*NEWSFLASH* I have found my second favourite place in the Netherlands. If you’ve followed my blog for a while now, you’ll know that my favourite Dutch city is Utrecht, and let me tell you, it will take a lot to knock it off the number one spot, but it almost happened. I didn’t think I could fall in love with another old Dutch town so quickly. On Monday I headed south to the beautiful city of Maastricht. Maastricht is in the southernmost province of Limburg and is only a hop, skip and a jump from the borders of Belgium and Germany. Due to it’s close proximity to these countries, it is no surprise that German & Belgian influence can be seen everywhere.
It takes 2.5 hours by train to get to Maastricht from Amsterdam, which may not seem like a lot, but after only visiting cities a max of 1.5 hours away from me while in the Netherlands, this seemed like a days traveling!! In reality, it takes the exact same time to go from Dublin to Cork! Armed with my iPad for company, I boarded the train and did a little bit of research on my destination. I didn’t really need to do any research at all as I was going to have my own personal tour guide for the day, a friend, W, who I did my Masters with. She has been living in Maastricht for almost a year, so instead of relying on Google Maps, for once I had a real human to guide me 🙂
W met me off the train – and I was surprised at how small Maastricht station was compared to all the other train stations I have been at. There were only perhaps 4 platforms at most. The first thing W told me was that I would notice a difference in architecture in Maastricht compared to the rest of the Netherlands. My first taste of this, as in Rotterdam, was the station building itself. I’m not the most well versed in architectural history and influences, but this struck me as being a younger building than that of Amsterdam. A quick wikipedia search proved this. The railway station was designed and constructed in 1913.
From there it was a short 10 minute walk into the town centre. We crossed over the Maas to get there and the views were delicious. If you ever want to get a true feeling and understanding for a city, view it from a bridge. While you are standing there in complete limbo, allow your senses to blind you. See nothing but the unfamiliar. Hear nothing but vibrations and tones foreign to you. Feel nothing but the true life of the city. And then continue to the other side!
Maastricht was quiet on a Monday. According to W, on the weekends it is a hive of activity, but I was more than happy to revel in it’s tranquility. Whenever I visit a new place for the first time, I prefer to go on a more peaceful day. Too many people and too much activity quite often distracts me from the character of the place. As we were on the way to lunch W points out an old church that she thought I’d like. We walk inside and it is the most beautiful bookshop I have ever seen. It’s number two on this 16 Bookstores you have to see before you die list 🙂 The bookstore is housed in an old Dominican Church built in 1294. Old buildings + books = my version heaven! We spent a few minutes in here, me looking at beginners Dutch books, and W looking for a French book for her current course. Then hunger stuck!
We ate outside an Italian restaurant overlooking Market Square. As they had no English menu, I translated for W. She cannot master the Dutch ‘R’ and therefore refuses to learn the language even though she has been living in the country for a year, preferring to learn French instead! Our waiter was hilarious and asked W if she was sure I wasn’t lying to her about the translation of each dish!! It was here that I discovered the Maastricht dialect is very different to what I have heard elsewhere in the Netherlands. The ‘G’ isn’t as guttural and quite often I could not understand people at all as they spoke in Limgurgish. They literally have their own language in Limburg! At the end of lunch, we indulged in a freshly baked waffle, and began the real sight seeing!
The streets of Maastricht are tiny, windy and cobbled. No two streets were the same. With each turn that W and I made, I felt like I was falling deeper and deeper into a fairytale land. I could see Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty living in a town like this. I was so happy I had W with me because she showed me all the secret areas of Maastricht which I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I could feel Belgian/French influence almost immediately, from the names of stores, to the design of the buildings, to the accents of the local themselves. I’m not familiar with German culture or architecture but I’m sure there are some similarities there too!!
We took in the sights of Sint Janskerk, named after St John the Baptist (which just so happens to be the name of one of the secondary schools I went to 😛 ) Fun fact: the bright red tower was designed to look like the Domtoren in Utrecht. Ok, maybe not such a fun fact for you, but it made me smile! Of course, I had a few photographs taken around the tower. Thank you W for being my photographer and letting me use the photographs on my blog 🙂
W wanted to show me the ‘nature’ of Maastricht. We climbed through a little arch in a wall, and I felt like Mary discovering the Secret Garden for the first time. All of a sudden it was as if we were in the centre of the countryside. There was an ‘animal park’ in the city with goats, deers, peacocks, and many more animals. There as a large lake with a beautiful water feature in the centre of it. And then at the edge of all this natural beauty, was the walls of a fort, which I think were the original walls of the city. Those turrets scream fairytale to me. Maastricht is also a university town with over 16,000 students studying at the University of Maastricht. Interestingly, almost 50% of these are foreign students. As W and I went through the arch pictured above, about 20 students bounded through asking us for high fives. We obliged, of course!
I am definitely going to return to Maastricht in the future. It is one of those cities where I could see myself living, although I say that about all cities I feel a strong connection with!! The language would prove a problem especially when I haven’t gotten the hang of ‘normal’ Dutch yet. But I will persevere! I love the way Maastricht is situated so close to Belgium and Germany. Being from Ireland, a country surrounded by water, it always amazes me how accessible other countries are by train and by car!
All this sight-seeing, culture immersion and life education is making me more and more adventure hungry. Is this what wanderlust tastes like?
For more information on Maastricht, check out Jan’s blog at Netherlands Tourism.
While you’re there stay and have a little look around. You’ll discover the best cities to visit while in the Netherlands, the top things to do and what to see from someone who has lived there most of his life. You won’t be disappointed, I promise!