Last Saturday I went to a fitness aerobics activity held by the Taipei Government. Before stepping out of the door, I picked the pair of sneakers that I was going to wear for the day. As I dropped my sneakers to the floor, sand fell out from the sneakers. Then I realized – these are sands from Dubai! I have brought back sands from Dubai! Dubai was the 21st city in my 4-month travelling adventure. Then I was reminded – I haven’t written any article yet since I got accepted to be a travel writer here in Travelicious. The sands gave me the inspiration to finally write my first article. I will write my articles while I spend my 3rd month here in my 23rd city: Taipei.
The main purpose of this overseas trip was to 1) join a research exchange program in Wroclaw, Poland; 2) participate in a trainers’ meeting (TRAM) at Prague, Czech Republic; and 3) attend the IFMSA General Assembly in Puebla, Mexico. But as I always like to make the most out of everything, I squeezed in a lot of side-tours in between. 😉 I am more than glad to share my experiences from the programs and my side-tours, and I will start chronologically from the first city that I visited – Maastricht, Netherlands.
I have a few free days before I have to report to my research exchange program in Wroclaw, Poland. Hence I decided to visit a friend living in Maastricht, Netherlands. To tell the truth, I never knew of Maastricht before I met my friend. Like most people, when I hear Netherlands or Holland, I only think about Amsterdam. But that shouldn’t be the case! Without the massive tourist crowd, Maastricht is a hidden gem, and let me tell you more about this city!
A Brief Introduction to Maastricht
Maastricht (capital of the province of Limburg) is the southernmost city in the Netherlands. You can see from the map below that it is in very close proximity to Belgium and Germany. According to my friend, she can “bike to Belgium and get a bus to Germany”. True enough, I went on daytrips from Maastricht to Brussels, Belgium and Aachen, Germany (more about these trips on my future articles!).
Maastricht claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands (Nijmegen competes with it for the title). It has 1677 Rijksmonumenten (national heritage sites), only second in number to Amsterdam. In the past, Maastricht was a Roman fortress. It later developed into a medieval religious center, drawing pilgrims to the grave of Saint Servatius. Then it turned into a Garrison city serving military strategic function. Later, industrialization came. And now it is a popular tourist spot for locals in Netherlands because of its historical old center and shopping streets. In fact, Maastricht is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network. Moreover, it is also a university city, home to a lot of local and international students of the University of Maastricht. Politically, it is known related to the Maastricht Treaty, where the European Union and the unified euro currency were born.
Maastricht is readily accessible from numerous airports. The city is split in half by the Meuse/Maas River: on the west there is the majority of the urban life while on the east there is the train station and some museums. Residents of Maastricht speak good English, hence getting around here is not difficult.
Getting to Maastricht from Amsterdam Schiphol airport
My flight arrived at the Amsterdam Schiphol airport and my friend picked me up there to take the train to Maastricht together. She showed me a very useful website for transportation in Netherlands: http://9292.nl/en. She also helped me buy a local transportation card, the OV-chipkaart.
Around 2.5 hours after hopping on the train, we arrived at Maastricht. We dropped my luggage at her house first, rested for a while, and went grocery-shopping. Compared to Asian supermarkets, there’s just so many cheeeeeeeeese available in the supermarkets of Europe! Also, yoghurt is very cheap, even the Greek yogurt which is quite pricey in Asia. We also got some Stroopwafels for me to try later on. 😀 I was told that the Netherlands puts a lot importance on efficiency. Indeed, I saw it on their transportation systems and supermarkets.
Maastricht Walking Tour around the Binnenstad
After grocery-shopping, my friend brought me walking around Binnenstad (inner city) of Maastricht Centrum. We first saw a lovely, little white church around Capucijnengang (a hidden gem!). A quick Google search later showed me that the name of the church is Capucijnenkerk. It is among the 1677 Rijksmonumenten (national heritage sites) of Maastricht.
Markt (Market Square), Entre Deux and Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen
Next, we walked to Markt (market square) where we saw the Town Hall. Then we passed by Entre Deux, a postmodern style shopping center. It was already closed when we passed by at around 9 pm. Opening hours are usually until 6 pm (extended to 9 pm during Thursdays). This is another point of contrast with Asia where malls are usually open until 1o pm (and even extended to past-midnight during special occasions). Entre Deux in French means “between two”, pertaining to the fact that it is located between 2 major squares of Binnenstad: the Markt and the Vrijthof. The Entre Deux is famous for housing the Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen, a gorgeous bookstore converted from an ancient Dominican church (more about this in my next article!).
Vrijthof Square: Saint Servatius Basilica, Saint John’s Church
Logically, we moved next to the Vrijthof square. We got some ice cream and sat by the square to admire the Saint Servatius Basilica, the Sint-Janskerk (Saint John’s Church) and the people chilling at the outdoor restaurants/pubs.
Onze Lieve Vrouweplein (Square of Our Lady)
Then we strolled to another square in Binnenstad: the Onze Lieve Vrouweplein (Square of Our Lady). This square had a lot of quiet cafes and restaurants subtly hidden among pavements and trees.
Night View: Hoge Brog (High Bridge), Meuse/Maas River, Saint Servatius Bridge, Bishop’s Mill
After, we walked over the Hoge Brog (High Bridge) crossing the Meuse/Maas River. There we saw a nice view of the Sint Servaasbrug (Saint Servatius Bridge) and a panoramic view of Maastricht. As we walked back, we saw the Bisschopsmolen (Bishop’s Mill), one of the oldest watermills in the Netherlands and still operating! It powers a vintage flour mill supplying a bakery famous for its traditional Spelt loaves and vlaai (seasonal fruit pies).
On the way back to my friend’s house, we got to see a picturesque view of the Basilica of Saint Servatius and the Saint John’s Church highlighted against the night sky. And that’s how the 1st day of my travelling adventure ended: no jet lags, no travel fatigue, just the best Maastricht spots with a good local friend.