroke. I chose to walk around during a summer heatwave.

Fun fact: Baker Ben Klaassen invented Marikenbrood around 1980 as an attempt to bring back the middle ages. The bread is named after Mariken van Nieumeghen and is quite unique to Nijmegen. I think I read somewhere that Nijmegen is one of the only places you can buy this bread from, but I am not sure how true that is. It is a very interesting combination of ingredients consisting of current bread dough, almond paste, tangerines, pastry pudding, and cinnamon sugar. After searching for the recipe high and low, this was the best once I could find.

I really enjoyed sitting down midst the buzz reading my new book and eating my Mariken bread.

Waalbrug and the Harbour

Two beautiful places I wondered past was the harbour and Waalbrug. The most exquisite pink roses was in bloom and created a picture that made my heart happy.

During this stroll I came across a Mermaid at Waalkade. It is a statue of a reclining naked women titled the Guardian but who is known among the locals as the mermaid. The commissioned artist, Paul de Swaaf, first designed a statue of a woman who’s skirt blew high in the wind while she was looking over the high water of the river Waal. A true guardian. As most artist, de Swaaf was unsatisfied with his work as the statue did not match his vision. He later set out to create a reclining women creating the impression that the women is floating in the water during high tide – just like a mermaid.

Duivelsberg

Duivelsberg was fun, but not fun, but fun. It is a hill and nature reserve that is political significant because Germany fought to capture Duivelsberg during World War II.

It is a beautiful forest and my photos don’t do it justice because by the time I got there I have already been through the most and a storm was breaking lose.

The adventure started with me hiring a bike from my hotel and setting out to ride 25 km all the way to Duivelsberg, not taking into consideration that it will be 25 km back, and getting lost would add another 10 km to my trip. Distance aside, these bikes did not have their breaks on the handlebar like normal South African bikes. For some reason some designer/ engineer had to complicate things by forcing the person riding the bike to back-paddle when they want to stop. Don’t ask me why, it is not logical in anyway.

Aside from the back-paddling, it was my first time on a bike in a very long time and I was still coming to terms with driving on the opposite site of the road. Somewhere between back-paddling to slow down, crossing a five-exit circle on the wrong side of the road and trying to see where my GPS on my phone was telling me to go I collided with a scooter. The scooter was fine. I was lying face down and bleeding on the side of the road.

Being a tough South African woman I dusted myself off, put on my big girl panties and got back on that -now crooked- bike. As I arrived at Duivelsberg a storm was rolling in hard and heavy. When the rain started to pour down I headed back to the hotel, the rain being yet another obstacle added to this adventure. Where garages are safe hideouts in South Africa with shops and people, the same is not true for Europe. I saw a restaurant on my way and just made it inside before hail started to fall. I arrived at my hotel broken, bruised, cold, tired and hungry. Never before was I this happy to jump into a shower.

Nikolauskapelle, Ooijpolder, and other adventures

I’ve walked across the entire Nijmegen and this city is a tribute to strong, powerful, famous and infamous women. I absolutely loved the random tributes, the parks and the larger than life dandelions. I made enough wishes to last me a life time as I watched the wind carrying the little dandelion seeds in multiple directions.

I will never be able to make mention of all the glorious women I came across on this journey, but here are the few that stood out for me and quick summary of their stories.

I loved Sint Stevenskerk. It is a beautiful captivating church. It is here I met Wilgefortis and bumped into Catherine of Bourbon once again.

Princess Wilgefortis was the king of Portugal’s daughter and was intended to be the wife of the King of Sicily. Devout as she was she decided to declared herself to be married to Christ and thus prayed to God for help. God answered her prayer and gave her a beard. Her father was so enraged that he had her crucified. As she died, God told her that in the future she would be known as Ontcommer because she would ‘free’ others from their suffering. I still wonder if this legend is more than just a story.

Catherine of Bourbon (the daughter of the Duke of Bourbon, Charles Valois) was so prestigious that she demanded to be buried in the church instead of the graveyard. One of the most influential women of the fifteenth century she has lain entombed in the church since 1469.

On Begijnenstraat 29 I met Christina Buys, better known as Stijn Buys. On her death in 1557 this incredible women asked that an orphanage be founded from her estate. She wanted to give orphans a good upbringing.

And then I walked all the way to Sint Anthonispoort, an old city gate that was, until the seventeenth century, the place where prisoners were executed. The twist to this story is that the criminal could escape death if an unmarried women exercised her womanly grace and proposed marriage to the one condemned. Beatrix was such a women. She saved Peter van Wanckom, imprisoned for stealing horses, by having him lead her to church. This was because marriage was considered a worse punishment than hanging and a wife a worse tormentor than an executioner.

Nimma

There is nothing like returning to a hotel that feels like home after a day of exploring and adventure. Nimma was such a hotel for me. I loved everything from the look and feel down to the food. My favourite meal was a wild mushroom risotto that was everything I never knew I needed. My taste-buds were exploding. That said I had this meal after my Duivelsberg adventure so it might also just be because I was hungry, cold, injured and tired. Nimma was quite a walk or bike ride away from all the places I wanted to see and experience, but completely worth the stay.

My room was quirky and a welcome escape each evening. I spent most of my time exploring the city and eating and drinking downstairs. This room was a welcome escape for those calm peaceful moments of writing and reading and absorbing the day’s activities.

The breakfast buffet was not the most over the top buffet I’ve ever come across, yet I left satisfied and ready to take on the day. It was more than enough catering for various food snobs. I love a big breakfast because most of my actual day goes into tasting and nibbling and running around without eating a proper meal. I usually look for something that will sustain my ten million steps until evening falls.

Nijmegen was one crazy adventure I built up a lot in my head before making the trip. Somehow it managed to meet the high expectation I set beforehand. I loved the tribute to my name literally everywhere. I loved all the stories of all the weird and wonderful women that came before me and will walk those streets long after me. Bucket list checked!

XOXO

Mariken

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